Early Church Fathers
1. ...If perchance things obscure demand the office of an interpreter, those things which are evident ought to require of me the office of a reader. The song here is of the Advent of the Lord and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His vineyard. But the singer of the song is that Asaph, as far as doth appear, enlightened and converted, by whose name ye know the synagogue to be signified. Lastly, the title of the Psalm is: "For the end in behalf of them that shall be changed;" that is, for the better. For Christ, the end of the Law, hath come on purpose that He should change men for the better. And he addeth, "a testimony to Asaph himself." A good testimony of truth. Lastly, this testimony doth confess both Christ and the vineyard; that is, Head and Body, King and people, Shepherd and flock, and the entire mystery of all Scriptures, Christ and the Church. But the title of the Psalm doth conclude with, "for the Assyrians." The Assyrians are interpreted, "men guiding." Therefore it is no longer a generation which hath not guided the heart thereof, but now a generation guiding. Therefore hear we what he saith in this testimony.
2. What is, "Thou that feedest Israel, hearken, Thou that conducteth Joseph like sheep"? (ver. 1). He is being invoked to come, He is being expected until He come, He is being yearned for until He come. Therefore may He find "men guiding:" "Thou that conductest," he saith, "Joseph like sheep:" Joseph himself like sheep. Joseph himself are the sheep, and Joseph himself is a sheep. Observe Joseph; for although even the interpretation of his name doth aid us much, for it signifieth increase; and He came indeed in order that the grain given to death might arise manifold; that is, that the people of God might be increased. ..."Thou that sittest upon the Cherubin." Cherubin is the seat of the glory of God, and is interpreted the fulness of knowledge. There God sitteth in the fulness of knowledge. Though we understand the Cherubin to be the exalted powers and virtues of the heavens: yet, if thou wilt, thou wilt be Cherubin. For if Cherubin is the seat of God, hear what saith the Scripture: "The soul of a just man is the seat of wisdom." How, thou sayest, shall I be the fulness of knowledge? Who shall fulfil this? Thou hast the means of fulfilling it: "The fulness of the Law is love." Do not run after many things, and strain thyself. The amplitude of the branches doth terrify thee: hold by the root, and of the greatness of the tree think not. Be there in thee love, and the fulness of knowledge must needs follow. For what doth he not know that knoweth love? Inasmuch as it hath been said, "God is love." "Appear." For we went astray because Thou didst not appear. "Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasse" (ver. 2). Appear, I say, before the nation of the Jews, before the people of Israel. For there is Ephraim, there Manasses, there Benjamin. But to the interpretation let us look: Ephraim is fruit-bearing, Benjamin son of right hand, Manasses one forgetful. Appear Thou then before one made fruitful, before a son of the right hand: appear Thou before one forgetful, in order that he may be no longer forgetful, but Thou mayest come into his mind that hast delivered him. ...For weak Thou wast when it was being said, "If Son of God He is, let Him come down from the Cross." Thou wast seeming to have no power: the persecutor had power over Thee: and Thou didst show this aforetime, for Jacob too himself prevailed in wrestling, a man with an angel. Would he at any time, except the angel had been willing? And man prevailed, and the angel was conquered: and victorious man holdeth the angel, and saith, "I will not let thee go, except thou shalt have blessed me." A great sacrament! He both standeth conquered, and blesseth the conqueror. Conquered, because he willed it; in flesh weak, in majesty strong. ...Having been crucified of weakness, rise Thou in power: "Stir up Thy power, and come Thou, to save us."
3. "O God, convert us." For averse we have been from Thee, and except Thou convert us, we shall not be converted. "And illumine Thy face, and we shall be saved" (ver. 3). Hath He anywise a darkened face? He hath not a darkened face, but He placed before it a cloud of flesh, and as it were a veil of weakness; and when He hung on the tree, He was not thought the Same as He was after to be acknowledged when He was sitting in Heaven. For thus it hath come to pass. Christ present on the earth, and doing miracles, Asaph knew not; but when He had died, after that He rose again, and ascended into Heaven, he knew Him. He was pricked to the heart, and he may have spoken also of Him this testimony which now we acknowledge in this Psalm. Thou didst cover Thy face, and we were sick: illumine Thou the same, and we shall be whole.
4. "O Lord God of virtues, how long wilt Thou be angry with the prayer of Thy servant?" (ver. 4). Now Thy servant. Thou wast angry at the prayer of Thy enemy, wilt Thou still be angry with the prayer of Thy servant? Thou hast converted us, we know Thee, and wilt Thou still be angry with the prayer of Thy servant? Thou wilt evidently be angry, in fact, as a father correcting, not as a judge condemning. In such manner evidently Thou wilt be angry, because it hath been written, "My son, drawing near unto the service of God, stand thou in righteousness and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation." Think not that now the wrath of God hath passed away, because thou hast been converted. The wrath of God hath passed away from thee, but only so that it condemn not for everlasting. But He scourgeth, He spareth not: because He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth, If thou refusest to be scourged, why dost thou desire to be received? He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. He who did not spare even His only Son, scourgeth every one. But nevertheless, "How long wilt Thou be angry with the prayer of Thy servant?" No longer thine enemy: but, "Thou wilt be angry with the prayer of Thy servant," how long? There followeth: "Thou wilt feed us with the bread of tears, and wilt give us to drink with tears in measure" (ver. 5). What is, "in measure"? Hear the Apostle: "Faithful is God, who doth not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able to bear." The measure is, according to your powers: the measure is, that thou be instructed, not that thou be crushed.
5. "Thou hast set us for a contradiction to our neighbours" (ver. 6). Evidently this did come to pass: for out of Asaph were chosen they that should go to the Gentiles and preach Christ, and should have it said to them, "Who is this proclaimer of new demons?" "Thou hast set us for a contradiction to our neighbours." For they were preaching Him who was the subject of the contradiction. Whom did they preach? That after He was dead, Christ rose again. Who would hear this? Who would know this? It is a new thing. But signs did follow, and to an incredible thing miracles gave credibility. He was contradicted, but the contradictor was conquered, and from being a contradictor was made a believer. There, however, was a great flame: there the martyrs fed with the bread of tears, and given to drink in tears, but in measure, not more than they are able to bear; in order that after the measure of tears there should follow a crown of joys. "And our enemies have sneered at us." And where are they that sneered? For a long while it was said, Who are they that worship the Dead One, that adore the Crucified? For a long while so it was said. Where is the nose of them that sneered? Now do not they that censure flee into caves, that they may not be seen? But ye see what followeth: "O Lord God of virtues, convert us, and show Thy face, and we shall be whole" (ver. 7). "A vineyard out of Egypt Thou hast brought over, Thou hast cast out the nations, and hast planted her" (ver. 8). It was done, we know. How many nations were cast out? Amorites, Cethites, Jebusites, Gergesites, and Evites: after whose expulsion and overthrow, there was led in the people delivered out of Egypt, into the land of promise. Whence the vineyard was cast out, and where she was planted, we have heard. Let us see what next was done, how she believed, how much she grew, what ground she covered.
6. "A way Thou hast made in the sight of her, and hast planted the roots of her, and she hath filled the land" (ver. 9). Would she have filled the land, unless a way had been made in the sight of her? What was the way which was made in the sight of her? "I am," He saith, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." With reason she hath filled the land. That hath now been said of this vineyard, which hath been accomplished at the last. But in the mean time what? "She hath covered the mountains with her shadow, and with her branch the cedars of God" (ver. 10). "Thou hast stretched out her boughs even unto the sea, and even unto the river her shoots" (ver. 11). This requireth the office of an expositor, that of a reader and praiser doth not suffice: aid me with attention; for the mention of this vineyard in this Psalm is wont to overcloud with darkness the inattentive. ...But nevertheless the first Jewish nation was this vine. But the Jewish nation reigned as far as the sea and as far as the river. As far as the sea; it appeareth in Scripture that the sea was in the vicinity thereof. And as far as the river Jordan. For on the other side of Jordan some part of the Jews was established, but within Jordan was the whole nation. Therefore, "even unto the sea and even unto the river," is the kingdom of the Jews, the kingdom of Israel: but not "from sea even unto sea, and from the river even unto the ends of the round world;" this is the future perfection of the vineyard, concerning which in this place he hath foretold. When, I say, he had foretold to thee the perfection, he returneth to the beginning, out of which the perfection was made. Of the beginning wilt thou hear? "Even unto the river." Of the end wilt thou hear? "He shall have dominion from sea even unto sea:" that is, "she hath filled the earth." Let us look then to the testimony of Asaph, as to what was done to the first vineyard, and what must be expected for the second vineyard, nay to the same vineyard. ...What then, the vineyard before the sight whereof a way was made, that she should fill the earth, at first was where? "Her shadow covered the mountains." Who are the mountains? The Prophets. Why did her shadow cover them? Because darkly they spake the things which were foretold as to come. Thou hearest from the Prophets, Keep the Sabbath-day, on the eighth day circumcise a child, offer sacrifice of ram, of calf, of he-goat. Be not troubled, her shadow doth cover the mountains of God; there will come after the shadow a manifestation. "And her shrubs the cedars of God," that is, she hath covered the cedars of God; very lofty, but of God. For the cedars are types of the proud, that must needs be overthrown. The "cedars of Lebanon," the heights of the world, this vineyard did cover in growing, and the mountains of God, all the holy Prophets and Patriarchs.
7. Then what? "Wherefore hast Thou thrown down her enclosure?" (ver. 12). Now ye see the overthrow of that nation of the Jews: already out of another Psalm ye have heard, "with axe and hammer they have thrown her down." When could this have been done, except her enclosure had been thrown down. What is her enclosure? Her defence. For she bore herself proudly against her planter. The servants that were sent to her and demanded a recompense, the husbandmen they scourged, beat, slew: there came also the Only Son, they said, "This is the Heir; come, let us kill Him, and our own the inheritance will be:" they killed Him, and out of the vineyard they cast Him forth. When cast forth, He did more perfectly possess the place whence He was cast forth. For thus He threatens her through Isaiah, "I will throw down her enclosure." Wherefore? "For I looked that she should bring forth grapes, but she brought forth thorns." I looked for fruit from thence, and I found sin. Why then dost thou ask, O Asaph, "Why hast Thou thrown down her enclosure?" For knowest thou not why? I looked that she should do judgment, and she did iniquity. Must not her enclosure needs be thrown down? And there came the Gentiles when the enclosure was thrown down, the vineyard was assailed, and the kingdom of the Jews effaced. This at first he is lamenting, but not without hope. For of directing the heart he is now speaking, that is, for the "Assyrians," for "men directing," the Psalm is. "Wherefore hast Thou thrown down her enclosure: and there pluck off her grapes all men passing along the way." What is "men passing along the way?" Men having dominion for a time.
8. "There hath laid her waste the boar from the wood" (ver. 13). In the boar from the wood what do we understand? To the Jews a swine is an abomination, and in a swine they imagine as it were the uncleanness of the Gentiles. But by the Gentiles was overthrown the nation of the Jews: but that king who overthrew, was not only an unclean swine, but was also a boar. For what is a boar but a savage swine, a furious swine? "A boar from the wood hath laid her waste." "From the wood," from the Gentiles. For she was a vineyard, but the Gentiles were woods. But when the Gentiles believed, there was said what? "Then there shall exult all the trees of the woods." "The boar from the wood hath laid her waste; and a singular wild beast hath devoured her." "A singular wild beast" is what? The very boar that laid her waste is the singular wild beast. Singular, because proud. For thus saith every proud one, It is I, it is I, and no other.
9. But with what profit is this? "O God of virtues turn Thou nevertheless" (ver. 14). Although these things have been done, "Turn Thou nevertheless." "Look from heaven and see, and visit this vineyard." "And perfect Thou her whom Thy right hand hath planted" (ver. 15). No other plant Thou, but this make Thou perfect. For she is the very seed of Abraham, she is the very seed in whom all nations shall be blessed: there is the root where is borne the graffed wild olive. "Perfect Thou this vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted." But wherein doth He perfect? "And upon the Son of man, whom Thou hast strengthened to Thyself." What can be more evident? Why do ye still expect, that we should still explain to you in discourse, and should we not rather cry out with you in admiration, "Perfect Thou this vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted, and upon the Son of man" perfect her? What Son of man? Him "whom Thou hast strengthened to Thyself." A mighty stronghold: build as much as thou art able. "For other foundation no one is able to lay, except that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus."
10. "Things burned with fire, and dug up, by the rebuke of Thy countenance shall perish" (ver. 16). What are the things burned with fire and dug up which shall perish from the rebuke of His countenance? Let us see and perceive what are the things burned with fire and dug up. Christ hath rebuked what? Sins: by the rebuke of His countenance sins have perished. Why then are sins burned with fire and dug up? Of all sins, two things are the cause in man, desire and fear Think, examine, question your hearts, sift your consciences, see whether there can be sins, except they be either of desire, or of fear. There is set before thee a reward to induce thee to sin, that is, a thing which delighteth thee; thou doest it, because thou desirest it. But perchance thou wilt not be allured by bribes; thou art terrified with menaces, thou doest it because thou fearest. A man would bribe thee, for example, to bear false witness. Countless cases there are, but I am setting before you the plainer cases, whereby ye may imagine the rest. Hast thou hearkened unto God, and hast thou said in thy heart, "What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but of his own soul suffer loss?" I am not allured by a bribe to lose my soul to gain money. He turneth himself to stir up fear within thee, he who was not able to corrupt thee with a bribe, beginneth to threaten loss, banishment, massacres, perchance, and death. Therein now, if desire prevailed not, perchance fear will prevail to make thee sin. ...What had evil fear done? It had dug up, as it were. For love doth inflame, fear doth humble: therefore, sins of evil love, with fire were lighted: sins of evil fear were dug up. On the one hand, evil fear doth humble, and good love doth light; but in different ways respectively. For even the husbandman interceding for the tree, that it should not be cut down, saith, "I will dig about it, and will apply a basket of dung." The dug trench doth signify the godly humility of one fearing, and the basket of dung the profitable squalid state of one repenting. But concerning the fire of good love the Lord saith, "Fire I have come to send into the world." With which fire may the fervent in spirit burn, and they too that are inflamed with the love of God and their neighbour. And thus, as all good works are wrought by good fear and good love, so by evil fear and evil love all sins are committed. Therefore, "Things set alight with fire and dug up," to wit, all sins, "by the rebuke of Thy countenance shall perish."
11. "Let Thy hand be upon the Man of Thy right hand, and upon the Son of Man whom Thou hast strengthened Thyself" (ver. 17). "And we depart not from Thee. ...Thou wilt quicken us, and Thy Name we will invoke" (ver. 18). Thou shalt be sweet to us, "Thou wilt quicken us." For aforetime we did love earth, not Thee: but Thou hast mortified our members which are upon the earth. For the Old Testament, having earthly promises, seemeth to exhort that God should not be loved for nought, but that He should be loved because He giveth something on earth. What dost thou love, so as not to love God? Tell me. Love, if thou canst, anything which He hath not made. Look round upon the whole creation, see whether in any place thou art held with the birdlime of desire, and hindered from loving the Creator, except it be by that very thing which He hath Himself created, whom thou despisest. But why dost thou love those things, except because they are beautiful? Can they be as beautiful as He by whom they were made? Thou admirest these things, because thou seest not Him: but through those things which thou admirest, love Him whom thou seest not. Examine the creation; if of itself it is, stay therein: but if it is of Him, for no other reason is it prejudicial to a lover, than because it is preferred to the Creator. Why have I said this? With reference to this verse, brethren. Dead, I say, were they that did worship God that it might be well with them after the flesh: "For to be wise after the flesh is death:" and dead are they that do not worship God gratis, that is, because of Himself He is good, not because He giveth such and such good things, which He giveth even to men not good. Money wilt thou have of God? Even a robber hath it. Wife, abundance of children, soundness of body, the world's dignity, observe how many evil men have. Is this all for the sake of which thou dost worship Him? Thy feet will totter, thou wilt suppose thyself to worship without cause, when thou seest those things to be with them who do not worship Him. All these things, I say, He giveth even to evil men, Himself alone He reserveth for good men. "Thou wilt quicken us;" for dead we were, when to earthly things we did cleave; dead we were, when of the earthly man we did bear the image. "Thou wilt quicken us;" Thou wilt renew us, the life of the inward man Thou wilt give us. "And Thy Name we will invoke;" that is, Thee we will love. Thou to us wilt be the sweet forgiver of our sins, Thou wilt be the entire reward of the justified. "O Lord God of virtues, convert us, and show Thy face, and we shall be whole" (ver. 20).