A Patristic/Medieval Commentary On Psalm 4

The Title: English Version-To the Chief Musician on Neginoth; a Psalm of David.  Vulgate-To the end, in the Songs, a Psalm of David.  Or according to modern critics: To the Supreme, for the stringed instruments: a Psalm of David.

The Argument: Aquinas– That Christ after His Passion was glorified by God the Father.  The prophet blameth the Jews.  Of admonishing our neighbor.  Bede-Christ is the End of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth, the glorious perfection of all good; or as others will have it, it is said of us, “Upon whom the Ends of the world are come.”  Through the whole Psalm holy Mother Church speaks.  In the first part, she makes supplication that her prayers may be heard, and blames unbelievers, who, adoring fake gods, neglected the worship of the true Lord.  In the second, she admonishes the Gentile world to forsake their false superstition, and to offer the Sacrifice of Righteousness; and in order that she may convert them by holding forth a promise, she commemorates the blessings which the Lord hath bestowed on Christians.  Arnobius-That the God of justice heard His Son on the Cross, against whom His own people in their rage sin even to this very day.

Introduction: We must use this Psalm as David did.  It would seem to have been written when he had been concealed from the pursuit of Saul in a rock in the wilderness of Maon (1 Sam 23:25).  And we, if we would say it aright, must take refuge from our spiritual enemies in the true Rock, which is Christ: according to the saying, “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks” (Prov 30:20).  This is a Compline Psalm all through the Western Church.


4:1  Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble; have mercy upon me, and hearken unto my prayer.

God of my righteousness. For “this is His Name whereby He shall be called;” else it will be said to us, as it was to the Jews, “When ye make many prayers, I will not hear” (Isa 1:15).  Have mercy upon me, by removing evil, and hearken unto my prayer, by bestowing good.  Have mercy, and therefore we must have mercy (i.e., if we want God’s mercy we must be willing to show mercy to others).  In trouble: God therefore allows His people to fall into distress, that the trial of faith may be theirs, and the glory of their deliverance His; even as it is written, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9-10).

[Set me at liberty.  More exactly, with the LXX and the Vulgate, &c.  Thou hast enlarged me. It is the Church which speaks, dwelling on the goodness of God in giving her the greatest increase of converts exactly in the time of trouble, when Martyrs and Confessors had to strive for their crowns.]

4:2  O ye sons of men, how long will ye blaspheme mine honor: and have such pleasures in vanity, and seek after leasing?

Still the Church cries to God in her trouble.  Sons of men, as distinguished from sons of God.  Mine honor, that is, Him Who condescends to all shame for us, that we might obtain all glory through Him.  In vanity: in the things of this world, which are “Vanity of Vanities,” (Eccle 1:2) or in the devices of our own hearts: for “the Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are but vain” (Ps 94:11).

[Blaspheme min honor. Literally, as in A.V., turn my glory into shame.  And so, very nearly, the Syriac.  But the LXX, Vulgate, Ethiopic, read, How long will ye be heavy of heart? This is, they note, how long will you be laid down with mere temporal cares, instead of rising to the divine contemplation?  Following the Hebrew, we may remember how the idolatrous Jews, “turned their glory into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay” (Ps 106:20); how too, later, they mocked and reviled the Father’s Splendor, and lastly, how evil Christians “blaspheme that worthy Name by which ye are called” (James 2:7)]

4:3  Know this also, that the Lord hath chosen to himself the man that is godly: when I call upon the Lord he will hear me.

The man that is godly: even that Man Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (see Isa 53:9; 1 Pet 2:22).  And it is because He is chosen to be our Intercessor, that, therefore, when we call upon the Lord, He wil hear us.  Know this: And how?  By prophecies and types in the Old Testament: in the New, by the miracles of “Him who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), and the victories of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5).

[Chosen to Himself: The LXX and Vulgate have, He hath made His saint wonderful.  His Saint, or Holy One, is Christ the Son, Whose Name shall be called Wonderful (Isa 9:6), Whom the Father made wonderful in His Conception, Nativity, Transfiguration, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension.  And Therefore, because He, My Advocate, is throned on high, His Father will hear me when I call upon Him.]

4:4  Stand in awe, and in not: commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still.

It is, therefore, only by standing in awe, that we can be free from sin.  Commune with your own heart on the sins of the past day, following the disease with a remedy; and in your chamber, for:

“I seek for Jesus in repose,
When round my heart its chambers close”-St Bernard

And be still: for “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20).

[Stand in awe. The Hebrew is, Tremble (denoting agitation from whatever cause).  But the ancient versions, with one voice, turn it Be ye angry.  And so the Apostle read these words, for he cites them exactly: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon thy wrath” (Eph 4:26).  Angry, with your past sins, determining not to repeat them; angry with the first motions of sin, resisting them steadily.  Angry with the zeal which is jealous for God’s honor, but not for your own wrongs.  The verse runs on in the LXX and Vulgate: Sin not; for that which ye say in your hearts, be smitten with compunction upon your beds. That is to say, that impunity from earthly tribunals and public shame does not acquit us in the sight of God, and we must therefore try and judge ourselves in secret at the bar of conscience even when men count us innocent.  Or it might be directed against lip-worship, and mean, What ye say outwardly, say again in the hidden recesses of your heart, and that with piercing eagerness of prayer.  And lastly, whereas the literal sense applies to secret cabals and treason against David, so the mystical sense warns against false teachers in the Church who, rebels at heart against David’s Son, have not the courage to express their unbelief openly, but are not the less guilty on that account].

4:5  Offer the sacrifice of righteousness: and put your trust in the Lord.

Offer the sacrifice of righteousness.  And in the first sense by restoring to God that of which we have defrauded Him: for we have robbed Him of many things.  As it is written: “Will a man rob God? yet ye have robbed Me” (Mal 3:8).  We have robbed Him of that glory that is His due; of the love we should bear Him, of the obedience we should pay Him, of the fear we should render Him.  And we must offer all these as just sacrifices before we can put our trust in the Lord.  Note, sacrifice (the biblical text is in the singular), not sacrifices, because they all spring from one root, which is, love a sacrifice needing no altar, fire, nor victim but the heart alone.  But in the higher sense offer the sacrifice of righteousness, by setting forth the Lord’s Death till His coming again; the sacrifice of Him Who is our Righteousness, the sacrifice by which holiness is increased: and put your trust in the Lord, Whose death you thus set forth, according to His own commandment.

4:6  There be many that say: Who will show us any good?

This may be taken in tow senses.  There be many that say, despising God’s promises of eternal blessedness, Who will show us any earthly good? Again, therbe many heathen lands who long for some knowledge of future and eternal good, and yet, because none go forth to evangelize them, are compelled again and again to ask, Who will show us any good, who will show us any good? And the question is answered in another Psalm, “No good thing shall He withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11).

4:7  Lord, lift thou up: the light of thy countenance upon us.

In opposition to such vain inquiries after good, in this and the two following verses, we have the three sources whence the servants of God obtain it.  In this verse, light, in the 8th, gladness, and in the 9th, peaceThe light of Thy countenance, which is the true light; the Light of light; the pillar of fire to guide us through the wilderness of this world, which cannot mislead, and cannot fail: a light to show us the recesses of our own hearts, their sinfulness and vileness; the enemies that beset us, their malice and watchfulness; the defenders that fight for us, their love and power: the light of grace, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day, the light of glory.

[Lift Thou up.  as a banner in the day of battle.  But the LXX and Vulgate read, The light of Thy countenance hath been signed upon us, O Lord.  Signed, as the image of a king upon a coin, as his signet upon wax, because we have been stamped anew with the Image of God, formerly marred and worn by sin, and that through His mercy Who is the Light of God’s countenance.  The word signed causes many of the commentators to look to the Cross, the especial badge of Christ’s victory, and type of His Passion, the seal which the servants of God receive in their foreheads at baptism.  Seal or banner, we have it alike in the hymn:

Ave, signum novae legis,
Et vexillum summi Regis,
In te culpas sui gregis
Bonus Pastor abstulit:
Ipsum habeamus ducem
Ad coelestis regni lucen,
Qui cruore suo crucem
Consecrare voluit

4:8  Thou has put gladness in my heart: since the time that their corn and wine and oil increased.

Since the time that our Lord left us His blessed Sacraments; the corn, nmely, the Body which He took for us men, and which was born at Bethlehem, which is by interpretation the “house of bread;” the wine, His precious Blood, which indeed “maketh glad the heart of man,” and the oil, the grace of the Holy Ghost; gladness is truly put into the heart of His servants, which shall lead on to that time, when they shall “obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa 35:10).  The Vulgate translation is entirely different: “From the fruit of their corn, wine, and oil, they have been multiplied.”  And they explain it, of course, of the multiplication of the Church’s graces in the multiplication of her Sacraments;  all which Sacraments had their rise, as it were, in the Passion of our Lord, to which the next verse so beautifully leads us.

[Corn and wine, and oil. The wicked have their fruits as well as the Saints, the corn of earthly riches, the wine of intoxicating pleasures, the oil of flattery and ease, with which, as the LXX has it, they have been filled.  With these they are busily engaged, but the Church, turning from such thoughts, looks to her rest in Christ alone.  The true meaning of the passage is that given in the AV.  Thou has put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and wine were increased.  That is, joyful and gladdening as is the Holy Eucharist upon earth, there is yet something better, a still more perfect union, awaiting us, when the Sacramental veils shall be withdrawn, and we shall see face to face.

Jesu, Whom thus veiled I must see below,
When shall that be granted, which I long for so,
That at last beholding Thy uncovered Face,
Thou wouldst satisfy me with Thy fullest grace?St Thomas Aquinas].

4:9  I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest: for it is thou, Lord, only that makest me dwel in safety.

And they who have all their life long been fed with the Body and Blood of their Lord, and been one with Him, as He is with them, may well say, when its evening is drawing on, I will lay me down in peace in the grave where He Who is our Peace also lay, and, after the trials and temptations of this life, take my rest.  It is a beautiful motto for the resting-place of a line of kings, “I sleep, but my heart waketh” (Cant 5:2).  To dwell in safetyIn safety, amidst temptations while on earth; in safety, as respects the body from final dissolution in the grave; in perfect safety,-in heaven.

[In peace.  The LXX and Vulgate here add the phrase in idipsum, that is, as they say, the same, unchangeable, eternal.  So the Cluniac:

The peace of all the faithful,
The calm of all the blest,
Inviolate, unvaried,
Divinest, sweetest, best.-St Bernard

But far lovelier than this is the Ethiopic, which reads, In peace, in Him, I will lay me down:

Pillow where lying,
Love rests its head,
Peace of the dying,
Life of the dead:
Path of the lowly,
Prize at the end,
Breath of the holy,
Savior and Friend].

Note: These first four Psalms contain in brief the whole Gospel.  The first, the Life of Christ: “Blessed is the Man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly;” the second, His Passion: “The rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed;” the fourth, His Precious Death and Burial: “I will lay me down in peace and take my rest;” the third, His Resurrection: “I laid me down and slept, and rose up again.”

[Wherefore:  Glory be to the Father, Who is the Lord; glory be to the Son, Who is His Countenance; glory be to the Holy Ghost, Who is the Light of that Countenance.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.  Amen]]


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One Response to A Patristic/Medieval Commentary On Psalm 4

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B | stjoeofoblog

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