Father Tauton’s Commentary on Psalm 95

Psalm 95 (94):  A Prayer of a Son for David

Argument: Cardinal Tomasi in the collection of arguments collected from Origen, gives the following as meanings of this psalm.  That Christ, the Good Shepherd, predestinates His sheep with eternal rest.  The voice of the Church to the Lord touching the Jews.  The voice of Christ to the Apostles touching the Jews.  The voice of the Church advising to repentance.

Venerable Bede in his exposition of the Psalms says concerning this one: “Praise denotes devotion of voice; song, cheerfulness of mind, for David, Christ our Savior, to the end that we may come together and rejoice, not in vain delights, but in the Lord.  The prophet forseeing the rejection of Christ, invites the chosen people to come and praise God.  Secondly, the Lord Himself speaks that the aforesaid people should not harden its heart lest that if befall them which befell their fathers who did not reach the Land of Promise” (Migne P.L. vol xciiim p. 478).

1.  Oh, come let us sing unto the Lord.  Let us heartily rejoice in God our savior.  Let us come before His Face in confession, and in psalms let us rejoice before Him.

St Augustine (in Ennarationes in Psalmos), commenting on this verse, remarks that the prophet invites us to rejoice, not in the world, but in the Lord.  In saying Oh come, he means that those who are far off are to draw near.  But how can we be far off from Him Whom is present everywhere?  By unlikeness to Him, by an evil life, by bad habits.  A man standing still in one spot draws near to God by loving Him, and by loving that which is evil he withdraws from God.  Although he does not move his feet, he can yet both draw nigh and retire; for in this journey our feet are our affections.  Come, as sick men to a doctor to obtain relief, as scholars to a master to learn wisdom, as thirsty men to a fountain, as fugitives to a sanctuary, as blind men to the sun.  Thus writes the Carmelite, Michael Angriani.  Let us sing to the Lord.  Why then do we find it said: Blessed are they that mourn and Woe to you that laugh (Matt 5:4 and Luke 6:25)?  Surely because they are blessed who mourn to the world, and the woe is to them that laugh to the world; but blessed are they who exalt unto the Lord, who know not how to be glad of violence, of fraud, of their neighbor’s tears.  He joys in the Lord, who in word, deed, and work, exults not for himself but for his maker.  Thus states St Peter Chrysologus (Migne, P.L., vol liii. p. 328). Our Savior. St Jerome in his version of the psalms translates these words simply as “Jesus our Rock.”

Let us come before His face, that is, says St Augustine, let us make haste to meet Him, not waiting till He sends to call us before Him.  Not that we can in anyway forestall His grace and bounty to us, but that we may offer our thanksgiving with sufficient promptness to avoid the charge of ingratitude.

In confession, which may either be the confession of God’s might and goodness, or of our frailty and sin, the confession of praise, or the confession of grief.  In this second sense we are called upon to come away from our sins, to come in penance to God before He comes in judgment.  Confession in the Psalms is often used s equivalent to thanksgiving, for if we confess our unworthiness we must be filled with gratitude to God for His mercy in granting us forgiveness and restoring us to His favor.   The Face of God often stands in Holy Writ for His wrath, e.g., Turn away Thy Face from my sins (Psalm 50:9); and also for offering sacrifice (see Hosea 5:5-6; Habakkuk 2:20.  Modern translations may read ‘before, ‘ or ‘presence.’).   The sacrifice of thanksgiving under the Mosaic code was an oblation of cakes of fine flour and wafer bread; and thus in this place, says Fr. Lorin, S.J., we see a prophecy of the Sacrifice of the New Law, that Eucharistic oblation of praise and thanksgiving wherein Christ is Himself offered to the Father.

And in psalms let us rejoice before Him.-Psalms, says St Ambrose, denote the combination of will and action in good works because the word implies the use of an instrument as well as of a voice (Migne, P.L., vol xiv).  And, says Denis, the Carthusian, we may rejoice in psalms when we are alone, as well as when joining with others in the offices of the Church, saying, Oh come all ye powers of my soul, my whole being and all that is within me, especially my reason, memory and will, let us be glad together in the Lord.

2.  For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods: For the Lord will not repel His people, for in His hands are all the ends of the earth, and the heights of the mountains doth He behold.

Says Fr. Corder, To us the words teach the mystery of the Eternal Son, pointing out that our Lord even in His mortal body is a great God, by reason of the Hypostatic Union, and also because He is the express Image of the Father; whence we find this very title given Him by the Apostle saying: Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).  Christ, says St Bruno, is moreover the King whom all the gods, all those saints and rulers of His Church whom He has made partakers of Him, obey and love: I have said ye are gods (Jn 10:34).

For the Lord will not repel His people, That Christian folk, says Cardinal Hugo, which He hath purchased with His own Blood, He will not reject it, crying, praying, seeking or knocking to Him.

In His hands are all the ends of the earth.-If we take this as descriptive of the power of God over creation there is no better commentary on them that the words of Isaiah: He hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance (Isaiah 40:12).  But the fuller explanation is to take it as showing that whilst false gods are worshipped in special places, He alone is Lord everywhere.  And thus we see here a reference to the Church, no longer confined to the narrow limits of one people, but made up from all the nations of the earth.  The ends of the earth may denote all the powers and faculties of man, a notion which is brought out better by the Hebrew-all the deep places of the earth.

The heights of the mountains are types of the exalted citizens of heaven: thus says Fr. Lorin.  St Bruno says the earth is often put for men of earthly nd groveling minds, mountains for the saints lifted high by contemplation of Divine things.

3.  For the sea is His and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.  Come let us worship and fall down before God: Let us weep before the Lord who made us, for He is the Lord our God: but we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Besides the obvious interpretation concerning the wonder of creation, the sea, says St Augustine, denotes the Gentile nations tossed about in the bitterness and barreness of heathendom whom the Jews, in their spiritual pride, refused to believe God’s children.  Yet He made them, as it is written: Doubtless Thou art our Father though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer (Isaiah 63:16).   And His hands have formed the dry land. This land, differing from the sea in stability and in capacity of fruitfulness, denotes the Church or any holy soul.  It is dry, says St Bruno, because without the grace of God it can do nothing, as land will not bear unless it be watered, but gaspeth for Him as a thirsty ground (see Ps 144:6).  He formed it, which means more than he made it, implying that He gave shape and beauty and fulness to that which before was without form and void (Gen 1:2) by reason of Adam’s sin.  (Note: the commentator is applying a text about creation to the idea of re-creation.  Adam’s sin affected creation inasmuch as it caused disunity among men with one another and with God, as Genesis 3:8-13 shows.  Also, as a result of Adam’s sin, God cursed the earth so that in some ways it rebels against man, as we see in Gen 3:17-19.  In some sense it can be said that the earth is without form and is void because it no longer retains the fulness of purpose for which it was intended by God; this is why St Paul can write that “all creation groans in eager anticipation of the full revelation of the sons of God” in Romans 8:19).

We are to worship, that is, to bend the head as servants to their master, to fall down as subjects acknowledging their king.  To weep, for as Cassiodorus says: God calls His people first to rejoice, while they, yet, do not know the spiritual life, lest they be alarmed and repelled by its sorrows and austerities; but when they have once accepted the faith, He then summons them to repent of their sins (Migne, P.L., lxx).  But, says St Peter Chrysologus, they are tears of joy; for gladness, as well as sorrow, brings weeping, and grief for our past sins is blended with the hope of blessing and glory to come.  Some commentators, who take this Psalm as having special reference to our Lord’s nativity, see here a command to adore Him in the manger, undeterred ty the tokens of mortality and poverty around.

But we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.-St Augustine tells us that we are hereby taught that we, even as people, are sheep, in respect to God, needing Him as a Shepherd, and only to be satisfied with His green pastures.  Yet we are not unreasoning sheep to be driven with a staff.  We are guided with God’s Own hands, the very hands which made us and are so loving and ever heedful to prevent any harm that may come from negligence, ignorance, or malice of those inferior shepherds, to whom He commits, in a measure, the task of tending His flock.  He feeds us, says St Bruno, with Bread from heaven, as He once fed our spiritual forefathers with mann in the wilderness; and He cares for us as a shepherd cares for his flock, so that we need not be solicitous, but cast all our care on Him.  Says St Bonaventure, we must be like sheep in trustfulness, patience and innocence, and yet men in understanding, according to His Own saying: And ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord (Ezek 34:31).

4.  Today if ye shall hear His voice harden not your hearts, as in the provocation and as in the day of temptation in the desert: Where your fathers tempted Me, proved Me and saw My works.

Today, that is, daily while it is called today, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews explains in one of his threefold citations of this verse: But exhort one another daily while it is called today (Heb 3:13). So long as the night has not yet come, so long as the door of mercy is not shut.  today, at once, not deferring till tomorrow.

If you will hear His voice is the reply to the assertion in the previous verse: We are the sheep of His pasture; for the proof of being one of Christ;s flock is according to His own words-My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me (Jn 10:27).  This flock He gave in its entirety, both sheep and lambs, to His apostle Peter to be fed for Him (Jn 21:15-17).  So if we are fed by Peter we are fed by Christ, and belong to His one fold.  You call yourself His sheep; prove your claim, then, by hearing His voice.  And yet, as St Bernard tells us, there is no difficulty at all in hearing His voice; on the contrary, the difficulty is to stop our ears effectually against it, so clear is its sound, so constantly does it ring in our ears.  The Jews, remarks the Carmelite, sinned by refusing to listen to the voice of our Lord; and we also sin in the same way when we put off or refuse to repent.  Satan’s counsel, observes St Basil, is “today for me, tomorrow for God”; whereas, He that hath promised pardon to repentance hath not promised tomorrow to the sinner.

Harden not your hearts.-For in doing so, says St Albert the Great, you set yourselves in direct opposition to the will of God, which is to soften those hearts, in that He said: My doctrine shall drop as the rain, My speech shall distill as the dew (Deut 32:2), to moisten the dry ground that it may bring forth the tender buds of grace; whereas it is said of sinners that their hearts are stony: I will take the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26); and of Leviathan, the type of evil power, His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of nether millstone (Job 41:24).

As in the provocation and as in the day of temptation.-Some commentators refer the word provocation to the resistance of the Jews to the authority of Moses and temptation to their unbelief in the providence of God: And he called the naem of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us nor not? (Exodus 17:7).  Cardinal Hugo points out that the words which follow in the wilderness, are an aggravation of guilt, because it was exactly there, in the absence of all other help, that the thoughts of the Jews should have been most firmly set on God Who had so wonderfully brought them out of Egypt.  Those who come out of the Egypt of sin or worldliness, who begin a life of repentance, are at first in the wilderness.  They are deserted by those they have left behind; and, not attaining yet to what they seek, they re much exposed, in that stage of spiritual progress, to the risk of rebellion, of unbelief in God, and of resisting the pleadings of the Holy Ghost.

Where your fathers tempted Me.-There is a stress on your fathers, implying that we are the same nations which sinned in a former period of its history and are therefore likely to fall again.  The Carmelite remarks, we may tempt God in several ways: His mercy, by careless prayer; His patience, by remaining in sin; His justice, by desiring revenge; His power, by not trusting Him during perils; His wisdom, by undertaking to teach others without previous study and meditation.

Proved Me.-This is more than tempting, which denotes the bare experiment, whereas proving implies its success, for the God, whose power they doubted, slew them all in the wilderness.

And saw My works.-That is, says Fr. Lorin, although they saw them, and that during forty continuous years, yet they did not believe and were never subdued, but renewed their experiment after each miracle and judgment.

5.  Forty years was I nigh to this generation, and said, these do always err in heart; in truth they have not known My ways.  Unto whom I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest.

Forty years.-The writers do not fail to point out the mystical meaning of the number forty, repeated in the fasts of Elijah and our Lord, and in the great forty days after Easter; and they tell us that as ten is the first limit we meet in computation, so that this number and its multiples give all the subsequent names to sums, it serves as a type of fulness; while four, as denoting either the seasons of the year or the quarters of the heavens, extends that fulness to all time and place; and thus forty years stands here for the entire span of our earthly sojourn.  Remigius, monk as St Germain (see Migne, P.L. 131), points out the stress on years, because the journey of Elijah teaches us that the Israelites could have passed through the desert in forty days had they only been obedient (1 Kings 19:8).

Nigh.-Some commentators take this word in the sense that one who punishes is near the criminal, or of a teacher who keeps beside an idle and refractory pupil to compel his attention.  St Augustine explains it of God’s continual presence in signs and miracles; while St Bernard interprets it of an inward voice and inspiration.  The cause of God’s anger was the ingratitude of the children of Israel for His unceasing watch over them.

This generation.-And whereas this applies literally to the 60,000 who came up out of Egypt, and then by accommodation, to all living men at any time while it is called today, there is also a special fitness in taking it of the Jews after the Passion of Christ; for, says Perez of Valentia, the interval which lay between that and the final destruction of Jerusalem was almost precisely forty years, up to which time the door of hope was still open for Israel, and it was still today ere that terrible night set upon the Temple worship.

Always do these err in their heart.-This is much more forcible, observes Cardinal Hugo, than if it were said, they err in act; for the error of an act has a definite end, whereas the error of the will has no end.  Death puts an end to the evil doings of a sinner, not because he has lost the will to sin, but because he has no longer the power to do so.

For they have not known My ways.-The word known does not here signify acquaintance with God’s ways which may be gathered from reading or meditation, but that knowing which comes from a careful keeping to His ways themselves, that is, from living lives fruitful in good works.  And the ways of God, as St Bonaventure remarks, are all reducible to one, that is Jesus Himself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6); moreover, they all lead to the same heavenly country.  They are one way in their making, their maker, and their end; they are many ways according to the diversities of the working of grace, the variety of vocations and of disposition among those who journey home through the wilderness.

Unto whom I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest.-This He did when the spies brought back evil reports of the Land of Promise and the children of Israel prepared to elect a leader to take them back to Egypt (Num 14:26).  It is a terrible warning, comments St Augustine.  We began the Psalm with rejoicing but we end with awful dread.  It is a great thing that God should speak; but how much more that God should swear.  A man who hath sworn is to be feared, lest he should, for his oath’s sake, do aught against his will.  How much more then ought we not to fear God Who cannot swear rashly?  Let no one say in his heart, that which he promiseth is true, that which he threateneth is false.  As sure as thou art of rest,happiness, eternity, immortality, if thou keep the commandments, so certain shouldest thou be of destruction, of the burning of everlasting fire, of damnation with the devil, if thou despise His Law.  He hath sworn that these shall not enter into His rest, and yet, it remaineth that some must enter therein (Heb 4:6), for it could not be designed for no occupant.  And this rest, which meant the early Canaan to the Jews of old, means for us that Sabbath of the heavenly Fatherland whereof the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us: Now there remained a rest to the people of God (Heb 4:9).  Even here, on earth, says the Carmelite, before reaching the blessed Land, there remaineth a rest for God’s people, whereof the weekly Sabbath is a sign and a pledge.  This is the rest from sin, common to all the just, and the rest from bodily cares and stilling of temptation, which comes in measure to contemplative saints; while, crowning all, there is the rest of the blessed, whence sorrow is banished for evermore.  Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief (Heb 4:11) and be included under the terrible oath of exclusion; and in prayer for grace that it may not be so, O come let us worship and fall down and weep before the Lord our Maker. Thus says the Carthusian.

Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, the great King above all gods; Glory be to the Son, the Strength of our salvation; Glory be to the Holy Ghost who saith, Today if ye hear His voice harden not your hearts.

Next installment in this series will be a commentary on the Matin Hymn The God, Whom earth and sea and sky, Adore and laud and magnify.

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4 Responses to Father Tauton’s Commentary on Psalm 95

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