St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 118

Psalm 117
The psalmist praises God for his delivery from evils; puts his whole trust in him, and foretells the coming of Christ

Psa 118:1 Give praise to the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

David invites all to praise God, and assigns a reason for their doing so, “for he is good;” nothing more brief, and at the same time more sublime, could be said of him, for God alone can be said to be intrinsically good, and it is such goodness only that deserves to be praised; he adds, “for his mercy endureth forever;” to show that God, even in his actions, is good, and as such, is deserving of praise; for the wretched have no better way of coming at a knowledge of God’s goodness than through his mercy. For it was his mercy that created, redeemed, protects, and will crown us; and, thus, “his mercy endureth forever.”

Psa 118:2 Let Israel now say, that he is good: that his mercy endureth for ever.
Psa 118:3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
Psa 118:4 Let them that fear the Lord now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.

He tells who he had invited to praise God, namely, the people of Israel first, from whom the Apostles were descended, and who were the first believers in Christ. He names the house of Aaron in the second place, next to the Apostles, “A great multitude of the priests obeyed the faith,” Acts 6; and all the gentiles, finally, who believed and united with the rising Church. He thus invites the whole Church, formed of Jews and gentiles, to praise God.

Psa 118:5 In my trouble I called upon the Lord: and the Lord heard me, and enlarged me.

He now begins to tell what he is going to praise God for, and it is for his having been in trouble, or, as the Hebrew has it, angustiated, or compassed in a narrow place, and that when he prayed to God he was heard at once, and was enlarged. “In my trouble I called upon the Lord;” without boasting of my own merits, or complaining of being unjustly persecuted, I had recourse to God’s mercy; “and the Lord heard me, and enlarged me,” by delivering me from all the dangers that encompassed me. Anyone reading Psalms 17 and 33, will at once see how applicable all this was to David himself; and it is equally so to the Church, because in its infancy, when Herod threw St. Peter, the chief head and pastor of the Church into prison, “and when prayer was made without ceasing by the Church to God for him,” it was heard at once, and by a most wonderful miracle it was enlarged from the depth of tribulation to the fullest extent of peace and consolation; and as often as the same Church was delivered from the persecutions of Nero, Decius, and Diocletian, and such persecutors, it might exclaim with David, “In my trouble I called upon the Lord; and the Lord heard me, and enlarged me.”

Psa 118:6 The Lord is my helper: I will not fear what man can do unto me.
Psa 118:7 The Lord is my helper: and I will look over my enemies.

David, or God’s people, if you will, being taught by experience, exults in great confidence, but does not say, the Lord is my helper, and I shall suffer no more, knowing that while he is a pilgrim here below he will have much to suffer from his daily enemies; but be says, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me.” I will not be troubled in regard of any annoyance I may meet with from man, because the Lord will turn all such things to good, for so he reminded us when he said, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do;” and again, “A hair from your head shall not perish;” and the Apostle tells us, “For our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure, exceedingly, an eternal weight of glory.” He, therefore, justly adds, “and I will look over my enemies;” for their persecutions only tend to increase my glory.

Psa 118:8 It is good to confide in the Lord, rather than to have confidence in man.
Psa 118:9 It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes.

He draws a useful admonition from what he has said, on placing all our hope in God, and not in man, however powerful. For God is always both able and willing to help those who put their trust in him; while men are very often unable, or when they are able, being influenced by various passions, are unwilling to offer any help. David knew that by experience, for he confided in Saul his king, at another time in Achis, the Certhean, at another time in Achitophel, his own most prudent minister, besides several others, and they all failed him, but he never confided in God, without feeling the benefit of it. He, therefore, says, strongly advising all, “It is good to confide in the Lord, rather than to have confidence in men.” Such a comparison is just suited to man’s infirmity, as we are well acquainted with the power of man, and especially of princes; while God’s power is hidden to many, who neither see it, nor reflect upon it; perhaps, even disbelieve God’s greatness, otherwise he should have had to say, it is good to hope in the Lord, and evil to hope in man. So Jeremias says, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man.” It is not, however, sinful to put our trust, to a certain extent, in the help of the Angels, or of pious people, because such hope has reference to God, who helps those who trust in him, not only directly through himself; but also indirectly through others.

Psa 118:10 All nations compassed me about; and, in the name of the Lord I have been revenged on them.
Psa 118:11 Surrounding me they compassed me about: and in the name of the Lord I have been revenged on them.
Psa 118:12 They surrounded me like bees, and they burned like fire among thorns: and in the name of the Lord I was revenged on them.

From his own example, he shows the advantage of putting one’s trust in God; for it was not once, but several times, that he was beset by a most powerful enemy on all sides, and was most miraculously so rescued by God, as to behold them all laid prostrate about him. If we refer the passage to David, everyone knows how often he was overpowered by Saul with a numerous army, and most unexpectedly and miraculously rescued; and it is better known how often God’s people have suffered the direst persecutions from powerful kings and innumerable people, and seen God’s vengeance wreaked on the instigators of such persecutions. To show it was no ordinary persecution, he adds, “Surrounding me, they compassed me about,” so as to leave no chance of escape, “They surrounded me like bees,” to show their number and their fury; for bees surrounding a hive can scarcely be numbered; and to show their fury, he says, “They burned like fire among thorns,” that can scarcely be checked or extinguished once it gets a hold of them, and destroys them in a minute.

Psa 118:13 Being pushed I was overturned that I might fall: but the Lord supported me.
Psa 118:14 The Lord is my strength and my praise: and he is become my salvation.

Having hitherto expatiated on the multitude and the atrocity of his enemies, he now acknowledges his own weakness, as being quite unable to compete with them, that God may thus have greater glory in the matter. I was unable to resist such violence; and thus these attacks of the enemy had nigh accomplished my ruin, had not the Lord, coming in at the proper time, “supported me.” This may have reference to the various dangers David had from time to time to encounter; and it may also refer to the spiritual dangers of temptation, to which the early Christians were subject when they suffered so much persecution, under which they would have succumbed, had they not been imbued with the spirit of those verses, “The Lord is my strength and my praise.” “The Lord is my strength;” because it is through him I conquer; “and my praise,” because I am always bound to praise him; “and he is become my salvation;” has been my Savior.

Psa 118:15 The voice of rejoicing and of salvation is in the tabernacles of the just.

The just who heard of David’s liberation rejoiced much thereat; but much more so, on the delivery of the early Christians from persecution, was there the voice of rejoicing and the voice of salvation announcing, in the tabernacles of the just, the joyful news of salvation.

Psa 118:16 The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength: the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me: the right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength.

The voice of rejoicing and salvation that resounded in the tabernacles of the just is that “the right hand of the Lord,” the might and power of the Son of God, “hath wrought strength;” has done its work bravely and powerfully; for the Son of God is called in Scripture the arm, or the right hand of the Lord, because it is through the Son that the Father has done, and still does, everything. “All things were made by him,” Jn. 1; “By whom also he made the world,” Heb. 1; “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Isaias 53; “He hath shown might in his arm,” Lk. 1; “The right hand of The Lord hath exalted me.” Herein hath the right hand of the Lord wrought strength, inasmuch as it exalted me, and lowered my enemies, which is just as applicable to the Church as to David. The repetition of “the right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength,” is for the sake of expressing his joy and gladness.

Psa 118:17 I shall not die, but live: and shall declare the works of the Lord.
Psa 118:18 The Lord chastising hath chastised me: but he hath not delivered me over to death.

The same David, or, if you will, God’s people, goes on in recording God’s mercy, who permits them to suffer persecution as a father; and not as an enemy, for the purpose, not of destroying, but of purging them. As much as to say, however great the persecutions I have suffered, and am still suffering, “I shall not die but live.” I will not be utterly exterminated, as my enemies desire; but I will hold out, “and shall declare the works of the Lord,” “who chastising, chastised me” with the rod of a father; “but he hath not delivered me to death.”

Psa 118:19 Open ye to me the gates of justice: I will go in to them, and give praise to the Lord.
Psa 118:20 This is the gate of the Lord, the just shall enter into it.

The favors he received having inspired him with the courage of aiming at higher ones, he demands an introduction to the heavenly Jerusalem, where no sinners are to be found. “Open ye to me the gates of justice,” the gates of the kingdom of heaven which is all justice, for justice is the gate of glory: “Seek (says our Lord) just the kingdom of God and his justice.”—“I will go into them, and give praise to the Lord,” because, according to Psalm 83, “They that dwell in thy house, O Lord, shall praise thee forever and ever.”—“This is the gate of the Lord, the just shall enter into it.” This gate of justice is the true gate, the only gate that leads to the Lord, and, therefore, it is only the just shall enter by it.

Psa 118:21 I will give glory to thee because thou hast heard me: and art become my salvation.

He now explains the expression, “I will go into them and give praise to the Lord,” for he says, “I will give glory to thee,” when I shall have entered the heavenly Jerusalem, through the gates of justices, “because thou hast heard me;” for though the just ask for many and various things in this world, they all tend to one petition, of which Psalm 26, says, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Concerning this petition, then, he says, “I will give glory to thee because thou hast heard me,” which be explains more fully when he adds, “and art become my salvation;” you that were my hope have become my salvation; you who fed me on the way are now my reward in heaven.

Psa 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected; the same is become the head of the corner.
Psa 118:23 This is the Lord’s doing , and it is wonderful in our eyes.

Christ having repeatedly quoted this passage in reference to himself, St. Peter having done the same, in which he has been followed by St. Paul, there can be no doubt of its applying solely and exclusively to Christ. David, then, having sung of his own delivery, and of the delivery of God’s people from their temporal calamities, and having asked for his own and their admission to eternal happiness, explains now how God opened the way to it; and, undoubtedly, hurried away by an increased light of prophecy, exclaims, “The stone which the builders rejected the same is become the head of the corner;” that is to say, God sent a living, precious, chosen stone on earth, but the Jews, who then had the building of the Church, rejected that stones and said of it, “This man, who observeth not the sabbath is not of God;” and “We have no king but Caesar;” and, “That seducer said, I will rise after three days;” and many similar things beside. But this stone, so rejected by the builders as unfit for raising the spiritual edifice, “Is become the head of the corner;” has been made by God, the principal architect, the bond to connect the two walls and keep them together, that is to say, has been made the head of the whole Church, composed of Jews and Gentiles; and such a head, that whoever is not under him cannot be saved; and whoever is built under him, the living stone, will certainly be saved. Now all this “is the Lord’s doing,” done by his election and design, without any intervention on the part of man, and, therefore, it is wonderful in our eyes.” For who is there that must not look upon it as a wonderful thing, to find a man crucified, dead and buried, rising, after three days, from the dead, immortal, with unbounded power, and declared Prince of men and Angels, and a way opened through him for mortal man, to the kingdom of heaven, to the society of the Angels, to a happy immortality?

Psa 118:24 This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.

“This day” on which such a thing was accomplished, is really the day “which the Lord hath made.” and, therefore, for such a favor “let us be glad and rejoice therein.” The day of the resurrection, beyond doubt, for, though from his very conception, the Lord Jesus was the Christ, and the head of the Church, hence we find the Angel saying to the shepherds—“I bring you tidings of great joy, for this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord, in the city of David;” still, it was necessary for him, first, to be rejected by men, to be humbled, even to the death of the cross; then to be exalted, through his resurrection, then to be declared the chief corner stone, and to have it preached through all nations, “that there was salvation in none other;” hence, he said, “All power is given me in heaven, and on earth, go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The day of the resurrection is called “the day which the Lord hath made,” either because Christ, by his resurrection, as a Sun of Justice, made that day in a new manner, or because he specially consecrated that day to his service, or because he set it aside, “that we may be glad and rejoice therein.”

Psa 118:25 O Lord, save me: O Lord, give good success.
Psa 118:26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord. We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.

These are the very praises that the crowd saluted our Savior with on the day of the palms, with the exception of their making use of the word “Hosanna,” instead of, “O Lord, save me,” as we have it here. Thus, the Lord on that day wished to make a visible exhibition of, and to anticipate the invisible triumph he was about to enjoy on the day of his resurrection. Nor could it be fairly objected to him that he was enjoying a triumph before he obtained the victory, because he was most certain of the victory, and the Prophet, as well as he, foresaw and foretold that Christ would be rejected as the corner stone at the time of his passion, and that he would be afterwards exalted in his resurrection, so as to become the head of the corner, so he also foresaw and foretold the very words the crowd would make use of on the day of Christ’s triumph, the day of the palms by which the triumph of the resurrection was signified, and turns to account the fact of both having occurred on the same day, namely, the Lord’s day. He, therefore, says, “Let us be glad, and rejoice on this day,” saying, “O Lord, save me, O Lord, give good success” in the commencement of your reign. “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord;” may the Messias, our King, now become the head of the corner, be blessed by all, “that cometh in the name of the Lord,” that does not come of himself, an usurper like Antichrist, but comes, having been sent by his Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, as Christ himself explains, in Jn. 5. “We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.” Having explained the whole prophecy regarding the coming of Christ and his triumph, the Prophet now addresses the people, and exhorts them to celebrate a solemn festival in thanksgiving, “We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.” We, prophets, have blessed you, a faithful people, by announcing to you those divine mysteries that lead to your salvation.

Psa 118:27 The Lord is God, and he hath shone upon us. Appoint a solemn day, with shady boughs, even to the horn of the altar.

This is, as it were, a summary of all, as much as to say, our Lord is the true God, and he hath shone upon us by showing us the light of his mercies. Therefore, appoint a solemn shady day, by bringing in lots of green branches to ornament the temple to the very horn of the altar. That is variously interpreted, according to the ceremonies of the Jews, that do not concern us at present.

Psa 118:28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, and I will exalt thee. I will praise thee, because thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.
Psa 118:29 O praise ye the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

These verses are only a repetition of the preceding, in order to express the vehement affections of the prophet.

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One Response to St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 118

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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