Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Psalm 140 (141) with Commentaries by Church Fathers

PSALM 140 (141)

1 A psalm by David.
O Lord, I have cried to You; hear me; 
Give heed to the voice of my supplication when I cry to You. 

2 Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, 
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. 

3 Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, 
A door of enclosure about my lips. 

4 Incline not my heart to evil words, 
To make excuses in sins With men who work lawlessness; 
And I will not join with their choice ones. 

5 The righteous man shall correct me 
With mercy, and he shall reprove me; 
But let not the oil of the sinner anoint my head, 
For my prayer shall be intense in the presence of their pleasures. 

6 Their judges are swallowed up by the rock; 
They shall hear my words, for they are pleasant. 

7 As a clod of ground is dashed to pieces on the earth, 
So our bones were scattered beside the grave. 

8 For my eyes, O Lord, O Lord, are toward You; 
In You I hope; take not my soul away. 

9 Keep me from the snares they set for me, 
And from the stumbling blocks of those who work lawlessness. 

10 Sinners shall fall into their own net; 
I am alone, until I escape.

OSB: Psalm of evening Incense. Incense is the visible sign of prayers of all God’s people. Incense has been used in the church from its beginning.
CHRYSOSTOM: I believe it was not without purpose that this psalm was prescribed for daily recital, nor on account of recital of the one verse, “lifting up of my hands in evening sacrifice”. For other psalms contain this sentiment... they prescribed its recital as a kind of saving medicine and cleansing of sins so that what ever stain we incur throughout the day—abroad, at home, wherever we pass the time—we might on coming to the evening expunge through this spiritual air. It is, you see, a medicine that removes all these stains.
TEHILLIM: This Psalm teaches an important lesson: We should pray for Divine assistance that our mouths not speak what is not in our hearts. The gatekeeper only allows the gate to be opened for a good purpose: Let it be the same with our lips.

A psalm by David.
1. O Lord, I have cried to You; hear me; Give heed to the voice of my supplication when I cry to You.

CHRYSOSTOM: Why does the psalmist say, “I cry to you?” He refers here to a cry from within, which the ardent heart produced, and the contrite attitude... In other words, just as one who shouts exhausts all energy, so too the one shouting in the heart gathers together all powers of thought. God therefore looks for such a cry that brings together the movements of the heart, and allows no distraction or interruption on the part of the singer. Not only does He look for such a cry, but also the directing of prayer to Him: there are many standing for prayer who do not raise their shouting to God but, while their lips shout to God and bandy about God’s name, the mind of none of them is attuned to the words. Such a one does not cry, even if shouting loudly; nor does such a one pray to God, even if seeming to pray to Him.
He asks to be heard not from vehemence of his prayer but even from the offering of such a prayer as to be worthy of those unsleeping eyes. Now what kind of prayer is that? Your praying not against your enemies, nor for wealth and material advantage, nor for influence and reputation, nor for anything passing, but for those unending and immortal  things. Seek the kingdom of God,” Scripture says, remember, “and all things will be give to you.” in “my crying out to You,” do you see how He wishes us to call out with zeal, with enthusiasm?...remember the devil lies in waiting...he is anxious to drive us into indifference and incline our thinking so as to make us give up prayer without result.... Aware of this we should throw up against his our zeal and never pray against our enemies but imitate the Apostles. They suffered countless calamities...Surely they did not say, “Squash them”, or “kill them”... Do you see prayer characterized by sound values, demanding no punishment of enemies despite such calamities?

2. Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

CHRYSOSTOM: Scripture says, “I wish men to pray in every place, raising holy hands without argument or controversy.
What is the inspired author wanting to teach us in speaking about an evening sacrifice? In olden Times there were two altars, one made of bronze, the other of gold: the former was public and accessible, available for the victims of the whole assembly, other removed in the inner sanctum and behind the veil... in the outside altar each evening a lamb was offered and burnt. It was called the evening sacrifice, and twice a day the altar had to be lit in the temple, besides other victims offered by the people.This was an obligation for the priests so that in the event of no one offered yet, in house and automatically morning and evening a lamb would be sacrificed and burnt. This had been legislated by God indicating through this happening that there was need to worship Him constantly, at the beginning and the end of the day. ...the kind of offering was sometimes acceptable, sometimes unacceptable, depending on the disposition of the offers in terms of virtue or vice, whereas what was offered not for the sins of others but was a requirement of law and a ritual of worship was acceptable in every case.
The psalmist therefore asks for his prayer to become like that sacrifice defiled by no blemish of the offer, like pure and holy incense. He is asking us to offer prayers that are pure and fragrant ... the incense even if itself is fine and sweet smelling, but gives particular evidence of its fragrance at the time when it is mixed with fire, So to is prayer fine of itself but becomes finer and more sweet smelling when offered with ardor and a glowing spirit, when the soul become a censer and lights a burning fire. The incense should not be added unless the  brazier had been previously lit....Do likewise with your own mind: first light it with enthusiasm and then offer your prayer.
TEHILLIM-Chasidut: This verse links incense with afternoon prayer suggesting some commonality.
Two of the daily services performed in the Temple were the sheep offering and the burning of the incense. Whereas the animal was sacrificed on the “outer altar,” which stood in the Temple’s courtyard, the incense was burned on the “inner altar” located in the “Holy,” and area of greater sanctity than the courtyard.
The outer altar represents our “external heart,” the part of us where emotions are born of intellect. Intellectual appreciation of God’s limited by what the mind can comprehend, which is  distilled version of God’s glory. It therefore produces only an “external love” foe Him.
The “inner heart”, however, is where our innate love of God resides. This attraction to the Divine is not the result of logical analysis. It is the reflex of a soul bound inextricably with God.
CHRYSOSTOM: What is meaning of lifting of hands? Since they administer to many wicked actions, such as beatings, murders, robberies, fraud, for that very reason we are bidden to lift them up so that the ministry of prayer may prove a containment of these very vices and freedom from evil.
You are not offering a censer on an altar of bronze or even gold, but on one more precious than that, in a spiritual temple....in you God has His dwelling, you are member and body of Christ.
JOHN CASSIAN: We can understand in a still more spiritual sense that the true evening sacrifice is what was given by the Lord our Savior in the evening to the apostles at the Supper, when he instituted the holy mysteries of the church, and what he himself, on the following day at the end of the ages, offered up to the Father by the lifting up of his hands for the salvation of the whole world. The spreading forth of his hands on the Cross is quite correctly called a “lifting up.” For when we were all lying in Hades, he raised us to heaven, according to the word of his own promise, when he says: “When I have been lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”16 INSTITUTES 3.3.17 
REARDON: First, the Old Testament’s “evening sacrifice” was a type of and preparation for that true oblation rendered at the evening of the world, when the Lamb of God, nailed to the Cross, lifted His hands to the Father in sacrificial prayer for the salvation of mankind. This was the true lifting up of the hands, the definitive evening sacrifice offered on Golgotha, by which God marked His seal on human destiny. Whenever, then, we Christians raise our hands in prayer, as St. Paul tells us to do (cf. 1 Tim. 2: 8), it is to symbolize that our prayer, our entire relationship to God, is founded in the power of the Cross.
The rising incense smoke as symbolic of prayer is most vividly portrayed in the vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation: “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand” (8: 3, 4).
TEHILLIM-Chasidut: Let us now examine the difference between food and fragrance. The soul, a spiritual entity, is responsible for giving life to the corporal body. God connects soul and body, bridging the gap between spirit and matter. By ingesting food, we attain the God-given connection, keeping body and soul together. Fragrant substances, such as smelling salts, have the power to revive the body-soul connection that has grown so weak, to the point where the person has fainted.
Food then, corresponds to the life-force of the soul that is manifest in the body, whereas fragrance is a channel to a deeper part of the soul.
In terms of the difference between food (sacrifices) and fragrance (incense) of the Temple, sacrifices relate to Godly energy that communicates with the world; incense relates to the transcendent Essence of God.
The animal sacrifice represents our appreciation for God’s life-giving energy. It is therefore offered on the outer altar, or the external heart, where our limited, logic based relationship with God occurs. Incense however, represents our thirst for God’s Essence. It is therefore offered on thinner altar, the space where the soul’s essence communes with the Essence of God.

3. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, A door of enclosure about my lips.

CHRYSOSTOM: a lose tongue is the cause of countless evils… Just as there is no benefit in house, city walls, doors, gates unless guards are placed, who also know when to open and when to close, so too, neither tongue nor mouth is of any avail unless reason is entrusted with the task of closing and opening with precision and understanding, in the knowledge of what must be put out and what kept in… Let us guard our mouth constantly, set reason on it to close it, not for it to be constantly closed but for it to open appropriately in season: there are times when silence is of more value than speech, as likewise speech more than silence… Paul also said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so as to know how to answer each and every one. (Col 4:6). … Consider that this is the manner by which we converse with Good, by which we offer praise… This is the reason Christ said, “Every idle word that people speak they will give an account of” (Mt 12:36); and Paul, “Let no foul speech issue from your mouth.” (Eph 4:29)
There are many ways to destruction through the mouth, such as when someone is obscene, ribald, vainglorious, boastful, like the pharisee, who because he had no door on his mouth, gave vent to everything inside the course of few words…
If on the other hand you want to hear of some people perishing through inappropriate silence, I shall show you. “If you have not warned the people,” Scripture says, remember, “while they will die in their sin, their blood I shall require at your hand.” (Cf Ez 3:20) 
Another, because no distinction was made, and what was entrusted to him was prostituted: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, no cast your pearls before swine.” (Mt 7.6)… 
Paul said, Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom 12.15): if you are capable of nothing else, he says, make this slight contribution to the grief-stricken, grieve with them…. Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be consoled.” 
Hence the psalmist says, “Set a guard on my mouth, Lord, and a door—saying not simply a door, but adding, ”for encircling” so as to encircle and secure everything.
THEODORET: The Creators gave two walls to the tongue, one of teeth and the other of lips, to check its irrational impulses. Nevertheless, the inspired author begs to enjoy other guards as well, afraid lest he utter something improper while lamenting his lot. In fact history witnesses to the fact that even when pursued by Saul he could not bring himself to say anything blasphemous at all; instead, when when they were trying to kill [Saul], [ David] referred to him as the Lord’s anointed, and in addressing him he called himself his servant, and the one who reported his death, bragging he had done it, he dispatched in the words, “Your blood be on your head for claiming to have done away with the Lord’s anointed.
AUGUSTINE: Surely, it is a slight matter to restrain the mouth of the body lest something that is not expedient come forth from it through the sound of the voice. Within is the mouth of the heart where he who said those words and directed us to say them desired that a guard and gate of continence be set for him by God. There are many things that we do not speak from the mouth of the body but shout from the heart. Yet, no word of any thing proceeds from the mouth of that body in whose heart there is silence. Thus, whatever does not emanate from there does not sound outside, but what does emanate from there, if it is evil—even though it does not move the tongue—defiles the soul. Continence, therefore, must be placed there where the conscience, even of those who are outwardly silent, speaks.

4. Incline not my heart to evil words, to make excuses in sins with men who work lawlessness; And I will not join with their choice ones.

AUGUSTINE: This inclination of the heart, what is it if not consent? For, he has not yet spoken who has not yet consented by an inclination of the heart to the onrushing suggestions in his heart of any act whatsoever. If, however, he consented, he has already spoken in his heart even though he has not made a sound with his mouth. Even though he has not done the deed with his hand or any other part of his body, he has committed it because he has determined in his mind to do it, and he is guilty of the act, by the laws of God even though it remains concealed from the sight of people—the word being spoken in the heart though no act be committed in the body. ON CONTINENCE 1.2–2.3.
THEODORET: He begs that not only his tongue be guarded but also the very movements of the mind least any other thought beyond the divine laws be found in them. Blessed David could reason this way: Saul is foe and enemy, longing for my execution, so it is not unjust to do away with such a man, the Law being clear on this. Those who commit lawlessness do this, he is saying, but let me have no association with them, even if they have the utmost fortune; he uses “choice ones” at this point of wicked people who enjoy success.
JEROME: “Let not my heart incline to evil words, to make excuses in sins.” O unhappy race of human beings! We seek excuse for sin by saying, “Nature got the better of me,” and all the while it has been in our power to sin or not to sin. We are always justifying ourselves and saying, I did not want to sin, but lust overwhelmed me; that woman came to me; she made the advances; she touched me; she said this or that to me; she called me; and while we ought to be doing penance and crying, “Lord, I have sinned,” we excuse ourselves instead, and yoke sins to sin. We all have the same kind of body, but with our own particular difficulties. “God is not a respecter of persons.” Would you know that we have the same bodies as the saints? Paul the apostle says, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me prisoner to the law of sin that is in my members”; and again, “But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps after preaching to others I myself should be rejected.” Later, he says, “Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” We all have our own struggles, therefore, and it is in proportion to his struggles that each one receives his reward. HOMILIES ON THE PSALMS 51.
CHRYSOSTOM: Why does he put things is reverse order, coming to the heart after first speaking of the mouth? He does not do it idly or to no purpose: as in the case of prisoners wanting to excape, those responsible for them make it their first task to secure the doors of the prison, everyone devoting themselves to this, and with the task complete the rest is easily done, so too does the psalmist do here, and it is as if through his exhortation he is saying, Let the doors be closed, and the evil thoughts will be quickly sudued. Hence he does not allow us at the beginning to venture forth, and pulls up the evil root in the words, “Do not turn my heart to words of wickedness. Not that God turns—perish the thought; rather, what means is something like this: Do not allow it to be turned, do not allow it to be diverted to evil thoughts. The spring of virtue and of vice rises from there you see, from the heart.
What are words of wickedness? Many and varied: those that each plots, traduce God, repel virtue, pursue vice, words cheerfully listened to incorrupt teachings and careless living and the like proceed from deep wickedness.
“Pleading please of sin”. This is particular is the path to ruin, wither when the sinful soul dismisses fear and concocts some pretexts for indifference, or when in the case of someone committing adultery another person wishes to eliminate compunction by saying, Surely you are not responsible? Lust is responsible. Evil through sinning is, denying it after sinning makes it worse; it is a particular weapon of the devil. It happened also with the first human beings: Adm and Eve…..When you are anxious to look for excuses that do not exist, and to rid your soul of fear, you make it more inclined to be addicted to the same sins again and irk God further.
“Why people wh commit lawlessness”. He added this to show that offering excuses, being shameless is characteristic of those people in particular.That is the reason David also proposes this constantly as a model of virture, shunning such gatherings.
“I shall not  join with their chosen ones”.  Here he gives the apostolic advice, that their luxuries and parties are to be shunned, where the practice of sin is especially on the increase, whee inaction waxes strong…

5. The righteous man shall correct me
With mercy, and he shall reprove me;

JEROME: When a person is advanced in years, you must not be too ready to believe evil of him; his past life is itself a defense, and so also is his rank as an elder. Still, since we are but human and sometimes in spite of the ripeness of our years fall into the sins of youth, if I do wrong and you wish to correct me, accuse me openly of my fault: do not backbite me secretly. “Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness, and let him reprove me; but let not the oil of the sinner enrich my head.” For what does the apostle say? “Whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” By the mouth of Isaiah the Lord speaks thus: “O my people, they who call you happy cause you to err and destroy the way of your paths.” How do you help me by telling my misdeeds to others? You may, without my knowing of it, wound some one else by the narration of my sins or rather of those which you slanderously attribute to me; and while you are eager to spread the news in all quarters, you may pretend to confide in each individual as though you had spoken to no one else. Such a course has for its object not my correction but the indulgence of your own failing. The Lord commands that those who sin against us are to be arraigned privately or else in the presence of a witness and that if they refuse to hear reason the matter is to be laid before the church, and those who persist in their wickedness are to be regarded as heathens and publicans. LETTER 125.19.

But let not the oil of the sinner anoint my head,
For my prayer shall be intense in the presence of their pleasures.

THEODORET: the grievous things that come to me from the hands of righteousness people for the sake of correction and benefit, he is saying, are preferable to the pleasant things offered by sinners, even if these provide me with. An enjoyable life, like oil making the head glisten; I prefer to be corrected by the righteous than fawned on by the sinful.I am so far from envying their prosperity that I pray they be changed so as to undergo a conversion of their defects once their success is reversed.
CHRYSOSTOM: This is no slight form of virtue, not avoiding censure or recriminations leveled by the righteous. Now what he means is something like this: I would never participate in the gatherings of those making free with people's welfare, he is saying, whereas rigorous and moral people I would prefer, those who censure, who bring failings into the open, who criticize. This is in fact particular mark of mercy and loving kindness, healing wounds…. Consider how apostolic advice reflects this, “Convince, rebuke, encourage.”(2 Tim 4:2) That is what the censure by holy people, too, is like; that is also what a surgeon does; they not only cut but stick as well. Hence Christ also , to guarantee that censure is acceptable, does not allow the criticism to be publicized and the outset, saying, “Go make your accusation when the two of you are alone.”… The person delivering the censure needs to give careful thought so that the censure prove acceptable, and the one applying the remedy has need of great sensitivity…
“May the oil of a sinner not anoint my head” The latter person does not seek the benefit fo the listener but their own appearing pleasant, friendly; the former by contrast looks to the advantage of the other before their own; and so they differ from one another in this respect. But if the wicked are to be avoided when showing mercy, when should they be welcomed? Never: even if the provide money, even if they promise luxuries and honors, reject and shun them, whereas even if the righteous mock you, even if they threaten you, seek them out—they are your friends.
“Because even my prayer is still on their goodwill”. …here he shows that they must not only trust in prayer, losing heart and going to sleep, but make their own contribution. …Not only shall I shun their noxious charm, he is saying, and not choose their censure, but I shall take my stand against their desires; I desist their desires—which is what “on their good wall” means. 

6. Their judges are swallowed up by the rock;
They shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.

CHRYSOSTOM: Here he shows the vulnerability of sin and the problems of vice. Then, he is saying, the influential, the shakers and the movers, all perish. He did not say Perish, but “were swallowed up” indicating that it happens to the extent that no trace of them remains, which is also what he said about the ungodly
JEROME: “Their judges driven against the rock were swallowed up,” just as another passage in Scripture says: “Happy the one who shall seize and smash your little ones against the rock!” “But the rock was Christ.” “The little ones” are trifling thoughts before they grow into ones of serious consequences. Even heretics, although they seem to despise the simplicity of the church, as compared with Aristotle and Plato; when they turn to the Scriptures, are swallowed up immediately by the Rock, that is, by Christ, and are converted to him. HOMILIES ON THE PSALMS 51
THEODORET: Within a short time, he is saying, they will be no more, and those clinging to the pinnacle of influence will be like drowning people of influence clinging to the tips of water submerged by water—in other words, they will be consigned to oblivion. Learning by experience of my words, they will also feel their sweetness and benefit.

7. As a clod of ground is dashed to pieces on the earth,
So our bones were scattered beside the grave.

CHRYSOSTOM: ….Despite our suffering extreme hardship, being all scattered and ruined like soil that is harrowed, plagued and dug, and arriving at the very gates of death, yet in spite of this condition we would prefer instruction and correction from the righteous to mercy from sinners. What ever happened, after all, we depended on hope in you, and would never be dissuaded from looking to you. Hence he added as well the word that follow.

8. For my eyes, O Lord, O Lord, are toward You;
In You I hope; take not my soul away.

CHRYSOSTOM: Even if countless troubles beset us—wars, battles, deaths, gates of Hades—we do not let go of the holy anchor; instead, we cling to the hope of your assistance, and abandoning weapons and strategies we look to freedom fro that source, your grace.
THEODORET: Far from trusting in any human thing, I await your help and ask that my soul not be deprived of it.

9. Keep me from the snares they set for me,
And from the stumbling blocks of those who work lawlessness.

CHRYSOSTOM: Here he is not referring simply to schemes but to hidden traps of the kind not easy to guard against and detect; hence they require in particular even grace from on high. For this reason he brings his theme to a close with a prayer, concluding with it as he had opened it, showing that on the one hand what is his to offer is this—hope in God, always looking to God, shunning their gatherings, hating they evil desire—and on the other hand what comes from God—help, assistance, rendering him proof against wiles difficult to detect. This is what virtue consists of, in fact: both application of our zeal and support from God’s assistance.

10. Sinners shall fall into their own net; I am alone, until I escape.

CHRYSOSTOM: Whose net will they fall into? God’s very own. That is to say, they will be snared, they will be caught: the righteous, to the point of correction and awakening their sound values; sinners, suffering incurable ailments as they are, to the point of punishment, a retribution.
“I am on my own until I pass on (escape)”. …. This is security, this protection, this growth in virtue: shunning the wicked, being self-collected and disciplined for the whole of life, and dwelling by oneself away from those who corrupt. Isolation does not constitute being alone, note, but an attitude of sound values. In this way people who live in the middle of cities, with their tumult and business, can be on their own by shunning the corrupt gatherings and devote themselves to the assemblies of the righteous—this is the safe way.
Consequently, let the person who is capable of correcting others associate with the likely to accept the treatment, and make them better,; let the one who is laxer, on the other hand, shun the wicked so as not to contract harm from them. In this way they will also live the present life safely and gain the future of good things.
THEODORET: That is God’s net: those who set traps for others will be caught up in divine retribution like a kind of divine netting, will have to bear whatever they commit, and will suffer what they inflict on others. He says that he shall remain separated from them until I reach the end of my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.