A Psalm of David When He Changed His Countenance before Abimelech and Being Dismissed by Him Went Away (ON PSALM 33)
THE SUBJECT OF THE PSALM draws us to two premises. Both the actions of David in Nobe, the city of the priests, and those in Geth at the home of Achis, the king of the foreign nations, seem to be in agreement with the inscription. For, he changed his countenance when he conversed with Abimelech, the priest, concealing his flight and pretending to be zealous to perform the royal command and, then, took the loaves of proposition and the sword of Goliath. Moreover, he also changed his countenance when, seized in the midst of the enemy, he perceived that they were conversing with each other and preparing for vengeance. Scripture says: ‘The servants of Achis said to each other: Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to him in their dances, saying: David has slain his tens of thousands, and Saul his thousands? And David/ it says, ‘was exceedingly afraid at the face of Achis, and he changed his countenance before them.’ Now, how is it that the inscription names Abimelech, but history mentions Achis, as king of the Gethites? We have some such reason as this that comes to us from tradition, namely that the kings of the foreign peoples had the common name Abimelech, but besides that, each was called by his own name. It is possible to see this in the case of the Roman empire, the Augustuses were also commonly called Caesars, but they still kept their own personal names. The name Pharaoh is of the same kind among the Egyptians. He appears to have been called Pharaoh who ruled in the time of Joseph; and there was a Pharaoh who was established as king of Egypt in the time of Moses, four generations later; and a Pharaoh, during the time of Solomon: Tor, he took’ it says, ‘the daughter of Pharaoh’ Moreover, he who ruled during the time of the prophecy of Jeremiah was called Pharaoh. So, too, there was an Abimelech during the time of Abraham: ‘And Abimelech and Hochozath, the leader of his bride, and Philoch the general of his army, speaking, said to Abraham’ And again, concerning Isaac: ‘And when very many days were passed, and he abode there, Abimelech king of the Philistines looking out through a window, saw Isaac playing with Rebecca’ In the same way, therefore, here also in the time of David the common title of the kingly office, Abimelech, is used in the inscription. But, the name was handed down in history as Achis, which was given to him personally from birth. In the presence of this man, therefore, he changed his countenance, carried along between the hands of the servants, knocking against the gates of the city and driveling his spittle upon his beard, so that Achis said to his servants: ‘Why have you brought him to me? Am I in need of madmen, that you have brought in this fellow to play the madman in my presence?’ Having caused himself to be dismissed from there by these means, he came safely through, Scripture says, to the cave of Odollam.
Then, because he had been delivered from great danger, he sent up this prayer of thanksgiving to God who had rescued him. ‘I will bless the Lord at all times.’ Having escaped death, as if he were setting up norms for his life, he molded his soul to an exact manner of living, so that he ceased at no time from praise, but referred the beginning of affairs, great and small, to God. ‘I will not think,’ he says, ‘that anything was done through my own diligence nor happened through spontaneous chance but, “I will bless the Lord at all times.’ not only in prosperity of life, but also in precarious times.’ The Apostle, learning from this, says: ‘Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks.’ Do you not see how great was the love of the man? He did not cease through impatience at the continuous succession of evils, when he was not only driven out of his country, away from his relatives, friends, and possessions, but also when he was handed over to the enemy by force and was on the point of being torn to pieces by them. He did not say: ‘How long will these continuous evils last?’ He did not cease through impatience at the long stretch of tribulations, knowing ‘that tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tried virtue, and tried virtue hope.’ In truth, tribulations are, for those well prepared, like certain foods and exercises for athletes which lead the contestant on to the hereditary glory, if, when we are reviled, we bless; maligned, we entreat; ill-treated, we give thanks; afflicted, we glory in our afflictions. It is indeed shameful for us to bless on propitious occasions, but to be silent on dark and difficult ones. On the contrary, we must bless even more at that time, knowing that ‘whom the Lord loves, he chastises; and he scourges every son whom he receives.’
‘His praise shall be always in my mouth.’ The prophet seems to promise something impossible. For, how can the praise of God be always in the mouth of man? When he engages in the ordinary conversations pertaining to daily life, he does not have the praise of God in his mouth. When he sleeps, he will keep absolute silence. And how will the mouth of one who is eating and drinking produce praise? We answer to this that there is a certain spiritual mouth of the interior man by which he is fed when he partakes of the word of life, which is the bread that comes down from heaven. Concerning that mouth the prophet also says: 1 opened my mouth and panted.’ The Lord even urges us to have it open wide so as to receive plentifully the food of truth. ‘Open thy mouth wide,’ He says, ‘and I will fill it.’ The thought of God, therefore, having been once for all moulded and, as it were, sealed in the authoritative part of the soul, can be called praise of God, since it is always present in the soul. Moreover, according to the counsel of the Apostle, the zealous man can do all things for the glory of God, so that every act and every word and every work has in it power of praise. Whether the just man eats or drinks, he does all for the glory of God. The heart of such a one watches when he is sleeping, according to him who said in the Canticle of Canticles: ‘I sleep, and my heart watcheth.’ For, on many occasions the visions seen during sleep are images of our thoughts by day.
(2) ‘In the Lord shall my soul be praised.’ ‘Let no one,’ David says, ‘praise my intelligence, through which I was preserved from dangers.’ For, not in the power of man, nor in wisdom, but in the grace of God is salvation. ‘Let not,’ it is said, ‘the rich man glory in his riches, nor the wise man in his wisdom, nor the strong man in his strength, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth’ the Lord his God. Do you see how the Apostle praises the helpers of the Gospel? He who is ‘your fellow servant and minister in the Lord.’ If, however, someone is praised for beauty of body or renowned parentage, his soul is not praised in the Lord, but each person of such a kind is occupied with vanity. The ordinary professions, in fact, those of governor, doctor, orator, or architect who constructs cities, pyramids, labyrinths, or any other expensive or ponderous masses of buildings, do not merit to be truly praised. They who are praised for these things do not keep their soul in the Lord. It suffices us for every dignity to be called servants of such a great Lord. Certainly, one who ministers to the King will not be high-minded because he has been assigned to this particular rank of the ministry, and having been considered worthy to serve God, he will not contrive for himself praises from else- where, will he, as if the call of the Lord did not suffice for all pre-eminence of glory and distinction?
Therefore, ‘in the Lord shall my soul be praised; let the meek hear and rejoice.’ Since with the help of God, by deceiving my enemies, he says, I have successfully obtained safety without war, by only the changing of my countenance, ‘Let the meek hear’ that it is possible even for those at peace to erect a trophy, and for those not fighting to be named victors. ‘And let them rejoice,’ being strengthened to embrace meekness by my example. I received this gift from God because I completely realised meekness. ‘O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness.’ Meekness is indeed the greatest of the virtues; therefore, it is counted among the beatitudes. ‘Blessed are the meek’ it is said, ‘for they shall possess the earth.’ For, that earth, the heavenly Jerusalem, does not become the booty of those who fight, but is appointed as the inheritance of the patient and meek. Moreover, the expression, ‘Let the meek hear,’ means the same as ‘Let the disciples of Christ hear.’ Perhaps, the wonder of the beneficence of God toward him is meant prophetically to pass over to us. In fact, let those hear, who many generations later will become disciples of Christ. For, he called those meek to whom the Lord said: ‘Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.’ Those of calm character and so free from all passion that they have no confusion present in their souls, they are the ones called meek. Wherefore, Moses is acknowledged to be meeker than all men on the earth.
(3) ‘O magnify the Lord with me.’ He adopts a refrain that is becoming to him for glorifying the Lord. Let no one who is confused, no one who is disturbed, no one who is provoking his soul with the passions of the flesh, be united with me; but you, the meek, who have successfully attained to stability and firmness of soul, and who shake off sluggish- ness and drowsiness in the performance of your duties, you ‘magnify the Lord with me.’ But, he magnifies the Lord who endures trials for the sake of piety with keen understanding and an exulting and exalted spirit. Then, he also does, who observes with keen understanding and most profound con- templation the greatness of creation, so that from the greatness and beauty of the creatures he may contemplate their Creator. The deeper one penetrates into the reasons for which things in existence were made and are governed, the more he contemplates the magnificence of the Lord and, as far as lies in him, magnifies the Lord. Since, therefore, one mind and the attention of one man do not suffice even for a brief time for the comprehension of the splendours of God, he associates with himself all the meek for a participation in this activity. It is necessary, in fact, to achieve complete tranquility from outside confusions, and bringing about an entire silence in the hidden recesses of the heart, thus to devote oneself to the contemplation of the truth. Do you hear what he says when he confesses his sin? ‘My eye is troubled through indignation.’ Yet, not only indignation, but also concupiscence and cowardice and envy trouble the eye of the soul; and, on the whole, all the passions are confounding and disturbing to the clear-sightedness of the soul. As it is not possible for a disturbed eye to apprehend accurately visible objects, so neither is it possible for a disturbed heart to devote itself to a consideration of the truth. It is necessary, then, to withdraw from the affairs of the world and, neither through the eyes nor the ears nor through any other means of perception, to introduce alien thoughts into the soul. The wars which arise from the pride of the flesh fill the interior with noises that are never silent and with irreconcilable discords. ‘I sought the Lord, and he heard me.’ Let the meek hear these things, he says, that in that difficult time when all the wrath of the malicious was roused against me and every hand was armed against me, and I, stripped and unarmed, was exposed to the enemy, ready for every outrage, even at that time I was not confounded in my thoughts through fear; I was not distracted from the thought of God; I did not despair of my safety; but, I sought the Lord. I not only asked with a kind of simple and temporal hope in the Lord, but I sought. Indeed, the meaning of the word ‘sought’ signifies something more than the word ‘ask/ just as a search is more than an inquiry. Tor those searching have failed in their search.’ Therefore, these words suggest much leisure and calmness throughout the search.
(4) ‘And he delivered me from all my troubles.’ The whole life of the just man is filled with affliction. ‘How narrow and strait the road’; and ‘Many are the afflictions of the just.’ For this reason the Apostle said: ‘In all things we suffer tribulations’; and ‘That through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ But, God delivers His saints from their afflictions. Though He does not leave them without trial, yet He bestows on them patient endurance. For, if ‘tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tried virtue,’ he who excludes tribulation from himself deprives himself of his tried virtue. As no one is crowned without an adversary, so also he cannot be declared tried except through tribulations, Therefore, ‘he delivered me from all my troubles, not permitting me to be afflicted, but with the temptation giving me a way out that I might be able to bear it. ‘Come ye to him and be enlightened: and your faces shall not be confounded.’ He urges those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to come to the Lord and to approach the rays of His Godhead, in order that, illuminated with the truth by this nearness, they may through grace take His light unto themselves. As the present sensible light does not appear equally to all, but to those who have eyes and are awake and able to enjoy the presence of the sun without any obstacle, so also the Sun of justice, ‘the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world,’ does not bestow His brightness on all, but on those who live in a manner worthy of Him. ‘Light,’ it is said, ‘is risen,’ not to the sinner, but ‘to the just.’ For, as the sun is risen, but not for the bats nor for any other creatures that feed by night, so also the light is by its own nature bright and capable of brightening. However, all do not share in its brightness. Thus also, ‘Everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, that his deeds may not be exposed.’ ‘Come ye, therefore, to him and be enlightened: and your faces shall not be confounded.’ Blessed is he, who on the day of the righteous judgment of God, when the Lord comes to bring to light the things hidden in darkness and to make manifest the counsels of hearts, has dared to be subjected to that light of scrutiny and has returned without cause for shame because of a conscience undefiled by evil deeds. They, indeed, who do evil deeds will rise to reproach and to shame, beholding in themselves the ugliness and the likenesses of their sins. And, perhaps, that shame with which the sinners are going to live forever will be more fearful than the darkness and the eternal fire, since they have always in their eyes the traces of sin in their flesh like certain indelible stains, which remain perpetually in the memory of their soul. Yet, it is the privilege of few to approach to the true Light and to reveal the things hidden and after the revelation to go away with face not confounded.
(5) ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.’ Poverty is not always praiseworthy, but only that which is practiced intentionally according to the evangelical aim. Many are poor in their resources, but very grasping in their intention; poverty does not save these; on the contrary, their intention condemns them. Accordingly, not he who is poor is by all means blessed, but he who has considered the command of Christ better than the treasures of the world. These the Lord also pronounces blessed, when He says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ not those poor in resources, but those who from their soul have chosen poverty. For, nothing that is not deliberate is to be pronounced blessed. Therefore, every virtue, but this one especially before all others, is characterised by the action of the free will. So it is said: ‘This poor man cried.’ By the demonstrative word for the man who was poor because of God, and hungry and thirsty and naked, he calls forth your understanding; ‘This poor man,’ all but pointing with his finger; this disciple of Christ. It is possible also to refer this expression to Christ, who being rich by nature, because all things belonging to the Father are His, became poor for our sakes in order that by His poverty we might become rich. Nearly every work that leads to the blessing, the Lord Himself began, setting Himself forth as an example to His disciples. Return to the blessings and you will find on examining each that He anticipated the teaching contained in the words by His deeds. ‘Blessed are the meek.’ How, then, shall we learn meekness? ‘Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart,’ ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ Who will teach us the beauty of peace? The Peacemaker Himself, who makes peace and reconciles two men into one new man; who made peaceful by the blood of His cross both things of heaven and those of earth. ‘Blessed are the poor.’ He Himself is the one who was poor and who emptied Himself in the form of a slave in order that ‘of his fullness we might all receive, grace for grace.’ If anyone, then, led by the holy and benevolent Spirit, not being presumptuous, but humbling himself in order that he may exalt the others, should call upon the Spirit, offering great prayers, and should utter nothing base or lowly because he is seeking terrestrial and worldly things, the cry of such a man will be heard by the Lord. What, therefore, is the aim of the prayer heard? To be delivered from all troubles, unwounded, unbent, and unenslaved by the pride of the flesh. Now, what is the manner in which the poor man is delivered? ‘The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him: and shall deliver them.’ He explained whom he reckons as the poor man him who fears the Lord. Therefore, he who fears is still in the rank of the slave. But, he who had been made perfect by love now mounted quickly to the dignity of son. Hence the slave is said to be also poor, because he has nothing of his own; but the son is said to be already rich, because he is the heir of the paternal goods. ‘The angel of the Lord,’ therefore, ‘shall encamp round about them that fear him.’ An angel attends everyone who believes in the Lord if we never chase him away by our evil deeds. As smoke puts the bees to flight, and a foul smell drives away the doves, so also the lamentable and foul sin keeps away the angel, the guardian of our life. If you have in your soul works worthy of angelic custody, and if a mind rich in the contemplation of truth dwells within you, because of the wealth of your esteemed works of virtue God necessarily establishes guards and custodians beside you and fortifies you with the guardianship of angels. Consider what the nature of the angels is, that one angel is compared to a whole army and a crowded encampment. So, through the greatness of him who guards you the Lord bestows upon you an encampment; and through the strength of the angel He surrounds you on all sides with His protection as with a wall. For, this is what the word ’round about’ signifies. Just as the encircling walls, put round about all the cities, keep off the attacks of the enemies on all sides, so also the angel shields from the front and guards the rear and does not leave the two sides unprotected. For this reason, ‘A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but’ the stroke of the enemy ‘shall not come nigh thee,’ because He will give commands to His angels concerning you.
(6) ‘O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet.’ Frequently we have noticed that the faculties of the soul are called by the same name as the external members. Since our Lord is true Bread and His flesh is true Meat, it is necessary that the pleasure of the enjoyment of the Bread be in us through a spiritual taste. As the nature of honey can be described to the inexperienced not so much by speech as by the perception of it through taste, so the goodness of the heavenly Word cannot be clearly taught by doctrines, unless, examining to a greater extent the dogmas of truth, we are able to comprehend by our own experience the goodness of the Lord. ‘Taste’ he said, but not ‘be filled’ because now we know in part and through a mirror and in an obscure manner we see the truth; but the time will come when the present pledge and this taste of grace will attain to the perfection of enjoyment for us. Just as those who are suffering from a disordered stomach and from loss of appetite, and who turn away from food, are cured of this annoyance by the doctors, who stir up their appetites through special attention to the food, so that, when their taste is provoked by the savoury cooking, their appetites will increase always more and more, so also in the case of the word of truth, experience itself will always, he says, excite in you an insatiable desire. Therefore, he says, ‘Taste,’ in order that you, hungering and thirsting after justice, may always be blessed. ‘Blessed is the man that hopeth in him.’ He who always has a desire of the Word will put his hope in nothing else than in the Lord. Tear the Lord, all ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him.’ Unless fear disciplines our life, it is impossible successfully to attain holiness in body. Tierce thou my flesh with thy fear.’ As those who are pierced by nails have the members of their bodies immovable for any activity, so those who are possessed by the divine fear in their soul escape all annoyance from sinful passions. In him who fears there is not want, that is, he is failing with regard to no virtue who is prevented by fear from every absurd act, since he falls short of nothing good that belongs to human nature. As he is not perfect in body who is lacking in any necessary part, but is imperfect because of what he lacks, so also he who is disposed contemptuously about one of the commands, because he is wanting in it, is imperfect in that in which he lacks. But, he who has assumed perfect fear and through piety shrinks beneath all things will commit no sin because he despises nothing; he will not experience any want because he will possess fear sufficiently in all things.
(7) ‘The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good.’ Let this word, which teaches the unreliability of excessive wealth, edify us even to the contempt of corporal riches. For, wealth is unstable and like a wave accustomed to change hither and thither by the violence of the wind. Perhaps he says that the people of Israel are rich, who have the adoption of sons and divine worship, the promises, and the fathers. They, however, have been poor because of their sin against the Lord. ‘But they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good.’ They have wanted in a certain way and have suffered hunger. For, when they had put to death the Bread of life, a hunger for the Bread came upon them, and the chastisement from the thirst was imposed on them; but ‘the hunger was not for sensible bread nor the thirst, for water, but a hunger to hear the word of God.’ Therefore, ‘they have wanted and have suffered hunger.’
They, however, who have learned from the Gentiles to seek the Lord have not suffered the loss of every good. God Himself is absolute Good, and they who seek Him will not be without Him. Let no uninstructed person who considers the position concerning good and evil indistinguishable call him. good who has a pleasure that is temporary and that departs with the death of the body. He who reduces bodily wealth and bodily advantages to the order of good draws down to matters cheap and not deserving of account a name that is holy and proper to God alone, and at the same time encounters the most serious contradiction. Either he will say that the apostles did not obtain bodily goods because they did not seek the Lord; or, if they did seek Him and failed to obtain such goods, he will bring a charge against the Scripture itself which says that they who seek the Lord do not suffer the loss of good. But, the saints also sought the Lord, and they did not fail in the knowledge of Him who was sought, nor were they deprived of the blessings stored up in the eternal rest. Concerning them one might say ‘of every good.’ For, bodily joys have more pain than pleasure; marriages involve childlessness, widowhood, corruption; agriculture, fruitlessness; trade, shipwrecks; wealth, plots; luxuries and satiety and continual pleasures, a variety of diseases, as well as sufferings of many kinds. Paul also sought the Lord and no blessing was wanting to him. And yet, who could enumerate the annoyances of the body, in which he lived during his whole life? ‘Thrice he was scourged, once he was stoned, thrice he suffered shipwreck, a night and a day he was adrift on the sea, in journeyings often … in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in labor and hardships,’ in distresses frequently. A man hungering and thirsting and being naked and buffeted even to his last hour, surely, was suffering the loss of bodily blessings. Lift up your mind, I pray, to what is truly good in order that you may recognise the harmonious agreement of the Scripture, and may not let yourself fall into uncertainty of thought.
(8) ‘Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.’ It is the voice of the devoted teacher, encouraging you to learn through his paternal mercy. In fact, the disciple is the spiritual child of the teacher. That one who receives from another formation in piety is, as it were, moulded by him and is brought into existence, just as the foetus formed within her is brought into existence by one who is pregnant. For this reason Paul also taking up again the whole Church of the Galatians, which had fallen from its earlier teachings and which was abortive, as it were, and forming Christ in them anew, called them little children; and, when with pain and affliction he corrected those who had erred, he said that he was in labor in soul because of his grief at those who had fallen away. ‘My dear children, with whom I am in labour again, until Christ is formed in you.’ Therefore, ‘Come, children, hearken to me.’
What, really, does our spiritual father intend to teach? “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.’ When he ordered us above to fear the Lord, he also showed the profit that comes from fear, saying: ‘There is no want to them that fear him.’ At present also, they hand down to us a certain teaching of divine fear. Now, it is in the power of every one, even of the private individual, to say that it is necessary to be healthy; but, to say how health must be obtained, that certainly belongs to him who understands the art of medicine. Every fear is not a good and saving feeling, but there is also a hostile fear, which the prophet prays may not spring up in his soul, when he says: ‘Deliver my soul from the fear of the enemy.’ Fear of the enemy is that which produces in us a cowardliness with regard to death and misleads us to cower before distinguished persons. How, in fact, will he who fears these things be able in time of martyrdom to resist sin even to death and to pay his debt to the Lord, who died and rose again for us? He also, who is easily scared by the demons, has the fear of the enemy in him. On the whole, such a fear seems to be a passion born of unbelief. For, no one who believes that he has at hand a strong helper is frightened by any of those who attempt to throw him into confusion.
The fear, however, which is salutary and the fear which is productive of holiness, fear which springs up in the soul through devotion and not through passion, what kind would you have me say it is? Whenever you are about to rush head-long into sin, consider that fearful and intolerable tribunal of Christ, in which the Judge is seated upon a certain high and sublime throne, and every creature stands trembling beside His glorious presence, and we are about to be led forth, one by one, for the examination of the actions of our life. And beside him who has done many wicked deeds throughout his life certain horrible and dark angels stand, flashing fire from their eyes and breathing fire because of the bitterness of their wills, and with a countenance like the night because of their dejection and their hatred of man. Then, there is the deep pit and the darkness that has no outlet and the light without brightness, which has the power of burning in the darkness but is deprived of its splendour. Next is the poisonous and flesh-devouring class of worms, which eat greedily and are never satiated and cause unbearable pains by their voracity; and lastly, the severest punishment of all, that eternal reproach and shame. Fear these things, and being taught by this fear, check your soul, as with a bit, from its desire for wickedness. The father promised to teach us this fear of the Lord, and not to teach indiscriminately, but to teach those who wish to heed him; not those who have long fallen away, but those who run to him through a desire of being saved; not ‘strangers to the covenants,’ but those who are reconciled through baptism by the word of the adoption of sons. Therefore, he says, ‘Come’ that is, ‘because of your good deeds approach me, children’ since you are considered worthy because of your regeneration to become sons of light. You, who have the ears of your heart open, hear; I shall teach you fear of the Lord, that fear which a little while ago our sermon described.
(9) ‘Who is the man that desireth life: who loveth to see good days?’ If anyone wishes life, he says, he does not live this common life, which brute beasts also live, but the true life which is not cut short by death. For, now,’ it is said, ‘you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, shall appear, then you too will appear with him in glory.’ Therefore, Christ is, in truth, life; and our way of life in Him is true life. In like manner, also, the other days are good, which the prophet set forth in the promise. ‘Who is the man that desireth life: who loveth to see good days?’ For, the days of this life are evil, since this life, being the measure of the world, concerning which there is the saying: The whole world is in the power of the evil one,’ is made quite like the nature of the world which it measures. But, these days are parts of this time. Therefore, the Apostle says: ‘Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.’ Likewise Jacob says: ‘The days of my pilgrimage are short and wretched.’ We are not, then, in life, but in death. And so the Apostle prayed, saying: ‘Who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ There is, however, a certain other life, to which these words call us; and, although at present our days are evil, yet some others are good, which night does not interrupt; for God will be their everlasting light, shining upon them with the light of His glory. Consequently, when you hear of the good days, do not think that your life here is set forth in the promises. In fact, these are the destructible days, which the sensible sun produces; but, nothing destructible could suitably be a gift for the indestructible. Now, if the soul is indestructible, its gifts are also indestructible. ‘This world as we see it is passing away.’ If the law has some shadow of the good things to come, consider I pray, certain sabbaths pleasant, holy, brought from the eternal days, new moons, festivals; but, consider, I pray you, in a manner proper to the spiritual law. ‘Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.’ If you wish to live in the good days, if you love life, fulfil the precept of life. ‘He who loves me,’ He says, ‘will keep my commands.’ The first command is, ‘Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile,’ The most common and varied sin is that committed through the tongue. Were you provoked to anger? The tongue is already running on. Are you possessed by concupiscence? Before all things you have a tongue, a sort of pimp and promoter, as it were, assistant to the sin, subduing your neighbours by histrionic arts. Your tongue is also a weapon for your injustice, not uttering the words from the heart, but bringing forth those inspired by deceit. But, what need is there to put in words all the sins committed through the tongue? Our life is filled with faults due to the tongue. Obscenity, scurrility, foolish talk, unbecoming words, slanders, idle conversation, perjuries, false testimony, all these evils, and even more than these, are the work of the tongue. But, they who open their mouth against the glory of God and talk of injustice on high, do they per- form their act of impiety by some other instrument and not through the instrumentality of the tongue? Since, then, ‘by thy words thou wilt be justified, and by thy words thou wilt be condemned,’ check your tongue from evil, and do not fabricate empty treasures with a deceitful tongue. Stop also your lips from speaking guile; instead, let the whole organ, which was given to you for the service of speech, have nothing to do with wicked deeds. Guile is hidden wrongdoing brought to bear against the neighbour under a pretence of better things.
(10) ‘Turn away from evil and do good, seek after peace and pursue it.’ These counsels are elementary and are channels to piety; they describe accurately how to prevail over the tongue, how to refrain from deceitful schemes, how to turn away from evil. Mere abstinence from evil is not a characteristic of a perfect man; but, for one recently instructed in basic principles it is fitting to turn aside from the impulse to evil and, being delivered from the habits of a depraved life as from a bad road, to pursue the performance of good. In fact, it is impossible to cleave to the good unless one has withdrawn entirely and turned away from the evil, just as it is impossible to repair one’s health unless one rids himself of the disease, or for one who has not completely checked a chill to be in a state of warmth; for, these are inadmissible to each other. So also, it is proper for him who intends to live a good life to depart from all connection with evil. ‘Seek after peace and pursue it.’ Concerning this peace the Lord has said: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace do I give to you.’ Seek, therefore, after the peace of the Lord and pursue it. And you will pursue not otherwise than running toward the goal to the prize of the heavenly calling. For, the true peace is above. Yet, as long as we were bound to the flesh, we were yoked to many things which also troubled us. Seek, then, after peace, a release from the troubles of this world; possess a calm mind, a tranquil and unconfused state of soul, which is neither agitated by the passions nor drawn aside by false doctrines that challenge by their persuasiveness to an assent, in order that you may obtain ‘the peace of God which surpasses all understanding and guards your heart.’ He who seeks after peace, seeks Christ, because ‘he himself is our peace,’ who has made two men into one new man, making peace, and ‘making peace through the blood of his cross, whether on earth or in the heavens.’
(11) ‘The eyes of the Lord are upon the just: and his ears unto their prayers.’ Just as the saints ‘are the body of Christ, member for member, and God indeed has placed some in the Church,’ as eyes, some as tongues, others taking the place of hands, and still others that of feet; so also some of the holy spiritual powers and those which are about the heavenly places are called the eyes because they are entrusted with our guardianship, and others ears, because they receive our petitions. Now, therefore, he said that the power which watches over us and that which is aware of our prayers are eyes and ears. So, ‘the eyes of the Lord are upon the just: and his ears unto their prayers/ Since every act of the just man is worthy in the sight of God, and every word, because no just man speaks idly, is active and efficacious, for this reason these words say that the just man is always watched over and always heard.
‘But the countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil things: to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’ By the countenance I think is meant the open and manifest coming of the Lord in the judgment. Therefore, the eyes of the Lord, as of one still observing us from afar, are said to look upon the just man; but, the countenance itself, it is said, will appear for the purpose of wiping out entirely from the earth all remembrance of wickedness. Do not think, I beg of you, that the countenance of God is moulded in bodily form, since in that case the words of Scripture will seem to be unreasonable, and there will seem to be eyes by themselves which shine upon the just, and again the countenance by itself which threatens the wicked. And yet, the eyes are neither apart from the countenance, nor is the countenance bereft of eyes. Now, ‘No man shall see the face of the Lord and live,’ but, ‘the angels’ of the little ones in the Church ‘always behold the face of our Father in heaven.’ Wherefore, it is impossible for us now to be capable of the sight of the glorious appearance because of the weakness of the flesh which envelops us. The angels, however, since they do not have any such covering as our flesh, are prevented in no way from continually fastening their gaze upon the face of the glory of God. We also, after we have been made ‘sons of the resurrection,’ will be considered worthy of the knowledge face to face. At that time the just will be deemed worthy of the sight of His countenance in glory, but the sinners, of the sight in judgment, since all sin is going to be utterly destroyed by the just judgment of God.
(12) ‘The just cried, and the Lord heard them: and delivered them out of all their troubles.’ The cry of the just is a spiritual one, having its loudness in the secret recess of the heart, able to reach even to the ears of God. Indeed, he who makes great petitions and prays for heavenly favours, he cries out and sends up a prayer that is audible to God. There- fore, ‘the just cried,’ They sought after nothing petty, nothing earthly, nothing lowly. For this reason the Lord received their voice, and He delivered them from all their tribulations, not so much freeing them from their troubles as making them victorious over the circumstances. ‘The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart: and he will save the humble of spirit.’ By His goodness He is near to all; but, we go far away through sin. ‘For behold,’ he says, ‘they that go far from thee shall perish.’ Therefore, Moses is said to approach to God; and, if anyone else is like him through manly deeds and good actions he comes near to God. These words hold openly the prophecy of the coming of the Lord and are in agreement with the preceding. For, there it was said: ‘The countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil things’; that is, His appearance in the judgment will be for the destruction of all evil.
‘The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart.’ He announces before-hand the coming of the Lord in the flesh, which is already near at hand and not far distant. Let this saying from the prophecy of Isaiah be trustworthy to you: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me: he hath sent me to preach to the meek, to heal the contrite of heart, to preach release to the captives and sight to the blind.’ Since, indeed, as a doctor he was sent to the contrite of heart, he says, ‘The Lord is near,’ I say to you, lowly and contrite in spirit, cheering you and leading you on to patience in the joy of what is expected. Contrition of heart is the destruction of human reckonings.
He who has despised present things and has given himself to the word of God, and is using his mind for thoughts which are above man and are more divine, he would be the one who has a contrite heart and has made it a sacrifice which is not despised by the Lord. For, ‘a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’ Therefore, ‘the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart: and he will save the humble of spirit.’ He who has no vanity and is not proud of anything human, he is the one who is contrite in heart and humble of spirit. He is humble also, who is walking in sin, because sin is of all things most humiliating. Wherefore, we say that she is humbled who is corrupted and has lost the holiness of virginity. So, Amnon, it is said, rising up against Thamar ‘humbled’ her. Those, then, who have destroyed the majesty and elevation of their soul, being cast down to the earth by sin and beaten flat, as it were, are bent over, crawling along like the serpent, absolutely unable to be restored; these, in truth, are humbled, but not in spirit; for, their humility is not praiseworthy. But, whoever, having the gift of the Holy Spirit, willingly humble themselves under their inferiors, say- ing according to the Apostle that they are the servants of those in Christ, and ‘the offscouring of all, even until now,’ and again, ‘We have become as the refuse of this world,’ these use humility in a spiritual way, making themselves the last of all, in order that they may be first in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord also proclaims them blessed, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’
‘Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them.’ ‘In all things we suffer tribulation, but we are not distressed.’ For this reason the Lord also says to His disciples: ‘In the world you have affliction. But take courage, I have overcome the world.’ So that, whenever you see the just with diseases, with maimed bodies, suffering loss of possessions, enduring blows, disgraces, all defect and need of the necessities of life, remember that, ‘Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them.’ And he who says the affliction is not proper to a just man says nothing else than that an adversary is not proper for the athlete. But, what occasions for crowns will the athlete have who does not struggle? Four times already in this Psalm it has been told in what manner the Lord delivers from affliction whomever He wishes to deliver. First, ‘I sought the Lord, and he heard me; and he delivered me from all my troubles.’ Second, ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him: and saved him out of all his troubles/ Third, ‘The just cried, and the Lord heard them: and delivered them out of all their troubles.’ And lastly, ‘Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them.’
(13) ‘The Lord keepeth all their bones, not one of them shall be broken.’ Is it necessary to hold fast to the word and to be satisfied with the thought which readily falls upon our ears, that these bones of the just, the props of the flesh, will not be broken because of the protection given to them by the Lord? Or, will only the bones of the just man who is alive and engaged in life be guarded unbroken? Or, when the bonds of the body have been loosened, will it happen that there will be no cause of breaking for the just man? And truly, we have learned by experience that many bones of the just have been broken, when some among them handed themselves over to all forms of punishment for the sake of giving testimony for Christ. Already the persecutors have broken the legs of some and have frequently pierced hands and heads with nails. And yet, who will deny that of all, it is the most just who were brought to perfection in the testimony?
Perhaps, just as the term man is used for the soul and the human mind, so also his members are similarly named in accordance with the members of the flesh; thus, frequently Scripture names the members of the inner man, for example, ‘The eyes of a wise man are in his head,’ that is, the hidden part of the wise man is foreseeing and farseeing. And again, it means equally the eyes both of the soul and of the flesh, not only in that saying which we have set forth, but also in the statement that ‘the commandment of the Lord is light-some and enlightening the eyes.’ But, what should we say concerning this: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’? It is evident, indeed, that some possess ears better able to hear the words of God. But, to those who do not have those ears, what does he say? ‘Hear, ye deaf, and, ye blind, behold.’ Also I opened my mouth, and panted,’ and Thou hast broken the teeth of sinners.’ All these things were said in reference to the faculties which render service for spiritual food and spiritual doctrines. Such also is this saying, ‘My bowels, my bowels are in pain,’ and this, ‘And the foot’ of the wise man ‘shall not stumble,’ All such expressions are used in reference to the inner man.
According to the same reasoning there should also be certain bones of the inner man in which the bond of union and harmony of spiritual powers is collected. Just as the bones by their own firmness protect the tenderness of the flesh, so also in the Church there are some who through their own constancy are able to carry the infirmities of the weak. And as the bones are joined to each other through articulations by sinews and fastenings which have grown upon them, so also would be the bond of charity and peace, which achieves a certain natural junction and union of the spiritual bones in the Church of God. Concerning those bones which have been loosened from the frame and have become, as it were, dislocated, the prophet says: ‘Our bones are scattered by the side of hell.’ And, if at any time disturbance and agitation seizes upon them, he says in prayer: ‘Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.’ When, however, they preserve their own systematic arrangement, protected by the Lord, not one of them will be broken, but they will be worthy to offer glory to God. For, he says: ‘All my bones shall say: Lord, Lord, who is like to thee?’ Do you know the nature of intellectual bones? Perhaps, in reference to the mystery of our resurrection, the Church might use this expression, ‘All my bones shall say.’ Indeed, it is said: ‘Thus saith the Lord to these bones: Behold, I will send spirit of life into you, and I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to grow over you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ So, these bones, having taken on life and giving thanks for their resurrection, will say, ‘Lord, Lord, who is like to thee?’
(14) Accurately has the statement been added: ‘The death of the wicked is very evil,’ because there is a certain death of the just, not evil by nature, but good. In fact, those who die together with Christ have come into a good death; and those who have died to sin have died a good and salutary death. However, ‘the death of the wicked is very evil,’ Punishment follows after them, as also after the rich man who ‘clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted every day in splendid fashion,’
‘And they that hate the just shall be guilty.’ They also, who, since they are living in sin, hate the just, are thus convicted by the ways of the just man because of their proximity to the better, as by the straightness of a rule. Since they are living in sin, they conduct themselves hatefully toward the just man, being in fear of reproach; and because they hate, they again involve themselves in sins. Many are the pretexts on which the just man might be hated, outspokenness, for instance, in his reproofs. They hate the man who reproves them in the gate, and they loathe holy speech. Also, love for the first place and love of power have roused many to hatred of the rulers; sometimes, even ignorance of the reputation of the just man and of who is a just man. ‘The death of the wicked is very evil.’ Or, he even calls all life death, be- cause the Apostle called this flesh death, when he said: ‘Who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ Those who use this body wickedly and make it the servant of sin prepare an evil death for themselves.
‘The Lord will redeem the souls of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall offend.’ Since those who were created to serve the Lord were being held fast by the captivity of the enemy, He will redeem their souls by His precious blood. Therefore, no one of those who hope in Him will be found in sin.