St Basil On Psalm 7

Source

A Psalm of David which He Sang to the Lord, for the Words of Chusi, the Son of Jemini

(ON PSALM 7) THE INSCRIPTION of the Seventh Psalm seems in a way to be opposed to the history of the kingdoms where the facts about David are recorded. For in the history, Chusi is mentioned as the chief companion of David and the son of Arachi, but in the psalm, Chusi is the son of Jemini. Neither he nor any other of those appearing in the history was the son of Jemini. Perhaps, he was called the son of Jemini for this reason, because he displayed great valor and manliness through a mere pretense of friendship, going over, as he pre- tended, to Absalom, but, in reality, thwarting the plans of Achitophel, a very skilled man, well trained in military affairs, who was giving his counsel. ‘The son of Jemini’ is interpreted ‘the son of the right hand/ By his proposals he prevented the acceptance of the plan of Achitophel that no time should intervene in the affairs but that an attack should be made immediately on the father while he was unprepared ‘in order that/ as Scripture says, ‘the Lord might bring all evils upon Absalom/ 3 At all events, he seemed to them to introduce more plausible reasons for postponement and delay, while his real purpose was to give time to David to gather his forces. Because of his counsel he was acceptable to Absalom, who said: ‘The counsel of Chusi the Arachite is better than the counsel of Achitophel/

However, Chusi Informed David through the priests Sadoc and Abiathar of the decision and bade him not to camp in Araboth in the desert, but urged him to cross it. Since, then, he was on the right hand of David through his good advice, he obtained the name from his brave deed. Surely, it is because of this that he is called ‘son of Jemini/ that is, ‘son of the right hand/ It is a custom of Scripture not only to give those who are more wicked a name from their sin rather than from their fathers, but also to call the better sons from the virtue characterising them. Accordingly, the Apostle calls the devil the son of perdition. ‘Unless the impious one is revealed, the son of perdition/ And in the Gospel the Lord called Judas the son of perdition. ‘And not one of them perished/ it says, ‘except the son of perdition/ But, He calls those formed in the knowledge of God children of wisdom, ‘For, wisdom,’ He says, ‘is justified by her children.’ He also says: ‘If a son of peace be there/ It should not, then, seem strange that the father of his body was not mentioned, and that the chief companion of David was called the son of his right hand, receiving a title belonging to him because of his deeds.

(2) ‘O Lord my God, in thee have I put my trust; save me.’ Although the saying, ‘O Lord my God, in thee have I put my trust; save me/ is thought to be a simple prayer and one that can be offered up rightly by anyone, perhaps such is not the case. For, he who puts his trust in man or is buoyed up by some other concerns of life, such as power, or possessions, or any of the things considered by the many to be glorious, is not able to say, ‘O Lord my God, in thee have I put my trust.’ In fact, there is a command that we should not put our trust in rulers, and ‘Cursed be the man that trusteth in man.’ As it is proper not to worship anything else besides God, so also is it proper not to trust in any other except God the Lord of all things. ‘The Lord’ it is said, ‘is my hope and my praise/ How is it that at first David prays to be saved from his persecutors, and then, to be delivered? An explanation will make the statement clear. ‘Save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me, lest at any time he seize upon my soul like a lion.’ Now, what is the difference between being saved and being delivered? Properly speaking, those who are weak need safety, but those who are held in captivity need deliverance. Therefore, he who has some weakness in himself, but possesses faith in himself, is disposed by his own faith to be saved. Tor, thy faith,’ it is said, ‘has saved thee’; and ‘So be it done to thee as thou hast believed.’ But, he who must be delivered, awaits a price which must be paid in his name from the outside. Accordingly, being under sentence of death, knowing that there is one who saves and one who delivers, ‘In thee have I put my trust,’ he says, ‘save me’ from weakness, and ‘deliver me’ from captivity. I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled considerably with the invisible enemies during the whole of their lives, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and reached the end of life, are examined by the prince of the world in order that, if they are found to have wounds from the wrestling or any stains or effects of sin, they may be detained; but, if they are found unwounded and stainless, they may be brought by Christ into their rest as being unconquered and free. There- fore, he prays for his life here and for his future life. For, he says: ‘Save me’ here ‘from them that persecute me; deliver me’ there in the time of the scrutiny lest at any time he seize upon my soul like a lion/ You may learn this from the Lord Himself who said concerning the time of His passion: ‘Now the prince of this world is coming, and in me he will have nothing/ He who had committed no sin said that he had nothing; but, for a man it will be sufficient, if he dares to say: ‘The prince of this world is coming, and in me he will have few and trivial penalties/ And there is a danger of experiencing these penalties, unless we have some one to deliver us or to save us. For, the two tribulations set forth, two petitions are introduced. ‘Save me from the multitude of them that persecute me, and deliver me, lest at any time I be seized as if there were no one to redeem me/

(3) *O Lord my God, if I have done this thing, if there be iniquity in my hands; if I have rendered to them that repaid me evils, let me deservedly fall empty before my enemies. Let the enemy pursue my soul, and take it.’ It is usual for Scripture to use the word ‘repaying’ not only in the case of customary acts, as when some good or evil is already in existence, but also in the case of acts beginning, as in the case of ‘Repay thy servant/ Instead of ‘give/ it says ‘repay/ A giving is the beginning of beneficence; but payment is the reciprocal measuring out of equal value on the part of him who has received benefits; repayment is a sort of second beginning and cycle of benefits or evils stored up for certain ones. In my opinion, since the expression, making, as it were, a repetition in place of a petition, requests repayment, it presents some such meaning as this: the debt of care necessarily owed through nature to children by their parents, this provide for me. Indeed, care for their livelihood is owed to children by a father through natural love. Tor the parents/ it is said, ‘should save up for the children/ in order that in addition to life, they may still provide for them the means for their livelihood. Such is frequently the offering or repayment found in Scripture in initial activities. But here, he who is speaking seems to have confidence because he has not rendered to those repaying evils, nor repaid the like. ‘If I have done this thing, and if I have rendered to them that repaid me evils, let me deservedly fall empty before my enemies.’ He falls empty before his enemies who falls from grace, which is the fullness of Christ. ‘Let the enemy pursue my soul, and take it, and tread down my life on the earth.’ The soul of the just man, severing itself from affection for the body, has its life hidden with Christ in God, so that it can say like the Apostle: ‘It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in faith/ But, the soul of the sinner and of him who lives according to the flesh and is defiled by the pleasures of the body is wrapped up in the passions of the flesh as in mud; and the enemy, trampling upon this soul, strives to pollute it still more and, as it were, to bury it, treading upon him who has fallen, and with his feet trampling him into the ground, that is, trampling the life of him who has slipped into his body.

‘And bring down my glory to the dust/ The glory of the saints who possess citizenship in heaven and who store up for themselves good things in the everlasting treasuries is in heaven; but the glory of earthly men and those living according to the flesh is said to settle in the dust.

He who has gloried in earthly wealth and who pursues the short-lived honour of men and has put his trust in corporeal advantages possesses a glory for himself which does not look up to heaven but remains in the dust.

(4) ‘Rise up, O Lord, in thy anger: and be exalted in the borders of my enemy/ The prophet prays that the mystery of the Resurrection be accomplished now, or the elevation on the cross, which was to take place after the wickedness of the enemies had mounted to its uttermost limits. Or the expression, ‘And be thou exalted in the borders of my enemy/ suggests some such meaning as this: to whatever peak the evil shall ascend, even if it shall go on, pouring out to an immeasurable and unlimited degree, you are able in the abundance of your power, like a good physician, anticipating the limits of its spreading, to stop the disease which is increasing as it creeps along, and to break off its course by corrective blows.

‘And arise, O Lord my God, in the precept which thou hast commanded/ This saying can also be referred to the mystery of the Resurrection, since the prophet is exhorting the Judge to arise in order to avenge every sin and to bring to fulfilment the commands previously laid on us. It can also be accepted in reference to the state at that time of the affairs of the prophet, who was exhorting God to rise in order to avenge the precept which He had enjoined. There was a command, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother/ given by God, which indeed his son had transgressed. Therefore, he urges God, for the correction of that son himself and for the restraint of the many, not to be long-suffering, but to rise in anger and, having risen up, to avenge His own command. Tor You will not avenge me/ he says, ‘but Your own despised precept, which You Yourself enjoined/ ‘And a congregation of people shall surround thee/ It is evident that, if one unjust man is chastened, many will be  converted. Punish, therefore, the wickedness of this man, in order that a great congregation of people may surround You. ‘And for their sakes return thou on high.’ For the sake of the congregation surrounding You, which You acquired by Your condescension through grace and by Your Incarnation, return to the heights of glory, which You had before the world was made.

‘The Lord will judge the people/ Words about judgment are scattered in many places in Scripture, as most cogent and essential for the teaching of true religion to those who believe in God through Jesus Christ. Since the words concerning the judgment are written with various meanings, they seem to hold some confusion for those who do not accurately distinguish the meanings. ‘He who believes in me is not judged; but he who does not believe is already judged.’ But, if he who does not believe, is the same as an impious man, how has it been said that the impious will not rise up in judgment? And, if those who believe have been made sons of God through faith, and for this reason are worthy of being called gods themselves, how does God stand in a congregation of gods, and in the midst will judge gods? Well, it seems that the word ‘judge’ is at times employed by Scripture in place of ‘approve/ as in the expression, ‘Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in my innocence/ for, it continues there, Trove me, O Lord, and try me’; and for ‘condemn’ as in the expression, ‘But if we judged ourselves, we should not thus be judged/ If we examine ourselves well, it says, we would not be subjected to condemnation. Again, it says that the Lord will enter into judgment with all flesh, that is, in the examination of the actions in the lives of each He subjected Himself to judgment and compared His own precepts with the actions of sinners, defending Himself with proofs that He has done all things depending upon Him for the salvation of those judged, in order that the sinners, being persuaded that they are liable to punishment for sins and acknowledging the divine justice, may willingly accept the penalty falling to their lot.

(5) There is still another meaning for the word ‘judge/ as when the Lord says: ‘The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment and will condemn this generation.’ He says that those who refuse the divine teaching and are without love for the noble and good, and who abandon completely the doctrines which tend to teach wisdom, by comparison and contrast with those of their own generation who excel in zeal for the noble and good, receive a more severe condemnation in the matters which they neglected. But, I believe that all who have received this earthy body will not be judged in the same manner by the just Judge since outside influences, which are far different for each of us, cause the judgment in the case of each to vary. For the combination of circumstances not in our power, but involuntary, either makes our sins more grievous, or even lightens them. Suppose that the matter to be judged is fornication. But, one who was trained from the beginning in evil practices committed this sin. Now, he was not only brought into life by licentious parents but also was reared with bad habits, with drunkenness and revelings and shameful tales. On the other hand, if another who had many challenges to the most excellent things, education, teachers, hearing of more divine words, salutary reading, advice of parents, tales which mould to seriousness and self-control, an ordered manner of life, if he, then, was carried away into a like sin as the other and gives an account of his life, how is it possible that such a one will not rightly be considered de- serving of a heavier penalty in comparison with the former? The one will be accused only on the ground that he did not use rightly the salutary inclinations implanted among his thoughts, but the other, in addition to this, because, although he obtained much assistance for salvation, through want of self-control and of attention, in a very short time he betrayed himself. Similarly also, he who has been trained from the beginning in piety and has escaped all perversion in the doctrines concerning God, and who has been brought up in the law of God which attacks every sin and invites to the opposite, will not have the same excuse for idolatry as he who was educated by lawless parents and by people taught from the beginning to worship idols.

‘The Lord will judge the people/ In one way the Jew, and in another the Scythian. The first, indeed, rests content in the law and glories in God and approves the better things. Since he has been instructed by the law, and in addition to the general concepts has been taught the prophetic and legal writings by song and by training, if he is found to have made a false step contrary to the law, he will have far more grievous sins imputed to him. But, as for the Scythian nomads, who have been brought up with wild and inhuman practices, accustomed to robbery and acts of violence against each other, with no control of their temper and easily roused to bitter wrath against each other, accustomed, moreover, to judge all rivalry by the sword, and taught to put an end to fights with blood, if ever they show any humanity or goodness toward each other, they procure a more severe penalty for us because of their own virtuous actions.

(6) Judge me, O Lord, according to my justice, and accord- ing to my innocence in me/ These words seem to contain some boastfulness and to be very much like the prayer of the Pharisee who was exalting himself, but, if one considers them reasonably, the prophet will be seen to be far from such a disposition. ‘Judge me, O Lord/ he says, ‘according to my justice.’ ‘There are many sayings about justice,’ he says, ‘and the limits of perfect justice are hard to reach.’ For, there is a justice of the angels, which transcends that of men, and, if there is any power above the angels, it has also a supremacy of justice proportionate to its greatness; and there is the justice of God Himself, which exceeds all understanding, which is inexpressible, and is incomprehensible to all created nature. ‘Judge me, therefore, O Lord, according to my justice/ that is, according to that attainable by men and possible for those living in the flesh. ‘And according to my innocence in me.’ Thus especially, the disposition of the speaker proves to be very far from pharisaical arrogance; for, he names his innocence as if it were simplicity and ignorance of things useful to know according to the saying in the Proverbs: ‘The Innocent believeth every word.’ Since, therefore, we men through ignorance fall unguardedly into many sins, he en- treats God and asks to meet with pardon because of his innocence. From this it is evident that these words show the humility of the speaker rather than arrogance. ‘Judge me/ he says, ‘according to my justice, and judge me according to the innocence which is in me.’ Comparing my justice with human frailty, thus judge me, and understanding the simplicity of my character, do not, as though I were shrewd or circumspect in the affairs of the world, at once condemn me as a sinner.

‘Let the wickedness of sinners be brought to nought/ He who says this prayer is obviously a disciple of the evangelical precepts. He prays for those who treat him maliciously, asking that the wickedness of the sinners be circumscribed by a definite limit and boundary. Just as if some one, when praying for those who are suffering in body, would say, ‘Let the disease of those who are suffering come to an end.’ In order that the sin slowly creeping farther may not spread like cancer, since he loves his enemy and wishes to do good to those who hate him, and for this reason prays for those who treat him maliciously, he begs of God that the further outpouring of sin may cease and have definite bounds.

‘And thou shalt direct the just.’ The just man is called righteous, and the heart which has been set straight Is righteous. What, then, does the prophet’s prayer mean here? For, he prays that one who already possesses righteousness be set right. One certainly would not say that there is anything crooked in a just man nor distorted nor twisted. But, perhaps, the prayer is necessary for the just man in order that his rightness in purpose and integrity of will may be directed by the guiding hand of God, so that he shall never through weakness turn aside from the canon, as it were, of truth, nor be misled by the enemy of truth through perverted doctrines. ‘The searcher of hearts and reins is God.’ Since Scripture in many places accepts the heart for the principal part of the body, and the reins for the affective part of the soul, here also this same expression signifies: O God, judge me for the teachings concerning piety which I hold and for the movements of my affections; for, You are the One who searches the hearts and the reins/ A search is properly an inquiry with all manner of tortures brought upon those who are examined by the judges, in order that persons who conceal on themselves things sought may by the force of their sufferings restore the hidden object to sight. In the undeceivable inquiries of the Judge our thoughts are examined and our deeds are examined. Let no one, therefore, anticipate the true Judge, and let no one judge before time, ‘until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in darkness and make manifest the counsels of hearts/ In searching the hearts and the reins God shows His justice. Now, the heart of Abraham was searched to see if he loved God with his whole soul and his whole heart, when he was commanded to offer Isaac as a holocaust, in order that he might show that he did not love his son above God. And Jacob, who was the object of the plots of his brother, was searched, in order that his brotherly love might shine forth undimmed amidst such great sins of Esau. Therefore, the hearts of these were searched; but, the reins of Joseph were searched when, although the licentious mistress was madly in love with him, he preferred the honor of chastity to shameful pleasure. Moreover, he was searched for this reason, that the witnesses of the judgment of God might agree that honour was justly bestowed on him, because his chastity shone so very brightly in great trials.

(7) ‘My help is from God/ In wars those who are fighting rightly seek aid against the attacks of their opponents. And so here he who is aware of invisible enemies and who sees the danger near him from enemies encamped around him says: ‘My help is not from wealth nor from corporal resources nor from my own power and strength nor from human ties of kinship, but “My help is from God.” ‘ What assistance the Lord sends to those who fear Him, we have learned elsewhere in a psalm which says: ‘The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him: and shall deliver them.’ And in another place: ‘The angel who has delivered me.’ ‘Who saveth the upright of heart.’ He is upright in heart who does not have his mind inclined to excess nor to deficiency, but directs his endeavours toward the mean of virtue. He who has turned aside from valour to something less is perverted through cowardice; but, he who has strained on to greater things inclines toward temerity. Therefore, the Scripture calls those ‘crooked’ who go astray from the mean by excess or by deficiency. For, as a line becomes crooked when its  straightforward direction is deflected, now convexly, now concavely, so also a heart becomes crooked when it is at one time exalted through boastfulness, at another dejected through afflictions and humiliations. Wherefore Ecclesiastes says: ‘The perverted will not be kept straight.’

‘God is a just judge, strong and patient: he is not angry every day.’ The prophet seems to say this, alluding to those who are always disturbed at what happens, as if calming the confusion of men, lest at any time they mistrust His providence concerning the universe, when they see a father unavenged at the rebellion of his son and the wickedness of Absalom prospering in whatever he proposed. Correcting, therefore, the foolishness in their thoughts, he testified to them: ‘God is a just judge, strong and patient: he is not angry every day.’ Not indiscriminately does any of the things that happen take place, but God measures out in turn to each person with the measures with which He first measured out the actions of their life. When I have committed a sin, 1 receive in return according to my desert. ‘Speak not, then, iniquity against God/ for God is a just Judge. Do not be so poorly disposed toward God as to think that He is too weak to avenge, for He is also strong. What reason is there, then, that swift vengeance is not inflicted on the sinner? Because He is patient, ‘He is not angry every day/

‘Except you will be converted, he will polish his sword.’ It is a threatening saying, urging on to conversion those who are slow to repent. He does not immediately threaten wounds and blows and death, but, the polishing of arms and a certain preparation, as it were, for vengeance. Just as men who are polishing up their arms indicate by this action the attack in war, so Scripture, wishing to bespeak a movement of God toward vengeance, says that He polishes His sword. ‘He hath bent his bow, and made it ready, and in it he hath prepared the instruments of death/ There is no bowstring which stretches the bow of God, but a punitive power, now strained tight, again loosened. Scripture threatens the sinner that future punishments are prepared for him, if he remains in his sin. ‘And in the bow he hath prepared the instruments of death.’ The instruments of death are the powers which destroy the enemies of God.

‘He hath made ready his arrows for them that burn/ As fire was produced by the Creator for material that burns it certainly was not created for steel which is not melted by fire, but for wood which burns up so also arrows were made by God for souls which are easily enkindled, whose great amount of material, worldly and suitable for destruction, has been collected. Those, then, who have accepted beforehand and hold in themselves the burning arrows of the devil, are the ones who receive the arrows of God. For this reason Scripture says: ‘He hath made ready his arrows for them that burn/ Carnal loves burn the soul, and so do desires for money, fiery wraths, griefs which inflame and melt the soul, and fears which estrange from God. He who is unharmed by the arrows of the enemy and who has put on the armor of God 53 remains un- touched by the death-bringing arrows.

(8) ‘Behold he hath been in labor with injustice; he hath conceived sorrow, and brought forth iniquity/ The passage seems to be confused in its order, since they who are pregnant first conceive, then are in labor, and finally bring forth. But here, first comes the travail, then the conception, and lastly the delivery. However, this is most vivid for the conception by the heart. Indeed, the irrational impulses of the licentious, the insane and frenzied lusts have been called travails because they are engendered in the soul with suddenness and pain.

Through such an impulse he who has not command over his wicked practices, has begotten iniquity. David seems ashamed to say this because he is the father of a lawless son. ‘He is not my son/ he says, ‘but he has become the son of the father to whom he gave himself in adoption through sin.’ Therefore, according to John, ‘He who commits sin is of the devil.’ Behold then, the devil was in labor with him through injustice, and he conceived him, as if he drew him within his innermost parts beneath the vitals of his own passion and was pregnant of him, then brought him forth, having made manifest his iniquity because his rebellion against his father was proclaimed to all.

‘He hath opened a pit and dug it/ We do not find the name of ‘pit’ (λάκκος) ever assigned in the divine Scriptures in the case of something good, nor a ‘well’ of water (phrear) in the case of something bad. That into which Joseph was thrown by his brothers is a pit (λάκκος). And there is a slaughter Trom the firstborn of Pharao unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison (λάκκον)/ And in the psalms: 1 am counted among them that go down to the pit (λάκκον).’ And in Jeremia it is said: ‘They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns (λάκκους) , broken cisterns, that can hold no water/ Moreover, in Daniel the lions’ den (λάκκος), into which Daniel was thrown, is described. On the other hand, Abraham digs a well (φρέαρ); so do the sons of Isaac; and Moses, coming to a well (φρέαρ), rested. We also receive the order from Solomon to drink water from our own cisterns (ἀγγεῖον) and from the streams of our wells (φρέατον). And beside the well (πηγὴ) the Saviour conversed with the Samaritan woman concerning the divine mysteries. As to the reason for the pits being assigned among the worse things and the wells among the better, we think it is this. The water in the pit is something acquired, having fallen from the sky; but, in the wells streams of water, buried before the places were dug out, are revealed when the heaps of earth covering them and the material of any sort whatsoever, lying upon them, which is also all earth, have been removed. Now, it is as if there were a pit in souls in which the better things, changed and debased, fall down, when a person, having resolved to have nothing good and noble of his own, puts to flight the thoughts of the good and noble that have slipped into it, twisting them to evil-doing and to contradictions of truth. And again, there are wells, when a light and a stream of water unimpaired in word and in doctrines break forth after the baser materials which had been covering it are removed. Therefore, it is necessary for each one to prepare a well for himself, in order that he may guard the command mentioned previously, which says, ‘Drink water out of thy own cistern, and the streams of thy own well/ Thus we shall be called the sons of those who have dug the wells, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, a pit must not be dug lest we fall into the hole, as’it is said in this place, and so fail to hear the words written in Jeremia in reproach of sinners, for, God says concerning them what we have briefly mentioned before: ‘They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.’