Continuing this Lenten series on Psalm 118 (119), today's verses contain a plea to help us turn our eyes and minds away from vanity and covetousness, and earthly things in general. In the Benedictine Office, these verses (33-40) are said on Sunday at Terce.
As Richard J Foster’s 1960 commentary on the Psalms and Canticles of the Breviary notes:
“We live in the world surrounded by temptation and we are drawn towards evil. The psalm warns us to control our "vision"—television or any other kind of "vision"—averte oculos meos ne videant vanitatem; per viam tuam da mihi vitam. The things we see and read form our thoughts and so affect our outlook and especially our prayers. How could we better express our desire for union with God through the avoidance of evil influences than by these words?”
This fifth stanza of Psalm 118 also recapitulates the key themes of the psalm so far. As St Robert Bellarmine comments:
“In the next eight verses he asks, in a certain order, first, for a desire of observing the law; secondly, for light to understand it; thirdly, for grace to observe it; and fourthly, for the removal of all obstacles thereto. In this very long Psalm David, for the purpose of touching the affections, and of guarding against tedium, repeats the same matter frequently, but in different phraseology.”
The verses (he)
33 Legem pone mihi, Domine, viam justificationum tuarum, et exquiram eam semper.
Set before me for a law the way of your justifications, O Lord: and I will always seek after it.
Legem pone (imperative) mihi (to me), Domine = Show me/set before me/Teach me O Lord
pono, posui, itum, ere 3, to put, place, lay, set.
The Douay-Rheims translates it very literally as ‘Set before me a law’, but the Hebrew MT implies to teach, give instruction.
viam justificationum tuarum = the way of your justifications (DR)/ordinances (Brenton)/statutes (RSV, Coverdale)/precepts (Monastic Diurnal)
et exquiram (future) eam semper = and I will seek it always
The neo-Vulgate changes the verb to servabo, I will keep it.
exquiro – to seek, seek after, to search, keep, observe
semper – Heb says ‘reward’, ‘to that end’
Cassiodorus sees this verse as asking for the New Law, in the form of Christ to come. The more conventional explanation is summarized by St Alphonsus’:,” grant that I take not pleasure in the laws of the world and of the flesh, but only in Thy law, and thus I shall always seek to put it in practice.
34. Da mihi intellectum, et scrutabor legem tuam, et custodiam illam in toto corde meo.
Give me understanding, and I will search your law; and I will keep it with my whole heart.
Da (imperative of do, dare) mihi intellectum = give to me understanding
intellectus, us, m. understanding, insight.
et scrutabor (deponent: future active) legem tuam – and I will search/scrutinise your law
scrutor, atus sum, ari, to search, examine, scrutinize
et custodiam (future) illam - and I will keep it
custodio, ivi or ii, itum, ire to guard, watch, keep; to maintain, to hold steadfastly.
ille, ilia, illud, demon, pron., that; also he, she, it In the Vulgate ille is frequently used for is or ipse
in toto corde meo = with my whole heart
Bellarmine suggests that the first stage is to have a desire or affection for the law, the next understanding of it. Our study of Scripture, he argues, is not just about satisfying curiosity; but rather we ‘inquire into its utility, excellence, and other advantages’ so that we may keep it better.
35 Deduc me in semitam mandatorum tuorum, quia ipsam volui.
Lead me into the path of your commandments; for this same I have desired.
Deduc (imperative) me = lead/guide me
deduco, duxi ductum, ere 3, to lead or bring down; to guide, lead, conduct
in semitam mandatorum tuorum = in the path of your commandments
semita, ae,f ., a path, way; used almost entirely in a fig. sense.; course of life, action, conduct, or procedure
quia ipsam volui (pf) – for I have desired it
quia, conj. for, because, that. truly, surely, indeed;
ipse, a, um, demon, pronoun., himself, herself, itself
volo, volui, velle, to will, wish, desire; to have pleasure or delight in, to love, hold dear, desire.
Again he asks for the grace necessary to keep the commandments.
36. Inclina cor meum in testimonia tua, et non in avaritiam.
Incline my heart into your testimonies and not to covetousness.
Inclina (imperative) cor meum - Incline my heart
inclino, avi, atum, are, to bend, incline
= to/unto/in your testimonies
(in+abl = with, in, on among, by means of)
et non in avaritiam = and not to avarice/covetousness/monetary gain
avaritia, ae. f, avarice, covetousness.
St Alphonsus paraphrases it as: Incline my heart towards the observance of Thy law by means of Thy holy love, which by the weight of its influence inclines hearts to Thee, and deliver it from the concupiscence of earthly things.
37 Averte oculos meos, ne videant vanitatem; in via tua vivifica me.
Turn away my eyes that they may not behold vanity: quicken me in your way.
Averte (imp) oculos (acc pl) meos = turn away my eyes
averto, verti, versum, ere 3, to turn away, avert; to bring back.
oculus, i, the eye..
ne videant (3rd person subj) vanitatem = so that they might not see vanity/emptiness
video, vidi, visum, ere 2, to see, behold; consider; experience, undergo, suffer, realize; keep watch, look for, meditate on
vanitas, atis, f emptiness, nothingness, vanity, unreality, falsehood
in via tua vivifica me = in your way revive me
vivifico, avi, atum, are to quicken, give life to, vivify.
St Augustine says: Vanity and truth are directly contrary to one another. The desires of this world are vanity: but Christ, who frees us from the world, is truth.
38 Statue servo tuo eloquium tuum in timore tuo.
Establish your word to your servant, in your fear.
Statue servo tuo = establish to/confirm to (Brenton)/make good to (Monastic Diurnal) your servant
statuo, ui, utum, ere 3 to set, place, establish. to change, still, calm;
servus, i, m., a slave, servant; servants of the Lord, devout men who keep the law; the people, i.e., the Israelites
eloquium tuum = your word/promise
in timore tuo = in your fear
timor, oris, m. fear; an object of fear.
This is once more a plea for the grace of perseverance: “Through a holy fear of you, establish, confirm, and so ground your law in thy servant, that it may remain and perse¬vere most firmly with him.” (Bellarmine)
39 Amputa opprobrium meum quod suspicatus sum, quia judicia tua jucunda.
Turn away my reproach, which I have apprehended: for your judgments are delightful.
Amputa opprobrium meum = take away/remove my disgrace/shame/reproach
amputo, avi, atum, are, to cut round about, to lop as in pruning trees; to remove, take away.
opprobrium, ii, n. a reproach, taunt, byword; an object of scorn, mockery, derision; a disgrace.
quod suspicatus sum (deponent) = which/that I dread/am afraid of
qui, quae, quod, pron. rel., who, which, what, that,
suspicor, atus sum, ari to fear, dread; to anticipate, apprehend
quia judicia tua jucunda = for your judgments [are] pleasing/good/delightful
jucundus, a, um pleasing, acceptable. happy, fortunate. Good
St Alphonsus paraphrases the verse as ‘Take from me the reproach that I dread, namely, of transgressing Thy precepts, which are so pleasant to those that observe them’.
40 Ecce concupivi mandata tua : in æquitate tua vivifica me.
Behold I have longed after your precepts: quicken me in your justice.
Ecce concupivi mandata tua = Behold I have longed for your commandments
ecce, adv. lo see! Behold
concupisco, cupivi or cupii, cuptum, ere 3 to desire eagerly, to long for or after
in æquitate tua vivifica me = in your righteousness/justice/goodness revive/give me life/enliven me
aequitas, atis, f justice, fairness, uprightness, goodness, righteousness
St Augustine instructs us that: “Christ is Your righteousness, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, etc. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 And in Him I find Your commandments, which I have coveted, that in Your righteousness, that is, in Him, You may quicken me. For the Word Himself is God; and the Word was made flesh, John 1:14 that He Himself also might be my neighbour.”
You can find the next part in this series here.