Sunday, October 21, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 6: Fairness and punishment

Hieronymous Bosch 1500-1525
Today's verse of Psalm 110, with its allusion to the ejection of the Canaanites from the 'Promise Land' of the Jews, invites us to meditate on why some are saved, yet others are not:

"Ut det illis hereditátem géntium: ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium.
That he may give them the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hands are truth and judgment"


Ut det illis hereditátem géntium = so that he may give them the inheritance of the gentiles

Note that this is an ‘Ut+subjunctive’ construction, meaning in order that/so that…may. It can also be rendered as ‘to give them’, or ‘in giving them’. Note that in the Vulgate ille is frequently used for is (he, she, it).

But what constitutes the ‘inheritance of the gentiles’? In the Old Testament it was interpreted literally as the land of Canaan, the promised land given to the Jews. But metaphorically it stands for heaven.

ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium = the works of his hands [are] truth and justice

Hand here is, of course, meant metaphorically rather than literally.


In this verse, we are asked to consider the Old Testament situation, namely God’s promise of the land of the Canaanites to the Jews. Wasn’t this unfair dispossession?

This psalm is alluded to in Revelation 15:3-4, where it highlights the concept that God’s judgments of our actions that are currently hidden will be revealed to all. Justice, in other words, requires that the good be rewarded, those who do evil and refuse to repent will be condemned. The psalmist’s answer to the question of fairness is that in fact the dispossession of the Canaanites was a work of God’s justice, a punishment for their sins, as St Robert Bellarmine explains:

“As God promised Abraham, then, that he would give that country to his posterity, he acted in truth or faithfulness; and as he did not expel the Chanaaneans until "the measure of their sins was filled up," for which they deserved to be expelled, he also acted in justice; and, therefore, "the works of his hands are truth and justice."


We should join with the angels and saints in the praise of God:

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages! Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed." (Rev 15:3-4)


Bellamine’s commentary on the verse continues with a warning as to the need for our personal conversion:

“That the Chanaaneans deserved to be punished, and to be expelled from the land of promise, the Prophet proves, by reason of their not having observed the natural law, that is common to all, binding all and immutable, for they contain the first principles of justice; for, when God, in Lev. 18, prohibits incest, adultery, sins against nature, idolatry, and the like, he adds— "For all these detestable things the inhabitants of the land have done that were before you, and have defiled it. Beware, then, lest in like manner it vomit you also out if you do the like things, as it vomited out the nation that was before you."

Next verse

Notes on the next verse can be found here.

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