1. The era of the prophets
WE have learned that it is from the line of Abraham that the Israelite race derives its origin, in respect of physical descent; while, in respect of faith, all nations have issued from him; and this is according to God’s promise. And the history of the City of God, as it develops through succeeding periods, will show how the promises made to Abraham are being fulfilled. My previous book brought the story as far as David’s reign; and now we touch on the events which followed that reign, in so far as seems sufficient for the task in hand.
The next period extends from the time when the holy Samuel began to prophesy down to the deportation of the Israelite people to captivity in Babylon, and from then on to the restoration of the House of God, fulfilling the prophecy of the holy Jeremiah,1 after the return of the Israelites, seventy years later. This whole period is the era of the prophets. It is true that we can quite rightly give the title of prophet to Noah himself, in whose time the whole earth was wiped out by the Deluge; and also to others, before and after him, down to the time when kings first arose among God’s people. They have a right to this title because through them certain future events connected with the City of God and the kingdom of heaven were in some fashion symbolized or foretold. This is particularly true of some of these men, Abraham and Moses, for example, of whom we read that they were expressly given this appellation. For all that, ‘the days of the prophets’ is a name given chiefly and especially to the era beginning with the prophetic activity of Samuel, who at God’s bidding first anointed Saul and then, when Saul proved unsatisfactory, David himself, from whose stock the whole succession of kings derived, so long as this succession was permitted.
Now it would develop into an immense undertaking if I were to try to record all the predictions about Christ uttered by the prophets while the City of God was running its course during this era, as generation succeeded generation. For, in the first place, the scriptural narrative itself gives an account of the succession of kings and their achievements and the events of their reigns; and yet a careful examination of the narrative, with the help of God’s spirit, reveals it to be more concerned – or at least not less concerned – with foretelling the future than with recording the past. And no one who gives the slightest thought to the matter can fail to realize what a laborious and boundless task it would be to track down all those points, by a minute scrutiny of the record, and then to discuss them so as to show their relevance. It would, in fact, require many volumes. Moreover, even the matters which are unambiguously prophetic in character refer in so many cases to Christ and the kingdom of heaven, which is the City of God, that merely to broach the subject would entail a more elaborate disquisition than the scope of this work demands. From now on, therefore, I shall do my best to control my pen so as neither to include anything superfluous, nor to omit anything necessary for the accomplishment of this undertaking, according to God’s will.
2. The fulfilment of God’s promise about the land of Canaan: Israel ‘according to the flesh obtained possession of it
In the previous book I have said that two things were promised to Abraham from the beginning. One was that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan; and this is signified in the passage which says, ‘Go into the land which I shall show you; and I will make of you a great nation.’2 The other, far more important, related not to his physical descendants but to his spiritual posterity, through whom he is the father not of the one nation of Israel, but of all nations which follow in the footsteps of his faith. This promise begins with these words: ‘And all the tribes of the earth will be blessed in you.’3 And I have shown that these two promises were repeated thereafter, according to the evidence of a large number of passages. Thus Abraham’s descendants, in the physical sense, that is, the people of Israel, were already in the land of promise and had already started their kingdom there, not only in the sense of holding in possession the cities of their enemies, but also by having kings. Thus God’s promises about this people had already been fulfilled in large measure, not only the promise which had been made to the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and others made in their period, but also those given through Moses, by whom this people was set free from slavery in Egypt, and through whom all the events of the past were revealed, when he led the people through the desert.
However, the promise of God about the land of Canaan was not fulfilled through the great leader Joshua, by whom the people was brought into the land of promise. What Joshua did was to conquer and dispossess the nations of the land, and divide the country, as God had bidden, among the twelve tribes. Then he died; and the promise was not fulfilled in the whole period of the judges which followed his death. For the promise spoke of the land of Canaan stretching from a certain river of Egypt to the great River Euphrates.4 But this was by now no longer a prophecy for the distant future: its immediate fulfilment was awaited; and the fulfilment came through David and his son Solomon, whose dominion was extended over the whole area mentioned in the promise. For they subdued all those peoples and made them tributary nations.5 Thus under those kings the descendants of Abraham had been established in the land of promise, in the physical sense, that is, in the land of Canaan; and this meant that nothing further remained for the fulfilment of that promise which concerned worldly territory, except that the Hebrew people should continue in the same land in undisturbed stability, as far as temporal prosperity is concerned, through the successive ages of posterity right down to the end of this mortal age, provided that they obeyed the laws of the Lord their God. But since God knew that they would not do so, he also imposed on them temporal punishments, for the training of the few faithful men in that nation, and for a warning to those who were to come in future times among all nations, a warning needed by those in whom he was to fulfil his second promise by the revelation of the new covenant through the incarnation of Christ.
3. The threefold meanings of the prophets, referring sometimes to the earthly Jerusalem, sometimes to the Heavenly City, sometimes to both at once
Now the divine oracles given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or words found in previous sacred writings, refer partly to the nation physically derived from Abraham, but partly to those descendants of his in whom all nations are blessed as co heirs of Christ through the new covenant, so as to obtain possession of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven. The same is true of the rest of the prophecies, from this period of the kings. Thus the prophecies refer in part to the maidservant whose children are born into slavery, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, who is in slavery, as are also her sons; but in part they refer to the free City of God, the true Jerusalem, eternal in heaven, whose sons are the men who live according to God’s will in their pilgrimage on earth. There are, however, some prophecies which are understood as referring to both; literally to the bondmaid, symbolically to the free woman.6
Thus the utterances of the prophets are found to have a threefold meaning, in that some have in view the earthly Jerusalem, others the heavenly, and others refer to both. It is clear to me that I ought to prove my point by examples. Nathan the prophet was sent to convict King David of a grave sin and to predict the coming misfortunes, misfortunes which in fact followed.7 Can anyone doubt that these statements and others of the same tenor had reference to the earthly city, whether they were public pronouncements, that is, uttered for the welfare and betterment of the people, or private communications, when an individual earned the privilege of divinely inspired utterances for his own benefit, imparting some knowledge of the future to his advantage in his temporal life? On the other hand we have such a passage as,
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall ratify a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. It will not be in the terms of the covenant that I drew up for their fathers at the time when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not keep to my covenant, and I have abandoned them, says the Lord. Now this is the covenant that I establish for the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I shall establish it by putting my laws in their minds; and I shall write them on their hearts, and I shall look on them. And I shall become their God; and they will become my people.8
This is, without doubt, a prophecy of the Jerusalem above, whose ‘reward’9 is God himself; and to possess him, and to be his possession, is the Highest Good, and the Entire Good, in that City.
But the fact that Jerusalem is called the city of God has a double reference, combined as it is with the prophecy of the future house of God in that city. This prophecy seems to have its fulfilment when King Solomon builds that renowned temple. But this was not only an event in the history of the earthly Jerusalem; it was also a symbol of the Jerusalem in heaven. Now this class of prophecy, in which there is a compounding and commingling, as it were, of both references, is of the greatest importance in the ancient canonical books, which contain historical narratives; and it has exercised and still exercises the wits of those who examine the sacred literature. And so, when we read of prophecy and fulfilment in the story of Abraham’s physical descendants, we also look for an allegorical meaning which is to be fulfilled in those descended from Abraham in respect of faith. So much so that some interpreters have decided that everything prophesied and accomplished in those books, or accomplished without being prophesied, has, without exception, some meaning which is to be referred by symbolical application to the City of God in heaven, and the sons of that City who are pilgrims in this life. On this theory the utterances of the prophets will be of two types only, not three – or rather, this will be true of all those scriptures which are classed under the title of the Old Testament. For there will be nothing there which relates only to the earthly Jerusalem, if whatever is said there, and accomplished, either about that city or in connection with that city, has a reference, by prophetic allegory, to the Heavenly Jerusalem. So there will be only two kinds of prophecy; one concerned with the ‘free’ Jerusalem, and the other with both cities.
Now in my opinion it is certainly a complete mistake to suppose that no narrative of events in this type of literature has any significance beyond the purely historical record; but it is equally rash to maintain that every single statement in those books is a complex of allegorical meanings. That is why I have spoken of a triple, instead of a double classification; for this is my own considered judgement. In spite of that, I do not censure those who have succeeded in carving out a spiritual meaning from each and every event in the narrative, always provided that they have maintained its original basis of historical truth. There are also statements which cannot be made to apply to events either past or future, whether brought about by human or divine activity; and no believing man would doubt that those were uttered from some good purpose. Such a man would certainly attach a spiritual sense to them, if he could; or at least he would acknowledge that they should be so interpreted by anyone who is able to do so.
4. The change in the Israelite kingship, and its prophetic significance. The prophecies of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who personifies the Church
The City of God thus developed down to the period of the kings, to the time when Saul was rejected and David first ascended the throne, so that his descendants thereafter reigned in the earthly Jerusalem in a succession which lasted a long time. This change was symbolic; it was an event which pointed prophetically to the future, and its significance must not be passed over in silence. It betokened the change which was to come in the future in respect of the two covenants, the old and the new, and the transformation of priesthood and monarchy by the new and eternal priest-king, who is Christ Jesus. For when Eli the priest had been rejected, and Samuel was substituted for him in the service of God, and performed the double function of priest and judge, and when Saul was put aside and King David was established in the royal power, those events prophetically symbolized the change which I have mentioned.
Besides this, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who had formerly been barren and was now gladdened with fertility, is shown as prophesying exactly the same transformation, when in exaltation she pours out her thanksgiving to the Lord, when she gives back to God the same child, after he had been born and weaned, with the same devotion with which she had made her vow. For she says,
My heart is strengthened in the Lord; my horn is exalted in my God. My mouth is enlarged over my enemies; I have rejoiced in your salvation. For there is none who is holy as the Lord is holy; there is none who is just as our God is just; there is none holy besides you. Do not boast; do not speak lofty words; let no bragging talk come from your lips. For the Lord is the God of all knowledge, and a God who prepares his own designs. He has made weak the bow of the mighty ones; and the weak have girded themselves with strength. Those who were full of bread have been reduced to want; and the hungry have passed over the earth. Because the barren woman has given birth to seven children while she who has many sons is enfeebled. The Lord brings death, and he brings life; he leads men down to the grave and leads them back again. The Lord makes men poor, and he enriches them; he humbles them, and he exalts them. He raises up the poor man from the earth, and lifts up the needy from the dunghill, that he may station them with the men of power among the people, giving them also the seat of glory as their inheritance, granting fulfilment to the man who makes a vow; and he has blessed the years of the righteous, since man is not powerful in his own strength. The Lord will make weak his adversary; the Lord is holy. Let the prudent man not glory in his prudence, nor the powerful glory in his power, nor the rich man glory in his riches. He who glories, let him glory in this: to understand and know the Lord, and to perform justice and righteousness in the midst of the earth. The Lord has ascended into the heavens and has thundered; he himself will judge the ends of the earth, because he is just; and he gives strength to our kings, and will exalt the horn of his anointed.10
Are these words going to be regarded as simply the words of one mere woman giving thanks for the birth of her son? Are men’s minds so turned away from the light of truth that they do not feel that the words poured out by this woman transcend the limit of her own thoughts? In truth, anyone who is appropriately moved by the events whose fulfilment has already begun, even in this earthly pilgrimage, cannot but attend to these words, and observe and recognize that through this woman (whose very name, Hannah, means ‘God’s grace’11), there speaks, by the spirit of prophecy, the Christian religion itself, the City of God itself, whose king and founder is Christ; there speaks, in fact, the grace of God itself, from which the proud are estranged so that they fall, with which the humble are filled so that they rise up, which was in fact, the chief theme that rang out in her hymn of praise. Now it may be that someone will be ready to say that the woman gave voice to no prophecy, but merely praised God in an outburst of exultation for the son who was granted in answer to her prayer. If so, what is the meaning of this passage, ‘He has made weak the bow of the mighty ones, and the weak have girded themselves with strength. Those who were full of bread have been reduced to want, and the hungry have passed over the earth. Because the barren woman has given birth to seven, while she who has many children has become weak.’ Had Hannah herself really borne seven children, although she was barren? She had only one son when she spoke these words; and even afterwards she did not give birth to seven, or to six, which would have made Samuel the seventh. She had in fact three male and two female children. And then observe her concluding words, spoken among that people at a time when no one had yet been king over them: ‘He gives strength to our kings, and will exalt the horn of his anointed.’ How is it that she said this, if she was not uttering a prophecy?
Therefore, let the Church of Christ speak, the ‘City of the great king’,12 the Church that is ‘full of grace’,13 fruitful in children; let her speak the words that she recognizes as spoken prophetically about herself, so long ago, by the lips of this devout mother, ‘My heart is strengthened in the Lord; my horn is exalted in my God.’ Her heart is truly strengthened and her horn truly exalted, because it is ‘in the Lord her God’ not in herself that she finds strength and exaltation. ‘My mouth is enlarged over my enemies’; because even in the straits of oppression ‘the word of God is not bound’,14not even when its heralds are bound. ‘I have rejoiced’, she says, ‘in your salvation.’ This salvation is Christ Jesus; for we read in the Gospel that Simeon took him in his arms, an old man embracing a little child and recognizing his greatness, and he said, ‘Lord, you are now discharging your servant in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation.’15 And so let the Church say, ‘I have rejoiced in your salvation. For there is none who is holy as the Lord is holy; there is none who is just as our God is just’; for he is holy – and he makes men holy; he is just – and he makes men just. ‘There is none holy besides you.’ For no one is made holy except by you. Then there follow these words: ‘Do not boast; do not speak lofty words; let no bragging talk come from your lips. For God is the God of all knowledge.’ He himself knows you, even where no one knows, since ‘he who thinks himself to be something important, when he is nothing, is fooling himself.’16
These words are directed to the adversaries of the City of God, who belong to Babylonia, who presume on their own strength, and glory in themselves, instead of in God. Among them are also the Israelites by physical descent, the earth-born citizens of the earthly Jerusalem, who, in the words of the Apostle, ‘know nothing of God’s righteousness’17 – that is, the righteousness which God gives, who alone is righteous and makes men righteous – ‘and desire to establish their own righteousness’ – that is, they suppose it to be something gained by themselves, instead of given by God and so they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. Arrogant as they are, they think that by their own righteousness, not God’s, they can please God, who is ‘the God of all knowledge’ and therefore also the judge of men’s inner thoughts; for in them he sees men’s imaginations, knowing them to be futile,18 if they are only men’s, and do not come from him.
‘God’, says Hannah, ‘prepares his own designs.’ What do we suppose these designs are, except that the proud should fall and the humble arise? For no doubt she is elaborating these designs when she says, ‘The bow of the mighty ones has been weakened, and the weak have girded themselves with strength.’ The bow has been weakened –that is, the intention of those who seem to themselves so powerful that without the gift of God and without his aid they can fulfil the divine commands in human self-reliance. And men gird themselves with strength when their inner voice says, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am weak.’19
‘Those who were full of bread’, says Hannah, ‘have been reduced to want; and the hungry have passed over the earth’ Who are to be understood by those who were full of bread, except those supposedly ‘powerful ones’, that is, the Israelites, to whom the utterances of God were entrusted? But among that people the sons of the maidservant20 were ‘reduced.’ Now the verb minorati sunt (‘have been reduced’) is not a good Latin expression; but it expresses the meaning well, since they were reduced from major to minor importance. They were reduced, because while possessed of this bread, that is, the divine utterances, which the Israelites, alone of all the nations at that time, had received, they had a taste only for earthly things. On the other hand, nations to whom that Law had not been given, after they came to the knowledge of these utterances through the new covenant, passed over the earth in great hunger, since in these words it was the heavenly meaning, not the earthly, that they savoured. And Hannah seems to be looking for an explanation of how this happened, when she says, ‘For the barren woman has given birth to seven; while she who has many children is enfeebled.’ Here the whole of the prophecy becomes illuminated for those who recognize the significance of the number seven; for by that number the perfection of the universal Church is symbolized. This is the reason why the apostle John writes to seven churches;21 it is his way of showing that he is writing to the entirety of the one Church. In the Proverbs of Solomon also Wisdom prefigured this Church long before, when she ‘built her house and supported it on seven columns.’22 For the City of God was barren in all nations before the birth of the offspring we now behold. We also behold the en-feeblement of the earthly Jerusalem, who had many children; for her strength lay in whatever sons of the free woman were in that city. But now only the letter is there and not the spirit;23 and so her strength has been lost, and she has been enfeebled.
‘The Lord brings death, and he brings life.’ He brought death to her who had many sons; he brought life to the barren woman who gave birth to seven children. However, this might more suitably be understood to mean that he brings life to the same persons to whom he has brought death. For it looks as if she is repeating this statement when she adds, ‘He leads men down to the grave, and leads them back again.’ Now the Apostle says, ‘If you are dead’ with Christ, seek the realms on high, where Christ is seated on God’s right hand’:24 and those to whom this is addressed are certainly brought to death by God for their own well-being. And he adds these words to them, ‘Savour the things on high, not the things on earth’; so that these are the same persons who ‘have passed over the earth in hunger.’
For St Paul says, ‘You are dead’ But see how healthfully God brings men to death! He goes on to say, ‘and your life’ is hidden with Christ in God.’25 See how God brings life to these same men! But is it true that those whom he has brought to the realm of the dead and those he has brought back again are the same people? Indeed it is, since there is, for believers, no disputing that we see both these actions fulfilled in him (and, remember, he is ‘our head’) ‘with whom’, as the Apostle says, ‘our life is hidden in God.’ For he ‘who did not spare his own son, but delivered him up on behalf of us all’,26 surely brought him to death in so doing; and in raising him from the dead, he brought him to life again. And since his voice is recognized in the prophecy, ‘You will not leave my soul in the underworld’,27 it was the same person whom he brought down to the realm of the dead and brought back again. By this poverty of his we have been enriched;28 for ‘the Lord makes men poor, and enriches them.’ Now to understand what this means, we must listen to what follows: ‘He humbles, and he exalts’; which clearly means that he humbles the arrogant and exalts the humble. For elsewhere we find those words: ‘God resists the proud, while he gives grace to the humble’;29 and this is the message of the whole discourse of Hannah, whose name means his ‘grace.’
As for the words that follow, ‘He raises up the poor from the earth’, I can find no better application of them than to him who ‘became poor for our sake, though he was rich, so that by his poverty’ – as I said just now – ‘we might be enriched.’30 For God raised him up from the earth so quickly that his flesh did not ‘see corruption.’31 And I shall not withdraw from him the application of what follows: ‘And he lifts up the needy from the dunghill.’ ‘The needy’ is certainly identical with ‘the poor’; and the dung from which he is raised is most correctly understood of the Jewish persecutors, among whom the Apostle counted himself, as having persecuted the Church, when he used these words: ‘The things which were my assets I have written off as losses for the sake of Christ; in fact I have counted them not only as drawbacks, but even as so much dung, so that I might have Christ as my assets.’32 Thus that poor man was raised up from the earth above all the rich, so as to sit ‘with the men of power among the people’ to whom he says, ‘You will sit on twelve thrones.’33 ‘Giving them also the seat of glory as their inheritance’ — for those ‘men of power’ had said, ‘Look, we have abandoned everything and have become your followers.’ This vow they had made with the utmost power. But whence did they derive the ability to do so, unless from him of whom Hannah’s song immediately goes on to say that he ‘grants fulfilment to him who makes a vow’? For no one could ever make a rightful vow to the Lord without receiving from him the fulfilment of his prayer.
The words that follow, ‘and he has blessed the years of the righteous’, mean, we can be sure, that the righteous will live without end with him to whom it was said, ‘Your years will never come to an end.’34 For there the years stand still, whereas here they pass by; in fact, they perish. For before they come they do not exist, and when they have come, they will exist no more, because when they come they bring with them their own end. Now of the two statements, ‘granting fulfilment to one who makes a vow’ and ‘he has blessed the years of the righteous’, one refers to something we do, the other to something we get. But the second is not acquired through God’s generosity, unless the former has been accomplished with his assistance. For ‘man is not powerful in his own strength; the Lord will make weak his adversary’, which means, of course, one who in malice resists the man who makes a vow, so that he may be incapable of fulfilling his vow. But there is an ambiguityin the Greek, and it may be taken as ‘his own adversary.’ For as soon as God has begun to possess us, then straightway he who was our adversary becomes God’s adversary, and will be conquered by us, but not by our own powers, ‘because a man is not powerful in his own strength.’ Thus ‘the Lord will make weak his own adversary; the Lord is holy’; so that the adversary is overcome by holy men, sanctified by the holy Lord of holy people.
And for this reason ‘let the prudent man not glory in his prudence, nor the powerful glory in his power, nor the rich man glory in his riches. He who glories, let him glory in this: to understand and know the Lord, and to perform justice and righteousness in the midst of the earth.’ It is in no trivial measure that a man understands and knows God, when he understands and knows that this knowledge and understanding is itself the gift of God. ‘For what do you possess’, says the Apostle, ‘which you have not received? Then, if you have received it, why do you boast, as if you had not received it?’35 That is, why do you behave as if the ground of your boasting came from your own achievement? Now the man who lives rightly ‘performs justice and righteousness’; and that man is he who obeys God’s bidding. And ‘the end of the commandment’, that is the object to which it is directed, ‘is the love that springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith that is without pretence.’36 Moreover, as the apostle John testifies, ‘this love comes from God.’37 Thus the ability to ‘perform justice and righteousness’ comes from God.
But what is the meaning of ‘in the midst of the earth’? It is certainly not that those who live at the ends of the earth are exempt from the duty of doing justice and righteousness. Would anyone say this? Why, then, the addition of the words, ‘in the midst of the earth’? Without the addition, the remaining words, ‘to perform justice and righteousness’ would make the command applicable to both classes: those who live in the midst of the earth, and those on the shores of the ocean. My belief is that the words were added to preclude the notion that after the end of the life lived in this mortal body a period remains for the performance of justice and righteousness, which a man has failed to achieve while in the flesh, and so there is a chance of escaping the divine judgement. The words therefore mean, in my view, ‘while each man lives in the body.’ Certainly in this life each man carries his ‘earth’ around him, and the common earth receives it when he thes, to restore it, as we know, when the man rises again. It follows that ‘in the midst of the earth’, that is, as long as our soul is enclosed in this earthly body, we must ‘perform justice and righteousness’ for our benefit in the future when ‘everyone receives either good or bad, according to his actions done through the body.’38 Here we can see that by ‘through the body’ the Apostle means ‘throughout the time when he lived in the body.’ For it is not implied that anyone who blasphemes against God, the wickedness being in his mind and the impiety in his thoughts, without his bodily organs being involved, is exempt from judgement simply because there was no bodily activity in this behaviour; for he behaved in this way during the time when he inhabited the body. We can appropriately apply the same line of interpretation to a passage in the psalms, where it says, ‘Now God our king before the ages has achieved salvation in the midst of the earth.’39 We may take ‘our God’ to mean the Lord Jesus, who is before the ages (since the ages were created by him); for he ‘achieved salvation in the midst of the earth’ when the Word was made flesh and dwelt in a human body.
These words in Hannah’s prophecy describe how a man who glories ought to glory, not in himself, of course, but in the Lord. Hannah next alludes to the retribution which is to come on the day of judgement. ‘The Lord has ascended into the heavens and has thundered; he himself will judge the ends of the earth, because he is just.’ Here she kept precisely to the order of the confession of the faithful,40 ‘The Lord ascended into heaven, and thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.’ For, as the Apostle says, ‘Who ascended, except him who also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same person as he who ascended above all the heavens, so that he might fulfil all things.’41 Thus it was through his own clouds that he thundered, the clouds which he filled with the Holy Spirit when he ascended. It was concerning these clouds that he speaks to Jerusalem the maidservant (the ‘ungrateful vine’), in the book of Isaiah, threatening that the clouds would not send rain upon it.42 Now to say he himself will judge the ends of the earth’ is as much as to say ‘even to the ends of the earth.’ For it is not that he will fail to judge the other parts of the world; he will, without a shadow of doubt, judge all men. But it is better to take ‘the ends of the earth’ to mean ‘the latter end of man.’ For the judgement will not be passed on situations which change for better or worse in the intermediate period. The judgement will be on the final state in which the man who will be judged is found. That is why it is said that ‘the man who perseveres to the end is the man who will be saved.’43 Therefore the man who perseveres in the performance of justice and righteousness ‘in the midst of the earth’ will not be condemned when ‘the ends of the earth’ are judged.
‘He gives strength to our kings’, she says. The purpose of this is that he may not condemn them in his judgement. He gives them strength by which they may, like kings, rule over the flesh, and overcome the world in the power of him who shed his blood for them. ‘And he will exalt the horn of his anointed.’ In what way will Christ exalt the horn of his anointed? For it was said earlier of him, ‘The Lord has ascended into the heavens’, and this was taken to mean ‘the Lord Christ.’ It is Christ himself, as is said here, who ‘will exalt the horn of his anointed.’ Who then is the anointed (christus) of Christ? Does it mean that he will exalt the horn of every faithful follower of his, just as Hannah herself says at the start of her hymn, ‘My horn is exalted in my God’? Certainly we can properly apply the name ‘anointed’ (christus) to all who have been anointed with his chrism; and yet it is the whole body, with its head, which is the one Christ.
This was what Hannah prophesied; and she was the mother of Samuel, a holy man, a man highly praised. In him indeed the transformation of the ancient priesthood was then symbolically represented, a transformation which has now been fulfilled, when she who had many sons has become feeble, with the result that the barren woman who has borne seven children has received a new priesthood in Christ.
5. The meaning of the prophecy addressed to Eli by the ‘man of God’; the supersession of the Aaronic priesthood
This change in the priesthood is more explicitly stated by the ‘man of God’ who was sent to Eli the priest himself. His name, to be sure, is not revealed, but the nature of his office and ministry puts it beyond doubt that he was a prophet. The account runs like this:
Now a man of God came to Eli and said: ‘This is what the Lord says: “I revealed myself clearly to your father’s house, when they were in the land of Egypt as slaves in the house of Pharaoh; and I chose your father’s house out of all the sceptres of Israel to perform the priestly office for me, to go up to my altar, and to burn incense and to wear the ephod. And I gave to your father’s house for their food all that was offered as burnt sacrifice by the sons of Israel. Why have you looked upon my incense and my sacrifice with disrespectful eyes, and have honoured your sons above me, so that they bless the first fruits of every sacrifice in my sight?” Therefore, the Lord God says this: “I have said: ‘Your house and your father’s house will pass by in my presence for ever”. But now the Lord says: “This will not be so; but I shall honour those who honour me, and those who spurn me will be spurned. Behold, the days are coining when I shall banish your seed and the seed of your father’s house, and you will not have an elder in my house all your days, and I will banish all the men of your family from my altar, so that their eyes will fail and their spirit will fade away. Every one of your family that survives, they all will fall by the sword of men. And this will be a sign for you, that will come upon those two sons of yours, Ophni and Phineas: they will both the on one day. Then I shall raise up a faithful priest for me, who will do all that is in my heart and in my soul. I shall build him a faithful house, and he will pass by in the presence of my anointed all his days. And it will happen that any who survives in your family will come to do him obeisance for a piece of silver, and will say: ‘Thrust me into some part of your priestly office, so that I may have bread to eat.’”’44
This is a prophecy of a change in the ancient priesthood, announced in quite unmistakable terms; but there is no reason for maintaining that it was finally fulfilled in Samuel. It was in a degree fulfilled: for although Samuel was not of a different tribe from the one which had been appointed by the Lord to serve the altar, still he was not among the sons of Aaron, whose descendants had been granted the privilege of supplying the priesthood.45 And in this way the transformation that was to come about through Jesus Christ was hinted at; and the prophecy contained in the event, not the prophecy expressed in the words, was concerned directly with the old covenant; but it had a figurative application to the new. In the event, what was said to Eli the priest in words through the mouth of the prophet had reference to the new covenant. However, there were in later times priests of the stock of Aaron, Zadok, for example, and Abiathar in the reign of David, and others thereafter, until the time came when the prophecies about the transformation of the priesthood, uttered so long before, were destined to be brought to effect in Christ. No one who looks at these prophecies with the eye of faith could fail to see that they have been fulfilled. For now, to be sure, no tabernacle has been left to the Jews, no temple, no altar, no sacrifice and, it follows, no priesthood; although the Jews had once been commanded by God’s law to have a priesthood established belonging to the line of Aaron.
This was indeed mentioned in the passage, where the prophet says, ‘This is what the Lord says: “I have said: ‘Your house and your father’s house will go to and fro before me for ever”. But now the Lord says: “This will not be so; but I shall honour those who honour me, and those who spurn me will be spurned.”’ The prophet speaks of ‘your father’s house’; but he does not mean his immediate father, but the great Aaron who was ordained as the first priest, from whose descendants all other priests were to follow in succession. This is shown by his previous words, where he says, ‘I revealed myself to your father’s house, when they were in the land of Egypt as slaves in the house of Pharaoh; and I chose your father’s house out of all the sceptres of Israel, to perform the priestly office for me.’ Which of his fathers was in that slavery in Egypt, and was elected to the priesthood after the liberation? Only Aaron. It follows that it was of Aaron’s stock that the prophet was speaking in this passage, when he said that the time would come when they would no longer be priests. We now see this prophecy fulfilled. Let faith be on the alert! The reality is before our eyes; the facts are observed and laid to heart; they are thrust upon the notice even of those who have no wish to see them. ‘Behold, the days are coming’, he says, ‘when I shall banish your seed, and the seed of your father’s house, and you will not have an elder in my house all your days; and I shall banish all the men of your family from my altar, so that their eyes will fail and their spirit fade away.’
Look, the days which were foretold have now arrived. There is no priest in the line of Aaron; and any man who belongs to his line sees the Christian sacrifice prevailing all over the world, while that great honour has been taken from him; and seeing this, his ‘eyes fail and his spirit fades away’, wasted with grief.
Now the following statement applies directly to the house of Eli, to whom it was spoken, ‘Everyone of your house that survives, they all will fall by the sword of men. And this will be a sign for you, that will come upon those two sons of yours, Ophni and phineas: they will both the on one day.’ This, therefore, happened as a sign of the transference of the priesthood from this man’s family; and by this sign it was indicated that the priesthood of Aaron’s house was to be changed. It is plain that the death of this man’s sons did not signify the death of individuals, but the death of the priesthood itself in the line of Aaron. Again, the following words refer to that priest who was prefigured by Samuel, in succeeding Eli. Hence the statement that follows was spoken about Christ Jesus, the true priest of the new covenant: ‘Then I shall raise up a faithful priest for me, who will do all that is in my heart and in my soul. I shall build him a faithful house, and he shall go to and fro in the presence of my anointed all his days.’ By ‘he shall go to and fro’ (the word is transibit) he means ‘he shall live with me’; just as he had previously said, about the house of Aaron, ‘I have said: “Your house and your father’s house will pass by in my presence for ever.”’ Now the statement, ‘he will pass by in the presence of my anointed’ must certainly be understood to refer to the house itself, not to that priest who is himself the anointed Christ, the mediator and saviour. His house, then, will ‘pass by’ before the Christ. But ‘will pass by’ (transibit) can also be interpreted of the passing from death to life in ‘all his days’ the days in which life is spent in this mortal condition, up to the end of this world. We may also observe that when God says, ‘he will do all that is in my heart and in my soul’, this should not suggest to us that God has a soul, since he is the creator of the soul. It is, in fact, said of God in a metaphorical sense, not literally, in the same way as we speak of the hands of God, or his feet, or other parts of the body. And to prevent our supposing, on account of such statements, that man is made in God’s image in respect of his physical appearance, we have the addition of wings also, and man certainly does not possess these. Statements such as, ‘Under the shadow of your wings you will protect me’,46 are intended to make men realize that such descriptions of God’s ineffable nature are employing words not in a literal but in a transferred application.
To pass to the next statement: ‘And it will happen that anyone who survives in your family will come to do him obeisance.’ This is not said directly about the family of Eli, but about that of Aaron, of which there were individual survivors up to the time of the coming of Jesus Christ; and even now the line has not died out. For it had earlier been said, about that family of Eli, that ‘everyone of your family that survives, they will all fall by the sword of men.’ Then how could it betruly said in this verse, ‘And it will happen that anyone who survives in your family will come to do him obeisance’, if it was true that none of them would survive the avenging sword? This latter statement could only be true if the prophet meant it to be understood of those who belong to the same stock, in the sense of the whole priesthood in the line of Aaron. We may assume, then, that this refers to the predestined remnant, of whom another prophet says, ‘A remnant will be saved’,47 and the Apostle says, ‘In the same way a remnant has come into being at the present time through God’s gracious choice.’48 There fore, since it is well understood that the man described as ‘the survivor in your family’s is one of this remnant, then without doubt, that man believes in Christ, in the same way as in the time of the apostles very many of that race believed; and even now there is not a complete absence of believers from among them, though they are few and far between. In this we see the fulfilment of the next prophecy of the man of God, ‘He will come to do him obeisance for a piece of silver.’ Obeisance to whom? It can only be to that high priest who is also God. For not even in that priesthood following Aaron’s line did men come to the temple or the altar of God in order to do obeisance to the priest. And then, what is the meaning of ‘a piece of silver? It must be the short statement of the faith; for in reference to this the Apostle quotes this saying, ‘The Lord will make his statement on the earth final and short.’49 And evidence for the use of ‘silver’ for ‘utterance’ is given by a verse of one of the psalms, The utterances of the Lord are pure, they are silver tested in the fire.’50
Then what is this man saying when he comes to do obeisance to the priest of God, and to the priest who is God? ‘“Thrust me into some part of your priestly office, so that I may have bread to eat.” I do not desire to be established in the honoured rank of my ancestors: that has now vanished. Thrust me into some part of your priesthood. For “I have chosen to be a menial servant in the house of God”51 I long to be a member of your priesthood, in however lowly a capacity.’ Doubtless by ‘priesthood’ he means the people itself, the people whose priest is ‘the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’52 This is the people whom the apostle Peter calls ‘a holy people, a royal priesthood.’53 It is true that some translators give the rendering ‘your sacrifice, not following the line of Aaron, but the line of Melchizedek, same Christian people. That is why the apostle Paul says, ‘We are many, but we are one loaf, one body.’54 And so the addition of ‘to have bread to eat’ neatly describes the kind of sacrifice referred to; for the priest himself says of this sacrifice, ‘The bread that I shall give you is my flesh, given for the life of the world.’55 This is the sacrifice, not following the line of Aaron, but the line of Melchizedek, ‘let the reader understand this.’56 Here, then, we have a short confession of faith, a confession of salutary humility, in these words: ‘Thrust me into some part of your priestly office, so that I may have some bread to eat.’ This confession is itself the ‘piece of silver’; it is short, and it is the utterance of God, dwelling in the heart of the believer. God had said earlier that he had given portions of food to the family of Aaron, from the sacrificial victims of the old covenant. That was when he said, ‘I gave your father’s house all the burnt-sacrifices of the children of Israel, for their food’; and those were, of course, the sacrifices of the Jews. Accordingly, the man of God at this point used the words ‘to eat bread’; for that, in the new covenant, is the sacrifice of the Christians.
6. The Jewish priesthood and kingdom, said to have been established for ever, no longer exist. The promised eternity must be interpreted as applying to others
These prophecies were uttered at that time in such an elevated strain, and are now revealed with such clarity; and yet someone may be puzzled, not without justification, and may ask, ‘How can we be confident that all the things prophesied in these books as due to happen in the future will in fact happen, if a particular statement, made there by divine inspiration was not capable of fulfilment? This is the statement: “Your house and your father’s house will pass by in my presence for ever.” Now we observe that that priesthood has been superseded and that the promise made to that house has no hope of fulfilment at any time; because the priesthood which succeeded, on the rejection and supersession of the old order, is proclaimed as eternal in its stead.’ This questioner does not yet understand, or does not recall, that the priesthood of Aaron’s line was itself set up as a kind of shadow of the eternal priesthood that was to be. It follows that when eternity was promised to it, it was not promised for the shadow, the prefigurement, but for what was foreshadowed and prefigured by it. We were not intended to suppose that the shadow itself was to continue; and for that reason its supersession had to be foretold.
In the same way, the kingdom of Saul himself, who was certainly rejected and cast aside, was a shadow of the future kingdom which was to continue for ever. Undoubtedly the oil with which he was anointed – and because of that chrism he was called the anointed (christus) — is to be taken in a mystical sense and interpreted as a great sacrament.57 In fact, David himself had such reverence for this sacrament in the person of Saul that he was smitten to the heart and shaken with dread when, after hiding in the dark cave which Saul had entered, under the compulsion of a call of nature, he secretly cut off a tiny piece of Saul’s robe from behind, so as to have a proof of how he had spared him when he could have taken his life. David’s purpose was to remove from Saul’s mind the suspicions that led him to pursue the holy David with violence, supposing him to be his enemy. But David was filled with terror in consequence, for fear that he should be guilty of violating so great a sacrament in the person of Saul, simply because he had so treated even his clothing. The scriptural narrative says, ‘Now David’s heart smote him, because he took away the tail of Saul’s cloak.’ Furthermore, when the men who were with him were urging him to make away with Saul, now that he was delivered into their hands, David said to them, ‘May the Lord preserve me from doing what you suggest, to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, that I should lay hands on him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’58 So great, we see, was the reverence displayed to this shadow of what was to come, not on its own account, but for the sake of what it foreshadowed.
The same consideration applies to what Samuel said to Saul,
‘You have not observed my command, an order given to you by the Lord; and therefore, just as the Lord had once designed that your kingdom over Israel should be everlasting, so now your kingdom will not endure for you. The Lord will look for a man after his own heart, and the Lord will command him to be the ruler over his people, because you have not kept the commands of the Lord.’59
We must not take this to mean that God had designed that Saul himself should reign for ever, and then refused to carry out his design when Saul sinned, for God was not unaware that Saul would sin. No; the meaning is that God had designed his kingship to be a prefigurement of the eternal kingship. That is why Samuel added, ‘and now your kingdom will not endure for you.’ Thus what was symbolized in that kingdom endured, and will endure; but the king-ship ‘will not endure’ for Saul, since he was not destined to reign for ever, nor was his line – for in that case, with his posterity succeeding one after the other, the promise of an ‘everlasting’ kingdom would have seemed, in that sense, to have been fulfilled. But Samuel goes on to say, ‘The Lord will look for a man’; and this means either David or the Mediator of the new covenant60 himself, who was prefigured also in the chrism with which David and his descendants were anointed. Now when God ‘looks for’ a man for himself, it does not mean that God does not know where that man is. The truth is that when God speaks through the mouth of a man he speaks in human fashion; for he uses the same way of speaking when he ‘seeks’ us. The only-begotten Son came ‘to seek what was lost’,61 although we were already so well-known to him, as well as to God the Father, that we were ‘chosen in him before the foundation of the world.’62 Thus in saying ‘he will look for’, Samuel means ‘he will have as his own.’ Hence in Latin this verb quaerere, ‘to seek’, receives a preposition and becomes ad-quirere, ‘to acquire’; and the meaning then is quite clear. And yet even without the prefix the simple verb can mean ‘acquire’; in fact, from this simple verb is derived the noun questus, meaning‘profit.’
7. The disruption of the Israelite kingdom, prefiguring the perpetual separation of spiritual from carnal Israel
Saul sinned again through disobedience, and again Samuel said to him, speaking the word of the Lord, ‘Because you have spurned the word of the Lord, the Lord has spurned you, so that you will not be king over Israel.’ And again, for the same sin, when Saul confessed and prayed for pardon, and besought Samuel to return with him to make his peace with God, Samuel said,
‘I shall not return with you, because you have spurned the word of the Lord and he has spurned you, so that you will not be king over Israel.’ Then Samuel turned his face away, to leave Saul; and Saul held on to the tail of his robe, and tore it. And Samuel said to him: The Lord has torn the kingdom from Israel, out of your hand, today: and he will give it to a neighbour of yours, who is a better man than you, and Israel will be divided in two. The Lord will not go back on his word, nor will he change his mind; for he is not like a man, so as to change his mind. A mere man threatens, and does not stand by this threats.’63
Thus Saul was told, ‘The Lord will spurn you, so that you will not be king over Israel’, and, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom from Israel, out of your hand, today.’ And yet he reigned over Israel for forty years, in fact the same length of time as David himself; and he heard this prophecy in the early part of his reign. So the purpose of the prophecy is that we may realize that none of his line was destined to reign, and may turn our attention to the stock of David, from which sprang, by physical descent, ‘the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’64
Now the Scripture does not show the reading found in most Latin texts: ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom from Israel out of your hand’, but the reading we have followed, which is found in the Greek version: ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom from Israel, out of your hand.’ The purpose of this reading is to make it plain that ‘out of your hand’ means the same as ‘from Israel.’ Thus the man Saul figuratively personified Israel, the people which was to lose its kingdom when Christ Jesus our Lord should take the kingship under the new covenant, a spiritual instead of a physical kingship. When it is said of him, ‘And he will give it to a neighbour of yours’, the reference is to physical kinship; for Christ was descended from Israel by physical descent, just as Saul was. Now the following phrase, bono super te, can be rendered ‘a better man than you’, and that is how some interpreters have translated it. But it is better to take it as meaning ‘good, above you’, indicating that his superiority is based on his goodness. This would fit in with the prophetic saying, ‘until I put all your enemies under your feet.’65 Israel is one of these enemies, and Christ has taken away the kingdom from Israel, his persecutor. And yet there was even there an Israel ‘in whom there was no trickery’,66 like some grain among that chaff. For the apostles, as we know, came from Israel, as did all those martyrs, of whom Stephen was the first; and so did all those churches, which the apostle Paul mentions as giving glory to God for his conversion.67
I have no doubt that the next words are to be interpreted along these lines. ‘And Israel will be divided into two’ must mean, into Israel the enemy of Christ, and Israel which attaches itself to Christ – the Israel connected with the maidservant, and the Israel connected with the free woman.68 For these two kinds of Israel were at first together, just as Abraham was still attached to the maidservant until the barren wife, made fertile by the grace of Christ, exclaimed, ‘Throw out the maidservant and her son.’69 We know, of course, that because of Solomon’s sin Israel was divided into two in the reign of his son Re-hoboam, and that it continued so divided, each part having its own king, until that whole nation was overthrown with enormous devastation and deported by the Chaldeans. But what has this to do with Saul? If any such threat had to be uttered, it should have been levelled at David, rather than Saul, for Solomon was David’s son. And then again, the Hebrew race at the present time is not divided, but dispersed indiscriminately throughout the world, though united by association in the same error. But that division with which God threatened this same kingdom and people in the person of Saul, who personified that kingdom and people, was shown to be eternal and unchangeable by the words which follow: ‘The Lord will not go back on his word, nor will he change his mind; for he is not like a man, so as to change his mind. A mere man threatens, and does not stand by his threats.’ That is, a man threatens and does not stand by his threats, unlike God, who does not change his mind, as a man does. For when we are told that God changes his mind, or repents, this signifies an alteration in the course of history, though the divine prescience remains unchanged. Thus when it is said that God does not change his mind the meaning is that there is no alteration in him.
We see that by these words an utterly irrevocable sentence was divinely proclaimed concerning this division of the people of Israel, a sentence absolutely perpetual. For all those who have passed over from that people to Christ, or who are now passing over, or who will pass over, were not of that people according to God’s foreknowledge, nor by reason of the one common nature of the human race. Moreover, all those of the Israelites who attach themselves to Christ and continue steadfastly in his fellowship will never be associated with those Israelites who persist in their hostihty to him to the end of his life; in fact, they will continue for ever in that state of separation which is prophesied here. For the old covenant from Mount Sinai which ‘has children destined for slavery’70 is of no value except in so far as it bears witness to the new covenant. Otherwise, as long as ‘Moses’ is read, ‘a veil is laid on their hearts’; on the other hand, whenever anyone passes over from that people to Christ, the veil will be taken away.71 For we may be sure that the very aim of those who pass over is transformed from the old to the new, so that the aim of each is no longer the attainment of material felicity, but spiritual happiness. That explains the action of the great prophet Samuel himself, before he had anointed King Saul.
Samuel cried out to the Lord on behalf of Israel, and God heard him; and when he offered a whole burnt-offering, and the foreigners approached to do battle with the people of God, the Lord thundered over them and they were thrown into confusion and panic as they faced Israel, and so they were overcome. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between the old and the new Mizpah, and gave it the name Ebenezer, which means ‘the stone of the helper.’ And he said: ‘So far the Lord has helped us.’72
Now Mizpah means ‘aim.’73 That ‘stone of the helper’ is the mediation of the Saviour, through whom we must pass over from the old Mizpah to the new, that is from the aim which looked for material bliss – a false bliss, in a material kingdom – to the aim which looks for spiritual bliss – the really true bliss, in the kingdom of heaven. And since there is nothing better than this, God helps us ‘so far.’
8. God’s promises to David about his son; in no way fulfilled in Solomon, but abundantly fulfilled in Christ
It is dear to me that my next task is to explain the promises given by God to David himself, who succeeded Saul on the throne. This transference of the royal power was a symbol of that final transference, and all these things were said and recorded by divine inspiration with reference to that change; and these promises are relevant to our present subject. After King David had met with much prosperity, he contemplated the building of a house for God. What he had in mind was that world-famous Temple which was afterwards erected by King Solomon, his son. While David was contemplating this prospect the word of the Lord came to Nathan the prophet, for him to convey it to the king. The first part of God’s message was that his house would not be built by David himself, and that he had never given orders to any member of his people, during all that length of time, that a house of cedar should be constructed for him. He then went on to say,
‘And now you will say this to my servant David: ‘This is the message of the Lord omnipotent: ‘I took you from the sheepfold so that you should become the leader over my people, over Israel; and I was with you in your every enterprise. I have banished all your enemies from before your face; and I have given you a title borne by all the great ones who are on the earth. I shall provide a place for my people Israel, and I shall plant them there, and they will dwell by themselves; and they will be troubled no longer. The son of wickedness will not continue to oppose them, as he has done from the beginning from the time when I established judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies, and the Lord will give you news that you will build a house for him. What will happen is that when your days are ended, and you are at rest with your ancestors, I shall raise up your offspring after you, the issue of your body, and I shall prepare his kingdom. He will build me a house for my name, and I shall direct his throne for all eternity. I shall be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. If any wickedness appears in him, I shall chastise him with the rod that men use, with the touches that human beings inflict. Yet I shall not withdraw my mercy from him, as I did from those whom I banished from my presence. His house will be faithful, and his sovereignty will be secure for ever in my presence, and this throne will stand for all eternity.’”’74
It is a great mistake to pay attention only to the words ‘he will build me a house’, and, because Solomon erected that famous Temple, to imagine that this magnificent promise was fulfilled in Solomon, overlooking the statement that ‘his house will be faithful to me and his sovereignty will be secure for ever in my presence.’ Anyone who supposes this should turn his attention to Solomon’s household, and consider the state of things there; for his house was full of foreign women who worshipped false gods; and the king himself, who had been a man of wisdom, was seduced and degraded to the same idolatry. Such a reader must not dare to imagine that God made this promise untruthfully, nor to suppose that God could not foresee that Solomon and his house would be like this. We ought not, in fact, to have any doubt about this even if we did not see these prophecies now fulfilled in Christ our Lord, who was born of the line of David by physical descent. This would prevent us from vainly and foolishly looking for someone else, as the ‘Jews after the flesh’ still look. For they realize that the son promised, as they read in this passage, to King David, was not Solomon; but so amazing is their blindness that they go on to profess their hope for another, even when the promised son has been so clearly manifested.
No doubt a partial reflection of the future reality was shown even in Solomon, in that he did build the Temple, and that he enjoyed the peace that fits his name – for ‘Solomon’ means ‘peacemaker.’75 And at the start of his reign he was remarkably praiseworthy. Even so, Solomon himself in his own person merely gave notice of the coming of Christ, by a foreshadowing of the future; he did not show men the Lord Christ himself. Hence some things are written about him as if they were predictions of Solomon himself, while in fact holy Scripture, which prophesies by historical events also, sketches, as it were, in him a pattern of the future. For besides the books of sacred history in which the events of his reign were recorded, the seventy-first psalm also has his name inscribed in its title. In this psalm there are many sayings which cannot conceivably apply to Solomon, but are appropriate – nothing could be clearer – to the Lord Christ. So much so that there is no mistaking the fact that in Solomon there is a kind of shadowy sketch, while in Christ the reality itself is presented to us. For the limits bounding Solomon’s kingdom are well known; yet we read in this psalm, to mention only one point, ‘His sway will extend from sea to sea, and from the river as far as the bounds of the earth.’76 It is in Christ that we see the fulfilment of these words. It was certainly from the river that he began his lordship; for there, after his baptism by John, he began to be recognized, at John’s prompting, by his disciples. And they called him not only ‘Master’ but also ‘Lord.’
Moreover, the reason why Solomon began to reign while his father David was still alive (a thing which did not happen to any other of their kings) was simply to make it sufficiently obvious, in this way as well as in others, that he himself was not the man designated by that prophecy which was addressed to his father. For the prophecy said, ‘What will happen is that when your days are ended, and you are at rest with your ancestors, I shall raise up your offspring after you, the issue of your body, and I shall prepare his kingdom.’ How can it be supposed that this is a prophecy about Solomon, just because of the following statement: ‘He will build me a house’? Instead, we should notice what precedes: ‘When your days are ended, and you are at rest with your ancestors, I shall raise up your offspring after you’, and infer from this that another ‘peacemaker’ is promised, who is to be raised up, according to the prediction, after David’s death, not, like Solomon, before it. It may be that there was a long interval before the coming of Jesus Christ, but certainly it was after the death of King David, to whom the promise was made, that he was to come who would build God a house, not of wood and stone, but of human beings, the kind of house that he makes us glad by building. It is to this house, that is, to all Christ’s faithful believers, that the Apostle addresses the words, ‘For the temple of God is holy; and you are that temple.’77
9. The prophecy of Christ in the eighty-ninth psalm compared with Nathan’s prophecy
For the same reason God’s promises to King David are also recorded in the eighty-eighth psalm, which has the title ‘For the understanding of Ethan the Israelite.’ Some of the things said in the psalm are similar to those set down in the book of Kingdoms;78 for example, ‘I have sworn to David my servant: “I shall establish your offspring for ever.”’79 Again,
Then you spoke in a vision to your sons, and you said: ‘I have conferred help on a mighty man, I have exalted a man chosen from my people. I have found David my servant; I have anointed him with my holy oil. For my hand will help him, and my arm will support him. The enemy will not get the better of him, and the son of wickedness will not hurt him. I shall strike down his enemies from before his face, and I shall put to flight those who hate him. My truth and mercy will be with him, and in my name his prosperity will be exalted. I shall give him authority over the sea and supreme power over the rivers. He will invoke me thus: “You are my father, my God, and the upholder of my safety”: and I shall make him my first-born, exalted among the kings of the earth. I shall keep my mercy for him for ever, and my covenant will be faithfully kept for him. I shall establish his line to last for ever and ever, and his throne to endure as long as the heavens.’80
All these prophecies, when rightly interpreted, are referred to the Lord Jesus, under the name of David because of the ‘form of a servant’81 which that same mediator took from the virgin, from the line of David.
There follows immediately a mention of the sins of his son, very similar to that found in the book of Kingdoms. This is too easily assumed to apply to Solomon. For here, in the book of Kingdoms, the Lord says, ‘If any wickedness appears in him, I shall chastise him with the rod that men use, with the touches that human beings inflict. Yet I shall not withdraw my mercy from him.’82 ‘Touches’ means here the strokes of correction. Hence the saying, ‘Do not touch my anointed ones’,83 which can only mean ‘Do not injure them.’ Now in the psalm, when ostensibly dealing with David, the Lord’s intention is to say something of the same sort there also; and so he says, ‘If his sons desert my Law and cease to live according to my rulings; if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, I shall punish their wickedness with the rod and their sins with the scourge; yet I shall not sweep away my mercy from him.’84 He did not say ‘from them’, although he was speaking of his sons, not of David himself. He said ‘from him’, which, if correctly interpreted, has exactly the same force. For no sins could be found in Christ himself, who is the head of the Church, which would need to be disciplined by human correction, while the divine mercy continued unchanged. Such sins could only be found in his body and limbs, that is, in his people. Now in the book of Kingdoms ‘his iniquity’ is spoken of, whereas in the psalm we find ‘the iniquity of his sons.’ The purpose of this is to make us realize that what is said about his body is in some measure spoken of himself. (For the same reason he himself also spoke from heaven, when Saul was persecuting his body, that is, his faithful followers, and his words were: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’85) Then in the following verses of the psalm he says, ‘I shall not do injury to my truth, nor shall I violate my covenant; and I shall not revoke the words that issue from my lips. I have sworn once by my holiness, if I prove a liar to David – ’ that is, I shall in no way prove a liar to David, this being a common idiom in Scripture. Now as to the subject on which he will not prove a liar, he adds this when he says, ‘His line endures for ever, and his throne in my sight is like the sun, like the moon that is established for ever, the faithful witness in the sky.’86
10. The contrast between God’s promises and the actual history of the earthly Jerusalem teaches us that the promise refers to the glory of the other king and the other kingdom
After these solid guarantees of such an important promise the psalmist prevents us from supposing that the prophecies were fulfilled in Solomon, for he suggests that these things were hoped for, and not found in actuality, by adding, ‘But you have cast him aside and reduced him to nothing, O Lord.’ This is certainly what happened to the kingdom of Solomon under his successors, whose history culminated in the overthrow of the earthly Jerusalem itself, which was the seat of that kingdom, and, above all, in the destruction of the very Temple which had been erected by Solomon. But we are not allowed to suppose that God acted in contradiction of his promise, for the psalm immediately continues, ‘You have deferred your anointed.’87 It follows that, if the anointed of the Lord was deferred, the anointed is not Solomon, nor even David himself. It is true that all kings consecrated with that mystic chrism were called ‘the Lord’s anointed’, not only in David’s time, and subsequently, but even in the time of Saul, who was first anointed king over that people. David himself, as we know, called Saul ‘the Lord’s anointed.’ For all that, there was just one true anointed, the one whom these kings represented symbolically in virtue of an anointing which was prophetic. In relation to the general assumption that ‘the anointed’ was to be identified with David or Solomon, the coming of the true anointed was long deferred; but in respect of God’s design, his future coming, in God’s own time, was already in preparation.
The psalm then continues with an account of what happened to the kingdom of the earthly Jerusalem, where it was certainly expected that Christ would reign, while his coming was deferred.
You have overthrown the covenant of your servant, you have dishonoured his sanctity and cast it to the ground. You have destroyed all his walls, you have brought dread upon his defences. All the wayfarers have looted him; he has become an object of scorn to his neighbours. You have given his enemies the upper band over him; you have gladdened the hearts of all his foes. You have turned aside the sword that should have helped him; you have not supported him in war. You have stripped him of his immaculate attire; you have dashed his throne to the ground. You have diminished the length of his sovereignty; you have covered him with confusion.88
All this came upon Jerusalem the maidservant, in which there reigned also some sons of the free woman,89 holding that kingdom on a temporary lease, while possessing, by true faith, the kingdom of the Heavenly Jerusalem, whose sons they were, and placing their hope in the true Christ. How these things happened to that kingdom is revealed in the historical records to those who care to read them.
11. The substance of the people of God, in Christ in virtue of his incarnation
After these prophecies, the prophet turns to address supplications to God; but the prayer is itself also an act of prophecy. ‘How long, Lord, do you turn away, to the end?’90 We must supply ‘your face’, on the analogy of another passage, ‘How long do you turn away your face from me?’91 That is why some texts read here ‘are you turned away’, instead of ‘do you turn away.’ Still, a possible interpretation is, ‘… do you turn away your mercy, which you promised to David?’ Then what is the meaning of ‘to the end’? It must be ‘right up to the end’; and ‘the end’ is to be understood as the last time, when even that nation is destined to believe in Christ Jesus.92 Before that end those distressing events were bound to happen which the psalmist had lamented previously. This is the reason for the next words, ‘Your anger blazes out like fire; remember what my substance is.’93 The best way of taking this is to refer it to Jesus as the substance of that people from whom he derived his physical nature.
The psalm continues, ‘For you have not created all the sons of men for nothing.’ The truth is that all the sons of men would have been created for nothing, had there not been one Son of Man who was the ‘substance’ of Israel, a Son of Man through whom many sons of men would be set free. For at this time all mankind had fallen from the truth into futility through the sin of the first man; that is why another psalm says, ‘Man has become like a thing of futility; his life passes away like a shadow.’94 And yet God did not create all the sons of men for nothing, seeing that he sets many free from this futility through Jesus the Mediator; while as for those who, in his foreknowledge, were not to be set free, he created them for the advantage of those who were to be liberated, and to mark the contrast between the two mutually opposed cities. Thus we may be sure that their creation was not in vain; it was included in a design of supreme beauty and justice, a design for the whole rational creation.
Then follows this passage: ‘What man is there who will live and not see death? Who will rescue his own soul from the clutches of hell?’ What man indeed, unless it is that ‘substance’ of Israel, the descendant of David, Christ Jesus. For it is of him that the Apostle says, ‘in rising from the dead he dies no more; and death will no more hold sway over him.’95 For he will live and will not see death, though on this condition: that he will first have died, but will have rescued his soul from the clutches of hell, where he descended in order to undo the bonds of hell from some of the dead. Moreover, he will have rescued his soul in virtue of that power he speaks of in the Gospel: ‘I have the power to lay down my life; and I have the power to resume it again.’96
12. Who are represented in this psalm as appealing for God’s ‘ancient mercies’?
The rest of the psalm runs like this: ‘Lord, where are your mercies of ancient times, which you promised to David, swearing an oath on your truth? Remember, Lord, the insult offered to your servants, the insult of many peoples that I took to heart, the insult whereby your enemies, Lord, have taunted you, whereby they have taunted the transformation of your anointed.’ Now the question can justly be raised whether this represents the complaint of those Israelites who longed to receive the fulfilment of the promise made to David; or is it rather the appeal of the Christians, who are Israelites not by physical descent but by spiritual kinship? Now these words, as we know, were said or written in the time of Ethan, from whose name the psalm received its title; and this was the time of David’s reign. It follows that it would not have been put in this form, ‘Lord, where are your mercies of ancient times, which you promised to David, swearing an oath on your truth?’ unless this prophecy assumed the person of those who were to come long afterwards, for whom the period when those promises were given to David would be ‘ancient times.’ It can, indeed, be taken as meaning that many nations, when they were persecuting the Christians, taunted them with the passion of Christ, which the Scripture calls his ‘transformation’, because by dying he became immortal. The ‘transformation’ of Christ can also be taken, on this line of interpretation, as a reproach to the Israelites; for Christ was expected to come as their saviour, but in fact he became the saviour of the Gentiles, and many nations who have believed in him through the new covenant make this a reproach to the Israelites, who continued in the old. This would give point to the words, ‘Remember, Lord, the insult offered to your servants’, since if God does not forget those servants, but takes pity on them instead, they themselves will come to believe, after this reproach.
Still, the first interpretation I suggested seems the more appropriate. For the cry, ‘Remember, Lord, the insult offered to your servants’, is incongruous if it is put into the mouths of Christ’s enemies, suffering reproach because Christ has abandoned them and gone over to the Gentiles; for such Jews are not to be called ‘servants of God.’ On the other hand, these words are fitting for those who, when they endured oppressive persecutions for Christ’s name, could recall that a kingdom on high had been promised to David’s line, and in their longing for it could make their appeal, not despairing, but seeking, searching, and knocking, in these words: ‘Lord, where are your mercies of ancient times, which you promised to David, swearing an oath on your truth? Remember, Lord, the insult offered to your servants, the insult of many peoples that I took to heart’ – that is, which I patiently endured in my inner being – ‘the insult whereby your enemies, Lord, have taunted you, whereby they have taunted the transformation of your anointed’ – supposing it to be a destruction rather than a transformation. Then what does ‘Remember, Lord’ mean except this: ‘Remember to have mercy, and in return for the humiliation patiently endured, repay me with the exaltation which you promised to David, swearing by your truth’?
On the other hand, we may assign these words to the Jews, since an appeal could have been made by those ‘servants of God’ who, after the sack of the earthly Jerusalem, before the birth of Jesus Christ in human form, were taken into captivity. We should then interpret ‘the transformation of the anointed’ in this sense, that it was not an earthly, material happening, such as was seen during the few years of Solomon’s reign, that was to be awaited with faith, but a heavenly, spiritual felicity. The heathen nations had no idea of such happiness at that time, when they were exulting over God’s people and taunting them in their captivity. But what else were they insulting but ‘the transformation of the anointed’, reviling, in their ignorance, those who knew the truth? That is the reason for the concluding words of the psalm, which follow this verse: ‘The blessing of the Lord for ever. So be it! So be it!’ These words are eminently suitable for the whole people of God who belong to the Heavenly Jerusalem, whether among those who were hidden in the time of the old covenant, before the revelation of the new, or among those who, after its revelation, are clearly manifested as belonging to Christ. And we may be sure that ‘the blessing of the Lord’ on David’s line is not something to be hoped for a limited period, like that which was seen in the days of Solomon; it is something to be expected to last for all eternity; and in the supreme certainty of that hope we have the words, ‘So be it! So be it!’
This repeated phrase is a confirmation of that hope. David, then, understands this, when he says, in the second book of Kingdoms, from which we have digressed to deal with this psalm, ‘You have spoken on behalf of your servant’s house for a distant future.’ Again, when he says, a little farther on, ‘Now begin, and bless the house of your servant for all eternity… ’97 the reason is that he was then about to have a son through whom his posterity would be traced down to Christ, and thanks to Christ his house was destined to become eternal, and to be the house of God. It is the house of David because of its descent from him; but it is also the house of God because it is God’s temple, built not of stones, but of human beings, for the people to dwell there for ever with their God and in their God, and for God to dwell there with his people and in his people. Thus God will fill his people and the people will be full of their God, when God will be all in all,98 being himself our prize in peace, as he is our strength in war. For this reason Nathan’s words, ‘the Lord will bring you news that you will build him a house’, were afterwards repeated in David’s statement: ‘For you, Lord omnipotent, the God of Israel, have made a revelation to your servant, saying that I shall build you a house.’99 Now we build this house by living good lives, and God also builds it by helping us so to live. For ‘unless the Lord builds a house, those who build it have laboured to no purpose.’100When the final dedication of this house arrives, then will come the fulfilment of what God said to Nathan in this passage, ‘Then I shall establish a place for my people Israel; and I shall set them there, and they will dwell by themselves, and shall be disturbed no more. And the son of wickedness will not continue to humiliate them as he has done from the start, from the time when I set up judges over my people Israel.’101
13. Can we suppose that the promised peace became a reality in the time of Solomon?
Anyone who hopes for so great a blessing in this world and on this earth has the wisdom of a fool. Can anyone really imagine that this blessing was fully granted in the peace of Solomon’s reign? No doubt the Scripture paints a glowing picture of that peace by way of a prophecy of an ideal, a foreshadowing of what was to be. Yet Scripture is careful to forestall the question of fulfilment under Solomon. It does this in the passage where, after the statement that ‘the son of wickedness will not continue to humiliate them’, those words are immediately added, ‘as he has done from the start, from the time when I set up judges over my people Israel.’ Now before the beginning of the rule of kings, judges had been appointed over that people from the time when they received the land of promise. The ‘son of wickedness’, namely the foreign enemy, certainly humiliated them, during those periods in which we are told that intervals of peace alternated with times of war. And yet during that era we find periods of peace more prolonged than the peace which Solomon enjoyed during the forty years of his reign. For example, under the judge named Ehud there were eighty years of peace.102 So we must never imagine that it was Solomon’s time that was predicted in this promise, not to speak of the reign of any other king; for none of the other kings reigned in such peace as Solomon. Yet that people never possessed the kingdom so securely as not to fear subjugation by their enemies; in fact, such is the instability of human affairs that no people has ever been allowed such a degree of tranquillity as to remove all dread of hostile attacks on their life in this world. That place, then, which is promised as a dwelling of such peace and security is eternal, and is reserved for eternal beings, in ‘the mother, the Jerusalem which is free.’103 There they will be in truth the people of Israel; for the name ‘Israel’ means ‘seeing God.’104 It is in the longing for this reward that we must lead devout lives, guided by faith, during this troublesome pilgrimage.
14. David’s careful arrangement of the psalms to give a mystical significance
In the course of the temporal history of the City of God, David at first reigned in the earthly Jerusalem, which was a shadow of what was to come. Now David was a man highly skilled in songs, a man who loved the harmony of music. But David was not the ordinary man for whom music is merely for pleasure; for him it served the purpose of his faith. He used it in the service of his God, the true God, by giving a mystical prefiguration of a matter of high importance. For the concord of different sounds, controlled in due proportion, suggests the unity of a well-ordered city, welded together in harmonious variety. Indeed, almost all his prophecy is in the psalms, and the book called Psalms contains a hundred and fifty of them. Some people have it that only those of the psalms which are inscribed with David’s name were composed by him. Others suppose that none were his work except those which are headed ‘Of David himself; while those who have in their titles the note ‘For David himself were composed by others in a manner appropriate to David’s personality. But this suggestion is refuted by the statement of the Saviour himself in the Gospel, where he says that David, inspired by the Spirit, said that Christ was his Lord, since the 109th psalm begins thus: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, till I put your enemies as a stool for your feet.” ’105 And this psalm certainly does not have ‘Of David himself’ in its title. Like the majority of the psalms it has ‘For David himself.’
For my part, I find more credible the judgement of those who attribute all the 150 psalms to David’s authorship, and consider that he also supplied the prefatory notes to some of them, giving the names of other men who stood for something relevant to the subject, whereas he decided that the others should not have the name of any man in their titles. Similarly, it was at the inspiration of the Lord that he made his arrangement of diverse material, an arrangement which is not without purpose, obscure though the purpose may be. No one should, be led to reject this hypothesis by the fact that we find inscribed above some of the psalms in this book the names of some prophets who lived a long time after the reign of David,106 and that the contents of these psalms give the appearance of having been uttered by them. For the prophetic spirit was not incapable of revealing to King David, when he was prophesying, those names of prophets to come, and of ensuring that something appropriate to their personalities should be sung prophetically. In the same way the birth and reign of King Josiah, which was then more than 300 years in the future, was revealed together with his name, to a prophet, who also predicted his future achievements.107
15. This book cannot include all the prophecies of Christ and his Church in the psalms
I am aware that what is now expected from me in this part of my book is an explanation of David’s prophecies in the psalms about Jesus Christ and his Church. In fact, although I have done this in respect of one psalm, I am prevented from meeting the apparent demands of this expectation by the abundance of matter rather than the lack of it. For I am prevented from including everything by my intention to shun prolixity; on the other hand, I am afraid that if I select a limited number of points, I may seem to many who are versed in the subject to have omitted more essential matter. Again, the evidence adduced needs to be corroborated by the context of the whole psalm, at least to the extent of showing that there is nothing there to refute it, even if every detail does not support it. Otherwise I might seem to be collecting short excerpts suitable to a chosen theme, using the method of a cento, where selections are taken from a long poem not written on the subject in hand, but about something else, something very different.108 Now to be able to demonstrate this in every psalm, the whole of it has to be explained; and this is no small task, as can be seen from the works of other authors and from my own, in which I have done just this. Anyone who has the wish and the capacity may read those books; he will discover the large number and the great importance of the prophecies uttered by David, who was both king and prophet, about Christ and his Church, that is, about the king and the community which he founded.
16. The witness, direct and allegorical, to Christ and his Church in Psalm 45
Though there may be direct and clear prophetic statements on any subject, allegorical statements are inevitably intermingled with them, and it is those especially that force upon scholars the laborious business of discussion and exposition for the benefit of the more slow-witted. However, some of these point to Christ and his Church at first glance, as soon as they are uttered, although some details are less easily intelligible and are reserved for exposition at leisure. An example can be taken from the same book of Psalms:
My heart has given vent to a noble subject; I am addressing my composition to the king. My tongue is the pen of a swift writer. You are more handsome than all the sons of men; grace has been poured on your lips, because God has blessed you for ever. Gird your sword on your thigh, most mighty one, in your majesty and beauty; arise and advance in prosperity and reign in the cause of truth, kindness and justice; and your right hand will lead you marvellously. Your arrows are sharp, most mighty one -peoples will fall beneath your sway – against the hearts of the king’s enemies. Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the sceptre of your rule is a sceptre of uprightness. You have loved justice and hated unrighteousness: therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of exultation, in preference to your fellows. Myrrh, aloes, and cassia give fragrance from your garments, from palaces of ivory, from which the king’s daughters have given you delight, in your honour.109
No one, however slow of wit, could fail to recognize in this passage the Christ whom we proclaim and in whom we believe, when he hears of ‘God, whose throne is for ever and ever’, and to recognize God’s anointed, anointed, be it understood, as God anoints – not with the visible oil but with the spiritual and intelligible chrism. For is there anyone so uninformed about our religion, or so deaf to its widespread renown, that he does not know that the name Christ is derived from ‘chrism’, that is from anointing? But as soon as he has recognized Christ as the king, let him subject himself to the king who reigns in the cause of truth, kindness, and justice, and let him inquire at leisure into all the allegorical descriptions of this psalm. Let him discover how Christ’s beauty excels all the sons of men, with a kind of loveliness that calls forth the more love and admiration for not being mere physical grace, and let him find the meaning of his sword, his arrows and all the other details which are given for their allegorical meaning, not as literal description.
Then let him turn his attention to Christ’s Church, wedded to so great a husband by a spiritual marriage and a divine love, the Church which is described in the following verses:
The queen has taken her place at your right hand, in a garment of cloth of gold, swathed in a many-coloured robe. Listen, daughter; see, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s home. For the king has desired your beauty, because he himself is your God. And the daughters of Tyre will do you reverence with gifts; the rich among the people will beg for your regard. All the glory of that king’s daughter is within, swathed in a many-coloured robe with golden fringes. Her maidens will be brought to the king after her, her companions will be brought to you. They will be brought with joy and exultation; they will be led into the king’s temple. In place of your fathers there are sons born to you; you will make them princes over all the earth. They will remember your name in every succeeding generation. Therefore the nations will acknowledge your praise for ever and ever.110
I do not imagine that anyone is such a fool as to think that some mere woman is here praised and described, as the wife, that is, of one who is thus addressed: ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of your kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. You have loved justice and hated unrighteousness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness, in preference to your fellows.’111 Obviously, this is Christ, anointed above his Christian followers. For they are his followers, from whose unity and concord in all nations that queen comes into being, who in another psalm is described as ‘the city of the great king.’112
This queen is Sion, in the spiritual sense. The name Sion means ‘contemplation’;113 for she contemplates the great blessing of the age to come, since all her striving is directed to that end. She is also Jerusalem, in the same spiritual sense, which is a point on which I have already said a great deal. Her enemy is Babylon, the city of the Devil, whose name means ‘confusion.’114 However, this queen among the nations is set free from that Babylon by rebirth, and passes over from the worst to the best of kings, that is, from the Devil to Christ. That is why she is told to ‘forget your people and your father’s home.’ Those who are Israelites only by physical descent, and not by faith, are a part of that godless city; they are also enemies of this great king himself, and of his queen. For Christ came to them; but he was slain by them; and so he became instead the Christ of other men, men whom he did not see in his incarnate life. Hence he himself, our king, says in prophecy in one of the psalms. ‘You will rescue me from the attacks of the people; you will set me at the head of the nations. A people I did not know has become my servant; when they heard with their ears they obeyed me.’115Thus the people of the Gentiles, whom Christ did not know in his bodily presence, believed in him, nevertheless, when he was announced to them. So it was justly said of them that ‘when they heard with their ears they obeyed me’, because ‘faith results from hearing.’116 This people, I say, added to those who are true Israelites both by descent and by faith, constitute the City of God, the City which also gave birth to Christ himself in the flesh, when it consisted solely of those Israelites. For the Virgin Mary, as we know, was of that race, and in her Christ assumed the flesh, so as to become man.
Another psalm speaks of this City in these terms: ‘ “Mother Sion”, a man will say, and, “a man was born in her, and the Most High founded her.” ’117 Who is this ‘Most High’ but God? This means that Christ, who is God before he became man by Mary in that City, himself founded the City in the persons of the patriarchs and prophets. Thus what we now see fulfilled was said in prophecy so long before to this queen, ‘In place of your fathers there are sons born to you; you will make them princes over all the earth’; for it is true that from her sons throughout all the earth come her leaders and fathers, since the people acknowledge her pre-eminence, as they flock together to confess her everlasting praise for all time to come. There can be no doubt then that whatever is said in this passage, though somewhat obscurely, in allegorical fashion, whatever the precise line of interpretation, must be consistent with those very obvious facts.
17. Christ’s priesthood described in Psalm 110, and his passion in Psalm 22.
In the psalm we have been examining Christ is proclaimed as king. Similarly, in another psalm he is set forth as priest. The pronouncement is made in the clearest terms: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit on my right hand, until I put your enemies as a stool for your feet.” ’118 That Christ is at the right hand of the Father is a matter of belief, not of sight; and it is not yet obvious that his enemies are put under his feet. But this is what is happening, and it will be obvious in the end; so here we have something else which is now a matter of belief and will later be a matter of sight. As for the following statement: ‘The Lord will send out of Sion the rod of your strength; rule amidst your enemies!’ this is so plain that its denial would show not only the loss of faith and of happiness but even the failure of conscience. For even our enemies acknowledge that the law of Christ, which we call the gospel, was issued out of Sion, and in it we recognize the ‘rod of his strength.’ While the fact that he ‘rules amidst his enemies’ is witnessed by the very men among whom he rules, as they gnash their teeth and waste away119 and are powerless against him.
A little later we have these words: ‘The Lord has taken an oath, and he will not change his mind’, and this statement indicates the unchangeable nature of the following pronouncement: ‘You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedech.’ Now who could take leave to doubt of whom these words are spoken, given the fact that there is at this time nowhere a priesthood or sacrifice in the line of Aaron, and that under Christ’s priesthood there is offered everywhere the oblation presented by Melchizedech, when he blessed Abraham?120 So we see that matters which are somewhat obscurely expressed in this psalm are, when rightly taken, referred to these obvious facts. I have already so related them in my sermons to the people.
We find the same thing in the psalm where Christ in a prophecy gives an eloquent description of the humiliation of his passion, in those words: ‘They have pierced my hands and feet; they have counted all my bones. Yes, they have looked me over and stared at me.’121 In this description, we may be sure, he points to his body stretched out on the cross, with his hands and feet pierced and fastened by the nails driven through them, and the spectacle he thus provided for those who looked him over and stared at him. He also adds, ‘They have divided my clothing among them and have cast lots for my garment’, and the gospel account records how this prophecy was fulfilled. Then there are other sayings in the psalm which are less explicit in their reference; but there can be no question that they are rightly taken when the interpretation is consistent with the passages where the meaning is so patent, so luminously clear. We have the best of reasons for this conviction in that other events, not events of the past which we believe but of the present time which we behold, events which are now presented to observation over the whole world, answer precisely to the predictions we read in this same psalm, uttered so long ago. For example, these words occur a little later in the psalm: ‘All the ends of the earth will remember, and they will turn back to the Lord: all the families of the nations will offer worship in his sight. For the sovereignty belongs to the Lord, and he will hold sway over the nations.’122
18. The death and resurrection of the Lord prophesied in Psalms 3, 41, 16 and 69
Moreover, the oracles of the psalms are by no means silent about the Lord’s resurrection. For what else is meant by the song which he is represented as singing in the third psalm, ‘I went to bed and fell asleep; I arose from sleep, for the Lord upheld me?123 Or is there anyone silly enough to believe that the prophet wanted to let us know, as an important piece of information, that he slept and got up again? That sleep must stand for death, and that awakening for resurrection; and the psalmist had to prophesy about Christ’s death and resurrection in this way.
This appears much more obviously in the fortieth psalm.124 There, in the usual manner, prophecies of the future are put into the mouth of the Mediator himself, in the form of a narrative of past events, because coming events had already, in a sense, happened, in the predestination and foreknowledge of God. ‘My enemies,’ he says,
spoke maliciously of me, saying: ‘When will he the, and his name perish?’ And if anyone came in to see me, his heart spoke empty words, and he heaped up wickedness for himself. They went out of doors and spoke all together with one intent. All my enemies whispered against me, they planned evil against me. They put about an evil saying against me: ‘Will not he who sleeps go on to rise up again?’125
This is surely so phrased here as to suggest the same meaning as if he had said: ‘Will not he who sleeps go on to come to life again?’ The earlier words prove that his enemies planned and arranged his death, and this was carried out by the agency of someone who came in to see him and went out to betray him. Here, inevitably, there comes to mind the disciple who turned traitor – Judas.
Thus because they were going to accomplish their designs, that is, they were about to kill him, he shows that they would kill him to no purpose in their futile malice, since he would rise again. He makes this plain by adding the verse, in which he says in effect, ‘You futile men, what are you achieving? What is a crime in you will be sleep for me. Will not he who sleeps go on to rise again?’ Nevertheless, he points out that they will not commit so grievous a crime with impunity, by saying, in the following verses: ‘Indeed, the man of my peace, in whom I placed my hope, who used to eat my bread, has enlarged his heel over me’, that is, he has trodden me down. ‘But Lord’, he says, ‘have mercy on me, and revive me, and I shall pay them back.’126 Who would now reject this interpretation, when he sees that the Jews, after the passion and resurrection of Christ, have been extirpated, root and branch, from their homes by the slaughter and destruction of war? For after the Lord had been killed by them he rose again and repaid them, in the meanwhile, with temporal discipline, which is temporal only if we discount the recompense reserved for those who have not amended, when he comes to judge the living and the dead.
For the Lord Jesus himself pointed out to his apostles that this Judas was his betrayer by handing him the bread; and in so doing he recalled this verse of our psalm and said that it was fulfilled in himself: ‘He who used to eat my bread has enlarged his heel over me.’127 But the words ‘in whom I placed my hope’ are appropriate not to the head but to the body. What I mean is that the Saviour himself was not ignorant of the character of the man of whom he had said earlier, ‘One of you will betray me’, and ‘One of you is a devil.’128 But it is his habit to transfer to himself the role of his members, and to attribute to himself what belongs to them, because Christ is at one and the same time both the head and the body. This explains the Gospel saying, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food to eat’, which he explains by saying, ‘When you did it for one of the least of my people, you did it for me.’129 So in this passage he ascribes to himself the hopes that the disciples had placed in Judas when he was included in the number of the apostles.
Now the Jews do not expect that the Messiah (‘the Anointed’, the Christ) whom they hope for, will the. For that reason they do not think that the one whom the Law and the Prophets announced is our Christ, but some kind of Messiah of their own, a fiction of their imagination, a being remote from the suffering of death. This explains why with amazing stupidity and blindness, they maintain that the words we have quoted do not signify death and resurrection, but simply sleep and awakening.
But the fifteenth psalm130 also cries aloud, ‘For this cause my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; my body, too, will rest in hope. For you will not abandon my soul in hell, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption.’ Who would claim that his body had rested in hope, with the result that his soul was not abandoned in hell, but the soul quickly returned to his body and came to life again, so that his body should not suffer corruption as corpses normally do? No one, surely, but he who rose again on the third day. The Jews certainly cannot make this claim for their prophet and king, David.
The sixty-seventh131 psalm also cries out, ‘Our God is the God who brings men salvation, and to the Lord belongs the way of escape of death.’132 What clearer statement could there be? For ‘the God who brings men salvation’ is the Lord Jesus, whose name means ‘saviour’, or ‘saving.’ In fact the reason for his name was given when before his birth from the Virgin these words were said, ‘She will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus; for he will save his people from their sins.’133 Now since his blood was shed for the remission of those sins, it was, we can see, inevitable that he had no other ‘way of escape’ from this life, but only the way of death. Therefore after the statement that ‘our God is the God who brings men salvation’ we have the immediate addition of ‘and to the Lord belongs the way of escape of death’, to make it plain that it was by dying that he would bring salvation. But the words ‘and to the Lord belongs’ were said in a tone of wonder. They amount to saying, ‘Such is this mortal life that the Lord himself could not leave it except by the way of death.’
19. Psalm 69. exposes the unbelief and obstinacy of the Jews
However, the Jews refuse to yield an inch in the face of such clear evidence as that of this prophecy, even when events have brought it so plainly and certainly to fulfilment; and therefore the words of the next psalm are, without question, fulfilled in them. For in that psalm also when the events connected with Christ’s passion are being prophetically described, with Christ represented as the speaker, a detail is recorded whose meaning is revealed in the Gospel story, ‘They gave me gall to eat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.’134 Then after such a feast, as it were, and such a banquet had been offered him, he went on to say, ‘Let their table become a trap before them, and a retribution and a snare. May their eyes be dimmed so that they may not see, and their backs always bowed… ’135 This was not said by way of a wish; it was a prophetic prediction in the form of a wish. Is it any wonder, then, if those whose eyes were dimmed to prevent their seeing fail to observe these obvious facts? Is it any wonder if those whose backs are always bowed so that they bend down towards things of earth, fail to look upwards towards things in heaven? For these bodily metaphors refer to spiritual failings.
But this discussion must be kept within bounds, and so let this suffice for my treatment of the psalms, that is of the prophecy of King David. I hope that my readers who are familiar with the whole subject will forgive me, and will not complain if they know or suppose that I have passed over passages which perhaps provide stronger evidence.
20. The reign and achievements of David and Solomon: the prophecies of Christ in the writings of Solomon, and in associated books
Thus David reigned in the earthly Jerusalem, a son of the Heavenly Jerusalem, highly praised by the testimony of inspired writings, because even his sins were overcome by such great devotion, shown in a penitence of healthy humility, that he is certainly among those of whom he himself says, ‘Blessed are those whose wickedness is pardoned, whose sins are covered.’136 After him there reigned over that whole people his son Solomon who, as was stated above,137 began to reign while his father was still alive. He made a good start, but finished badly. Prosperity, in fact, which ‘wearies the resolution of the wise’,138 did him more damage than his wisdom brought him profit, that wisdom which even now is memorable and will be remembered in the future, which in his own time also earned such widespread renown. He, too, is found to have uttered prophecies in his books, three of which have been included in the authorized canon, namely, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. There are, indeed, two others, one entitled Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, which are, by general custom, ascribed to Solomon on the ground of a considerable resemblance to his literary style; however, the weightier authorities have no hesitation in rejecting the attribution. Nevertheless, the Church, and in particular the Western Church, has from early times accepted them as canonical.
In one of these books, called the Wisdom of Solomon, Christ’s passion is most expressly prophesied. For without question it is his godless murderers who are recorded as saying,
‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is displeasing to us and opposed to our activities, and accuses us of offences against the Law, and blames us for sins against our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself God’s son. He has become a reproach to our way of thinking. The very sight of him depresses us, because his manner of life is different from that of other men, and his paths are unchanged. In his opinion we are men of no account, and he holds aloof from our ways as though from filth. He holds in honour the latter end of the righteous, and boasts of having God for his father. Let us see then if what he says is true; let us test what will happen to him, and we shall know what his latter end will be. For if the righteous man is God’s son, God will uphold him and set him free from the clutches of his adversaries. Let us examine him with insult and torture, so that we may explore the extent of his devotion, and put his endurance to the proof. Let us condemn him to the most degrading death, since, on the evidence of his own words, he will be well looked after.’ This is how they reasoned, but they were misled; for they were blinded by their own malice.139
Moreover, in Ecclesiasticus the future faith of the nations is predicted thus:
Have mercy on us, God, the ruler of all, and send the fear of yourself upon all nations. Raise your hand over the foreign nations and let them see your power. As you have been sanctified in us in their sight, so prove yourself great in them in our sight; and let them recognize you just as we have recognized you, that there is no God besides you, Lord.140
This prophecy, in the form of a wish and a prayer, we see fulfilled through Jesus Christ. However, the writings not included in the Jewish canon do not carry as much weight as the canonical books when put forward as evidence against the opposition.
On the other hand, when we turn to the three books universally accepted as Solomon’s and taken as canonical by the Jews, laborious discussion is essential if we are to prove that anything of this kind found in those books is relevant to Christ and his Church; and the undertaking would be an unnecessary digression. However, we find these words put into the mouth of the ungodly in the book of Proverbs: ‘Let us hide the righteous man in the earth unrighteously; let us act the part of hell and swallow him up alive, and let us sweep away his memory from the earth, and get hold of his valuable property’;141 and this is not so obscure that it cannot be understood to refer to Christ and his property, the Church. This needs no laborious explanation. It is something of this sort, to be sure, that the Lord Jesus himself represents the wicked tenants as saying, in the Gospel parable, ‘Here is the heir! Come on, let us kill him, and we shall get his inheritance.’142
There is another passage in the same book which we touched on earlier, when we were concerned with the barren woman who bore seven children.143 This is generally understood, even at first hearing, to refer simply and solely to Christ and his Church; understood, that is, by those who have come to know that Christ is the Wisdom of God. The passage runs thus:
Wisdom has built herself a house, supported on seven columns. She has sacrificed her victims, has mixed her wine in the bowl and laid her table. She has sent her slaves, summoning guests to the bowl with a proclamation from the heights, saying: ‘Who is foolish? Let him put up at my house.’ And to those lacking wit she has said: ‘Come and eat my bread and drink the wine that I have mixed for you.’144
Here we recognize with certainty the Wisdom of God, that is, the Word, co-eternal with the Father, who built, as a house for himself, a human body, in the virgin’s womb, and united the Church to it, as limbs are united to the head; who sacrificed the martyrs as her victims; who set his table with wine and bread, the table at which also appears the priesthood in the line of Melchizedek; and who has invited foolish men, men lacking in wit, because, in the words of the Apostle he ‘has chosen weak things, by the world’s standards, to put to shame the strong.’145 But to those weak objects he goes on to say, ‘Abandon folly so that you may live; acquire discretion so that you may have life.’146 Now to become a guest at that table is to begin to have life.
There is also a text in another book, called Ecclesiastes, where it says, ‘The only good for man is in eating and drinking’;147 and surely the most plausible interpretation of this saying is that it refers to partaking of this table which the priest himself, the mediator of the new covenant, provides, in the line of Melchizedech, the table furnished with his body and blood. For that is the sacrifice which superseded all the sacrifices of the old covenant, which were offered as a foreshadowing of what was to come. That is why we also recognize in the thirty-ninth psalm the voice of the same mediator, speaking in prophecy, when he says, ‘Sacrifice and oblation you have refused; but you have perfected a body for me.’148 We recognize the speaker, because in place of all those sacrifices and oblations his body is offered and served to the participants. For our ‘preacher’ (ecclesiastes) is not thinking of feasts of bodily indulgence, in his saying, often repeated and underlined, about eating and drinking. This is made plain enough when he says, ‘it is better to go into a house of mourning than into a house of drinking’; and, a little later, ‘The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning: the heart of fools is in the house of feasting.’149
Even more worth quoting is the following passage in the same book. It is concerned with the two cities, that of the Devil, and that of Christ, and with their kings, the Devil and Christ. It says, ‘You are in sorry case, a land whose king is a mere boy, whose leaders feast in the morning. Happy the land whose king is nobly born, whose leaders feast at a decent time, to give them strength, not to bring them shame.’150 He calls the Devil ‘a mere boy’ because of his stupidity, his pride, his rashness, his indiscipline, and the other faults which are generally found in profusion at that age. Whereas he calls Christ ‘nobly born’, as being the descendant of the holy patriarchs, who belong to the free city, whose offspring he was, in the body of his incarnation. The leaders of the other city ‘feast in the morning’, that is before the appropriate hour, because they do not wait for the felicity which comes at the right time, the true felicity in the age to come, but are in a hurry in their desire to be made happy with the renown of this present age. The leaders of Christ’s City, for their part, patiently await the time of that happiness which does not disappoint. The preacher says that they feast ‘to give them strength, not to bring them shame’, because they are not disappointed in their hope; in the Apostle’s words, ‘Hope does not put men to shame.’151 There is also a saying in one of the psalms, ‘Those who await you will not be put to shame.’152
Then again, the Song of Songs voices a kind of spiritual delight felt by holy minds in the marriage of the king and queen of that city, namely, Christ and his Church. But this delight is wrapped up in allegorical draperies, so that it may be more eagerly longed for, and that its uncovering may afford more pleasure, and that the bridegroom may be revealed to whom it is said, in the same song, ‘Righteousness has loved you’,153 and the bride also, who is told ‘Love is among your delights.’154 There are many points we pass over without mention, in our anxiety to reach the end of the work.
21. The kings after Solomon, both in Judah and in Israel
The other kings of the Hebrews, after Solomon, are found to have uttered scarcely any prophecies, by means of hidden meanings in their words or actions, with reference to Christ and his Church. This is true both of the kings of Judah and of those of Israel. Those were the names given to the two divisions of that people, from the time when it was divided, when God punished them for Solomon’s offences, in the time of his son Rehoboam, who succeeded to his father’s throne. From that time onwards the ten tribes taken over by Jeroboam, Solomon’s servant, who was set up as their king in Samaria, were called Israel, this name being restricted to them, though it had been the title of the whole nation. While the name Judah was given to two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, which had remained subject to the city of Jerusalem for David’s sake, so that the kingdom of his stock should not be completely uprooted. They took the name of Judah because this was David’s own tribe. Benjamin was, as I have said, the other tribe attached to this kingdom; it was the tribe of Saul, the king before David. But the two tribes together were called Judah, as I said, and by this name they were distinguished from Israel, which was the special title of the ten tribes, who had their own king. We observe that Levi, as the priestly tribe, bound to the service of God instead of that of the kings, was counted as the thirteenth tribe. Joseph, as we know, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, did not found one tribe, as did each of the other sons; he founded two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh. Nevertheless, the tribe of Levi had also a closer connection with the kingdom of Jerusalem, since the Temple of God, which they served, was situated there.
Now after the division of the people, Rehoboam, king of Judah, Solomon’s son, was the first to reign in Jerusalem, while the first to reign in Samaria was Jeroboam, king of Israel, Solomon’s servant. And when Rehoboam decided to engage in war against him as a usurper over that part of the divided kingdom, the people were prevented from fighting against their brothers by God’s pronouncement, through the mouth of a prophet, that he was responsible for the division. Thus it was made clear that in this matter there had been no sin on the part of the king or the people of Israel; God’s decision to punish had been fulfilled. On learning this both sides were pacified, and preserved a mutual peace; for it was not their religion that had suffered division, but only the kingdom.
22. Jeroboam’s idolatry; its effects reduced by prophets under God’s inspiration
Now Jeroboam, king of Israel, had had proof that God was true to his word, since he had promised him the kingdom, and had given it to him. Yet in the perversity of his heart he refused to put his faith in God. He was afraid that if his people visited the Temple of God in Jerusalem, to which the whole nation was bound to go to offer sacrifice, according to the divine Law, they would be seduced from his allegiance and restored to the line of David, as being the royal stock. That is why he established idolatry in his kingdom, and led God’s people astray with his detestable apostasy, so that with him the people were addicted to the worship of images. Yet God did not cease to employ his prophets to reprove, by every means, not only that king, but his successors who imitated his apostasy, and the people themselves. For in that kingdom there emerged those great prophets of renown, who also performed many marvels, namely Elijah and his disciple Elisha. It was there also that Elijah said, ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; and I am left alone, and they are after my life’, and he received the reply that there were in that kingdom seven thousand men who had not bent their knees before Baal.155
23. The varying fortunes of the kingdoms till their captivity. The restoration of Judah, and its final transference to the Roman Empire
We find the same situation in the kingdom of Judah, which was attached to Jerusalem. There too there was no lack of prophets even in the times of the kings who succeeded David. They appeared as it pleased God to send them, either to make some necessary prediction, or to rebuke sins and to demand righteousness. For there also, although to a much lesser extent than in Israel, kings did arise who grievously offended God by their impieties, and who had to be chastised, along with the people who resembled them, with punishment in proportion to their faults. There were, it is true, pious kings in Judah, and their not inconsiderable merits receive praise, whereas we are told that in Israel all the kings were reprobate, though some more than others. Thus both parts, according to the command or with the permission of God’s providence, experienced vicissitudes of fortune, now being lifted up by times of prosperity, now depressed by periods of adversity; and they were so afflicted, not only by foreign wars but even by civil strife among themselves, that it became clear that God was acting in mercy or in wrath when particular causes arose. Finally, as his indignation increased, the whole nation was not only crushed and overthrown by the Chaldeans in its own homeland, but was also for the most part transferred to the territory of the Assyrians; first that division called Israel, with its ten tribes, and later Judah also, after the destruction of Jerusalem and its world-famed Temple. In those lands the Judeans lived in peaceful captivity for seventy years. After that period they were allowed to return, and they restored the Temple which had been demolished; and although very many of them still lived in foreign lands, they did not thereafter have a kingdom divided in two, with separate kings for each part. There was now only one prince over them in Jerusalem; and all of them all over the world, wherever they were, used to come back at fixed times to the Temple of God, which was in Jerusalem, if they could travel there from their homes. But even then they did not lack enemies from other nations, and conquerors, for Christ found them in his time tributaries of the Romans.156
24. The prophets mentioned in the gospel narrative
Now in the whole period following the return of the Jews from Baby-Ionia, after Malachi, Haggai, and Zechariah, who prophesied at the time of the return, and after Ezra, the Jews had no prophets up to the time of the Saviour’s coming, except the other Zechariah, the father of John, and his wife Elizabeth, when Christ’s birth was near, and, after his birth, the old man Simeon, and Anna, a widow by then advanced in years, and, last of all, John himself. John, it is true, did not foretell the coming of Christ, for by that time Christ and he were both young men; still, he did recognize, by prophetic inspiration, the Christ who was yet unrecognized, and he pointed him out. This is why the Lord himself says, ‘The Law and the Prophets down to John.’157 Now the prophetic utterances of these five people are known to us from the Gospel, in which the Virgin herself, the Lord’s mother, is also represented as prophesying, before John. But the rejected Jews do not accept the utterances of those prophets; however, the innumerable individuals from among them who have believed in the gospel do accept them. For at that time Israel was truly divided into two parts, by that division which was fore-announced to King Saul through Samuel the prophet, as an unalterable division. As for Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, even the rejected Jews accept them, as the last authors to be added to the list of inspired Scripture. For writings by these prophets are extant, as are those of others, who wrote books which were to enjoy canonical authority. But they form but a small proportion of the great host of prophets. It is clear to me that some of their predictions referring to Christ and his Church must be included in this work. It will be more convenient to fulfil this obligation, with God’s help, in the next book, to avoid adding further to the burden of this volume, which is already so protracted.