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Bible Commentaries

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Psalms 120

With Psalm 120 begins a group of fifteen psalms, Psalms 120-134, which are sometimes referred to as “songs of pilgrimage”, or “songs ha ma’aloth”, which is translated “songs of ascents”. Ha ma’aloth means to go up, or emigrate to Israel, also called aliyah, and then to go up to Jerusalem, to sacrifice, and also to go up on the steps of the temple court to approach God. [The Jews connect these fifteen psalms with the fifteen steps of the temple court.]

Each psalm in this group has the heading “A Song of Ascents”. These psalms are sung by the Israelites as they make the “ascent” to Jerusalem as pilgrims – for Jerusalem is on a mountain (Isa 2:2-3) – to celebrate the annual feasts. Prophetically, we have in these songs of ascents especially the spiritual exercises of the ten tribes on their return to the promised land (cf. Jer 3:18; Eze 37:15-28).

The two tribes that had returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile had once again sunk into unbelief. The connection with God had been broken. They had become a dead people (Eze 37:1-14). By God’s Spirit they will come to repentance and be purified in the great tribulation. At Christ’s return, the ten tribes are still abroad, in the midst of hostile, intolerant nations, and will be gathered from there (Mt 24:30-31).

We know who the poet is of five of these songs of ascents:
1. Four are by David (Psalms 122; 124; 131; 133).
2. One is by Solomon (Psalm 127).
Of the remaining ten, the poet is not known.

They are composed in such a way that they begin with a call of the pilgrim from a place far from Jerusalem and the promised land (Psalm 120) and end with worship in the house of God (Psalm 134). The psalms in between describe the situations and experiences on the pilgrim road of the ten tribes and, albeit to a lesser extent, those of the two tribes as well. They come out of the sea of nations to which they were carried away and are on their way to the promised land (Deu 30:3). In an application to us, we can compare it to our journey out of the world of darkness, lies and deception on our way to the world of light, life and truth.

The special theme of the first Song of Ascents is the falseness and deceit, the lie, of the enemies of the people of God, in the midst of whom the righteous dwells, and how he suffers because of it.

Verse 1

Cried and Answered

This first “Song of Ascents” begins with the psalmist stating that he cried to the LORD in his trouble. In the voice of the psalmist we hear the voice of the faithful remnant, or the elect, from the ten tribes (Mt 24:30-31). Seeing that the LORD has brought their tribulation upon them outside the promised land, they turn to Him in prayer and cry to Him in their trouble. The cry to God is the beginning of the way back to Him (Deu 30:1-5).

When the people in their trouble cry to Him, He answers them by His presence. The enemies are still there, but He is with them now, so they are no longer in trouble. Because they turn to Him and not to people, there is an answer. Only God can save from trouble. This assurance is expressed by the righteous. What their great trouble is we hear in the next verse.

Verses 2-4

A Deceitful Tongue

It is one of the painful experiences of a believer that he lives among people who can only lie, who live a ‘life of lies’. That he is the object of this makes it even more painful. It is an evil against which no protection is possible. No one can protect himself from false accusations.

False accusations are neither foreseeable nor preventable. It is often impossible to find out who is behind them. And if the culprit can already be tracked down and convicted, the evil cannot be undone. We have an example of a deadly false accusation in the history of Naboth (1Kgs 21:1-15).

The righteous, and in him the remnant, feels distressed by what “lying lips” claim about him and by what is said of him with “a deceitful tongue” (Psa 120:2; cf. Psa 52:4). The only thing the believer can do is to say it to the LORD. So that is what the righteous does here.

The tongue is a special tool by which great mental and emotional harm can be done to others. When no real crimes can be discovered, a campaign of slander is resorted to in order to pillory someone and make his life impossible. The enemies will begin a terrible campaign of lies to strike the God-fearing to the depths of their souls. The God-fearing then resorts to the LORD with the plea to deliver his soul from this.

In Psa 120:3, the righteous addresses the enemy. He asks him two questions, which constitute a curse on swearing an oath, as Abner once did (2Sam 3:9). The psalmist asks what the “deceitful tongue” will “give” him, what it will bring him. Then he asks “what more shall be done to you” – “you” is that deceitful tongue – what extra gain it will give him.

He himself gives the answer (Psa 120:4). The enemy has sworn an oath with deceitful tongue, and now the LORD will strike him with the curse of this sworn oath. He, who has sharpened his tongue like a sharp arrow, will be pierced by “sharp arrows of the warrior” (cf. Psa 57:4; Psa 64:3; Pro 25:18; Jer 9:3; 8; Gal 6:7). The warrior is the Messiah (Psa 24:8).

He, who has spoken his words like a devastating fire upon him, will be consumed by the fire of “[burning] coals of the broom tree” (cf. Pro 16:27; Jam 3:6). Wood from broom trees is particularly hard and its coals burns fiercely and for a long time. Therefore, this coals are extremely suitable for attaching to an arrow, making that arrow a fiery, burning arrow.

Verses 5-7

Longing For Peace

The righteous, and in him the remnant, cries out “woe is me” over himself because he is surrounded by barbarous people (Psa 120:5). Isaiah cries “woe is me” because he sees himself as an unclean sinner in the light of the holy God (Isa 6:5). That far the righteous is not yet here. That comes in Psalm 130. He is now more concerned with his surroundings and the feelings there toward him.

He “sojourns”, or he is a stranger, “in Meshech”, meaning that he is not at home there, but is staying there temporarily. In other words, he is saying the same thing when he then says that he dwells “among the tents of Kedar”. The righteous lives in the midst of an aggressive, intolerant, and discriminatory population.

Meshech is a descendant of Japheth (Gen 10:2; Eze 38:1). His descendants were in the far north, first around the Black Sea, later even further north to what is now known as Moscow. They were known as rough, uncivilized people. Kedar is the second son of Ishmael (Gen 25:13; Isa 21:13-17), with cruel, merciless descendants. It has become a designation for the various Arab tribes. Together they are Israel’s last enemies in the end time, namely the king of the North, with a coalition of ten Islamic nations (Psa 83:5-8), backed by Gog, that is prince of Great Russia.

Their area is the area to which the ten tribes were taken away at the time. This was also later confirmed by the historian Flavius Josephus. The sojourn with them has been long (Psa 120:6). It is a ceaseless sorrow for their souls that they “hate peace”. Their daily practice is murder and mayhem. Justice and righteousness are completely foreign to these peace-haters. The truth is trampled upon by them. This is evident in the gross lies they spread about him. He suffers from this. He wants to be delivered from it.

He himself is a man of peace; he is “ [for] peace” (Psa 120:7). Literally it says: I [am] peace, which implies that he is characterized by peace. He is not out to quarrel, but wants to live together in peace with all people (cf. Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14). Of this he also testifies before those in the midst of whom he dwells. His attempts, however, are in vain. They are refused. They are even met with a bellicose response. These people want no peace and are unstoppable on their warpath.

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 120". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.