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This Psalm seems to have been composed, either,
1. By David in the time of his persecution by Saul, when he was exposed both to the swords and to the calumnies of his enemies; of which two evils he complains in this Psalm; or,
2. By some other holy prophet in a time of the church’s persecution.
Or, of ascents, as others render it, and as the word properly signifies. This title is given to this and to the fourteen following Psalms; concerning the reason whereof there are divers conjectures, the chief of which are these: either,
1. Because of the excellent matter of them, as eminent persons are called men of high degree, 1 Chronicles 17:17. For in them are contained, as learned men have observed, many doctrines or instructions of great use and importance, and those delivered with extraordinary brevity and elegancy. Or,
2. Because they were sung upon the fifteen degrees of stairs of the temple, which the Jewish writers mention; or, at least, upon some high place. Or,
3. Because they were sung with a very loud voice. Or,
4. Because they were sung by the Jews when they returned from Babylon and went up to Jerusalem; which some judge the more probable, because it suits with the order of these Psalms; whereof the first was to be used by them when they were preparing for their departure, and suffered delays in it from the calumnies of their enemies; the second, in their journey; the third, upon their arrival at Jerusalem; the fourth, after the building of the city and temple, &c. And although one of these Psalms is ascribed to David, and another to Solomon, yet they also, as well as the rest, might be applied to this use; and so might this Psalm also, though David first composed it upon another occasion. Or,
5. From something which was peculiar in them, either in the poetry or the manner of singing them. But these things being now lost and unknown, not only to Christians, but even to the Jews themselves, we must be contentedly ignorant of this as well as of most other titles of the Psalms; and the rather, because they do not at all concern the matter, nor are they necessary to the understanding of them.
David prayeth against lying lips and deceitful tongues, Psalms 120:1-4, and complaineth that his habitation was unavoidably among wicked and unpeaceable men, Psalms 120:5-7.
From lying lips; from the unjust censures and malicious slanders of mine enemies, who traduce me as an egregious hypocrite, as a rebel and traitor.
From a deceitful tongue; which covereth mischievous designs with pretences of kindness.
What shall be given unto thee, whosoever thou art who art guilty of these practices? He applies himself severally to the consciences of every one of them. Or he designs Doeg or some other person in Saul’s court eminent for this wickedness. The sense may be this, It is true, thou dost me some mischief; but what benefit dost thou get by it, if all thy accounts be cast up? For although thou mayst thereby obtain some favour and advantage from Saul, yet thou wilt assuredly bring upon thyself the curse and vengeance of God; and then thou wilt be no gainer by the bargain. And to do mischief to another without benefit to thyself, is an inhuman and diabolical wickedness.
So this verse contains an answer to the question Psalms 120:3, and declares the slanderer’s recompence; which is the wrath and vengeance of the mighty God, which in Scripture, and particularly in this book, is oft compared to at. rows, as Psalms 7:13,Psalms 7:14, &c, and here to arrows of the mighty, i.e. shot by the hands of a strong man; and to coals, Psalms 140:10, and here to
coals of juniper, which being kindled burn very fiercely, and retain their heat for a long time. And the psalmist may possibly express it in these words, to show, the suitableness of the punishment to the sin; as thy tongue shoots arrows, (for so calumnies are called, Psalms 57:4; Psalms 64:3) and kindles coals, so thou shalt bring God’s arrows and coals kindled by the fire of his wrath upon thyself. But according to the other translation, which is in the margin, this is a further declaration of the sin of calumny. Though, all things considered, it doth thee no good, yet it doth others much hurt, to whom it is like sharp arrows, &c.
Kedar are two sorts of people, oft mentioned in Scripture, and reckoned amongst the heathen and barbarous nations. But their nurses are not here to be understood properly, (for we do not read that either David or the Israelites in the Babylonish captivity dwelt in their lands,) but only metaphorically, as the ungodly Israelites are called Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaiah 1:10, and Amorites and Hittithes, Ezekiel 16:3,Ezekiel 16:45, and as in common speech among us, men of an evil character are called Turks or Jews. And so he explains himself in the next verse by this description of them, him or them that hated peace, although David sought peace with them, Psalms 120:7. And so he speaks either,
1. Of the Philistines, among whom he sojourned for a time. But he did not seek peace with them, but sought their ruin, as the event showed; nor did they wage war against him, whilst he lived peaceably among them. Or rather,
2. The courtiers and soldiers of Saul, and the generality of the Israelites, who, to curry favour with Saul, sought David’s ruin, and that many times by treachery and pretences of friendship; of which he oft complains in this book; whom as he elsewhere calls heathen, as Psalms 9:5; Psalms 59:5, it is not strange if he compares them here to the savage Arabians. And amongst such persons David was oft forced to sojourn in Saul’s time, and with them he sought peace by all ways possible; but they hated peace, and the more he pursued peace, the more eagerly did they prosecute the war, as it here follows.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 120". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13