Psalms 120


The psalmist, in great distress, calls on the Lord for

deliverance from calumny and defamation, 1, 2;

shows the punishment that awaits his persecutor, 3, 4;

deplores the necessity of his residence with the ungodly, 5-7.


This Psalm, and all the rest that follow it, to the end of Psalm

cxxxiv., fifteen in number, are called Psalms of Degrees; for thus

the Hebrew title hammaaloth is generally translated, as

coming from the root alah, to ascend or mount upwards.

Hence maaloth, steps or stairs for ascending,

1Ki 10:19, 20; 2Ki 9:13. But as the word may be applied to

elevation in general, hence some have thought that it may here

signify the elevation of voice; "these Psalms being sung with the

highest elevations of voice and music." Others have thought the

word expresses rather the matter of these Psalms, as being of

peculiar excellence: and hence Junius and Tremellius prefix to

each Canticum excellentissimum, "A most excellent ode."

R. D. Kimchi says, "There were fifteen steps by which the

priests ascended into the temple, on each of which they sang one

of these fifteen Psalms." This opinion I find referred to in the

Apocryphal Gospel of the birth of Mary: "Her parents brought her

to the temple, and set her upon one of the steps. Now there are

fifteen steps about the temple, by which they go up to it,

according to the fifteen Psalms of Degrees." But the existence of

such steps and practices cannot be proved.

Aben Ezra supposes that the word means some kind of tune sung to

these Psalms. It is more likely, if the title be really ancient,

that it was affixed to them on account of their being sung on the

return from the Babylonish captivity, as the people were going

up to Jerusalem; for though some of them are attributed to David,

yet it is very probable that they were all made long after his

time, and probably during the captivity, or about the end of it.

The author of these fifteen Psalms is not known; and most probably

they were not the work of one person. They have been attributed to

David, to Solomon, to Ezra, to Haggai, to Zechariah, and

to Malachi, without any positive evidence. They are, however,

excellent in their kind, and written with much elegance;

containing strong and nervous sentiments of the most exalted

piety, expressed with great felicity of language in a few words.

Verse 1. In my distress] Through the causes afterwards


I cried unto the Lord] Made strong supplication for help.

And he heard one.] Answered my prayer by comforting my soul.

It appears to be a prayer of the captives in Babylon for

complete liberty; or perhaps he recites the prayer the Israelites

had made previously to their restoration.

Verse 2. Lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.] From a people

without faith, without truth, without religion; who sought by lies

and calumnies to destroy them.

Verse 3. What shall be given unto thee?] Thou art worthy of the

heaviest punishments.

Verse 4. Sharp arrows] The Chaldee has, "The strong, sharp

arrows are like lightning from above, with coals of juniper

kindled in hell beneath." On the juniper,

See Clarke on Job 30:4, where this passage is explained.

Fiery arrows, or arrows wrapped about with inflamed

combustibles, were formerly used in sieges to set the places on

fire. See Clarke on Eph 6:16.

Verse 5. That I sojourn in Mesech] The Chaldee has it, "Wo is me

that I am a stranger with the Asiatics, ( useey,) and that I

dwell in the tents of the Arabs." Calmet, who understands the

Psalm as speaking of the state of the captives in Babylon and its

provinces, says, "Meshec was apparently the father of the

Mosquians, who dwelt in the mountains that separate Iberia from

Armenia, and both from Colchis. These provinces were subjugated by

Nebuchadnezzar; and it is evident from

2Ki 17:23, 24; 18:11; 19:12, 13, that many of the Jews were

held in captivity in those countries. As to Kedar, it extended

into Arabia Petraea, and towards the Euphrates; and is the country

afterwards known as the country of the Saracens."

Verse 6. My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.] A

restless, barbarous, warlike, and marauding people.

Verse 7. I am for peace] We love to be quiet and peaceable; but

they are continually engaged in excursions of rapine and plunder.

It is evident that the psalmist refers to a people like the

Scenitae or wandering Arabs, who live constantly in tents, and

subsist by robbery; plundering and carrying away all that they can

seize. The poor captives wished them to cultivate the arts of

peace, and live quietly; but they would hear of nothing but their

old manner of life.


The psalmist in distress-

I. Flees to God by prayer.

II. Sets forth the miseries of a foul and deceitful tongue.

III. Complains of his banishment.

I. 1. He is in distress, and cries to the Lord; the surest and

best way.

2. He tells us of the success of his prayer: "God heard him."

3. Of the matter of it: "Lord, I beseech thee deliver my soul! "

1. "From lying lips." Detractions, calumnies, and defamations. 2.

From "a deceitful tongue," which, under the colour of friendship,

covers deceit. A detractor does his mischief openly, a flatterer

secretly; so that when a deceitful tongue is joined with lying

lips, the mischief is intolerable.

II. He sets forth the evil that shall fall on such deceivers and


1. Arrows-which wound afar off, suddenly and invisibly.

2. Sharp arrows, well-headed and keen, that can pierce deeply.

3. "Sharp arrows of the mighty," shot by a strong hand, and so

much the more dangerous.

4. "With coals-inflamed arrows," such as set all things on fire.

5. "With coals of juniper," which of all coals are the hottest,

and keep fire the longest.

III. The psalmist complains of his banishment.

1. He laments his situation on account of the wickedness of the

people among whom he sojourned.

2. They were barbarous and inhuman, enemies to piety and


3. His state was the more intolerable, as it had been of long

duration: "My soul hath long dwelt," &c.

His disposition was quite contrary to theirs.

1. "I am for peace." I wish to live in peace, and cultivate it.

2. But when I speak of peace, they are for war; They are fierce

and inhuman. It was said of the Macedonians in Philip's time,

Illis pacem esse bellum et bellum pacem. "To them peace was war,

and war was peace." Such were the people of the provinces, among

whom many of the Israelites were in captivity.

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