Psalms 120

In my distress I cried out
to the Lord and he answered me.
I said,
The words “I said” are supplied in the translation for clarification. See the introductory note for this psalm.
“O Lord, rescue me
Or “my life.”

from those who lie with their lips
Heb “from a lip of falsehood.”

and those who deceive with their tongue.
Heb “from a tongue of deception.”

How will he severely punish you,
you deceptive talker?
Heb “What will he give to you, and what will he add to you, O tongue of deception?” The psalmist addresses his deceptive enemies. The Lord is the understood subject of the verbs “give” and “add.” The second part of the question echoes a standard curse formula, “thus the Lord/God will do … and thus he will add” (see Ruth 1:17; 1 Sam 3:17; 14:44; 20:13; 25:22; 2 Sam 3:9, 35; 19:13; 1 Kgs 2:23; 2 Kgs 6:31).

Here’s how!
The words “here’s how” are supplied in the translation as a clarification. In v. 4 the psalmist answers the question he raises in v. 3.
With the sharp arrows of warriors,
with arrowheads forged over the hot coals.
Heb “with coals of the wood of the broom plant.” The wood of the broom plant was used to make charcoal, which in turn was used to fuel the fire used to forge the arrowheads.

How miserable I am!
Or “woe to me.” The Hebrew term אוֹיָה (’oyah, “woe”) which occurs only here, is an alternate form of אוֹי (’oy).

For I have lived temporarily
Heb “I live as a resident alien.”
in Meshech;
I have resided among the tents of Kedar.
Meshech was located in central Anatolia (modern Turkey). Kedar was located in the desert to east-southeast of Israel. Because of the reference to Kedar, it is possible that Ps 120:5 refers to a different Meshech, perhaps one associated with the individual mentioned as a descendant of Aram in 1 Chr 1:17. (However, the LXX in 1 Chr 1:17 follows the parallel text in Gen 10:23, which reads “Mash,” not Meshech.) It is, of course, impossible that the psalmist could have been living in both the far north and the east at the same time. For this reason one must assume that he is recalling his experience as a wanderer among the nations or that he is using the geographical terms metaphorically and sarcastically to suggest that the enemies who surround him are like the barbarians who live in these distant regions. For a discussion of the problem, see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101–150 (WBC), 146.

For too long I have had to reside
with those who hate
The singular participial form probably has a representative function here. The psalmist envisions the typical hater of peace who represents the entire category of such individuals.
I am committed to peace,
Heb “I, peace.”

but when I speak, they want to make war.
Heb “they [are] for war.”

Psalm 121

Psalm 121. The psalm affirms that the Lord protects his people Israel. Unless the psalmist addresses an observer (note the second person singular forms in vv. 3–8), it appears there are two or three speakers represented in the psalm, depending on how one takes v. 3. The translation assumes that speaker one talks in vv. 1–2, that speaker two responds to him with a prayer in v. 3 (this assumes the verbs are true jussives of prayer), and that speaker three responds with words of assurance in vv. 4–8. If the verbs in v. 3 are taken as a rhetorical use of the jussive, then there are two speakers. Verses 3–8 are speaker two’s response to the words of speaker one. See the note on the word “sleep” at the end of v. 3.

A song of ascents.

The precise significance of this title, which appears in Pss 120–134, is unclear. Perhaps worshipers recited these psalms when they ascended the road to Jerusalem to celebrate annual religious festivals. For a discussion of their background see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101–150 (WBC), 219-21.
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