Chapter 120

This psalm is the first of those fifteen which are here put together under the title of “songs of degrees.” It is well that it is not material what the meaning of that title should be, for nothing is offered towards the explication of it, no, not by the Jewish writers themselves, but what is conjectural. These psalms do not seem to be composed all by the same hand, much less all at the same time. Four of them are expressly ascribed to David, and one is said to be designed for Solomon, and perhaps penned by him; yet Ps. 126:1-6; 129:1-8 seem to be of a much later date. Some of them are calculated for the closet (as Ps. 120:1-7; 130:1-8), some for the family (as Ps. 127:1-5; 128:1-6), some for the public assembly (as Ps. 122:1-9; 134:1-3), and some occasional, as Ps. 124:1-8; 132:1-18 So that it should seem, they had not this title from the author, but from the publisher. Some conjecture that they are so called from their singular excellency (as the song of songs, so the song of degrees, is a most excellent song, in the highest degree), others from the tune they were set to, or the musical instruments they were sung to, or the raising of the voice in singing them. Some think they were sung on the fifteen steps or stairs, by which they went up from the outward court of the temple to the inner, others at so many stages of the people’s journey, when they returned out of captivity. I shall only observe, 1. That they are all short psalms, all but one very short (three of them have but three verses apiece), and that they are placed next to Ps. 119:1-176, which is by much the longest of all. Now as that was one psalm divided into many parts, so these were many psalms, which, being short, were sometimes sung all together, and made, as it were, one psalm, observing only a pause between each; as many steps make one pair of stairs. 2. That, in the composition of them, we frequently meet with the figure they call climax, or an ascent, the preceding word repeated, and then rising to something further, as 120, “With him that hated peace. I peace.” 121, “Whence cometh my help; my help cometh.” “He that keepeth thee shall not slumber; he that keepeth Israel.” 122, “Within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded.” 123, “Until that he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us.” And the like in most of them, if not all. Perhaps for one of these reasons they are called songs of degrees.

This psalm is supposed to have been penned by David upon occasion of Doeg’s accusing him and the priests to Saul, because it is like 52, which was penned upon that occasion, and because the psalmist complains of his being driven out of the congregation of the Lord and his being forced among barbarous people. I. He prays to God to deliver him from the mischief designed him by false and malicious tongues, Ps. 120:1, 2. II. He threatens the judgments of God against such, Ps. 120:3, 4. III. He complains of his wicked neighbours that were quarrelsome and vexatious, Ps. 120:5-7. In singing this psalm we may comfort ourselves in reference to the scourge of the tongue, when at any time we fall unjustly under the lash of it, that better than we have smarted from it.