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Psalm 120[a]

A song of ascents.[b]

120 In my distress I cried out
to the Lord and he answered me.
I said,[c] “O Lord, rescue me[d]
from those who lie with their lips[e]
and those who deceive with their tongues.[f]
How will he severely punish you,
you deceptive talker?[g]
Here’s how![h] With the sharp arrows of warriors,
with arrowheads forged over the hot coals.[i]
How miserable I am.[j]
For I have lived temporarily[k] in Meshech;
I have resided among the tents of Kedar.[l]
For too long I have had to reside
with those who hate[m] peace.
I am committed to peace,[n]
but when I speak, they want to make war.[o]


  1. Psalm 120:1 sn Psalm 120. The genre and structure of this psalm are uncertain. It begins like a thanksgiving psalm, with a brief notice that God has heard the psalmist’s prayer for help and has intervened. But v. 2 is a petition for help, followed by a taunt directed toward enemies (vv. 3-4) and a lament (vv. 5-7). Perhaps vv. 2-7 recall the psalmist’s prayer when he cried out to the Lord.
  2. Psalm 120:1 sn 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.
  3. Psalm 120:2 tn The words “I said” are supplied in the translation for clarification. See the introductory note for this psalm.
  4. Psalm 120:2 tn Or “my life.”
  5. Psalm 120:2 tn Heb “from a lip of falsehood.”
  6. Psalm 120:2 tn Heb “from a tongue of deception.”
  7. Psalm 120:3 tn 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).
  8. Psalm 120:4 tn 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.
  9. Psalm 120:4 tn 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.
  10. Psalm 120:5 tn Or “woe to me.” The Hebrew term אוֹיָה (ʾoyah, “woe”) which occurs only here, is an alternate form of אוֹי (ʾoy).
  11. Psalm 120:5 tn Heb “I live as a resident foreigner.”
  12. Psalm 120:5 sn 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.
  13. Psalm 120:6 tn 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.
  14. Psalm 120:7 tn Heb “I, peace.”
  15. Psalm 120:7 tn Heb “they [are] for war.”