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Psalm 120[a]

Prayer of a Returned Exile

A song of ascents.[b]

The Lord answered me
    when I called in my distress:(A)
Lord, deliver my soul from lying lips,
    from a treacherous tongue.(B)

What will he inflict on you,
    O treacherous tongue,
    and what more besides?[c]
A warrior’s arrows
    sharpened with coals of brush wood![d](C)

[e]Alas, I am a foreigner in Meshech,
    I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long do I live
    among those who hate peace.
When I speak of peace,
    they are for war.(D)

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 120 A thanksgiving, reporting divine rescue (Ps 120:1) yet with fervent prayer for further protection against lying attackers (Ps 120:2–4). The psalmist is acutely conscious of living away from God’s own land where divine peace prevails (Ps 120:5–7).
  2. 120:1 A song of ascents: Ps 120–134 all begin with this superscription. Most probably these fifteen Psalms once formed a collection of Psalms sung when pilgrims went to Jerusalem, since one “ascended” to Jerusalem (1 Kgs 12:28; Ps 24:3; 122:4; Lk 2:42) or to the house of God or to an altar (1 Kgs 12:33; 2 Kgs 23:2; Ps 24:3). Less probable is the explanation that these Psalms were sung by the exiles when they “ascended” to Jerusalem from Babylonia (cf. Ezr 7:9). The idea, found in the Mishnah, that the fifteen steps on which the Levites sang corresponded to these fifteen Psalms (Middot 2:5) must underlie the Vulgate translation canticum graduum, “song of the steps” or “gradual song.”
  3. 120:3 More besides: a common curse formula in Hebrew was “May the Lord do such and such evils to you [the evils being specified], and add still more to them,” cf. 1 Sm 3:17; 14:44; 25:22. Here the psalmist is at a loss for a suitable malediction.
  4. 120:4 Coals of brush wood: coals made from the stalk of the broom plant burn with intense heat. The psalmist thinks of lighted coals cast at his enemies.
  5. 120:5 Meshech was in the far north (Gn 10:2) and Kedar was a tribe of the north Arabian desert (Gn 25:13). The psalmist may be thinking generally of all aliens living among inhospitable peoples.

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