Prayer of a Returned Exile
1A song of ascents.*
The LORD answered me
when I called in my distress:a
2LORD, deliver my soul from lying lips,
from a treacherous tongue.b
3What will he inflict on you,
O treacherous tongue,
and what more besides?*
4A warrior’s arrows
sharpened with coals of brush wood!*c
5*Alas, I am a foreigner in Meshech,
I live among the tents of Kedar!
6Too long do I live
among those who hate peace.
7When I speak of peace,
they are for war.d
* [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).
* [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.”
* [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.
* [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.
* [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.
b. [120:2] Ps 12:3–5; Sir 51:3.
c. [120:4] Ps 11:6; 140:11; Prv 16:27.