PSALM 120*

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 120:24). The psalmist is acutely conscious of living away from God’s own land where divine peace prevails (Ps 120:57).

* [120:1] A song of ascents: Ps 120134 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.

a. [120:1] Jon 2:3.

b. [120:2] Ps 12:35; Sir 51:3.

c. [120:4] Ps 11:6; 140:11; Prv 16:27.

d. [120:7] Ps 35:20; 140:34.

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