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Psalms 120:1-7

Context
Psalm 120 1 

A song of ascents. 2 

120:1 In my distress I cried out

to the Lord and he answered me.

120:2 I said, 3  “O Lord, rescue me 4 

from those who lie with their lips 5 

and those who deceive with their tongue. 6 

120:3 How will he severely punish you,

you deceptive talker? 7 

120:4 Here’s how! 8  With the sharp arrows of warriors,

with arrowheads forged over the hot coals. 9 

120:5 How miserable I am! 10 

For I have lived temporarily 11  in Meshech;

I have resided among the tents of Kedar. 12 

120:6 For too long I have had to reside

with those who hate 13  peace.

120:7 I am committed to peace, 14 

but when I speak, they want to make war. 15 

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 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 tn The words “I said” are supplied in the translation for clarification. See the introductory note for this psalm.

4 tn Or “my life.”

5 tn Heb “from a lip of falsehood.”

6 tn Heb “from a tongue of deception.”

7 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 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 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 tn Or “woe to me.” The Hebrew term אוֹיָה (’oyah, “woe”) which occurs only here, is an alternate form of אוֹי (’oy).

11 tn Heb “I live as a resident alien.”

12 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 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 tn Heb “I, peace.”

15 tn Heb “they [are] for war.”



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