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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 123

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Psalms 121 has, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains”; but this finds the singer lifting up his eyes unto God himself.

Verses 1-4

“Unto thee do I lift up mine eyes, O thou that sittest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; So our eyes look unto Jehovah our God, Until he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Jehovah, have mercy upon us; For we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scoffing of those that are at ease, And with the contempt of the proud.”

Regarding the date and authorship of this psalm, nothing is definitely known. “The only circumstance which throws any light on its origin is the statement in Psalms 123:3-4 that the people of God were exposed to derision and contempt.”(F1) Of course, that could have been the case in a number of circumstances in the long history of the chosen people.

We cannot fully agree with Leupold who said of this psalm that, “There is nothing powerful, moving, or sublime that finds expression here. A quiet submissive tone prevails throughout. It is subdued in character; there is no loud complaint, or impetuous plea.”(F2) It is these very qualities which, to us, makes the psalm so attractive. McCaw found in this psalm, “A glad certainty of mercy for the defamed,”(F3) which he contrasted with the “Sad theme of expectation of God’s judgment on the defamers in Psalms 120.”(F4)

“O thou that sittest in the heavens” “It was doubtless this very first verse that led to this psalm’s selection for the collection of processional songs. `God is still on his throne,’ is the reassuring message for the pilgrims,”(F5) making their tiresome and dangerous journey to Jerusalem.

“As the eyes of servants... as the eyes of a maid” The imagery here is drawn from the behavior of ancient slaves, whose conduct is eloquently described by Barnes. In some oriental palaces or `great houses’ there were many slaves who customarily stood in silence, intensely prepared to do the bidding of their masters, looking steadily upon the hands of their `lords,’ who usually signaled their desires by motions of the hand.(F6)

“Until he have mercy upon us” There is a patient waiting upon the will of God here which is very beautiful. It reminds us of what Jesus said, “In your patience ye shall win your souls” (Luke 21:19). There is exhibited here no anxious hurry or any doubt whatever. There is a calm and certain assurance that God, in his own time and manner, will provide the needed relief.

“Have mercy upon us… we are exceedingly filled with contempt” We hardly know what to make of Leupold’s comment here that, “The psalmist did not even venture to pray for mercy.”(F7) To us, it appears that the double appeal, “Have mercy upon us; have mercy upon us” has all the elements of effective prayer. It is almost like the prayer of the publican in Luke 18:13, lacking only the confession of sin.

“Contempt” It is significant here that contempt is the only opposition mentioned; but as Kidner noted, “Contempt is cold steel; it goes deeper into the spirit than any other kind of rejection. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ ranked it even more murderous than anger.”(F8) “Whosoever shall say to a brother, `Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22 b).

In the face of the contemptuous scorn and hatred of the unbelieving world around us, Christians can identify with this psalm. “The words here can speak for our contemporaries under persecution and can give us words to pray in unison with them.”(F9)

“The scoffing of those who are at ease… the contempt of the proud” These lines identify the source of the contempt mentioned in the preceding verse. “Those who are at ease,” and “the proud” are reference to the world’s wealthy and affluent. We appreciate the discerning words of Addis regarding such people.

“The contempt of the proud may have been caused by their own wealth, and by the poverty of the godly. `Poor’ and `godly’ are almost synonymous. The Hebrew Bible often uses one and the same word for `poor,’ `afflicted’ and `humble.’“(F10)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 123". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-123.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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