Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 125

Verse 1



This is another of the very brief Songs of Ascent. It is No. 6 in the Little Psalter, which was the songbook of the pilgrim Jewish worshippers attending the great national feasts such as Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, and other feasts added later. These songs were sung by them on the way "up" to Jerusalem, hence Songs of Ascent. The elevation of Jerusalem was emphasized dramatically by the geographical fact of its being so near the Dead Sea with its elevation of 1,292 feet below sea level. In this psalm, the dramatic mountains of Judea surrounding Jerusalem are made a metaphor of God's surrounding Israel with His loving protection and blessing.

"Although this is a psalm mainly of comfort, prayer and threatening are also in it."[1] Jerusalem is on high ground, "But the Mount of Olives on the east, and The Hill of Evil Counsel on the south are higher."[2] On the west side of the city, beyond the valley of Jehoshaphat, was a high ridge, and to the north there was the plateau-like area surrounding Scopas. From these is taken the metaphor of God's surrounding his people with love and protection.

Psalms 125:1-2

"They that trust in Jehovah

Are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but standeth forever.

As the mountains are round about Jerusalem,

So Jehovah is round about his people

From this time forth and forevermore."

The thought here is simply that the love and protection of God for Israel is just as sure to continue forever as the mountains that surround the holy city are immovable. This, of course, is gloriously true. God still loves the true Israel of God, identified in the New Testament as Jesus Christ (John 15:1).

The racial element in the identification of God's Israel disappeared when Zechariah broke "Beauty" and "Bands"; but the marvelous thing about this is that even racial Jews who choose to be within the ranks of God's only Israel today are not merely welcome, they are admitted upon the same terms as any other races, there being "no distinction" whatever between racial Jews and Gentiles (Romans 3:22; 10:12; Acts 11:12; 15:9).

For a complete discussion of God's breaking his covenant with racial Israel (but not with the true Israel), see Vol. 4 of my series on the minor prophets, pp. 164-167.

Verse 3

"For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous;

That the righteous put not forth their hands unto iniquity."

The great problem with this psalm is the identification of which rulers held this sceptre of wickedness over God's people. Allen thought the situation existed in the times of post-exilic Judaism when Israel was under foreign domination for centuries,[3] but this view overlooks the fact that the wickedness rebuked in this verse is to be terminated soon, before the righteous become discouraged and turn aside to iniquity. That simply did not occur in post-exilic Judaism. Racial Israel continued to be dominated by wicked Gentile rulers up until the times of Christ.

Briggs has made the only proposal that recognizes this implication of a speedy reversal of the wicked rule, stating that, "This must have been written during the mild rule of Egyptian monarchs some time before the Syrian oppression."[4]

An alternative meaning was suggested by Barnes, namely, that, "God will not deal with the righteous as he deals with the wicked. God will not give his people prosperity as he does the wicked; but the righteous will be afflicted, and placed in such circumstances that will prevent their putting forth their hands to iniquity."[5] We do not understand Barnes' basis for this commentary; nevertheless, the essential truth of what he says here is admitted.

See the comment of McCullough under Psalms 125:5, below, for what seems to this writer the most acceptable understanding of this somewhat ambiguous passage.

Verse 4

"Do good, O Jehovah, unto those that are good,

And to them that are upright in their hearts.

But as for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways,

Jehovah will lead them forth with the workers of iniquity.

Peace be upon Israel."

The implication here is that not all of Israel are "good." McCullough has this comment.

"In this psalm there are two groups of people. On the one hand, there are those who trust in the Lord, those who put their trust in the Lord, and who call themselves `the righteous,' `those who are good' and `those who are upright in their hearts.' On the other hand, there are those who are connoted by scepter of wickedness, and along with these, there are, `those who turn aside unto their crooked ways.' Apparently these latter are renegade Jews who have associated themselves with some kind of godlessness."[6]

This is by far the most helpful comment we have located on this psalm. By understanding `scepter of wickedness,' not as a reference to some king of Israel but as an idiomatic expression simply referring to renegade Jews, the whole psalm makes sense. Otherwise, there continues to remain some ambiguity regarding the meaning of Psalms 125:3.

The reason why this expression was used was also explained by McCullough. Those renegade Jews had joined themselves with some kind of foreign, or pagan, ruling class, suggesting the term "scepter of wickedness."

"Peace be upon Israel" (Psalms 125:5). "The psalm ends with this liturgical prayer for Israel's peace."[7]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 125". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.