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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 123

Psalms 123

The Psalm falls into two strophes, each of two verses, expressions of desire after God and his aid, Psalms 123:1-2, prayer for this after the description of the distress forming the basis on which the prayer rests, Psalms 123:3-4. A characteristic feature of the Pilgrim Songs is, that petition throughout occupies a very small space (here the mere “have mercy on us”), and that meditation everywhere prevails. Prayer-songs, properly so called, would have been too far removed from the character of popular songs. Prayer-songs are only suitable to the sanctuary.

The Psalm is entirely suitable to the circumstances more fully narrated in Psalms 120. [Note: The title in the Syriac translation is: “It is spoken in the person of Zerubbabel, prince of the captives;” and is a supplicatory address.] We are led to these circumstances by the consideration that the Psalm was not composed in a state of danger, but in a condition of misery and wretchedness, which, by its contract with the pretensions of being the people of God, gave occasion to the contempt and mockery of the enemies. The whole surrounding heathen nations are to be considered as the authors of this contempt, but especially the Samaritans favoured by the Persian government, of whom it is said in Nehemiah 2:19, as in Psalms 123:4, “they laughed us to scorn and despised us” (comp. also Nehemiah 1:3), so that the assertion of De Wette, that the Psalm does not suit the hostility of the Samaritans, as the Jews suffered from them hindrance and annoyance, but not contempt, is altogether without foundation.

The striking agreement of the beginning with Psalms 121:1 points to the identity of the author.

The Psalm begins in the singular ( I direct), but the plural, which immediately follows, shows that it is not an individual that speaks, but, in accordance with the common style of the Pilgrim Songs, the congregation of the Lord.

Calvin, in appropriate language, shows the application of the Psalm to the church of all ages: “The Holy Ghost, by a clear voice, incites us to come to God as often as not one and another member only, but the whole church, is unjustly and haughtily oppressed by the passions of her enemies.

Verses 1-2

Ver. 1-2.

A Song of the Pilgrimages.

Ver. l. To thee I direct my eyes, O Thou who sittest in heaven. Ver. 2. Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their lords, as the eyes of the handmaid look to the hand of her mistress, thus our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he be gracious to us.

Thou who dwellest in heaven, Psalms 123:1,—far exalted above the earth and all its potentates, omnipotent, infinitely rich in aid for thy people; comp. Psalms 115:3, “Our God is in heaven, he does whatever he will,” and the parallel passages quoted there. On the parag. Jod, at Psalms 103:3. [Note: Luther: “This is a strong sigh of a pained heart, which looks round on all sides, and seeks friends, protectors, and comforters, but can find none. Therefore it says, Where shall I, a poor, despised man, find refuge? I am not so strong as to be able to preserve myself, wisdom and plans fail me among the multitude of adversaries who assault me; therefore, I come to thee, O my God, to thee I lift up my eyes, O thou that dwellest in heaven.

He places over against each other the Inhabitant of Leaven and the inhabitants of earth, and reminds himself that, though the world be high and powerful, God is higher still. What shouldest thou do then, when the world despises and insults thee? Turn thine eyes thither, and see that God, with his beloved angels and his elect, looks down upon thee, rejoices in thee, and loves thee.”]

That the אדנים in Psalms 123:2, does not denote, as it sometimes does in other passages, individual lords (the plural is instead of abstract dominion), is clear from the mention of the servants as distinct from the handmaid; it occurs in the sense of masters also in Jeremiah 27:4. The hand of the masters and of the mistress can only mean the punishing hand; and the eyes are directed to it in the attitude of entreaty and supplication that the punishment may soon come to an end, and pity be shown to the miserable. This is evident, 1. From the passage from which this figurative expression originated. This is, Genesis 16, comp. Genesis 16:6: “And Abraham said to Sarai, Behold thine handmaid is in thine hand, do to her what seemeth good to thee, and Sarai evil entreated her, and she fled from her. . . . Genesis 16:8. . . . I flee from Sarai my mistress. Genesis 16:9. And the angel of the Lord said to her, Return to thy mistress, and humble thyself under her hands.” 2. From the expression her mistress. If the language referred to friendly gifts and grants, the term used would not denote a severe mistress. From the expression, “till he be gracious to us.” This clause leads us to regard the masters and the mistress as not gracious. Now the hand of ungracious dominion can only be a punishing hand. From such a hand it is not gifts, but only an amelioration of punishment, that may be expected. These reasons are decisive against the idea of several expositors that the hand is the hand bestowing gifts, as it is at Psalms 145:15-16; Psalms 104:27-28. The same remark applies to the view taken by Calvin and others, who explain the looking to the hand as a seeking of protection; the mention of the relation of the handmaid to the mistress is also against this. The passage paints in a striking manner the right position of those who sigh under the judgments of God. They do not rage and murmur, because they know that they suffer what they deserve; but they humble themselves, according to the exhortation of the angel to Hagar, under the hand which afflicts them, and only entreat that they may receive favour instead of justice.

Verses 3-4

Ver. 3. Be gracious to us, O Lord, be gracious to us, for we are very much filled with contempt. Ver. 4. Our soul was exceedingly filled with the contempt of those at ease, the scorning of the proud.

On the רבת , in Psalms 123:4, comp. Psalms 120:6. The irregularity, that the לעג is marked in a double manner by the art. and the stat. constr. (comp. Ew. § 290), is relieved as soon as we conceive of a comma being placed after it: the contempt of the secure. At the גאיונים it is avoided by the insertion of the ל which limits the stat. constr. The reading in the text is to be pointed גַ אֲ יוֹ נִ ם . The Masorites who suspected the uncommon form divided the word, and read גאי יונים , the proud ones of the oppressors. [Note: Calvin: But because we see that the church of God, long ago, has been covered with reproach, and pointed at by the finger of scorn, there is no reason why the contempt of the world should terrify us, or why the wicked should weaken our faith, while they attack us with their words, nay, cut us with their reproaches.]

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 123". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-123.html.