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Psalms 120:1 « A Song of degrees. » In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.
A Song of degrees ] A most excellent song, Tremellius rendereth it; and so indeed this and the fourteen following are, both for the matter and for the form or manner of expression, which is wondrous short and sweet, as the very epigrams of the Holy Ghost himself, wherein each verse may well stand for an oracle. And in this sense Adam Hammahalah, or a man of degrees, is put for an eminent or excellent man, 1 Chronicles 17:17 . Others understand it otherwise; wherein they have good leave to abound in their own sense; since sine periculo hic erratur, an error here is not dangerous.
Ver. 1. In my distress I cried unto the Lord ] Oratio sine malis est, ut avis sine alis, Distress addeth wings to our devotions. Our Saviour, being in an agony, prayed more earnestly, Luke 22:44 . So do all his members, and especially when they lie under the lash of a lying tongue, as here, Psalms 120:2 . "Being defamed, we pray," saith Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:13 .
And he heard me ] "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," Jam 5:16 Zechariah 13:9 . He that prayeth ardently speedeth assuredly, Psalms 91:15 , and the unmiscarrying return of prayer should be carefully observed and thankfully improved, Psalms 66:20 .
Psa 120:2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, [and] from a deceitful tongue.
Ver. 2. Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips ] This was David’s distress, and it lay heavy upon his spirit; so it did upon Job’s, and Jeremiah’s, Jeremiah 20:10 ; the scourge of tongues he felt as sharp as scorpions. Of the mischief of an evil tongue see Jam 3:1-9 Psalms 52:2-4 Psalms 12:3 . See Trapp on " Psa 12:3 "
Psa 120:3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Ver. 3. What shall be given unto thee? &c. ] That is (as Austin senseth it), what remedy is there for thee? q.d. None at all. Contra sycophantarum morsum non est remedium, saith Seneca. But others better, what gain gettest thou what profit makest thou of thy lying and slandering? Hurt thou mayest another, but not help thyself. Thou art not like the maid whom Avicen speaketh of, who feeding herself with poison, was herself healthy, yet infected others with her venomous breath; but rather like the traitor of whom Augustus said, I like the treason, but hate the traitor. The slander is oft applauded when the slanderer is abhorred.
Or what shall be done unto thee, &c. ] Heb. added; Nihil praeter plagas durissimas, as Psalms 120:4 .
Thou false tongue? ] This he seemeth to say to Doeg, who is here called a false fellow and a liar, though he spake but the truth against the Lord’s priests, because not for any love to the truth, nor for respect of justice, nor of the bettering either of Saul or the priests, but only to prejudice these and to incense the other.
Psa 120:4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
Ver. 4. Sharp arrows of the mighty ] Arrows sharp, and shot with force. A false tongue is likened to a sharp razor, Psalms 52:4 ; to a sharp sword, Psalms 57:5 ; to sharp arrows, Proverbs 20:18 ; here it hath sharp for sharp: as God loveth to retaliate; and he is the giant, or mighty one here, that shooteth these sharpest shafts, that inflicteth most exquisite punishments on such; as once on Dives, whose tongue smoked for it, quia lingua plus peccaverat, as saith a Father, because he had so offended with the tongue.
With coals of juniper ] Which being a fat kind of wood, of gummy or salty matter, maketh a very scorching fire, and quick coals, such as last long, some say a month and more, and smell sweet ( Flamma redardescit quae mode nulla fuit. Theophrast., Plin.); lo, upon these coals will God broil lying lips and a deceitful tongue, pleasing himself and others in that execution.
Psa 120:5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, [that] I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
Ver. 5. Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech ] That is, in Muscovio, say some; in Hetruria, say others; in Cappadocia rather, Magog’s country, Ezekiel 38:2-3 ; anywhere out of the bosom of the true Church; or (as some sense it) in the Church, but among Israelites worse than any Ishmaelites or Pagans.
That I dwell in the tents of Kedar! ] With Kedarens or Saracens, as they were afterwards called. Among these David was in danger ne cum lupis ululando tandem et ipse ex ove lupus evaderet. Guilt or grief a good man is sure to get by being in bad company, which maketh him cry, "Oh that I had the wings of a dove," &c.; or if that "Oh" will not set him at liberty, then he taketh up this, "Woe is me," to express his misery. Pia vero est illa tristitia, et si dici potest beata miseria, vitis alienis tribulari, non implicari; dolere contrahi, amore non attrahi, saith Austin. It is hard and happy not to comply with ill company.
Psa 120:6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
Ver. 6. My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace ] With Saul, that implacable tyrant, and with other barbarous and brutish persons, skilful to destroy. The very society of such (be they never so tame and civil) is tedious and unsavoury to a good soul; like the slime and filth that is congealed when many toads and other vermin join together. Long, therefore, and too long seemeth it to a saint to sojourn with such. Lord (said a certain good woman upon her death bed, and doubting of her salvation), send me not to hell among the wicked, for thou knowest I never loved their company all my life long.
Psa 120:7 I [am for] peace: but when I speak, they [are] for war.
Ver. 7. I am for peace ] Heb. I am peace, or peaceable, as far as is possible, Romans 12:18 ; this was David’s motto, and must be every man’s study. But it is not peace, but party, that many men mind, Maxima pars studiorum est studium partium.
But when I speak, they are for war ] They cry the alarm, being beliosi et bellicosi; salamander like, they live in the fire of contention; scorpion like, they are always putting forth the sting. Their spirits lie like that haven, Acts 27:12 , towards the south-west and north-west, two opposite points; neither will they be otherwise, but the more they are sought to the worse they are. This is the guise of graceless persons.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 120". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13