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While the chosen Israelites are going through spiritual exercises in connection with their return to Jerusalem, they are being scorned and mocked by their surroundings. Therefore they raise their eyes to the LORD for help. Three times this psalm makes it clear that the LORD will be gracious to them and come to their aid.
Prayer for Salvation
This is the fourth “Song of Ascents” (Psa 123:1). We hear in the poet the voice the chosen people of the tribes who are still outside the land. They are removed from the land, but their hearts are already in Jerusalem. They are still in the midst of their enemies. The last two verses of the psalm make it clear what their situation is: they are showered with scoffing and contempt. This drives them to prayer.
The psalmist’s prayer here is described as ‘the lifting up of one’s eyes to the LORD’. Using a poetic chiasm (mirror image), this is beautifully and strongly emphasized in the first two verses. It begins in Psa 123:1 with “to You I lift up my eyes” and ends in Psa 123:2 with “so our eyes [look] to the LORD our God”. What follows is the purpose of the prayer, which is until the LORD is gracious to them. That prayer the psalmist further expresses in Psa 123:3 and Psa 123:4.
Psa 123:1 begins with a personal prayer, “I”, and continues with “our” and “we”, plural. It is important and also precious that we have a personal prayer life, and that we also have a common and church prayer life (Mt 18:19).
They begin by personally saying to the LORD: “To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” He “enthrones” there on His throne, at peace, and reigns (Psa 103:19). Nothing on earth can disturb His rest and government. By seeking Him there and taking refuge with Him, they are going to share in His rest. They know that things are not out of His control and they expect Him to change their situation for the better. He may be in heaven, but they know that He is intimately involved in their circumstances.
In their looking to the LORD, there is an expectant longing for His acting (Psa 123:2). They compare themselves to “servants” whose eyes look “to the hand of their master” and to “a maid” whose eyes look “to the hand of her mistress”. As individual members of God’s people they are His servants and as a whole they are His maid.
They look to His hand, for it alone can bring salvation. Until then they wait patiently. They continue to look to Him “until He is gracious” to them. That they wait on the grace of the LORD involves the acknowledgment that they have been brought into these miserable circumstances by their own failures. They are not pleading their innocence. That they say “until” means that they trust that He will be gracious (cf. Isa 30:18). The only question is when He will be. Waiting is all they can do. They have no way to effect a change for the better.
They do not claim salvation, but they do make a pressing appeal to Him to be gracious to them by asking Him twice to do so (Psa 123:3). The contempt poured out on them has taken such forms that they are “greatly filled” by it. The limit of what they can bear has been far exceeded. They cannot bear any more contempt.
Their soul has suffered more than enough from “the scoffing of those who are at ease” and “the contempt of the proud” (Psa 123:4). They are oversaturated. For too long they have had to swallow the hateful and hurtful comments of their enemies. No more can be added. The remnant does not seek the favor of those enemies to get rid of the pressure that way, but turns to the LORD.
“Those who are at ease” are people who rely completely on their wealth and prosperity in their life, which means they don’t worry about anything (cf. Lk 12:16-21). These people shower them with scoffing. “The proud” place God out of their sight. They do not take God into account, for in their life they themselves take the place of God. These people look down on them with contempt.
Those who are at ease think they are secure in their power, which in their imagination will have no end. In their carelessness it does not occur to them that one day they will have to deal with God and that He will regard the scoffing of His people as being scoffed Himself. The proud are only after their own greatness and importance, that is all they believe in. God does not exist for them. Therefore, it would also be foolish for God’s people to seek their favor to free themselves from their scoffing and contempt.
Prophetically, the remnant will suffer the scoffing and contempt of a multitude of enemies for years. Those enemies are the antichrist or false king of Israel and his followers, the beast of the Roman Empire, the hostile king of the North and allies, Gog, or Great Russia. They are all powerful wicked people who are at ease.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 123". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12