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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 123

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-4

Psalms 123:0

A Song of degrees

          Unto thee lift I up mine eyes,
O thou that dwellest in the heavens.

2     Behold, as the eyes of servants

Look unto the hand of their masters,

And as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress;

So our eyes wait upon the Lord our God,

Until that he have mercy upon us.

3     Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us:

For we are exceedingly filled with contempt.

4     Our soul is exceedingly filled

With the scorning of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.


Contents and Composition.—The situation in which the poet was placed may be compared with Nehemiah 2:19. From this situation an ardent prayer for a manifestation of the Divine mercy arises, with an upward look of faith to that God, who is exalted above all the world, and is its Sovereign. “This is a heavy sigh from an anguish-stricken heart, which looks all around and seeks friends, protectors, and comforters, but can find none. Therefore it says: where shall I find refuge, poor, despised man that I am? I am not strong enough to defend myself; wisdom and counsel fail me amidst the multitude of the onsets of my enemies; therefore come I to Thee, O my God; unto Thee do I lift up mine eyes, O Thou that dwellest in the heavens!” (Luther). The Psalmist declares, first, in the singular number, what he does personally, but immediately thereafter he employs the plural, as a member and representative of a large community.

[The circumstances described in Nehemiah 2:12 ff. are generally accepted as the situation of the writer of the Psalm. The following is the view of Perowne: “The Psalm is either the sigh of an exile, towards the close of the captivity, looking in faith and patience for the deliverance, which he had reason to hope was now nigh at hand, or it is the sigh of those who, having already returned to their native land, were still exposed to the scorn and contempt of the Samaritans and others, who, favored by the Persian Government, took every opportunity of harassing and insulting the Jews, comp. Nehemiah 2:19 with Psalms 123:4.” Delitzsch thinks that it is possibly a Maccabean Psalm, in which case the last word of the poem might allude “to the despotic rule of the יְוָנִים” (Ionians, sons of Javan, the Western nations generally). With reference to the character of the psalm, he quotes the beautiful expression of Alsted (died 1633), who styles it, oculus sperans, the eye of hope—J. F .M]..

[Ver.1b, should perhaps be rendered: Oh, Thou that sittest in the heavens!: that is, God is addressed as one who is enthroned as king, and who can therefore be appealed to for sovereign aid. This also supports the exposition of Psalms 123:2, defended below.—J. F. M.].

Psalms 123:2. Upon the hand of their masters. The look is probably not directed to the punishing hand, which administers deserved chastisement, Genesis 16:6 f. (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Ewald, Hengst.), or to the hand giving the sign for the punishment to cease (Rosenmüller). It would be better to regard it as the hand that scatters blessings, affords protection and sustenance, Psalms 104:27 f.; Psalms 145:15 f. (Chald., Calv., Geier, J. H. Mich., Köster, et al.). But perhaps the most correct interpretation is that which is based upon the relation of dependence, so distinctly expressed, and understands the hand which controls the household, the disposing hand, to be referred to, from which the dependants have to expect confidently the supply of all their needs, (De Wette, Hupf., Del.). [Delitzsch: “The Israelites are Jehovah’s servants, the Church of Israel is Jehovah’s handmaid. In His hand lies her future destiny. He will at last have compassion on His Own. Therefore is her longing unwearied gaze cast upwards to Him, until He shall remove her oppression.”—J. F. M.].

Psalms 123:4. The idea of presumption is proper to the word שַׁאֲנָן. (=secure). [E. V.: who live at ease, which is the first signification of the word. J. F. M.]. It is here parallel to גאיּונים, which the Masorites reckon among the fifteen which are written as one word, but to be read as two. According to this the translation would be: of the pride of the oppressors. But it has been already explained by Aben Ezra and Kimchi as an adjective form, occurring only in this passage.


When we are in trouble upon earth, it is our comfort, that we have in heaven a God, into whose controlling hand we can commit all our cares.—If we are to act as servants of the Almighty, we must not merely raise our eyes to heaven: we must also yield our hearts to Him.—Servants of God must learn to endure contempt and scorn from the children of the world; out for this they have need of the faith and patience of the saints.—God’s hand of mercy and our hand of faith are put forth simultaneously.

Starke: All believers are looking up to heaven; and their Father in heaven is looking down. And thus neither faithfulness nor love grows less on either side until they meet.—That faith, which looks untiringly upon God, is something great and powerful, which is not to be found by the way, but must be gained by prayer and supplication.—He who, for the sake of Christ and God, can bear and suffer faithfully ridicule and contempt, has made great progress in one element of true religion.—Frisch; God regards those who are faithful and obedient. But I would that faithful servants and handmaids would regard the Lord who is over all.—Rieger: My faith waits for the Lord, and for what comforting deeds He shall do for me and display before me.–Richter: Unbelief first despises and then ridicules, and after despite and ridicule comes persecution.—Tholuck: As long as we look to human hands, hope and fear must alternate, but when those who dare to trust a merciful God, look only to His hands, assurance abides with them.—Guenther: No man can give, unless God previously fills and opens his hands.—Taube: After men have looked towards God, they run towards Him, and then they cannot be put to shame.

[Matt. Henry: The eyes of a servant are, (1) to his master’s directing hand, (2) to his supplying hand, (3) to his assisting hand, (4) to his protecting hand, (5) to his correcting hand, (6) to his rewarding hand.—Scott: Contempt is very hard to bear; but the servants of God should not complain, if they are treated as His beloved Son was.—Bp. Horne: Under the law of Moses, a master was to demand satisfaction, and to have it made him, for any hurt done to his servants. And shall not the best of masters avenge the wrongs done to those that serve Him?—Barnes: The Church has performed its duty better in the furnace of persecution, than it has in the gay scenes of the world.—J. F. M.].

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 123". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-123.html. 1857-84.
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