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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 123

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-4

Psalms 123:1-4

Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes.

The prayer of the eyes

The prayer of the eyes. Have you never seen it in the eyes of patient poverty, of distress, of oppression, of the sick child? This prayer recognizes God’s glory (verse 1) and God’s graciousness (verse 3). It is the prayer of silence, of deference, of reverence, of trustfulness. It is beseeching, waiting, observant prayer. All this is implied in verses 1, 2. It is the prayers of eyes that watch carefully the signs of “the hands” of the King.

That watch for His directing hand.

1. In things temporal.

2. To spiritual service.

That watch for His delivering and vindicating hand. He will avenge His people for the sorrow produced by the “scorn of easeful souls,” and by the “spite of the proud” (verse 4). No law acts more surely than the law of retribution.

That watch for His supplying hand. What ministers wait on maul Even God becomes man’s minister; and employs all natural forces and all angelic beings, and all the agencies of grace on man’s behalf.

That watch for His correcting hand. The contempt and scorn of the enemy are often His discipline, bitter disciplines that “exceedingly fill” the soul of the humble people of God with shame and grief. But eyes of prayer look beyond the disciplines to the glory which they forecast, and are patient.

That watch for His rewarding hand. Alsted has called this psalm “The Eye of Hope.” And an upward glancing expectant hopefulness is the very spirit of it. The prayer of the eyes is the prayer of expectation; and the vision of the King shall yet broaden into the vision of the inheritance which awaits His true people, who now have few friends and comforters. (R. Corlett Cowell.)

The devout suffering soul

The attitude of a devout soul.

1. Up-looking (verse 1). Physically, man is the only being on earth upon whom the Creator has conferred an erect countenance, as if his very physical formation were intended to teach him that his eyes should be raised towards the skies, and that he should hold intercourse with Him who dwells in heaven. Other animals look down upon the ground, their faces are bent towards the earth. Man is God-like, erect, with native honour clad. The heathen themselves recognized this seal of divinity on the brow of man, and, in the beautiful language of the Greek, the word “man” describes him as a being whose honour it is to look up. But mentally so conscious are we of dependence on God, that even the worst of men are forced at times to look up to Him in the heavens. “From Him alone cometh our help.” This is the regular attitude of a devout soul, looking up to the Infinite. Is there a more sublime mood of being than this? The millions are looking down to worldly things and worldly pleasures, and the highest objects on which most look are the little social magnates of the hour. But the true soul looks up to the Infinite Father.

2. Up-looking for a practical purpose (verse 2). The hand is the symbol of power, by the slave’s eyes being turned towards his master’s hand is meant that he watches carefully for the least intimation of his will. Or the hand may be taken as the instrument of giving, and the reference may be to the slave’s absolute dependence on his master. Or it may be the chastising hand that is meant: as the slave looks with entreaty to his master’s deprecating punishment (Isaiah 9:13), so the psalmist’s eyes are turned wistfully to God, until He have pity. The tone of the psalm, however, indicates hopeful trust rather than humble submission. The future of His people is entirely in His hands: He will be sure some day to have mercy on His own.

The need of a suffering soul (verse 3). Some suggest the circumstances narrated in Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:1-5, as suitable to the composition of this psalm: others prefer the times of persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes: others, again, suggest, on the grounds of similarity of language, common authorship with Psalms 120:1-7. What is the need of a suffering soul? Mercy--to calm, succour, strengthen, guide, and deliver. IV conclusion:--.This psalm is a lesson of meekness. When we ere fancying ourselves scorned or forgotten, what have we to do but to look up to God and entreat His favour? It is pity for ourselves, and not vengeance on our foes, that we should seek. At the same time, we must be ready to obey like slaves waiting for some token of their master’s will. (Homilist.)

The habit of looking upward

Dr. Culross told of a Spanish fable about a family that had nothing very remarkable about them, but there was this which seemed to signalize them from other families in the neighbourhood--every member of the family had a peculiar habit of looking upward. They became scattered in the course of years, hut wherever one of them went, somehow or other they were always known by their neighbours and friends by this one peculiar habit. That is a very good family to belong to, and I trust that all here to-night do belong to it, and live looking upward. You know that story about Michael Angelo. He was so accustomed to look up at the fresco ceilings of the various churches and cathedrals upon which he worked, that he actually got into the habit of looking up. His head seemed to get that peculiar direction given to it, so that even when he was walking along the streets of Rome, there he was, looking upward. Let us remember, then, this first thing that we are called upon to do in the motto--“Look up, not down.” (J. S. Poulton.)

Verse 2

Psalms 123:2

Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters.

Watchful eyes

The man of God, who wrote this psalm, had been taught to look to God in a very remarkable manner, and I call your attention to it, in the hope that many of you will do likewise.

1. His eyes were reverentially fixed upon the Lord. He looked to God’s hand, wherever it was, with deep reverence: “as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters.” Travellers tell us that, when they go into the house of a wealthy person in the East, the master will give certain signs to his slaves, and refreshments are brought in; but, except when they are called, the servants stand at a distance, watching for the slightest motion of their master’s hands; they do not have the liberties that we happily accord to our servants; but they are just nothing and nobody, mere tools for their master to use as he pleases. And, as to the maidens, I have heard that the women in the East have a harder time of it with their mistresses than the men do with their masters, and that the lady of the house is a more severe taskmaster than her husband is. So the maidens watch their mistresses very carefully, for they are sorely afraid of them, and they look with great care and fear to see what “Madam” would have them do. Now, casting aside everything of human fear out of the figure, this is the way in which we ought to look to God.

2. The truly sanctified man looks to God’s hands with obedience as well as with reverence. Orientals, as a general rule, speak far less than we do, except when they sit around the fire, at eventide, and tell their tales. But an Eastern master seldom speaks. A gentleman went, some time ago, into an Eastern house, and as soon as ever he entered, the master waved his hand, and the servants brought in sherbet. He waved his hand again, and they brought dried fruits; then he moved his hands in a different way, and they begun to spread the table; and, all the time, not a word was spoken, but they perfectly understood the motion of his hand. They had to look sharply to see how the master moved his hand, so that they might do what that meson meant. We have not very much of that dumb action amongst us; but, on board a steamboat, you may see the captain moving his hands this way or that, and the call-boy is ready at once to pass the word down to those who are in charge of the engine. That is just how the child of God should watch the hand of God, in the Bible, and in providence, so as to do at once whatever he plainly perceives to be his Lord’s will.

3. Then, also, our eyes should be absolutely fixed upon our Lord. The eyes of servants ought to be so directed to their masters that they not only see the sign, but obey it, whatever it means. It may be a very little thing, but yet the little thing should not be neglected. The smaller the matter is, the more careful we should be to attend to it, if it would please the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not be so clever, you servants who fancy that you know better than your Master, for perhaps He may find somebody else to be His servant if you behave like that. Suppose I was starting on a journey, early in the morning, and I said to my servant, “I should like a cup of coffee before I start,” and suppose that, when I came down, she brought me a glass of cold water, I should ask her, “Why did you do that?” If she should reply, “Oh, sir, I thought that the water would be better for you than coffee!” I should say, “Well, I am very much obliged to you for thinking of me in that considerate way; but I shall have to engage another servant who does what she is told.” So I advise you not to alter or judge God’s Word, but obey it.

4. Our eyes are to be turned to the Lord solely. The Eastern servant is not allowed to think; it is no business of his to have his eyes upon his master’s guests; they are to be fixed upon his master. And the maiden does not think it to be her business to watch the movements of the hand of the lady who calls to see her mistress; her eyes are to be on the hands of her mistress. She does not dare to take them off, for, perhaps, just when she is looking out of the window, or gazing in curiosity at some object, her mistress may be waving her hand, and she may not see it; and then there will be a serious scolding and possibly something worse when the mistress gets her alone. So you and I must not take our eyes off our God at any time; but His way, and His will must be our sole law; and for this we must live, that we may please Him whose servants we are, for has He not bought us with His precious blood? So we are not our own, we are “bought with a price.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Until that He have mercy upon us.--

Perseverance in waiting God’s time

A single glance will sometimes gain the blessing, as a single stroke will sometimes gain the battle. But this cannot always be calculated upon. The blessing sought for is sometimes delayed, as a trial of our faith. The blessing itself, much as we prize it, may be of less importance than the discipline, through which alone it is to be obtained. And hence a test is sometimes applied to believers, whether they can cling to God, and continue instant in prayer, even when lie seems to turn His back upon them, and pay no heed to the voice of their supplication. This appears almost an invariable principle in the Divine government. At times the Church is reduced to a very low condition, and religion has lost its vitality and power. A feeling of utter helplessness is produced, and fervent prayers are offered up, that the Lord would arise and have mercy upon Zion. And He regards the prayer of the destitute, and does not despise their prayer. He is raised up out of His holy habitation; He appears in his glory; the mountains tremble before Him; and large numbers are brought to a knowledge of the truth. Is not this the history of the Church, as recorded in the Sacred Volume? Is not this the history of the Church, since the canon of Scripture was completed? Is not this the history of modern missions? Bring the Church to a thorough conviction that none but the Holy Ghost can convince, subdue, and save the human soul, and revivals of religion take place as a necessary consequence. (N. McMichael.)

Verse 4

Psalms 123:4

Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scorning of those that are at ease.

Man disregarding man

Man’s disregard for man explains the social sorrows of the world. Were all men lovingly interested in each other, would there be pauperism, fraud, oppression, persecution, war, etc.?

Man’s disregard for man reveals the moral apostasy of mankind. The constitution of the soul, with its moral sense and social sympathies, as well as the Bible, assure us that man was made to love his brother, that no man should seek his own supremely, but each another’s weal. Sin has broken the social bond, shattered the social temple, unstrung the social harp.

Man’s disregard for man proves the world’s need of a Redeemer. If men do not care for men, who is to help the world? There is only One who can do it, and that is Christ. He came for this purpose, He came to redeem men from all iniquity. (Homilist.)

Antagonism against God’s people

The quarrel is very old, and easily explained. It is the antagonism between darkness and light, between sin and holiness, between Satan and Christ, between hell and heaven. And though it may not be pleasant to be mocked and calumniated by these men, what a humiliation it would be to receive their praise! How low would you sink in your own esteem, were they to make flattering speeches, and tell you that you had done famously! That is a patronage from which one would instinctively recoil. Be thankful that they can use no other weapons than calumny and contempt. The Jews had to contend at the same time with open violence. Were their power equal to their will, they would deprive you of your civil rights, they would confiscate your property, they would confine you in dungeons, they would burn you at the stake. In Athens, they would have condemned Socrates, the greatest and best philosopher of antiquity, to drink the cup of hemlock; and they would have banished Aristides, because they were tired of hearing every one call him Aristides the Just. In Jerusalem, they would have goaded on the senseless rabble, and swelled the ferocious shout, “Not this man, but Barabbas.” In St. Andrews, they would have sat at the castle windows, and feasted their eyes when good Patrick Hamilton was consuming in the flames, and they, would have gone in afterwards, and dined with an unimpeachable appetite. In slave countries, they would tar and feather the missionaries, who proclaim to the degraded negroes the unsearchable riches of Christ. The same satanic spirit still reigns; and can we be too grateful that these enemies of the Cross are kept in chains! We live in a land of civil and religious freedom; and they cannot go beyond the boundaries of misrepresentation and scorn. They may show their teeth and growl, but they cannot bite. They may curse you, but they cannot lay a finger upon you. (N. McMichael.)


Psalms 124:1-8

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 123". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-123.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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