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David prayeth against Doeg, and reproveth his tongue. He complaineth of his necessary conversation with the wicked.
A Song of Degrees.
Title. המעלות שׁיר Shiir hammangaloth. A song of degrees] Or ascent: It is very uncertain why this title is prefixed to this and the following psalms. The more general opinion seems to be that of those who conjecture that they were so called, because, after the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, they were sung by the Levites as they went up the stairs or steps of the temple. See Ezekiel 40:0. Others, however, think that this title refers to some gradual rise or exaltation of the voice in singing: Others render the words by "A song of excellencies;" supposing the words to express the excellence of the composition; and Mr. Fenwick, agreeably to his plan, understands them to be, "Songs for ascending or aspiring souls." The reader will find a dissertation on the subject prefixed by Calmet to his commentary on this psalm. As far as one may guess from the general import of the psalms which have this title, says Mr. Mudge, they mean psalms sung upon the occasion of the Jews coming up from the country, as they did three times a year, to pay their devotions at Jerusalem. Thus the reader sees what different sentiments there are upon the subject; and the truth of the matter seems to be, that, as neither the author nor the occasion of these psalms can be determinately fixed, so it is impossible to say what is the exact meaning of the title. The English argument asserts, that the psalm is a prayer of David against Doeg, when his calamities reduced him to the necessity of taking refuge in the country of the Arabians, expressed in the fifth verse by the tents of Kedar. The Syriac title intimates, that it was a prayer used by the Jews during their captivity in Babylon. Both these opinions may be reconciled, by supposing that, though the psalm was originally composed by David on account of the calumnies of Doeg, yet it was so well adapted to the situation of the captive Jews, that they made use of it as descriptive of the distress which they groaned under in Babylon.
Psalms 120:4. Sharp arrows of the mighty— Sharp arrows of the mighty [shot] from coals of juniper. Hiller. Hierophut. 255. Hamm. "All the reward thou shalt meet with shall be a swift vengeance from the Almighty." This is metaphorically represented by sharp arrows, and burning coals of juniper; the wood of which tree is supposed to burn more intensely than any other.
Psalms 120:5. That I sojourn in Mesech, &c.— Woe is me that my sojourning is so long protracted, while I dwell in the tents of Kedar! Houb. and many other commentators. On the other hand, many learned men suppose ours to be the proper rendering: They observe that Mesech, in the Chaldee and Syriac language, signifies a skin, and is supposed to denote a place in Arabia; so called from the skins with which the Arabians covered their tents. The barbarous people, who lived in that part of the country, were termed Scenitae, because they continued in tents without houses. Kedar is the name of another place or territory in that part of Arabia; so called from Kedar, the son of Ishmael, (Genesis 25:13.) whose posterity dwelt in that country. This may either be understood literally of David, or metaphorically, of dwelling among people as much averse to peace as the wild Arabs, who live a life of rapine and plunder.
REFLECTIONS.—David was now an exile from his native country, flying from the malice of his enemies.
1. He complains of his sad estate, which in prayer he spreads before God. In my distress I cried unto the Lord; driven from his home, a stranger in a strange land; and, as his prayer imports, maligned, reproached, belied, betrayed. Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a deceitful tongue; not his own, for he abhorred the sin, but from others, such as Doeg's and Saul's courtiers', who by flattery, falsehood, and misrepresentation, sought his ruin. Thus was the innocent Lamb of God persecuted and reviled; and false witnesses laid to his charge things which he knew not of. Let it not seem a strange thing to us, if our characters, for his name's sake, suffer under the falsest and most cruel aspersions; the day of detection for lying lips will come.
2. He acknowledges God's kind attention to his prayer. He heard me, and disappointed the malice of his enemies; with him we may ever contentedly leave our case.
3. He foresees the miserable end of these men. What shall be given unto thee, or what will it give unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Did sinners for a moment consider the end of their ways, terrors would take hold of them; for their decreed portion is, Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper; the wrath of an Almighty God, sharper than arrows in the conscience, and scorching with fiercer and more enduring torment than coals of juniper. Note; The everlasting burnings are the defined place of abode for all who love or make a lie, Revelation 22:15.
4. He bemoans his present wretched abode. Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar? among whom he was forced to take refuge, or among rude and idolatrous nations, like these descendants of Ishmael; or even in the court of Saul, for he found his abode among the wicked courtiers there as irksome as if he had dwelt among the heathen. My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace; either with Saul, whom no kindness could bend to friendly thoughts of him, or those strangers among whom he sojourned, enemies to the God of peace, and to religion, the only true path of peace. I am for peace, or I peace; a man of peace, pursuing it by every means, ready to bear and forbear any thing for the sake of it, and, however offended, the first to seek reconciliation: but when I speak they are for war, reject every kind overture; and, implacable in their malice, fly to arms. Note; (1.) It is a grief to those who love God, to be removed from the public ordinances; and they cannot but sigh for the courts of the Lord's house. (2.) Bad company, into which by necessity we may be forced, is a burden to the gracious soul. (3.) Every man of God must be a man of peace; envy, dispute, and strife, are all from hell. (4.) Though others continue inveterate, that must not restrain us from the exercise of divine charity: this is truly godlike.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 120". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13