Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 125

Verses 1-5

Psalms 125:1-5

THE references to the topography of Jerusalem in Psalms 125:1-2 do not absolutely require, though they recommend, the supposition, already mentioned. that this psalm completes a triad which covers the experience of the restored Israel from the time just prior to its deliverance up till the period of its return to Jerusalem. The strength of the city perched on its rocky peninsula, and surrounded by guardian heights, would be the more impressive to eyes accustomed to the plains of Babylon, where the only defence of cities was artificial. If this hypothesis as to the date of the psalm is accepted, its allusions to a foreign domination and to halfhearted members of the community, as distinguished from manifest workers of evil, fall in with the facts of the period. The little band of faithful men was surrounded by foes, and there were faint hearts among themselves, ready to temporise and "run with the hare," as well as "hunt with the hounds." In view of deliverance accomplished and of perils still to be faced, the psalmist sings this strong brief song of commendation of the excellence of Trust, anticipates as already fulfilled the complete emancipation of the land from alien rule, and proclaims, partly in prayer and partly in prediction, the great law of retribution-certain blessedness for those who are good, and destruction for the faithless.

The first of the two grand images in Psalms 125:1-2, sets forth the stability of those who trust in Jehovah. The psalmist pictures Mount Zion somewhat singularly as "sitting steadfast," whereas the usual expression would be "stands firm." But the former conveys still more forcibly the image and impression of calm effortless immobility. Like some great animal couched at ease, the mountain lies there, in restful strength. Nothing can shake it, except One Presence, before which the hills "skip like young rams." Thus quietly steadfast and lapped in repose, not to be disturbed by any external force, should they be who trust in Jehovah, and shall be in the measure of their trust.

But trust could not bring such steadfastness, unless the other figure in Psalms 125:2 represented a fact. The steadfastness of the trustful soul is the consequence of the encircling defence of Jehovah’s power. The mountain fortress is girdled by mountains; not, indeed, as if it was ringed about by an unbroken circle of manifestly higher peaks; but still Olivet rises above Zion on the east, and a spur of higher ground runs out thence and overlooks it on the north, while the levels rise to the west, and the so called Hill of Evil Counsel is on the south. They are not conspicuous summits, but they hide the city from those approaching, till their tops are reached. Perhaps the very inconspicuousness of these yet real defences suggested to the poet the invisible protection which to purblind eyes looked so poor, but was so valid. The hills of Bashan might look scornfully across Jordan to the humble heights round Jerusalem; but they were enough to guard the city. The psalmist uses no words of comparison, but lays his two facts side by side: the mountains round Jerusalem-Jehovah round His people. That circumvallation is their defence. They who have the everlasting hills for their bulwark need not trouble themselves to build a wall such as Babylon needed. Man’s artifices for protection are impertinent when God flings His hand round His people. Zechariah, the prophet of the Restoration, drew that conclusion from the same thought, when he declared that Jerusalem should be "inhabited as villages without walls," because Jehovah would be "unto her a wall of fire round about". [Zechariah 2:4-5]

Psalms 125:3 seems at first sight to be appended to the preceding in defiance of logical connection, for its "for" would more naturally have been "therefore," since the deliverance of the land from foreign invaders is a consequence of Jehovah’s protection. But the psalmist’s faith is so strong that he regards that still further deliverance as already accomplished, and adduces it as a confirmation of the fact that Jehovah ever guards His people. In the immediate historical reference this verse points to a period when the lot of the righteous-i.e., the land of Israel-was, as it were, weighed down by the crushing sceptre of some alien power that had long lain on it. But the psalmist is sure that that is not going to last, because his eyes are lifted to the hills whence his aid comes. With like tenacity and longsightedness, Faith ever looks onward to the abolition of present evils, however stringent may be their grip, and however heavy may be the sceptre which Evil in possession of the heritage of God wields. The rod of the oppressor shall be broken, and one more proof given that they dwell safely who dwell encircled by God.

The domination of evil, if protracted too long, may tempt good men, who are righteous because they trust, to lose their faith and so to lose their righteousness, and make common cause with apparently triumphant iniquity. It needs Divine wisdom to determine how long a trial must last in order that it may test faith, thereby strengthening it, and may not confound faith, thereby precipitating feeble souls into sin. He knows when to say, "It is enough."

So the psalm ends with prayer and prediction, which both spring from the insight into Jehovah’s purposes which trust gives. The singer asks that the good may receive good, in accordance with the law of retribution. The expressions describing these are very noticeable, especially when connected with the designation of the same persons in Psalms 125:1 as those who trust in Jehovah. Trust makes righteous and good and upright in heart. If these characteristics are to be distinguished, righteous may refer to action in conformity with the law of God, good to the more gentle and beneficent virtues, and upright in heart to inward sincerity. Such persons will get "good" from Jehovah, the God of recompenses, and that good will be as various as their necessities and as wide as their capacities. But the righteous Protector of those who trust in Him is so, partly because He smites as well as blesses, and therefore the other half of the law of retribution comes into view, not as a petition, but as prediction. The psalmist uses a vivid image to describe half-hearted adherents to the people of Jehovah: "they bend their ways," so as to make them crooked. Sometimes the tortuous path points towards one direction, and then it swerves to almost the opposite. "Those crooked, wandering ways," in which irresolute men, who do not clearly know whether they are for Jehovah or for the other side, live lives miserable from vacillation, can never lead to steadfastness or to any good. The psalmist has taken his side. He knows whom he is for; and he knows, too, that there is at bottom little to choose between the coward who would fain be in both camps and the open antagonist. Therefore they shall share the same fate.

Finally the poet, stretching out his hands over all Israel, as if blessing them like a priest, embraces all his hopes, petitions, and wishes in the one prayer "Peace be upon Israel!" He means the true Israel of God, [Galatians 6:16] upon whom the Apostle, with a reminiscence possibly of this psalm, invokes the like blessing, and whom he defines in the same spirit as the psalmist does, as those who walk according to this rule, and not according to the crooked paths of their own devising.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 125". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".