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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 120



Verse 1

1. Distress… cried… heard—This serial formtrouble, prayer, and answerwas common for David, and his faith in God touching the answer, gathered from past experience, was the ground of all his hope.

Verse 2

2. Lying lips… deceitful tongue—The source of his present trouble, and more terrible than weapons of war.

Verse 3

3. What shall be given… thee—It is more natural and consistent to take this grammatically obscure verse as an address to the tongue of guile: “What shall be given thee?” or rather, “What shall he [God] give to thee?” that is, as a punishment. The question is put sarcastically, and the anticipated answer is brought out in the next verse.

Verse 4

4. Sharp arrows of the mighty—The retributions of God shall pierce the soul as the sharpened arrows of the warrior penetrate the flesh.

Coals of juniper—The רתם, (rothem,) answering to the Arabic retem, improperly translated “juniper,” is the broom tree, a notable shrub in Arabia Petrea. Thus Robinson: “One of the principal shrubs we met with is the retem, a species of broom plant, Genista roetam of Forskal. This is the largest and most conspicuous shrub of these deserts, growing thickly in the water courses and valleys.” So Burckhardt: “We here [in the peninsula of Mount Sinai] found several Bedouins occupied in collecting brushwood, which they burn into charcoal for the Cairo market. They prefer for this the thick roots of the shrub rothem, which grows here in abundance.” “The roots,” says Robinson, “are very bitter, and are regarded by the Arabs as yielding the best charcoal.” See Job 30:4, where, instead of meat, read sustenance, support. They followed charting the rothem as a livelihood referred to as a poor business. This shrub also is used by the Arabs as a shelter by day and night, though a frail one. 1 Kings 19:4-5. The intense heat of this charcoal, and the proverbial length of time that it holds fire, render it a fit emblem of severe punishment.

Verse 5

5. Mesech… Kedar—The Septuagint and Vulgate, following the radical sense of the word, render “Mesech” by prolonged: “Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged.” But the word is to be taken as a proper name, the patronymic of a people descended from Meshech, son of Japheth, (Genesis 10:2,) and known in history as the Moschi, dwelling near the southeastern shore of the Black Sea, north of Armenia. Later, they penetrated southward into Cappadocia, (Jos. Ant. b. i, c. 6, § 1,) and northward beyond the Caucasian mountains, and probably reappear in Europe under the name of Muscovites. They commonly stand associated with the Tibareni, (from Tubal, Genesis 10:2,) as in Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 32:26; Ezekiel 38:2-3. (Herod., b. vii, c. 78.) In our psalm the name “Mesech,” or Meshech, is a synonyme for northern barbarians, as “Kedar,” (son of Ishmael, Genesis 25:13,) was for Ishmaelites, or southern barbarians. On “Kedar,” as the common title for northern Arabians, see Song of Solomon 1:5; Isaiah 21:13; Isaiah 21:16-17; Ezekiel 27:21. Meshech and Magog had to the Hebrews the same proverbial sense of unsubdued barbarians that Scythian had to the Greeks; and it was but a natural association with “Kedar” in the mind of David, dwelling, as he now was, among these wild desert robbers. See, on his place of abode, 1 Samuel 25:1

Verse 6

6. My soul hath long dwelt—Literally, Much has dwelt my soul with herself, with, or near, him that hateth peace. The want of companionshipcongeniality with those about himcompelled the psalmist inwardly to a life of introspection, self-communion, and solitude.

Verse 7

7. I am for peace—Hebrew, I peace. I am all peace. See this same form Psalms 109:4.

When I speak, they are for war—My pacific words are construed into strategic decoys. They are so full of war and treachery that they are wholly incapable of friendly conference. The contrast between the psalmist and his enemies is only an example of the eternal dissonance between the spirit of Christ and the spirit of the world. It is worthy of remark that lying, deceit, robbery, and hostility to strangers are characteristic vices of the Arabs to this day. It may further be noticed, that David’s residence in Paran closes the bitterest part of his wandering life during the persecutions of King Saul. Thenceforward a milder light beamed on his fortunes.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 120:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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