Chapter 1: Psalm 120

Psalm 120  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Israel’s Distress.
1 In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me.
2 Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
7 I am for peace: but when 1 speak, they are for war.
AS is seen in many of the Psalms, the result of the exercises through which the soul has passed is first stated:
“In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me”; and then the character of the distress is described. According to the interpretation of these Psalms already given, this distress is that through which Israel will have to pass after their restoration. He that scattered Israel will, in His infallible faithfulness, gather him (Jer. 31:1010Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. (Jeremiah 31:10)); but there will be enemies still in existence at the commencement of the kingdom (see Jer. 51:20-2320Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; 21And with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider; 22With thee also will I break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid; 23I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers. (Jeremiah 51:20‑23)), whereby Jehovah will test His people; and then He will manifest Himself to them as their Messiah and Deliverer, so that once again they will sing, “The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.” (Psa. 118:1414The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14); compare Ex. 15:22The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2).)
Who the particular enemy alluded to here is, it may not be easy to decide. One of his characteristics is a deceitful tongue, combined with lying lips. Some have thought that it is prophetical reference to the little horn of Daniel 8, that is, to the king of the north in the last days. A well-known writer thus says, “It does not seem to me to be the oppression of Antichrist, or the beast at Jerusalem, but to apply to those who, in the land, found themselves where the last hostile power which had pretended to favor them, and had led many to apostatize for quietness and prosperity, now showed himself as only a deceitful oppressor.”1 In Daniel it says of this personage, that “he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practice, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand.” (Chapter 8:24, 25.) If this be the adversary in view, the Psalm goes back to a time anterior to the restoration of all Israel; but Israel, recounting the Lord’s mercies in becoming their salvation, might well identify themselves with the sorrows which Judah had first undergone in the land. The people will, at this period, be once more united; and they will consequently claim the “distress” of any portion of the nation as their own.
Some difficulty has been felt concerning the mention of Mesech and Kedar as the place of sojourn (v. 5), inasmuch as they would seem to have been widely sundered. Meshech is mentioned in connection with Gog (Ezek. 39), whereas Kedar was a descendant of Ishmael (Gen. 25:1313And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, (Genesis 25:13)), and he evidently became the founder of a well-known Arab tribe. (See also Sol. 1:55I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. (Song of Solomon 1:5).) They are probably moral expressions, indicative of the hostility of the enemies of God’s people. The Christian can in measure enter into this sorrow, for he is hated by the world, and is also the object of Satan’s enmity; but he has the consolation of knowing that Christ has overcome the world (John 16:3333These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)); and that since Satan is a defeated enemy, he will ever flee if resisted in the power of the Holy Ghost. (James 4:77Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)).
It is interesting to notice that there are, in this short Psalm, the three forms of the flesh which are developed in the epistle to the Colossians. In Genesis 6 two of these are found, corruption and violence (v. 11), and Satan having been exposed as a liar and the father of lies (John 8:4444Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)), the third form, falsehood, is added. [See Col. 3:55Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (Colossians 3:5) (corruption), 8 (violence), and 9 (falsehood).] So in our Psalm we have lying, and deceit, which is moral corruption, in verse 2, and violence in verse 7.
Such were the circumstances of this pious soul who is taken up by the Spirit of Christ and made the mouthpiece—the vessel—of the sorrows of His earthly people in a later day. And thus surrounded by these various forms of evil, and having long dwelt with him that hated peace, what was his consolation? In what way was he sustained? By the assurance that Jehovah had heard his cry. He had the cense that God had heard his cry, and this pacified his alarms; for, as the apostle John has written, “If we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” (1 John 5:1515And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. (1 John 5:15).) Hence it is that the Psalmist anticipates with certainty deliverance through divine judgment upon the enemy. “What,” he cries, “shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty” —the arrows of the King, which will soon pierce through the hearts of His enemies (Psa. 45:55Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. (Psalm 45:5)), and these, combined “with coals of juniper,”2 coals kindled with the tires of holiness, wherewith Jehovah will search and judge all the workers of iniquity.
The last two verses sum up briefly, but very graphically, the whole position:
6. My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
7. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.
What a description of the adversary of God and of His people—hating peace! It could not be otherwise, because the carnal mind—and it is here seen in its full expression—is enmity against God. The presence, therefore, of God’s people, when walking before Him, must provoke the enemy’s violent opposition. Hence it is the Psalmist adds, “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” It is thus utterly useless to attempt to conciliate the enemy; and, as for Israel in the future, so now, it must be through lunch tribulation that we enter the kingdom. In conclusion, it may be noted that, while it is not the circumstances of the Christian which are here presented, the resource of God’s people in all dispensations is in God Himself, and in His interposition, with delivering power, on their behalf.
1. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. ii. p. 232.
2. “Juniper” would seem to be a mistaken translation. It is said to be a shrub called “Genista,” the roots of which were famed as making the best charcoal. The figure, therefore, will denote the intensity of the fire of judgment.