New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Psa 123:1

A Song of Ascents- 
Or 'degrees'. Hezekiah’s response to being granted another 15 years of life was to edit and produce the Songs of Degrees, so named after the degrees of the sundial. Four of the 15 Psalms were by David, one by Solomon; and the other 10 it seems Hezekiah wrote himself but left anonymous. These ten Psalms would reflect the ten degrees by which the sun-dial went backwards. The point to note is that Hezekiah taught others in an anonymous way in response to the grace he had received. True preaching reflects a certain artless selflessness. These songs of ascents were presumably also intended to be sung by the exiles as they returned to Zion, and then every time they went up to Jerusalem to keep a feast. But there is no evidence this happened. For they didn't return in the kind of faith implied in these Psalms. The plural "ascents" would then be an intensive plural referring to the one great ascent, to Zion. Much of the language of these Psalms is typical of David's language when under persecution by Saul. But the Psalm was reapplied to Hezekiah, and then to the exiles on their return from Babylon, and then by extension to all God's people on their journey zionwards.

To You I do lift up my eyes, You who sit in the heavens-
Jehoshaphat's prayer for deliverance includes the words "our eyes are upon thee" (2 Chron. 20:12), which is quoted in Ps. 123:1,2 - one of the Songs of Degrees written against the background of the Assyrian invasion, pleading for deliverance by God. There is a repeated Biblical theme that the believer's relationship with the Father too is essentially mutual. Our eye is upon Him (Ps. 25:5; 69:3; 123:2), as His eye is upon us (Ps. 32:8; 33:18). The Lord stresses, with apparently needless repetition, that to the man who responds to His word, "I will sup with him and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). There may be the implication that the Psalmist looks to the God who is in the "heavens", a term sometimes used as a metaphor for the temple or sanctuary- and not to any idol. See on :2.

Psa 123:2

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to Yahweh our God until He has mercy on us-
The idea may be that the Psalmist considers Yahweh as lord or master- the very meaning of the term 'baal'; because he looks to Yahweh and not to any of the Baals. See on :1.

The songs of ascents, part of the restoration Psalms, are relevant to any ‘ascent’ or ‘going up’ to the Lord’s house. They are full of reference to God’s eternal purpose with Jerusalem and the temple. It seems to me that they may have been re-written under inspiration with reference to God’s people returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. “As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters… so our eyes look unto the Lord… until he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us…for we are exceedingly filled with contempt…with the scorning of those that are at ease” (Psalms 123:2-4)- the faithful by the rivers of Babylon praying for the captivity to end.

Zech. 1:12 has the Angel representing the exiles asking God to "have mercy" on the exiles and bring about the restoration of the Kingdom. Here, we have the exiles themselves praying this. It's as if their representative Angel was representing them before Yahweh in the court of heaven. But the reality was that few of them really wanted this "mercy" and were quite happy with the life in Babylon / Persia.


Psa 123:3

Have mercy on us, Yahweh, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt-
For "have mercy", see on :2. As the book of Esther makes clear, the exiles lived comfortable lives in Babylon / Persia, with Jews in leading positions. It was only the spiritually minded who considered life there to be in "contempt"; just as the restoration prophecies of Isaiah present Babylon as a place of suffering and imprisonment after the pattern of Israel's sufferings in Egypt, all of which was only true on a spiritual level.

Psa 123:4

Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scoffing of those who are at ease, with the contempt of the proud-
As noted on :3, this pain at the "scoffing" was only felt by the spiritually minded amongst the exiles. There is ample evidence in Ezekiel and also Hag. 1:2 that the exiles were at ease in exile and were the ones scoffing at the restoration prophecies as being unlikely now of any fulfilment. Those "who are at ease" is the term used of those amongst God's people who were at ease in sinful lives (Am. 6:1).