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New American Bible

2002 11 11
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Chapter 120


1 A song of ascents. 2 The LORD answered me when I called in my distress:


LORD, deliver me from lying lips, from treacherous tongues.


3 What will the Lord inflict on you, O treacherous tongue, and what more besides?


4 A warrior's sharpened arrows and fiery coals of brush wood!


5 Alas, I was an alien in Meshech, I lived near the tents of Kedar!


Too long did I live among those who hated peace.


When I spoke of peace, they were for war.



1 [Psalm 120] A thanksgiving, reporting divine rescue (Psalm 120:10) yet with fervent prayer for further protection against lying attackers ( Psalm 120:2-4). The psalmist is acutely conscious of living away from God's own land where divine peace prevails ( Psalm 120:5-7).

2 [1] Song of ascents: Psalm 120-134 all begin with this superscription. Most probably these fifteen psalms once formed a collection of psalms sung when pilgrims went to Jerusalem, since one "ascended" to Jerusalem ( 1 Kings 12:28; Psalm 24:3; 122:4; Luke 2:42) or to the house of God or to an altar ( 1 Kings 12:33; 2 Kings 23:2; Psalm 24:3). Less probable is the explanation that these psalms were sung by the exiles when they "ascended" to Jerusalem from Babylonia (cf Ezra 7:9). The idea, found in the Mishnah, that the fifteen steps on which the Levites sang corresponded to these fifteen psalms (Middot 2:5) must underlie the Vulgate translation canticum graduum, "song of the steps" or "gradual song."

3 [3] More besides: a common curse formula in Hebrew was "May the Lord do such and such evils to you [the evils being specified], and add still more to them." Cf 1 Sam 3:17; 14:44; 25:22. Here the psalmist is at a loss for a suitable malediction.

4 [4] Coals of brushwood: coals made from the stalk of the broom plant burn with intense heat. The psalmist thinks of lighted coals cast at his enemies.

5 [5] Meshech was in the far north ( Genesis 10:2) and Kedar was a tribe of the north Arabian desert ( Genesis 25:13). The psalmist may be thinking generally of all aliens living among inhospitable peoples.

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