Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 120
on the Whole Bible
This psalm is the first of those fifteen which are here put together
under the title of "songs of degrees." It is well that it is not
material what the meaning of that title should be, for nothing is
offered towards the explication of it, no, not by the Jewish writers
themselves, but what is conjectural. These psalms do not seem to be
composed all by the same hand, much less all at the same time. Four of
them are expressly ascribed to David, and one is said to be designed
for Solomon, and perhaps penned by him; yet
seem to be of a much later date. Some of them are calculated for the
some for the family (as
some for the public assembly (as
and some occasional, as
So that it should seem, they had not this title from the author, but
from the publisher. Some conjecture that they are so called from their
singular excellency (as the song of songs, so the song of degrees, is a
most excellent song, in the highest degree), others from the tune they
were set to, or the musical instruments they were sung to, or the
raising of the voice in singing them. Some think they were sung on the
fifteen steps or stairs, by which they went up from the outward court
of the temple to the inner, others at so many stages of the people's
journey, when they returned out of captivity. I shall only observe,
1. That they are all short psalms, all but one very short (three of
them have but three verses apiece), and that they are placed next to
which is by much the longest of all. Now as that was one psalm divided
into many parts, so these were many psalms, which, being short, were
sometimes sung all together, and made, as it were, one psalm, observing
only a pause between each; as many steps make one pair of stairs.
2. That, in the composition of them, we frequently meet with the
figure they call climax, or an ascent, the preceding word repeated, and
then rising to something further, as 120, "With him that hated peace. I
peace." 121, "Whence cometh my help; my help cometh." "He that keepeth
thee shall not slumber; he that keepeth Israel." 122, "Within thy
gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded." 123, "Until that he have
mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us." And the like in most of them, if
not all. Perhaps for one of these reasons they are called songs of
This psalm is supposed to have been penned by David upon occasion of
Doeg's accusing him and the priests to Saul, because it is like 52,
which was penned upon that occasion, and because the psalmist complains
of his being driven out of the congregation of the Lord and his being
forced among barbarous people.
I. He prays to God to deliver him from the mischief designed him by
false and malicious tongues,
II. He threatens the judgments of God against such,
III. He complains of his wicked neighbours that were quarrelsome and
In singing this psalm we may comfort ourselves in reference to the
scourge of the tongue, when at any time we fall unjustly under the lash
of it, that better than we have smarted from it.
|Confession and Complaints.
A song of degrees.
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
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.
I. Deliverance from a false tongue obtained by prayer. David records
his own experience of this.
1. He was brought into distress, into great distress, by lying lips
and a deceitful tongue. There were those that sought his ruin, and
had almost effected it, by lying.
(1.) By telling lies to him. They flattered him with professions and
protestations of friendships, and promises of kindness and service to
him, that they might the more securely and without suspicion carry on
their designs against him, and might have an opportunity, by betraying
his counsels, to do him a mischief. They smiled in his face and kissed
him, even when they were aiming to smite him under the fifth rib. The
most dangerous enemies, and those which it is most hard to guard
against, are such as carry on their malicious designs under the colour
of friendship. The Lord deliver every good man from such lying lips.
(2.) By telling lies of him. They forged false accusations against him
and laid to his charge things that he knew not. This has often
been the lot not only of the innocent, but of the excellent ones, of
the earth, who have been greatly distressed by lying lips, and have not
only had their names blackened and made odious by calumnies in
conversation, but their lives, and all that is dear to them in this
world, endangered by false-witness-bearing in judgment. David was
herein a type of Christ, who was distressed by lying lips and deceitful
2. In this distress he had recourse to God by faithful and fervent
prayer: I cried unto the Lord. Having no fence against false
tongues, he appealed to him who has all men's hearts in his hand, who
has power over the consciences of bad men, and can, when he pleases,
bridle their tongues. His prayer was, "Deliver my soul, O Lord! from
lying lips, that my enemies may not by these cursed methods work my
ruin." He that had prayed so earnestly to be kept from lying
and hated it so heartily in himself
might with the more confidence pray to be kept from being belied by
others, and from the ill consequences of it.
3. He obtained a gracious answer to this prayer. God heard him; so that
his enemies, though they carried their designs very far, were baffled
at last, and could not prevail to do him the mischief they intended.
The God of truth is, and will be, the protector of his people from
II. The doom of a false tongue foretold by faith,
As God will preserve his people from this mischievous generation, so he
will reckon with their enemies,
The threatening is addressed to the sinner himself, for the awakening
of his conscience, if he have any left: "Consider what shall be
given unto thee, and what shall be done unto thee, by the righteous
Judge of heaven and earth, thou false tongue." Surely sinners
durst not do as they do if they knew, and would be persuaded to think,
what will be in the end thereof. Let liars consider what shall be given
to them: Sharp arrows of the Almighty, with coals of juniper,
that is, they will fall and lie for ever under the wrath of God, and
will be made miserable by the tokens of his displeasure, which will fly
swiftly like arrows, and will strike the sinner ere he is aware and
when he sees not who hurts him. This is threatened against liars,
God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be
wounded. They set God at a distance from them, but from afar his
arrows can reach them. They are sharp arrows, and arrows of the mighty,
the Almighty; for they will pierce through the strongest armour and
strike deep into the hardest heart. The terrors of the Lord are his
and his wrath is compared to burning coals of juniper, which do not
flame or crackle, like thorns under a pot, but have a vehement heat,
and keep fire very long (some say, a year round) even when they seem to
be gone out. This is the portion of the false tongue; for all that love
and make a lie shall have their portion in the lake that burns
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 I speak, they are for war.
The psalmist here complains of the bad neighbourhood into which he was
driven; and some apply the
to this: "What shall the deceitful tongue give, what shall it do to
those that lie open to it? What shall a man get by living among such
malicious deceitful men? Nothing but sharp arrows and coals
of juniper," all the mischiefs of a false and spiteful tongue,
Woe is me, says David, that I am forced to dwell among such,
that I sojourn in Mesech and Kedar. Not that David dwelt in the
country of Mesech or Kedar; we never find him so far off from his own
native country; but he dwelt among rude and barbarous people, like the
inhabitants of Mesech and Kedar: as, when we would describe an ill
neighbourhood, we say, We dwell among Turks and heathens. This made him
cry out, Woe is me!
1. He was forced to live at a distance from the ordinances of God.
While he was in banishment, he looked upon himself as a sojourner,
never at home but when he was near God's altars; and he cries out,
"Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged, that I cannot get
home to my resting-place, but am still kept at a distance!" So some
read it. Note, A good man cannot think himself at home while he is
banished from God's ordinances and has not them within reach. And it is
a great grief to all that love God to be without the means of grace and
of communion with God: when they are under a force of that kind they
cannot but cry out, as David here, Woe to me!
2. He was forced to live among wicked people, who were, upon many
accounts, troublesome to him. He dwell in the tents of Kedar,
where the shepherds were probably in an ill name for being litigious,
like the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot. It is a very grievous burden to a
good man to be cast into, and kept in, the company of those whom he
hopes to be for ever separated from (like Lot in Sodom;
2 Peter 2:8);
to dwell long with such is grievous indeed, for they are thorns,
vexing, and scratching, and tearing, and they will show the old enmity
that is in the seed of the serpent against the seed of the
woman. Those that David dwelt with were such as not only hated him,
but hated peace, and proclaimed war with it, who might write on their
weapons of war not Sic sequimur pacem--Thus we aim at peace, but
Sic persequimur--Thus we persecute. Perhaps Saul's court was the
Mesech and Kedar in which David dwelt, and Saul was the man he meant
that hated peace, whom David studied to oblige and could not, but the
more service he did him the more exasperated he was against him. See
(1.) The character of a very good man in David, who could truly say,
though he was a man of war, I am for peace; for living peaceably
with all men and unpeaceably with none. I peace (so it is in the
original); "I love peace and pursue peace; my disposition is to peace
and my delight is in it. I pray for peace and strive for peace, will do
any thing, submit to any thing, part with any thing, in reason, for
peace. I am for peace, and have made it to appear that I am so."
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable.
(2.) The character of the worst of bad men in David's enemies, who
would pick quarrels with those that were most peaceably disposed:
"When I speak they are for war; and the more forward for war the
more they find me inclined to peace." He spoke with all the respect and
kindness that could be, proposed methods of accommodation, spoke
reason, spoke love; but they would not so much as hear him patiently,
but cried out, "To arms! to arms!" so fierce and implacable were they,
and so bent to mischief. Such were Christ's enemies: for his love they
were his adversaries, and for his good words, and good works, they
stoned him. If we meet with such enemies, we must not think it strange,
nor love peace the less for our seeking it in vain. Be not overcome
of evil, no, not of such evil as this, but, even when thus
tried, still try to overcome evil with good.