Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Psalm 123, A Song of Ascent - Going Up the Steps

Psalms 120 through 134 are the 15 “songs of ascent” that were sung as the priests walked up the 15 steps to the temple, stopping on each step to sing the next psalm. Psalm 123 is an anxious call for divine help (verses 1 and 2), a prayer for mercy (verse 3) and a statement of the circumstances which inspired the psalm (verse 4).

Here it is:

1 I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
3 Have mercy on us, LORD, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.


In verse 1 the psalmist says he lifts up his eyes implying that the Lord is above him, exalted. He acknowledges His sovereignty.


In verse 2 there are two comparisons as to how we are to keep our eyes on the Lord. In Bible times they directed their slaves by movements of their hands; hence, the slave had to keep his eyes on his master or he might miss a sign and thus fail to obey it. The second comparison may be used because the women were even more thorough than the men in the training of their servants. It is usually thought that women issued more commands, and were more sensitive to disobedience than men were. A hand could also symbolize protection, giving of gifts and giving of punishment.


Verse 2 also says we’re keeping our eyes on the Lord until He show us mercy (favor in some translations). The Hebrew word (chanan) encompasses mercy, favor, graciousness and pity.


Verse 3 is the prayer. Notice the repetition of the plea. This is an earnest supplication. The situation when this psalm was written was that the Israelites had just returned from 70 years of exile. Their heathen neighbors held them in contempt. In Nehemiah 2: 19 we find that the Horonites, the Ammonites, and the Arabs mocked, scorned and ridiculed them when they were trying to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem after the exile. The word contempt here includes contempt that springs from evil, from prosperity and from judgment. The psalmist complains of the situation in the last verse: they have had no end to the ridicule from the arrogant and the contempt of the proud.


These “arrogant” are translated “those that area at ease” in some versions. The actual Hebrew word here is sha’anan which means both of the above, but also is the word for “oppressor”. The Babylonians, their former oppressors, lived at ease, arrogant, contemptuous and proud.


It always amazes me that there is so much in so few verses.
(I previously blogged on another Psalm of Ascent: Psalm 133
and have since examined other ones so just search the tag psalm)