Psalm 123

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-04-17 11:24.

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This “song of ascents,” like the others, may have been sung when the Israelites traveled up to Jerusalem, lying at an elevation of about 2,500 feet above sea level.

The psalmist perceived YHWH as being enthroned in the heavens. Therefore, in an attitude of prayer, he raised his eyes skyward.

Servants would keep their eyes on the hands of the master or mistress, watching for direction and looking to those hands to supply their needs. With the kind of attention a servant would give his master’s hand and a maid her mistress’s hand, upright Israelites continued to look to YHWH until he would show them favor or be merciful to them.

The plea for favor or mercy is repeated, reflecting an intensity in the request. The reason for the appeal is that the people were satiated with contempt, being hatefully looked down upon because of their distressing circumstances.

The “soul” is to be understood as applying collectively to the Israelites. The degree to which the Israelites were filled with contempt was more than enough. This scorn originated with those who were “at ease,” suggestive of their enjoying a prosperous state. The reference to the “contempt of the proud” points to the arrogant manner in which the disdain was expressed.

One circumstance illustrating this psalm would be when Sanballat and Tobiah mocked those who were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 4:1-3 [3:33-35]) Nehemiah even prayed: “Hear, our God, how we have become a mockery, and return their taunts upon their heads! Let them be taken as spoil to a land of captivity! Do not cover up their iniquity or let their sin be blotted out before You, for they hurled provocations at the builders.” (Nehemiah 3:36, 37 [4:4, 5], Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition])


The largest of the Dead Sea Psalms scrolls attributes this composition to David.

Regarding YHWH, see Psalm 1.

The Hebrew verb chanán (show favor) is rendered eleéo (show mercy, be merciful, have pity) in the Septuagint.

In the Masoretic Text, the “proud” are referred to as “proud doves.” The Septuagint, however, only uses the plural form of hyperéphanos, meaning “proud,” “arrogant,” or “haughty.”