Bible Commentary: Psalm 123

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Psalm 123

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Psalm 123, as the first song of ascents in the second set of three (of the five sets of three), is another plea in the midst of distress. As in Psalm 121, the song begins with the psalmist lifting up his eyes--in this case directly to God in heaven (Psalm 123:1). Indeed, "eyes" is the keyword in this psalm, occurring four times in the first two verses. And just behind it is the thrice--repeated "mercy" or graciousness (verses 2-3)--the Hebrew word here, chanan, implying bending or stooping to help (Strong's No. 2603). Thus we see where our sights are to be set for help during distressing times--the same place they must always be set--on God.

Looking to God is compared with servants looking to the hand of their masters and mistresses (verse 2). One commentator notes: "In eastern countries, masters often commanded their servants by means of hand signals [clapping for summoning and gesturing for directives], so the servants kept their eyes on the master's hand. This is what gave them direction for their work. But the master's hand was also the source of their provision, what they needed for their daily sustenance. Finally, the master's hand protected them in times of danger" (Warren Wiersbe, Be Exultant--Psalms 90-150: Praising God for His Mighty Works, 2004, note on verse 2). As God's servants, we are to look intently to Him for the slightest nuance of direction, for our daily bread and for help in times of need.

The psalmist pleads for God's gracious intervention because he and his compatriots are "exceedingly filled with contempt" (verse 3). Twice he uses the words "contempt" and "exceedingly" to describe their treatment by those who are proud and at ease (verses 3-4). The NIV translates these verses as: "We have endured much contempt. We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant."

The exact circumstances here are not known, and we might wonder how this relates to observing God's festivals. Certainly the very fact of following God's ways, including observing His Sabbaths and festivals, will provoke scorn from the world. A prime example of this occurred in the time of King Hezekiah after he restored true worship and sent runners through what was left of the Northern Kingdom of Israel with an invitation for the people to come to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. "So the runners passed from city to city though the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed at them and mocked them. Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the Lord " (2 Chronicles 30:10-12).

May we always look to God's hand to direct us--and to help us when the world around us ridicules and persecutes us for obeying Him.