Psalm 120

The Word Made Fresh

(A song of ascent.)

1I cry out in my distress: “Answer me, LORD!
2Deliver me from lying lips,
and from dishonest voices.”
3What should the LORD do to you, lying lips?
And what more to you, dishonest voices?
4Send a soldier’s sharp arrows
lit with red hot broom tree coals.
5It is a wretched thing that I have to live
as a foreigner in Meshech among the tents of Kedar.
6I have been too long among those who hate peace.
7When I speak out for peace they clamor for war.


Superscription: Psalm 120 begins a collection of 15 psalms (120-134) called “songs of ascent.” Scholars generally believe these are pilgrimage psalms, to be used by worshipers going up to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals. Jerusalem was built on a hill, and the approach ascends upward to its gates from every direction.

1-2: The psalm begins as a cry of distress, although it is not immediately clear whether the “lying lips” and the “deceitful tongue” belong to the author or to others!

3-4: Though most commentators attribute the “deceitful tongue” to some foreign oppressor it seems to me that can be the author’s self-assessment. It is his tongue that has been deceitful, and he is praying for relief from it.

5-7: Now we learn that the author is dwelling in a foreign land, although many scholars argue that the references to Meshech and Kedar are metaphorical because Meshech is believed to have been in Asia Minor far north of Israel while Kedar is believed to have been in Arabia to the southeast of Israel. This gives rise to the idea that the “I” in these verses is not an individual at all, but a reference to the collective scattered tribes of Israel voicing as with one voice the desire to leave those war-mongering places and return home to Jerusalem.


I take this little psalm to be the prayer of a pilgrim living in a foreign land, returning to Jerusalem for the Passover or some other holy observance. You and I might sometimes find ourselves in a workplace or other circumstance where God is not respected. Worship then becomes an escape from a godless atmosphere.