Expositor's Bible Commentary
A Song of degrees. Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.Psalm 123:1-4A SIGH and an upward gaze and a sigh! No period is more appropriate, as that of this psalm, than the early days after the return from exile, when the little community, which had come back with high hopes, found themselves a laughingstock to their comfortable and malicious neighbours. The contrast of tone with the joy of the preceding psalm is very striking. After the heights of devout gladness have been reached, it is still needful to come down to stern realities of struggle, and these can only be faced when the eye of patient dependence and hope is fixed on God.
That attitude is the great lesson of this brief and perfect expression of wistful yet unfaltering trust joined with absolute submission. The upward look here is like. but also unlike, that in Psalm 121:1-8, in that this is less triumphant, though not less assured, and has an expression of lowly submission in the appealing gaze. Commentators quote illustrations of the silent observance of the master’s look by his rows of slaves; but these are not needed to elucidate the vivid image. It tells its own story. Absolute submission to God’s hand, whether it wields a rod or lavishes gifts or points to service, befits those whose highest honour is to be His slaves. They should stand where they can see Him; they should have their gaze fixed upon Him; they should look with patient trust, as well as with eager willingness to start into activity when He indicates His commands.
The sigh for deliverance, in the second half of the psalm, is no breach of that patient submission. Trust and resignation do not kill natural shrinking from contempt and scorn. It is enough that they turn shrinking into supplication and lamentations into appeals to God. He lets His servants make their moan to Him, and tell how full their souls have long been of men’s scorn. As a plea with Him the psalmist urges the mockers’ "ease." In their security and full-fed complacency, they laughed at the struggling band, as men gorged with material good ever do at enthusiasts; but it is better to be contemned for the difficulties which cleaving to the ruins of God’s city brings, than to be the contemners in their selfish abundance. They are further designated as "haughty," by a word which the Hebrew margin reads as two words, meaning "proud ones of the oppressors"; but this is unnecessary, and the text yields a good meaning as it stands, though the word employed is unusual.
This sweet psalm, with all its pained sense of the mockers’ gibes and their long duration, has no accent of impatience. Perfect submission, fixed observance, assured confidence that, "till He is gracious," it is best to bear what He sends, befit His servants, and need not hinder their patient cry to Him, nor their telling Him how long and hard their trial has been.