Psalm 120:4
Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
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(4) Sharp.—Better, sharpened, whetted, as if for a purpose.

Juniper.—Properly, broom. Hebrew, rothem, a plant identical with the Arabian retem and Algerian retama. (See 1Kings 19:4-5.) Doctor Tristram mentions the employment of this bush for fuel. “It is ruthlessly uprooted by the Arabs, wherever it is tolerably abundant, for the manufacture of charcoal, which is considered of the finest quality, and fetches a higher price at Cairo than any other kind. Several travellers have mentioned their meeting with Bedouins employed in conveying retem charcoal to the Egyptian markets” (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 360; see also Bible Educator, iv. 194). Burckhardt and Robinson also both noticed this trade.

Wonderful stories are told both by Jerome and the rabbis, how travellers, having cooked their food by fires made of the juniper wood, which they suppose to be the wood here meant, and returning a year after to the same spot, still found the embers alive.

120:1-4 The psalmist was brought into great distress by a deceitful tongue. May every good man be delivered from lying lips. They forged false charges against him. In this distress, he sought God by fervent prayer. God can bridle their tongues. He obtained a gracious answer to this prayer. Surely sinners durst not act as they do, if they knew, and would be persuaded to think, what will be in the end thereof. The terrors of the Lord are his arrows; and his wrath is compared to burning coals of juniper, which have a fierce heat, and keep fire very long. This is the portion of the false tongue; for all that love and make a lie, shall have their portion in the lake that burns eternally.Sharp arrows of the mighty - This is an answer to the question in Psalm 120:3. The consequence - the effect - of such a use of the tongue must be like sharp and piercing arrows, or like intensely burning coals. The "sharp arrows of the mighty" are the arrows of the warrior - as war was conducted mainly by bows and arrows. Those arrows were, of course, sharpened to make them piercing, penetrating, more deadly.

With coals of juniper - On the word here rendered "juniper," see the notes at Job 30:4. The idea here is, that coals made from that would be intensely hot, and would cause severer pain than if made from other wood. The word refers to a species of broom or shrub growing in the deserts of Arabia, with yellowish flowers and a bitter root. See "Robinson's Biblical Researches," vol. i., p. 299. Burchardt says that he found the Bedouin of Sinai burning the roots into coal, and says that they make the best charcoal, and throw out the most intense heat. The shrub sometimes grows so large as to furnish a shade to those exposed to the heat of the sun in the desert, 1 Kings 19:4; "Land and the Book" (Thomson), vol. ii., pp. 438, 439. The cut given below will give an idea of this plant.

4. Sharp arrows of the mighty—destructive inflictions.

coals of juniper—which retain heat long. This verse may be read as a description of the wicked, but better as their punishment, in reply to the question of Ps 120:3.

So this verse contains an answer to the question Psalm 120 3, and declares the slanderer’s recompence; which is the wrath and vengeance of the mighty God, which in Scripture, and particularly in this book, is oft compared to at. rows, as Psalm 7:13,14, &c, and here to arrows of the mighty, i.e. shot by the hands of a strong man; and to coals, Psalm 140:10, and here to

coals of juniper, which being kindled burn very fiercely, and retain their heat for a long time. And the psalmist may possibly express it in these words, to show, the suitableness of the punishment to the sin; as thy tongue shoots arrows, (for so calumnies are called, Psalm 57:4 64:3) and kindles coals, so thou shalt bring God’s arrows and coals kindled by the fire of his wrath upon thyself. But according to the other translation, which is in the margin, this is a further declaration of the sin of calumny. Though, all things considered, it doth thee no good, yet it doth others much hurt, to whom it is like sharp arrows, &c. Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper. Some think these words describe lying lips, and a false tongue; which are like arrows, sharp ones, sent out from a bow drawn with a mighty hand, which come with great force, suddenly and swiftly, and do much mischief; see Psalm 11:2; and to "coals of juniper", very distressing and tormenting; the tongue being a fire, set on fire of hell, and sets on fire the course of nature; and throws out devouring words, which consume like fire, James 3:6. But rather the punishment of an evil tongue from the Lord is intended, whose sore judgments are often compared to arrows, Deuteronomy 32:23; because they come from above, and bring swift and sudden destruction with them; and are very sharp in the hearts of his enemies; are very severe and cutting, and come with power irresistible, being the arrows of the Almighty, Job 6:4; see Jeremiah 50:9; and these may be compared to "coals of juniper", which are very vehement and strong, and very lasting and durable. Jerom (w) and Isidore (x) say they will last a whole year; and the Midrash on the place reports of two men, who had prepared food with them, and at the end of a year returned and found them burning, and warmed their feet at them. These fitly express the lake of fire and brimstone, the portion of liars; whose fire is very strong, and flames devouring, being kindled by the breath of the Lord of hosts, like a stream of brimstone: and the fire of hell is everlasting; its burnings are everlasting burnings; a worm that dieth not, a fire that is not quenched; the smoke of the torments of which ascend for ever and ever, Isaiah 30:23. The Targum speaks of these arrows as lightnings from above, and of the coals of juniper as kindled in hell below; and they are interpreted of hell in the Talmud (y).

(w) Ad Fabiolam de 42. Mans. tom. 3. fol. 15. I.((x) Origin. l. 17. c. 7. Schindler. col. 1776. (y) T. Bab. Eracin, c. 3. fol. 15. 2.

{d} Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.

(d) He shows that there is nothing so sharp to pierce, nor so hot to set on fire, as a slanderous tongue.

Verse 4. - Sharp arrows of the mighty. The psalmist answers his own questions. Sharp-pointed arrows of a Mighty One shall be given thee, and added to them shall be coals of juniper. God, i.e., shall punish thee with extreme severity. The eightfold Tav. May God answer this his supplication as He has heard his praise, and interest Himself on behalf of His servant, the sheep that is exposed to great danger. The petitions "give me understanding" and "deliver me" go hand-in-hand, because the poet is one who is persecuted for the sake of his faith, and is just as much in need of the fortifying of his faith as of deliverance from the outward restraint that is put upon him. רנּה is a shrill audible prayer; תּחנּה, a fervent and urgent prayer. ענה, prop. to answer, signifies in Psalm 119:172 to begin, strike up, attune (as does ἀποκρίνεσθαι also sometimes). According to the rule in Psalm 50:23 the poet bases his petition for help upon the purpose of thankful praise of God and of His word. Knowing how to value rightly what he possesses, he is warranted in further supplicating and hoping for the good that he does not as yet possess. The "salvation" for which he longs (תּאב as in Psalm 119:40, Psalm 119:20) is redemption from the evil world, in which the life of his own soul is imperilled. May then God's judgments (defective plural, as in Psalm 119:43, Psalm 119:149, which the Syriac only takes a singular) succour him (יעזּרני, not יעזרני). God's hand, Psalm 119:173, and God's word afford him succour; the two are involved in one another, the word is the medium of His hand. After this relationship of the poet to God's word, which is attested a hundredfold in the Psalm, it may seem strange that he can say of himself תּעיתי כּשׂה אבד; and perhaps the accentuation is correct when it does not allow itself to be determined by Isaiah 53:6, but interprets: If I have gone astray - seek Thou like a lost sheep Thy servant. שׂה אבד is a sheep that is lost (cf. אבדים as an appellation of the dispersion, Isaiah 27:13) and in imminent danger of total destruction (cf. Psalm 31:13 with Leviticus 26:38). In connection with that interpretation which is followed by the interpunction, Psalm 119:176 is also more easily connected with what precedes: his going astray is no apostasy; his home, to which he longs to return when he has been betrayed into by-ways, is beside the Lord.
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