Psalm 120:1
In my distress I cried to the LORD, and He answered me.
A Dark Fact Explained and IlluminatedS. Conway Psalm 120:1
The Misery Made by the UntruthfulR. Tuck Psalm 120:1, 2
A Good Man with Bad NeighboursHomilistPsalm 120:1-7
In Mesech and KedarS. Conway Psalm 120:1-7
The Songs of DegreesE. J. Robinson.Psalm 120:1-7
Uncongenial SocietyJ. O. Keen, D. D.Psalm 120:1-7
This psalm is a piteous declaration of the unhappy lot of him who is surrounded by the false, the treacherous, and the cruel. They of Mesech - the Moschi of Herodotus (see Exposition) - dwelt where now the horribly bloodthirsty Kurds have their habitation, who of late years have horrified all Christendom by their barbarous atrocities inflicted on the Christian Armenians. Amid men of such sort the psalmist is complaining that he has to dwell (ver. 5). It is a tale of treachery and cruelty that he portrays or rather suggests to us in this psalm. Concerning all such men of lying lips, we learn -

I. THEY ARE THE DISTRESS OF THE GODLY. How many a faithful missionary, amid similar hordes, has felt his heart die down in hopeless despair as he witnesses their horrid cruelty and deceit! We at home forget too much this special trial of the missionary. Nothing but the abundant supply of the Spirit of all grace can possibly sustain him amid such sad and revolting circumstances. If he gets used to them, and so indifferent to them, he can no longer be a true missionary; nor either if he fears them or yields to despair about them. And in less unusual form, God's servants may yet have to say, "My soul is among lions" (Psalm 57:4). Many a God-fearing working man amid a crowd of godless mates, many a Christian servant-girl amid companions who have no love for God, many a young disciple of Christ in school or office, - these and others like them know by sad experience the treachery and cruelty of the ungodly.

II. THE AWFUL AND OVERWHELMING WRATH OF GOD AWAITS THESE PERSECUTORS. (Vers. 3, 4; see Exposition for meaning.) The false and lying tongue is often likened to fire, fire of hell, to sword and sharp arrow, and now here it is declared that what such tongue hath sown, that shall it also reap (cf. Psalm 57:4; Psalm 64:3; Psalm 55:21; Psalm 59:7; James 3:6; and especially Psalm 140:9, 10). Sometimes even in this world we see the Divine vengeance poured out on those who have played the part of bloody and deceitful men towards the people of God. In the persecuting ages it was not unusual nor unnatural for the persecuted ones to point out, as proofs of the Divine wrath, the fearful deaths which overtook many of their persecutors. True it is today that he who blesses the servants of God is blessed, and he who curses them is cursed.

III. IT MAY NEVERTHELESS BE APPOINTED FOR GOD'S PEOPLE TO DWELL AMID SUCH SURROUNDINGS. The great missionary command involved the possibility of such sojourn. If we are to go into all the world, we must expect to meet with what the world has to offer. And, in God's providence, we often have to go and dwell amid, not the friends but the foes of God. The soldier in the field, the sailor, the boy at school. It may be God's will for us. But -

IV. THEM ENMITY MAY OFTEN SEEM TO BE EXCITED BY THAT WHICH SHOULD MAKE IT ASHAMED. (Ver. 7.) Not all at once will the Spirit of peace prevail.

V. BUT NOTHING CAN ROB THE BELIEVING SOUL OF ITS BLESSED RELIEF AND REFUGE IN GOD. (Ver. 1.) The first verse relates what really follows on the facts told of in the other verses. Call upon, cry unto the Lord, and he will ever help. - S.C.

The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

1. Their high authority. The men who wrote these books say, "The Spirit of God spoke by me, and His Word was upon my tongue," "Thus saith the Lord," and so on. Thus they claim high authority. But you may ask, "How are we to know it?" Therefore note —

2. Their inherent sanctity. "The words of the Lord are pure words." And are they not so? Some say the book is immoral because it records immoral actions. But could the Scriptures have given a faithful account of human nature without such records? Those who study the Bible most are those who most of all live and practise all the public and social virtues. Modern infidels are not so candid as those of the former century. Rousseau could say, "I will confess that, the majority of the Scriptures strike me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel hath its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction: how mean, how contemptible are they compared with the Scriptures! Is it possible that a book at once so simple and sublime should be merely the work of man?"

3. Their intrinsic worth. In our text they are compared to the finest silver and gold. And in Psalm 119. And this eulogy is deserved, because they speak of God and man reasonably and in harmony with our experience. They satisfy man upon the most anxious questions.

II. THE SCRUTINY THEY HAVE ENDURED. "Tried in the furnace, purified seven times." The reference is to the searching process of the refiner, by which he detects the presence of any alloy and removes it. And the Word of God has passed under a scrutiny like that of fire: It is not accepted on mere hearsay and because of the teachings of priests.

1. It has been thoroughly investigated. Josephus gives his testimony to the sacred books of the Jews. Hence the Old Testament is evidently not a book of yesterday. And from the testimony of the Fathers we know that the books of the New Testament have existed from the time they profess. The ancient versions confirm this. The entire New Testament might be collated out of the quotations made by the Fathers.

2. Then there has been antiquarian and scientific research. And these do homage to the testimony of revelation.

3. Philosophical and moral discoveries likewise bear their testimony in the philosophies of China and India, and yet others, have been searched, and they have been found poor and unsatisfactory, like the glimmer of gas lights at noonday, compared with the Scriptures. That eminent Oriental scholar, Sir William Jones, says, "The Scriptures contain, independently of a Divine origin, more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains, both of poetry and eloquence, than could be collected within the same compass from all other books that were ever composed in any age or in any tongue." Now these are not the testimonies of priests, but of laymen, learned, travelled, and who have become acquainted with the literature of all nations. And should any be disposed to trifle with the Bible, let me quote to him two lines from a poem penned by one of the greatest geniuses that has ever adorned our empire, and whose intellectual light has been just lost to us —

"Better he had ne'er been born

Who reads to doubt, who reads to scorn."

(J. Blackburn.)

The Psalmist is telling of the Word of God, and contrasting it with the words of men. He tells of those who speak vanity. "With flattering lips and a double heart do they speak." He wants something better, and finds it in the Word of the Lord. For in contrast with man's weakness and falsehood there was the Divine promise immediately made, "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now," etc. May that be depended upon! May we take heart? Yes, "For the words of the Lord are pure words," etc. So then, we may apply this text to the Bible.

I. BY THE PROLONGED AND SEVERE CONFLICT IT HAS HAD WITH ALL THE EVIL OF OUR WORLD. There are two great forces in the moral world, that of evil — the world, the flesh, and the devil, and that of good — in truth, in holiness, and in love. And God is the source of all this good. Now, if the words are of God they will be like Him; which is just what they are. And they will occupy His place, bitter against nothing but evil, enamoured of nothing but good. And they will do His work. So they do, have done everywhere and always, under all circumstances and amid all conditions.

II. BY ALL THE CONTRADICTIONS OF UNBELIEF. Concerning Him it is said, "He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself." Just so it has been with the Word of God, and is so now. They have heated the furnace to the intensest heat, and cast the Bible in, and the result is that it has lost nothing but the tinsel of man's folly or the bonds wherewith men's authority sought to bind it.

III. BY THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES OF THE CONDUCT OF FALSE PROFESSORS. We complain of the unfair dealing of unbelief. Naturally. But there are others who deserve our indignation far more, and these are those who profess to be, but are not, friends of the Gospel or of the words of God. Worldly men, who have determined to make it a political engine. Hence it has been encumbered with ceremonies and dogmas; kept back from the people; man's own interpretations fastened upon it, as if they were the words of God Himself.

IV. THE INFIRMITIES AND INCONSISTENCIES OF ITS REAL FRIENDS. Many of you here profess to be its real friends. Some of you hold prominent positions, and, like Peter and John, you bid men look on you and see what your religion can do. And men do look on you and judge the Word of God by you. And they see very soon where there are inconsistencies in you; whilst, on the other hand, there is nothing so awes the world as the spirituality, unselfishness, and devotedness of earnest holiness. But who of us can profess fitly to represent the Word of God? How imperfect are the best of men.

V. BY THE SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT OF ALL SANCTIFIED MEN. In one sense the Word of God tries a man, for according as he acts towards it so does he reveal his spiritual state. On the other hand, all holy souls test the living Word. "My sheep hear My voice," said the Saviour, "but a stranger will they not follow."

VI. BY THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF BOTH SAINTS AND SINNERS. VII. BY THOSE, MOST OF ALL, WHO HAVE MOST THOROUGHLY LIVED IN IT AND WORKED HARDEST FOR IT. If I want to know the sustaining qualities of any particular kind of food I observe those who live most on it, yet do the greatest amount of work, and with the greatest ease, and, nevertheless, show the most robust health. And so, would I know what the Word of God can do, I turn to those who are such as I have described. See Paul. Hear him say, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthened me." All of you who hear the Word, bind it to your hearts, and let it be your holy resolve, God helping you, to live as well as speak His Word.

(John Aldis.)

The fable that there were animals that lived in the fire, called Salamanders, came from the glowing brilliance of some metals that, when they are heated to a white heat, acquire a supernatural splendour, and apparently a new and mysterious life. The metal seems now to live, breathe, heave, move at every new expansion and contraction; a hundred hues, indescribably brilliant and radiant, play around the molten surface. Of all books, the Word of God is the only one with Salamander qualities. The flames of persecution and hostile criticism, instead of effecting its destruction, have but added to its lustre and strengthened its claims to be indeed "the Word of the Lord that endureth forever."

(A. T. Pierson D. D.).

How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord?
This little Psalm begins in agitation and ends in calm. However true it is that sorrow is "but for a moment," it seems to last for an eternity. Sad hours are leaden footed and joyful ones winged. That "How long," reiterated, betrays how weary it was to the Psalmist. Very significant is the progress of thought in the four-fold questioning plaint, which turns flint to God, then to himself, then to the enemy. The root of his sorrow is that God seems to have forgotten him; therefore his soul is full of plans for relief, and the enemy seems to be lifted up above him. Left alone, without God's help, what can a man do but think and plan and scheme to weariness all night, and carry a heavy heart, as he sees by daylight how futile his plans are? The agitation of the first strophe is somewhat stilled in the second, in which the stream of prayer runs clear without such foam as the impatient questions of the first part. The storm has all rolled away in the third strophe, in which faith has triumphed over doubt and anticipates the fulfilment of its prayer. The sad minor of "How long?" if coming from faithful lips, passes into a .jubilant key which heralds the full gladness of the yet future songs of deliverance.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

That which the French proverb hath of sickness is true of all evils, that they come on horseback and go away on foot; we have often seen that a sudden fall, or one meal's surfeit, has stuck by many to their graves; whereas pleasures come like oxen, slow and heavily, and go away like post horses, upon the spur. Sorrows, because they are lingering guests, I will entertain but moderately, knowing that the more they are made of the longer they will continue; and for pleasures, because they stay not, and do but call to drink at my door, I will use them as passengers with slight respect. He is his own best friend that makes the least of. both of them.

(Joseph Hall.)

He is unchangeable. "Job says, "He is in one mind." James, "With Him there is no variableness." And He Himself says, "I am the Lord, I change not." In reality He is thus, but relatively He seems to change.


1. Forgetful. "How long wilt Thou forget me?"

2. As unkind. "How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?" To turn away the face was the sign of aversion and displeasure.

3. As utterly neglectful. "How long?" Four times he repeats this. As if God was utterly regardless of him. So it seemed to him.

II. GOD AS LOOKED AT THROUGH THE SOUL IN DEVOTION. In the midst of his troubles he prays, "Consider and hear me, O Lord, my God: lighten mine eyes," etc. As he prays the cloud withdraws, and he cries, "My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation." Prayer changes the night of the soul into morning, its discords into music, its dark and chilly November into a sunny and life-giving May.


1. The power of circumstances to disturb the soul. While no man need be their creature, it is impossible for him not to feel their influence.

2. The rapid changes which occur in the mood of the soul. The Psalm begins in gloom and ends in sunshine.

3. The influence of prayer to elevate the soul. Prayer is the power that changes the whole horizon of our spiritual nature.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

When the king removes, the court and all the carriages follow after; and when they are gone, the hangings are taken down, nothing is left behind but bare walls, dust, and rubbish. So if God removes from a man or a nation where He kept His court, His graces will not stay long behind; and if they be gone, farewell peace, farewell comfort; down go the hangings of all prosperity, nothing is left behind but confusion and disorder.

(J. Staughton.)

I. THE NATURE OF SUCH ECLIPSES. It is quite true that God never ceases to love His children, but still the people of God are sensible of eclipses of the soul such as the Psalmist describes in this Psalm. God has not really deserted His children, but it seems as if He had. In providential matters they fail to recognise His hand; His consolations cease in their spirits, and they are full of darkness and bitterness.

II. THE CAUSES OF THESE ECLIPSES. Why does God thus appear to desert His people at all? The end of God's discipline is to make His people feel their absolute dependence upon Himself. These eclipses teach us —

1. That God is the source of happiness;

2. The source of wisdom;

3. The source of strength; and

4. The source of life. Why does God hide His face so long? Simply because we are so slow to learn the great truths which He designs to teach.

III. THE DUTY OF THE SAINTS IN THESE HOURS OF DARKNESS. Not discontent, and not despair.

1. Wait in faith.

2. Wait in prayer.

3. Wait in hope. When the trial is over your soul shall be deeper, brighter, and more fruitful.

(W. L. Watkinson.)

The "salute" of this Psalm is a sigh, the "adieu" is a song. We sight the Psalmist prostrate before the mercy throne, wrapped in grim shadows of gloom, bowed in soul by the weight of a great sorrow, and howling "How long?" We leave him sitting in the stillness of a new confidence, enwreathed with sunbeams of gladness, pealing forth from harp and lip an exultant Te Deum!

I. EARLIEST INQUIRY (vers. 1, 2). A fourfold inquiry. Can God forget? He hides His face, not willingly, but of necessity, that we may seek His face. And the longer, that we may seek it the more earnestly.

II. DEVOUT AND FERVENT ENTREATY (vers. 3, 4). Trouble gives point, pathos, and power to prayer. Genuine entreaty comes from a soul that has —

1. A clear recognition of its personal relationship to God.

2. It is definite in request. It knows what it wants, and asks for it. Entreaty has aim, directness, special need; hence is definite in request — e.g., Jacob, Jabez, etc. Here it seeks the Divine attention. The Divine illumination.

3. Genuine entreaty has powerful reasons for what it requests. "Lest I sleep," etc. This is from the self-side. "Lest mine enemy say," etc. This is from the God-side. Prevailing against him would be injurious to the truth.


1. Well located;

2. Triumphant;

3. Exultant.

(J. O. Keen, D. D.)

It is quite unnecessary to point thus: "How long wilt Thou forget me? — For ever?" as if there were two distinct questions. It is natural to a perturbed and doubting heart thus to express itself in a confused and almost contradictory manner. In its despair it thinks, "God hath forgotten me"; and yet out of the very midst of its despair there rises up the conviction, "No, not forever"; and then its hopelessness is changed to expostulation, "How long wilt Thou forget me?" We may, if we choose it, paraphrase, "How long wilt Thou make as if Thou wouldest forget me forever?" God's anger, the hiding of His countenance, as Delitzsch observes, cannot but seem eternal to the soul which is conscious of it. Nevertheless, Faith still cleaves to the Love which hides itself under the disguise of severity, and exclaims, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." "When we have long been crushed by sufferings, and no sign appears that God will succour us, the thought will force itself upon us, God hath forgotten me. For by nature we do not acknowledge that God cares for us in our afflictions; but by faith we lay hold of His invisible providence. So David, so far as he could judge from the actual state in which he was, seemed to himself forsaken of God. But at the same time, because the Light of Faith was his guide, he, with the eyes of his mind, looked through and beyond all else to the grace of God, far as it might seem hidden from his sight." — Calvin. "Does he not portray in fitting words that most bitter anguish of spirit, which feels that it has to do with a God alienated, hostile, implacable, inexorable, whose wrath is, like Himself, eternal? This is a state in which hope despairs, and yet despair hopes at the same time. This no one understands who has not tasted it." — Luther.

(J. J. Stewart Perowne, B. D.)

In laying forth his grief he beginneth at his apparent desertion; then speaketh of the perplexity of mind arising herefrom; and, last of all, he mentioneth the continuance of his outward trouble from his enemies. Whence learn —

1. Trouble outward and inward of body and spirit, fightings without and terrors within, vexations from heaven and earth, from God deserting and men pursuing, may fall upon a child of God at one time, and continue for a long time enough, as here. "How long wilt Thou forget me; how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?"

2. When trouble is continued, and appearance of delivery is not, and God withholdeth inward and outward help, sense calleth this the Lord's forgetting and hiding of His face. "How long wilt Thou forget me, and hide Thy face?

3. The Lord's children, in their resolution for faith and patience, do set to themselves a shorter period usually than the Lord doth for making them have their perfect work; therefore, when their hope is deferred, it makes their heart sick, and to cry out, "How long?"

4. When comfort trysteth not with our time, fear of eternal off-casting may readily slide in; and this fear a soul acquainted with God, or that loveth Him in any measure, cannot endure. "Wilt Thou forget me forever?" saith he.

5. Whatsoever sense do speak, or suggested temptations do speak, faith will relate the business to the Lord, and expect a better speech from Him. For in this condition the Prophet goeth to God, saying, "How long, O Lord?"

6. A soul finding desertion multiplieth consultations, falleth in perplexity, changeth conclusions, as a sick man doth his bed; falleth in grief, and cannot endure to live by its own finding, but runneth upon God for direction, as here we see it. "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?"

7. The enemies taking advantage (by the continuance of trouble upon the godly), against his cause and religion and against God, doth augment both the grief and temptation of the godly. "How long shall mine enemies be exalted over me?"

(David Dickson.)

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