PSALM 123 OVERVIEW.
Title. -- A Song of degrees. We are climbing. The first step (Ps. 120) saw us lamenting our troublesome surroundings, and the next saw us lifting or eyes to the hills and resting in assured security; from this we rose to delight in the house of the Lord; but here we look to the Lord himself, and this is the highest ascent of all by many degrees. The eyes are now looking above the hills, and above Jehovah's footstool on earth, to his throne in the heavens. Let us know it as "the Psalm of the eyes". Old authors call it Oculus "Sperans", or the eye of hope. It is a short Psalm, written with singular art, containing one thought, and expressing if in a most engaging manner. Doubtless it would be a favourite song among the people of God. It has been conjectured that this brief song, or rather sigh, may have first been heard in the days of Nehemiah, or under the persecutions of Antiochus. It may be so, but there is no evidence of it; it seems to us quite as probable that afflicted ones in all periods after David's time found this psalm ready to their hand If it appears to describe days remote from David, it is all the more evident that the Psalmist was also a prophet, and sang what he saw in vision.
- Unto thee lift I up mine eyes. It is good to have some one to look up to. The Psalmist looked so high that he could look no higher. Not to the hills, but to the God of the hills he looked. He believed in a personal God, and knew nothing of that modern pantheism which is nothing more than atheism wearing a fig leaf. The uplifted eyes naturally and instinctively represent the state of heart which fixes desire, hope, confidence, and expectation upon the Lord. God is everywhere, and yet it is most natural to think of him as being above us, in that glory land which lies beyond the skies. "O thou that dwellest in the heavens", just sets forth ,the unsophisticated idea of a child of God in distress: God is, God is in heaven, God resides in one place, and God is evermore the same, therefore will I look to him. When we cannot look to any helper on a level with us, it is greatly wise to look above us; in fact, if we have a thousand helpers, our eyes should still be toward the Lord. The higher the Lord is the better for our faith, since that height represents power, glory, and excellence, and these will be all engaged on our behalf. We ought to be very thankful for spiritual eyes; the blind men of this world, however much of human learning they may possess, cannot behold our God, for in heavenly matters they are devoid of sight. Yet we must use our eyes with resolution, for they will not go upward to the Lord of themselves, but they incline to look downward, or inward, or anywhere but to the Lord: let it be our firm resolve that the heavenward glance shall not be lacking. If we cannot see God, at least we will look towards him. God is in heaven as a king in his palace; he is here revealed, adored, and glorified: thence he looks down on the world and sends succours to his saints as their needs demand; hence we look up, even when our sorrow is so great that we can do no more. It is a blessed condescension on God's part that he permits us to lift up our eyes to his glorious high throne; yea, more, that he invites and even commands us so to do. When we are looking to the Lord in hope, it is well to tell him so in prayer: the Psalmist uses his voice as well as his eye. We need not speak in prayer; a glance of the eye will do it all; for - -
"Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near."
Still, it is helpful to the heart to use the tongue, and we do well to address ourselves in words and sentences to the God who heareth his people. It is no small joy that our God is always at home: he is not on a journey, like Baal, but he dwells in the heavens. Let us think no hour of the day inopportune for waiting upon the Lord; no watch of the night too dark for us to look to him.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS.
Whole Psalm. -- This psalm (as ye see) is but short, and therefore a very fit example to show the force of prayer not to consist in many words, but in fervency of spirit. For great and weighty matters may be comprised in a few words, if they proceed from the spirit and the unspeakable groanings of the heart, especially when our necessity is such as will not suffer any long prayer. Every prayer is long enough if it be fervent and proceed from a heart that understandeth the necessity of the saints. --Martin Luther.
Whole Psalm. -- The change of performers in this psalm is very evident; the pronoun in the first distich is in the first person singular, in the rest of psalm the first plural is used. -- Stephen Street.
Whole Psalm. -- This psalm has one distinction which is to be found in "scarcely any other piece in the Old Testament." In the Hebrew it has many rhymes. But these rhymes are purely accidental. They result simply from the fact that many words are used in it with the same inflections, and therefore with the same or similar terminations. Regularly recurring and intentional rhymes are not a characteristic of Hebrew poetry, any more than they were of Greek or Latin poetry. --Samuel Cox.
- -- Unto thee lift I up mine eyes. He who previously lifted his eyes unto the hills, now hath raised his heart's eyes to the Lord himself. --The Venerable Bede (672-735), in Neale and Littledale.
- -- Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, etc. This is the sigh of the pilgrim who ascendeth and loveth, and ascendeth because he loveth. He is ascending from earth to heaven, and while he is ascending, unto whom shall he lift his eyes, but unto him that dwelleth in heaven? We ascend to heaven each time we think of God. In that ascent lies all goodness: if we would repent, we must look not on ourselves, but on him; if we would be humble, we must look not on ourselves, but on him; if we would truly love, we must look not on ourselves, but on him who dwelleth in the heavens. If we would have him turn his eyes from our sins, we must turn our eyes unto his mercy and truth. --Plain Commentary.
- -- Unto thee lift I up mine eyes. Praying by the glances of the eye rather than by words; mine afflictions having swollen my heart too big for my mouth. --John Trapp.
- -- Unto thee do I lift up mine eyes. You feel the greatness of the contrast these words imply. Earth and heaven, dust and deity; the poor, weeping, sinful children of mortality, the holy, ever blessed, eternal God: how wide is the interval of separation between them! But over the awful chasm, broader than ocean though it be, love and wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ, have thrown a passage, by which the most sinful may repair unafraid to his presence, and find the shame and the fears of guilt exchanged for the peace of forgiveness and the hope that is full of immortality. --Robert Nisbet.
- -- There are many testimonies in the lifting up of the eyes to heaven.
- It is the testimony of a believing, humble heart. Infidelity will never carry a man above the earth. Pride can carry a man no higher than the earth either.
- It is the testimony of an obedient heart. A man that lifts up his eye to God, he acknowledgeth thus much, -- Lord, I am thy servant.
- It is the testimony of a thankful heart; acknowledging that every good blessing, every perfect gift, is from the hand of God.
- It is the testimony of a heavenly heart. He that lifts up his eyes to heaven acknowledgeth that he is weary of the earth; his heart is not there; his hope and desire is above.
- It is the testimony of a devout heart: there is no part of the body besides the tongue that is so great an agent in prayer as the eye. -- Condensed from Richard Holdsworth.
- -- O thou that dwellest in the heavens. "That sittest." The Lord is here contemplated as enthroned in heaven, where he administers the affairs of the Universe, executes judgment, and hears prayer. --James G. Murphy.
Verse 1,2. -- The lifting up the eyes, implies faith and confident persuasion that God is ready and willing to help us. The very lifting up of the bodily eyes towards heaven is an expression of this inward trust: so David in effect saith, From thee, Lord, I expect relief, and the fulfilling of thy promises. So that there is faith in it, that faith which is the evidence of things not seen. How great soever the darkness of our calamities be, though the clouds of present troubles thicken about us, and hide the Lord's care and loving kindness from us, yet faith must look through all to his power and constancy of truth and love. The eye of faith is a clear, piercing, eagle eye: Moses "endured, as seeing him who is invisible:" Hebrews 11:27 . Faith seeth things afar off in the promises ( Hebrews 11:13 ), at a greater distance than the eye of nature can reach to. Take it either for the eye of the body, or the mind, faith will draw comfort not only from that which is invisible, but also from that which is future as well as invisible; its supports lie in the other world, and in things which are yet to come. --Thomas Manton.
Verse 1,2. -- In the first strophe the poet places himself before us as standing in the presence of the Majesty of Heaven, with his eyes fixed on the hand of God, absorbed in watchful expectation of some sign or gesture, however slight, which may indicate the divine will. He is like a slave standing silent but alert, in the presence of the Oriental "lord", with banns folded on his breast, and eyes fixed on his master, seeking to read, and to anticipate, if possible, his every wish. He is like a maiden in attendance on her mistress, anxiously striving to see her mind in her looks, to discover and administer to her moods and wants. The grave, reserved Orientals, as we know, seldom speak to their attendants, at least on public occasions. They intimate their wishes and commands by a wave of the hand, by a glance of the eye, by slight movements and gestures which might escape notice, were they not watched for with eager attention. Their slaves "hang upon their faces; "they" fasten their eyes" on the eyes of their master; they watch and obey every turn of his hand, every movement of his finger. Thus the Psalmist conceives of himself as waiting on God, looking to him alone, watching for the faintest signal, bent on catching and obeying it. --Samuel Cox.
Verse 2. -- Behold. An ordinary word, but here it hath an extraordinary position. Ordinarily it is a term of attention, used for the awakening of men, to stir up their admiration and audience; but here it is a word not only prefixed for the exciting of men, but of God himself. David is speaking to God in his meditations. "Behold," saith he. As we take it with respect to God, so it is a precatory particle: he beseeches God to look down upon him, while he looks up unto God: Look on us, as we look to thee; "Behold, Lord, as the eyes of servants," etc. If we take it as it hath respect to man, so it is an exemplary particle, to stir them up to do the like. "Behold" what we do, and do likewise; let your eyes be like ours. "Behold, as the eyes of servants are to the hand of their masters, so are our eyes to the Lord our God." Let yours have the same fixing. So it is a word that draws all eyes after it to imitation. --Richard Holdsworth.
Verse 2. -- Behold as the eyes of servants look, etc. For direction, defence, maintenance, mercy in time of correction, help when the service is over hard, etc., "so do our eyes wait upon the Lord our God," viz., for direction and benediction. --John Trapp.
Verse 2. -- Eyes of servants unto the hand, etc. Our eyes ought to be to the hand of the Lord our God: -- First, that we may admire his works. Secondly, that we may show that our service is pleasant to us; and to show our dependence on such a benign, mighty, and bountiful hand. Thirdly, that we may evince to him our love, and devoted willingness to do all things which he shall command by the slightest movement of a finger. Fourthly, that from him we may receive food, and all things necessary for sustenance. Fifthly, that he may be a defence for us against the enemies that molest us, either by smiting them with the sword, or by shooting of arrows; or by repelling others by the movement of a finger; or, at least, by covering us with the shield of his goodwill. Sixthly and lastly, that, moved by mercy, he would cease from chastisement. --Condensed from Le Blanc.
Verse 2. -- As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, etc. A traveller says, "I have seen a fine illustration of this passage in a gentleman's house at Damascus. The people of the East do not speak so much or so quick as those in the West, and a sign of the hand is frequently the only instructions given to the servants in waiting. As soon as we were introduced and seated on the divan, a wave of the master's hand indicated that sherbet was to be served. Another wave brought coffee and pipes; another brought sweetmeats. At another signal dinner was made ready. The attendants watched their master's eye and hand, to know his will and do it instantly." Such is the attention with which we ought to wait upon the Lord, anxious to fulfil his holy pleasure, -- our great desire being, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" An equally pointed and more homely illustration may be seen any day, on our own river Thames, or in any of our large seaport towns, where the call boy watches attentively the hand of the captain of the boat, and conveys his will to the engine men. --The Sunday at Home.
Verse 2. -- As the eyes of slaves, watching anxiously the least movement, the Smallest sign of their master's will. The image expresses complete and absolute dependence. Savary (in his Zetters on Egypt, p. 135), says, "The slaves stand silent at the bottom of the rooms with their hands crossed over their breasts. With their eyes fixed upon their master they seek to anticipate every one of his wishes." ... In the Psalm the eye directed to the hand of God is the "oculus sperans", the eye which waits, and hopes, and is patient, looking only to him and none other for help. --J.J. Stewart Perowne.
Verse 2. -- As the eyes of servants, etc. The true explanation, I should apprehend, is this: As a slave, ordered by a master or mistress to be chastised for a fault, turns his or her imploring eyes to that superior, till that motion of the hand appears that puts an end to the bitterness that is felt; so our eyes are up to thee, our God, till thy hand shall give the signal for putting an end to our sorrows: for our enemies, O Lord, we are sensible, are only executing thy orders, and chastening us according to thy pleasure. --Thomas Harmer.
Verse 2. -- Servants. Note how humbly the faithful think of themselves in the sight of God. They are called and chosen to this dignity, to be the heirs and children of God, and are exalted above the angels, and yet, notwithstanding, they count themselves no better in God's sight than "servants." They say not here, Behold, like as children look to the hand of their fathers, but "as servants" to the hand of their masters. This is the humility and modesty of the godly, and it is so far off that hereby they lose the dignity of God's children, to the which they are called, that by this means it is made to them more sure and certain. --Martin Luther.
Verse 2. -- From the everyday conduct of domestic servants we should learn our duty Godwards. Not without cause did our Saviour take his parables from common, everyday things, from fields, vines, trees, marriages, etc., that thus we might have everywhere apt reminders. --Martin Geier.
Verse 2. -- Servants. "A Maiden". Consider that there be two sorts of servants set down here, man servants and maid servants; and this is to let us know that both sexes may be confident in God. Not only may men be confident in the power of God, but even women also, who are more frail and feeble. Not only may women mourn to God for wrongs done to them, and have repentance for sin, but they may be confident in God also. And therefore see, in that rehearsal of believers and cloud of witnesses, not only is the faith of men noted and commended by the Spirit of God, but also the faith of women: and among the judges, Deborah, Jael, etc., are commended as worthies, and courageous in God. And the women also in the New Testament are noted for their following of Christ -- even when all fled from him, then they followed him. --From a Sermon by Alexander Henderson, 1583-1646.
Verse 2. -- Servants. "A Maiden". We know how shamefully servants were treated in ancient times, and what reproaches must be cast upon them, whilst yet they durst not move a finger to repel the outrage. Being therefore deprived of all means of defending themselves, the only thing which remained for them to do was, what is here stated, to crave the protection of their masters. The same explanation is equally applicable to the case of handmaids. Their condition was indeed shameful and degrading; but there is no reason why we should be ashamed of, or offended at, being compared to slaves, provided God is our defender, and takes our lives under his guardianship; God, I say, who purposely disarms us and strips us of all worldly aid, that we may learn to rely upon his grace, and to be contented with it alone. It having been anciently a capital crime for bondmen to carry a sword or any other weapon about them, and as they were exposed to injuries of every description, their masters were wont to defend them with so much the more spirit, when anyone causelessly did them violence. Nor can it be doubted that God, when he sees us placing an exclusive dependence upon his protection, and renouncing all confidence ib our resources, will, as our defender, encounter and shield us from all the molestation nthat shall be offered to us. -- John Calvin
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Whole Psalm. -- We have here,
- The prayer of dependence, Psalms 123:2 .
- The prayer of apprehension: "Unto thee", etc.
- The spirit of obedience: "As the eyes of servants:" etc.
- The patience of the saints: "Until he have mercy upon us."
Whole Psalm. -- Eyes and no eyes.
- Upward, in confidence, in prayer, in thought.
(b) "Unto," in reverence, watchfulness, obedience.
(c) Inward, producing a cry for mercy.
- No EYES.
- NO sight of the excellence of the godly.
(b) No sense of their own danger: "at ease."
(c) No humility before God: "proud."
(d) No uplifted eyes in hope, prayer, expectation.
Verse 1. -- The eyes of faith.
- Need uplifting.
- See best upward.
- Have always something to see upward.
- Let us look up, and so turn our eyes from too much introspection and retrospection.
Verse 1. --
- The language of Adoration: "Thou that dwellest in the heavens."
- The language of Confession.
- Of need.
(b) Of Helplessness.
- The language of Supplication: "Unto thee," etc.
- The language of Expectation; as shown in Psalms 123:2 .