Psalm 123

I have two items for this my blog post about Psalm 123.

1.  Psalm 123:2 says (in the King James Version): “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.”

In this verse, waiting on the LORD’s mercy is likened to servants looking at the hands of their masters.  The idea is probably that servants are attentive to their master’s hands as they await their master’s orders, and, similarly, God’s people are eagerly attentive as they watch for God’s mercy.

But I thought about a point that I once heard in a sermon series.  I was listening to Joe Good’s series on the Book of Isaiah, and Good made the point (as I remember it) that waiting on the LORD is not sitting back and passively waiting for God to do something good, but rather it’s being like a waiter: actively serving God, waiting on God’s instructions.  As I read Psalm 123:2, however, I wondered: Could it be both?  Waiting on the LORD in Psalm 123:2 does entail waiting for God to do something good, for God’s people in that verse are waiting for God’s mercy.  At the same time, God’s people in that verse are likened to servants, waiting on their master’s instructions.  And perhaps one could make the case that God in that verse is likened to a master or mistress.

Perhaps one can reconcile the two concepts by saying that the Israelites are doing their part of obeying God as they wait for God’s mercy.  Or maybe God’s act of mercy will entail a responsive obedience on Israel’s part.  I think of Second Isaiah: the Jews in exile are waiting for God to restore Israel, and yet the restoration will coincide with their obedience to God’s program of restoration, in the sense that they will have to participate in leaving Babylon.  Many Jews in exile were not willing to take that step, for they may have been afraid of the Babylonians considering them treasonous, or they were comfortable with their exilic lives.  But God was telling them that it was time for them to act, that now was the time of God’s mercy and their restoration, that they needed to join God in what God was doing.  In this case, waiting for God’s mercy coincides with waiting for God’s instructions.

2.  Psalm 123:3-4 states: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.  Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud” (KJV).

The most prominent interpretation of these verses (as far as I can gather) is that God’s people have had their fill of the contempt and scorn that others have shown them, and so they want for their God to intervene and presumably put the scorners to shame.  I’d like to note, however, that what the KJV translates as “the contempt of the proud” is literally “the contempt to the proud.”  Perhaps that is consistent with the idea that the contempt is being shown by the proud towards God’s people, for “contempt to the proud” can arguably mean that the proud are the ones who own the contempt that they are showing to others, that it belongs to them.  And yet, the LXX does not appear to be satisfied with this particular interpretation, for it understands the verse to be saying that God should show contempt to the proud, that the proud are recipients of the contempt.

I have an idea, but I’m not particularly dogmatic about it: Could the Psalmist in Psalm 123:3-4 be saying that the ones who have contempt and scorn towards others are God’s people, not the enemies of God’s people?  Could the Psalmist be lamenting that the scorn and contempt by God’s people towards the proud and those who are at ease are poisoning the souls of God’s people?  Could the Psalmist be desiring spiritual liberation, while asking for physical liberation of God’s people so that their minds can be set at ease, so that they can be spiritually healed?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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