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Psalm 120:5-7

5. Alas for me! that I have been a sojourner 5353     “C’est, en exile;” —”That is, in exile.” — Fr-. Marg. in Mesech, and have dwelt among the tents of Kedar. 6. My soul hath long dwelt with him who hateth peace. 7. I am for peace; and when I speak they are for war. 5454     Literally it is, “I peace; and when I speak, they for war.”


5. Alas for me! that I have been a sojourner in Mesech. David complains that he was doomed to linger for a long time among a perverse people; his condition resembling that of some wretched individual who is compelled to live till he grows old in sorrowful exile. The Mesechites and Kedarenes, as is well known, were Eastern tribes; the former of which derived their original from Japhet, as Moses informs us in Genesis 10:2; and the latter from a son of Ishmael. (Genesis 25:13.) To take the latter for a people of Italy, who were anciently called Hetrurians, is altogether absurd, and without the least color of probability, Some ‘would have the word Mesech to be an appellative noun; and because מש mashak, signifies to draw, to protract, they think that the Prophet bewails his protracted banishment, of the termination of which he saw no prospect. 5555     This is the sense in which the word is rendered in most of the ancient versions. Thus the Septuagint has ἡ παροικία μρυ ἐμακρύνθη, “my sojourning is protracted;” and it is followed by the Syriac, Vulgate, and Arabic versions. Aquila has προσηλύτευσα ἐν μακρυσμῷ I was a stranger for a long time;” and Symmachus, παροικῶν παρίλκυσα “I have protracted sojourning.” Bishop Patrick and Dr. Hammond, following these authorities, render משך, mesech, adverbially. But though this is a meaning which the word will bear, yet as Calvin observes, there is little room for doubting that it is here a proper name. The parallelism which enables us in many instances to determine the accurate interpretation of a word in Hebrew poetry when other helps entirely fail, decidedly favors this interpretation. The term corresponding to משך mesech, in the next hemistich, is קרר kedar; and as it is universally admitted that this is the name of a place, it cannot be justly questioned that such is also the case with respect to משך mesech. To render it otherwise is destructive of the poetical structure of the passage. “If,” says Phillips, “the adverbial sense be intended, then the expression should not have been גרתי משך, but something analogous to רבת שכנה in the next verse. Many localities have been mentioned for the geography of Mesech, as Tuscany, Cappadocia, Armenia, etc., which proves that the particular district called by this name is uncertain.” It is however obvious that some barbarous and brutal tribes of Arabs are intended. But as immediately after he adds Kedar, by which term the Ishmaelites are unquestionably intended, I have no doubt that Mesech is to be understood of the Arabians who were their neighbors. If any one is of opinion that the Mesechites obtained this name from their dexterity in shooting with the bow, I will make no objections, provided it is admitted that the Prophet — as if he had been confined within a country of robbers — expresses the irksomeness of an uncomfortable and an annoying place of residence. Although he names the Arabians, yet under the terms employed he speaks metaphorically of his own countrymen, just as he elsewhere applies the appellation of Gentiles to the corrupt and degenerate Jews. 5656     A similar mode of speaking is not uncommon in our own day. Thus we are accustomed to call gross and ignorant people Turks and Hottentots. But here, with the view of putting still more dishonor upon his enemies, he has purposely selected the name by which to designate them from some of the savage and barbarous nations whose horrible cruelty was well known to the Jews. From these words we are taught, that scarcely a more distressing evil can befall the people of God, than for them to be placed in circumstances which, notwithstanding their living a holy and an inoffensive life, they yet cannot escape the calumnies of venomous tongues. It is to be observed, that although David was living in his own country, he yet was a stranger in it, nothing being more grievous to him than to be in the company of wicked men. Hence we learn that no sin is more detestable to God, by whose Spirit David spake, than the false accusations which shamefully deface the beauty of God’s Church, and lay it waste, causing it to differ little from the dens of robbers, or other places rendered infamous from the barbarous cruelty of which they are the scene. Now if the place where the uprightness of good men is overwhelmed by the criminations of lying lips is to the children of God converted into a region of miserable exile, how could they have pleasure, or rather, how could they fail to feel the bitterest sorrow, in abiding in a part of the world where the sacred name of God is shamefully profaned by horrible blasphemies, and his truth obscured by detestable lies? David exclaims, Alas for me! because, dwelling among false brethren and a bastard race of Abraham, he was wrongfully molested and tormented by them, although he had behaved himself towards them in good conscience. 5757     “D’autant que dcmeurant entre des faux freres et une race bastardc d’Abraham, a tort il est par eux molest4 et tourment( cornroe ainsi soit th’envers eux il se porte en bonne conscience.” — Fr. Since, then, at the present day, in the Church of Rome, religion is dishonored by all manner of disgraceful imputations, faith torn in pieces, light turned into darkness, and the majesty of God exposed to the grossest mockeries, it will certainly be impossible for those who have any feeling of true piety within them to lie in the midst of such pollutions without great anguish of spirit.

6. My soul 5858     My soul, for I. hath long dwelt with him who hateth peace. The Psalmist now shows, without figure, and, so to speak, points with the finger to those 5959    Et (par maniere de dire) monstre au doigt ceux,” etc — Fr. whom he had before indirectly marked out by the terms Mesech and kedar, namely, the perfidious Israelites, who had degenerated from the holy fathers, and who rather wore the mask of Israelites than were the true seed of Israel. 6060     “Aseavoir les Israelites desloyaux qui avoyent forligne’ des saincts Peres, et qui estoyent plustost des masques d’Israclites, que non pas une vraye semence d’Israel.” — Fr. He calls them haters of peace, 6161     In describing those among whom he was now living as haters of peace, and, in the next verse, as bent on war, the inspired writer probably still alludes to the Arab tribes he had specified in the 5th verse, who have, from their origin to the present hour, been eminently characterized by their hatred of peace and propensity to war. Dr. Shaw thus writes concerning these barbarous tribes as they are to be found in our own day, and their character and habits were the same at the time when this Psalm was written: “The Arabs are naturally thievish and treacherous; and it sometimes happens, that those very persons are overtaken and pillaged in the morning who were entertained the night before with all the instances of friendship and hospitality. Neither are they to be accused for plundering strangers only, and attacking almost every person whom they find unarmed and defenceless, but for those many implacable and hereditary animosities which continually subsist among them: literally fulfilling the prophecy to Hagar, that ‘Ishmael should be a wild man; his hand should be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.’” because they wilfully, and with deliberate malice, set themselves to make war upon the good and unoffending. To the same purpose he adds immediately after, that his heart was strongly inclined to seek after peace, or rather, that he was wholly devoted to it, and had tried every means in order to win their favor, but that the implacable cruelty of their disposition invariably impelled them to do him mischief. When he says, I peace, it is an abrupt, yet not an obscure expression, implying that he had not done them any injury or wrong which could give occasion for their hatred there having been always peace on his part. He even proceeds farther, asserting, that when he saw them inflamed with resentment against him, he endcavourcd to pacify them, and to bring them to a good understanding; for to speak, is here equivalent to offering conditions of peace in an amicable spirit, or to treating of reconciliation. From this it is still more apparent, how savage and brutal was the pride of David’s enemies, since they disdained even to speak with him — to speak with a man who had deserved well at their hands, and who had never in any respect injured them. We are taught by his example, that it is not enough for the faithful to abstain from hurting others: they must, moreover, study to allure them by gentleness, and to bend them to good will. Should their moderation and kindness be rejected, let them wait in patience, until God at length show himself from heaven as their protector. Let us, however, remember, that if God does not immediately stretch forth his hand in our behalf, it is our duty to bear the wearisomeness occasioned by delay, like David, whom we find in this Psalm giving, thanks to God for his deliverance, while, at the same time, as if worn out with the weariness of waiting for it, he bewails the long oppression to which he had been subjected by his enemies.

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