Study

a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

120. Psalm 120

In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

2Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.

3What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?

4Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.

5Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!

6My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.

7I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

4. The arrows of a strong man sharpened, with coals of juniper. Here the Psalmist amplifies in another way the malice of such as distress the simple and innocent by their calumnies, affirming that they throw out their injurious reports just like a man who should draw an arrow, and with it pierce through the body of his neighbor; and that their calumnies were like coals of juniper, 5252     The Hebrew word רתם, rothem, here rendered “juniper,” occurs also in I Kings 19:4, 5, and Job 30:4, in both which places it is translated in our English Bible by “juniper-tree.” It would appear that this shrub was remarkable for the intense flame with which it burned, and for the length of time during which its embers retained their heat. Several critics, however, think that the Hebrew rothem means the genista or Spanish broom; and in support of this opinion it is said that the genista is much used as fuel by the Arabs, among whom the Psalmist describes himself as then living; and that, as Geierus asserts, it” sparkles, burns, and crackles more vehemently than any other wood.” (See Parkhurst on רתם.) It is somewhat difficult to decide in this matter. As more than thirty different trees are mentioned in the Bible, and as we are but imperfectly acquainted with the natural history of these remote countries, it is no wonder though we find it impossible to identify all these trees. It may be observed that Calvin in his translation brings out that beautiful gradation of sense, terminating in a point of severity, for which the Hebrew text is remarkable, but which does not appear in our English version. Slanderous words are first compared to “arrows,” secondly, to “arrows discharged from the bow by a strong man,” and in proportion to the strength of a man will be the force with which his weapon strikes; next to “sharp arrows;” and lastly, to “coals of juniper,” or some wood used in those days celebrated for burning fiercely and long, (for the particle עם, im translated with, is sometimes one of similitude, as in Psalm 106:6, “We have sinned like as our fathers,”) intimating not only that malignant slanders deeply penetrate, but that they inflame and burn for a long time. Hence the Apostle James (James 3:5, 6) compares the tongue of slander to a fire enkindled from hell, and inflaming the course of nature. Some interpreters think that this verse is not to be understood as a description of calumny, but rather as the punishment which God will inflict on the calumniator. They therefore regard it as an answer to the question in the preceding verse, “What shall be given unto thee,” etc.; observing that calumny and falsehood being frequently represented by the images of arrows and fire, the same images suitably express the requital which awaits them at the hand of God — the swift and terrible retributive vengeance of the Almighty, which will overtake all who practice falsehood and slander. See Psalm 57:4; Psalm 64:3, 7, 9; and Job 20:26. “Sharp arrows of the Mighty One, with coals of juniper,” await them. This opinion is adopted by Street, Mant, Morison, Paxton, Fry, French and Skinner. Calvin’s exposition is embraced by Walford and Phillips. The former, to elicit this meaning the more clearly, uses a supplement:
   “Sharp arrows of a warrior,
And burning coals of juniper,
thou resemblest.

   He, however, in a footnote requests the reader “to observe, that this is given as what seems to be the most probable interpretation of the passage, though it cannot be regarded as absolutely certain.”
which penetrate more effectually, and burn more intensely the substances with which they come in contact than the coals of any other kind of wood. The amount is, that the tongues of these slanderers were inflamed with the burning heat of fire, and, as it were, dipped in deadly poison; and that such persons were the less excusable, from the fact that, without deriving any advantage from it, they were impelled by an unbridled passion to inflict upon others deadly mischief. As the Prophet records nothing here which he did not experience in his own person, it may be inferred that if it behoved him and men of a similar character to be assailed by their enemies with lies, which were to them as arrows to pierce them, or coals to burn them, we need not be surprised at seeing the most eminent servants of God exercised with similar assaults.


VIEWNAME is study