“Psa_120:1-7. This is the first of fifteen Psalms (Psalms 120-134) entitled “A Song of Degrees” (Psa_121:1 - literally, “A song for the degrees”), or ascents. It seems most probable they were designed for the use of the people when going up (compare 1Ki_12:27, 1Ki_12:28) to Jerusalem on the festival occasions (Deu_16:16), three times a year. David appears as the author of four, Solomon of one (Psa_127:1), and the other ten are anonymous, probably composed after the captivity. In this Psalm the writer acknowledges God’s mercy, prays for relief from a malicious foe, whose punishment he anticipates, and then repeats his complaint.” (JFB)
Psa 120:1 A Song of degrees. In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.
“There are few forms of suffering more keen than those caused by slander. It is one of those things which a man cannot guard against; which he cannot repel by force; whose origin he cannot always trace; which will go where a vindication will not follow; whose effects will live long after the slander is refuted; which will adhere to a man, or leave a trait of suspicion, even after the most successful vindication, for the effect will be to make a second slander more easily credited than the first was.
“I had no other resource. I could not meet the slander. I could not refute it. I could not prevent its effects on my reputation, and all that I could do was to commit the case to the Lord.” (Barnes)
Psa 120:2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
“If we read another Psalm to this effect, and which hath been always considered as referring to Jesus, we shall find how the holy sufferer complains of false witnesses rising up against him. Psa_35:11-18. And the awful event which terminated the life of the traitor Judas, may well be compared to what is here said of sharp arrows from God and coals of juniper…”(Hawker)
“He was brought into distress, into great distress, by lying lips and a deceitful tongue. There were those that sought his ruin, and had almost effected it, by lying. (1.) By telling lies to him. They flattered him with professions and protestations of friendships, and promises of kindness and service to him, that they might the more securely and without suspicion carry on their designs against him, and might have an opportunity, by betraying his counsels, to do him a mischief. They smiled in his face and kissed him, even when they were aiming to smite him under the fifth rib. The most dangerous enemies, and those which it is most hard to guard against, are such as carry on their malicious designs under the colour of friendship. The Lord deliver every good man from such lying lips. (2.) By telling lies of him. They forged false accusations against him and laid to his charge things that he knew not. This has often been the lot not only of the innocent, but of the excellent ones, of the earth, who have been greatly distressed by lying lips, and have not only had their names blackened and made odious by calumnies in conversation, but their lives, and all that is dear to them in this world, endangered by false-witness-bearing in judgment. David was herein a type of Christ, who was distressed by lying lips and deceitful tongues.” (Henry)
Psa 120:3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
“Margin, “What shall the deceitful tongue give unto thee;” or, “what shall it profit thee?” Luther, “What can the false tongue do?” Others render this, “How will God punish thee?” Others, “What will he (God) give to thee?” That is, What recompence can you expect from God for these malignant calumnies? A literal translation of this verse would be, “What shall the tongue of deceit give to thee, and what shall it add to thee?” - referring to the offender himself. The essential idea is, What will be the result of such conduct? What must be expected to follow from it?
“Or what shall be done unto thee? - Margin, as in Hebrew, “added.” What must be the consequence of this? what will follow?: (Barnes)
Psa 120:4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
“…the punishment of an evil tongue from the Lord is intended, whose sore judgments are often compared to arrows, Deu_32:23; because they come from above, and bring swift and sudden destruction with them; and are very sharp in the hearts of his enemies; are very severe and cutting, and come with power irresistible, being the arrows of the Almighty, Job_6:4; see Jer_50:9; and these may be compared to "coals of juniper", which are very vehement and strong, and very lasting and durable…” (Gill)
Some of the commentaries liken the “coals of the juniper” to hell, because it burns very hot and very long. While the concept of eternal torment is not actually taught in scripture, second death is. Second death is an eternal death, a death which there will never be a resurrection from. It is pictured by our Lord when he uses the term “Gehenna” in his parables. Jude describes the second death as “twice dead, plucked up by the roots”. Jude also gives three examples of character traits that will lead to second death; Cain who hated his brother, Balaam who like Judas would betray for money, and Korah who tried to take control of God’s arrangement.
The lying tongue in this Psalm is causing all sorts of hardship and persecution to the Psalmist and if it is a type of Christ as others have suggested, it eventually led to his murder. God is not mocked, they will reap what they have sown. “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.” Those that bear false witness which may lead to the death or hurt of another will be held accountable. They will receive, according to God’s laws” the same penalty that the victim would have received if the charges were true.
Deu 19:18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; 19 Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
Psa 120:5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
“Reading these words with reference to Christ…in the society of those with whom he was constrained, as the sinner’s surety, to sojourn. Hence we find him saying, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you? Mat_17:17. But chiefly with Judas whom Christ knew from the first should betray him, and whom Christ called a devil. Joh_13:11; Joh_6:70-71. Reader! if such were the exercises of Jesus, think it not strange that his people are constrained to dwell as in the tents of Kedar, the Ishmaelites of the present day. As Kedar was the son of Ishmael; so the opposers of the Lord Jesus now are found in the posterity of those born after the flesh. And Jesus saith, Let both grow together until the harvest. But it is sweet to discriminate grace from nature: and as they are frequently found together in the same house, the same family, nay, the same person; doth not the same Lord overrule such events to his glory, and his people’s everlasting welfare? Gen_25:13; Gal_4:28-29; Mat_13:30; Gal_5:17.” (Hawker)
Psa 120:6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
“My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace - This trouble is no new thing. It has been long continued, and has become intolerable. Who this was that thus gave him [David] trouble is, of course, now unknown. It is only necessary to remark that there can scarcely be any source of trouble more bitter than that of sustaining such relations to others either in business, or in office, or by family-ties - whether by marriage or by blood - in school, in college, or in corporate bodies - as to expose us always to a quarrel: to be compelled to have constant contact with people of sour, perverse, crooked tempers, who are satisfied with nothing; who are suspicious or envious; who pervert our motives and our conduct; who misrepresent our words; who demand more than is due to them; who refuse to perform what may reasonably be expected of them; and who make use of every opportunity to involve us in difficulties with others. There are many trials in human life, but there are few which are more galling, or more hard to bear than this. The literal rendering of the passage would be, “Long for her has my soul dwelt,” etc. That is, long (or too long) for her good - for the welfare of my soul. It has been an injury to me; to my piety, to my comfort, to my salvation. it has vexed me, tried me, hindered me in my progress in the divine life. Nothing would have a greater tendency of this kind than to be compelled to live in the manner indicated above.” (Barnes)
“My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. The God of peace, against whom their carnal minds are enmity itself; Christ, the Prince of peace, the Man, the Peace, who has made peace by the blood of his cross, whom the world hates; the sons of peace, the quiet in the land, against whom the wicked devise evil things; the Gospel of peace, which the natural man abhors as foolishness; the way of peace, pardon, and salvation by Christ, which carnal men know not, and do not approve of; and the ordinances of the Gospel, which are paths of peace. In short, some are of such restless, quarrelsome, and contentious spirits, that they hate peace with any; are like the troubled sea, that cannot rest; and cannot sleep, unless they do mischief to their fellow creatures: it is very uncomfortable living, especially living long with such.” (Gill)
Psa 120:7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.
“I am for peace - Margin, “A man of peace.” Literally, “I (am) peace.” It is my nature. I desire to live in peace. I strive to do so. I do nothing to provoke a quarrel. I would do anything which would be right to pacify others. I would make any sacrifices, yield to any, demands, consent to any arrangements which would promise peace.
"But when I speak - When I say anything on the subject, when I propose any new arrangements, when I suggest any changes, when I give utterance to my painful feelings, and express a desire to live differently - they will listen to nothing; they will be satisfied with nothing.
"They are for war - For discord, variance, strife. All my efforts to live in peace are vain. They are determined to quarrel, and I cannot prevent it.
(a) A man in such a case should separate from such a person, if possible, as the only way of peace.
(b) If his position and relations are such that that cannot be done, then he should be careful that he does nothing himself to irritate and to keep up the strife.
(c) If all that he does or can do for peace is vain, and if his relations and position are such that he cannot separate, then he should bear it patiently - as coming from God, and as the discipline of his life. God has many ways of testing the patience and faith of his people, and there are few things which will do so more effectually than this; few situations where piety will shine more beautifully than in such a trial;
(d) He who is thus tried should look with the more earnestness of desire to another world. There is a world of peace; and the peace of heaven will be all the more grateful and blessed when we go up to it from such a scene of conflict and war.” (Barnes)