Psalm 125 – “Homily/Prayer for the Righteous”

shephelahhillcountryHebrew-English Text

I. Summary
Psalm 125 is a short Homily that was probably said by a leader to a congregation. The leader assures the righteous that God will protect them, warns them to remain pious, and prays on their behalf.

II. Outline
1a. Superscription
1b-3a. Beatitude (blessed assurance)
3b. Warning
4. Petition
5ab. Imprecation
5c. Closing benediction

III. Comment
The overall message of Psalm 125 is that of assurance: the righteous are compared to the secure Mt. Zion and and are protected by God in the way that Jersusalem is “fortified” by the surrounding hills. To explain the metaphor of “being surrounded by mountains,” it must be noted that Mt. Zion lies 33-76 meters below the four mountains that surround it (Keel, quoted by Allen). This geographical reality gives the impression that the mountain is “protected” by its neighbors.

In terms of literary structure, Psalm 125 repeats a number of words (e.g. har, saviv, olam, zadiq, and tov) and might display chiastic structures in individual verses. The phrase lo’ yimmot “cannot be moved” is found both in hymnic descriptions of the earth (cf. Ps. 93:1; 96:10) and in descriptions of human security (cf. Ps. 15:5; 16:8; 21:8). The final phrase “May it be well with Israel!” is also the ending to Psalm 128, a psalm very similar to Ps. 125.

The major question surrounding Psalm 125 is “Who is it addressed to, and what is its specific message?” There are two general ways of understanding the psalm:

(A) The Psalms’s placement in the shir hama’alot section indicates that it was intended for the pilgrims, either on their journey or arrival at Jerusalem. This fits well with the mention of Mount Zion and Jerusalem (vv. 1-2); the pilgrims are compared to the city they are traveling to. Consequently, the mention of the ‘am “people” in v. 2 might refer to those who chose to undertake the journey (cf. Gen 33:15, Jer 14:13 where ‘am refers to a specific group as opposed to a nation), and the phrase “the scepter of the wicked shall never rest upon the land allotted to the righteous” (v.3) would indicate that the pilgrims need not worry about their land back home because it is protected by God.

(B) Many scholars believe that Ps. 125 is postexilic, i.e. from the 2nd Temple period (Gunkel focused on the phrase lema’an lo’ which apperas to be late Biblical Hebrew, occurring 4x in Ezek., 3x in Psalms, and once in Zech.). Based on this contextual setting, Allen believes that the psalm is directed to the broader nation and that the speaker is encouraging his people not to lose faith while under the pressures of foreign rule (see Neh. 9:32-37 for an expression of postexilic frustrations). In an interesting parallel, Allen points to the fact that the phrase “the scepter of the wicked” in v. 3 is similar to the phrases found in Isa. 14:5,29, a passage which speaks about God’s upheaval of foreign rule. According to this understanding, the word ‘am in v. 2 refers to the entire nation, and goral “allotted [land]” in v. 3 refers to the land allotted to the entire nation. The enemies in v. 5 would refer to foreign oppressors.

IV. Important verses:
1-2: Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion that cannot be moved, enduring forever. Jerusalem, hills surround it, and the LORD surrounds His people now and forever.