In an earlier post, I made the supposition that the Songs of Ascents encourage the faithful to look forward to the end-of-days fulfillment of the Lord’s promises to David at Zion. This theme continues in Psalm 125, which accents the posture of the faithful as they await this forever kingdom as those who have proclaimed in the previous psalm: “Our help is in the name of Yhwh, the Maker of heaven and earth” (124:8).
As in Psalm 124, connections to Psalm 121 continue as the author compares those who trust in Yhwh to the mountains that surround Jerusalem/Zion. As a complement to the psalms that preceded, Psalm 125 opens by reminding the congregation that trusting in Yhwh is not in vain.
Those who trust in Yhwh are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so Yhwh surrounds His people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
Furthermore, like all biblical poetry and especially the Songs of Ascents, the psalmist uses parallelism and repetition to ensure that the readers focus on the point of the analogy. In the span of two verses, each of the terms “mountain(s),” “surround,” and “forever” appears twice. From a poetic perspective, three observations are important.
First, repetition, which is common in the Psalter, serves both to structure the lines of psalms and to highlight the importance of a concept. In this psalm, then, these two verses highlight the permanence of the mountains of Jerusalem that surround the land as part of a pair of similes.
Second, the literary device of a simile (or metaphor) also occurs often in the Psalter. Here, there are two (strong Mount Zion and surrounding mountains), which combine to make profound theological points.
Third, poets also use unbalanced lines to bring attention to an element. In these two verses, there seems to be an extra line. Balance is part of the nature of Hebrew parallelism, so when it is broken, the reader should give pause. In this case, the phrase “from this time forth and forevermore” seems to be added here, breaking the balance of the verse, to ensure that the reader knows how permanent Yhwh’s protection is. Moreover, this phrase is found elsewhere in the Songs of Ascents, of which one occurrence is Psalm 121, which seems to take a prominent position in this collection.
Yhwh will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (121:8)
O Israel, hope in Yhwh
from this time forth and forevermore. (131:3)
In v. 1, the focus falls upon the immovability of Mount Zion, which should be associated with Jerusalem, especially in light of its connection with the temple. The simile developed is simple: Trusting in Yhwh breeds permanence. That is, those who believe are provided eternal stability. In v. 2, another simile builds on the first using the mountains as analogous to the way Yhwh surrounds His people.
Combining these two similes gives a comprehensive picture of the author’s intention. Just as Jerusalem, whose central focus is Zion, the mountain on which the temple dwelt, is surrounded by other mountains that protect it, so those who trust in Yhwh have personal, eternal stability rendered by their ever-present protector, namely, Yhwh.
Yhwh’s surrounding of His people is given practical expression in v. 3:
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.
This verse extends the analogy of Yhwh’s protection to the literal land that he gave them. The speaker describes a situation that is unnatural, namely, wickedness ruling over the land apportioned by Yhwh to His people. If this were to happen, then those who are righteous might stretch forth their hand in injustice. This good land was made for the righteous to inhabit as they fellowship with their Lord. The implication seems to be that a situation in which the wicked rule over Yhwh’s land is inconsistent with what was expressed about Yhwh in v. 2. Yhwh surrounds His people; therefore, a rule of wickedness in the land should not occur.
As a response, the psalmist calls upon Yhwh to respond in v. 4 by doing good to those who are good and upright in heart. Moreover, in v. 5, the psalmist expresses a desire for the Lord to rid them of their enemies, namely, those whose ways are crooked. Once again, the psalmist reveals his focus by use of a common literary device, a chiasm:
A Do good, O Yhwh, to those who are good,
B and to those who are upright in their hearts!
B’ But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
A’ Yhwh will lead away with evildoers!
The writer contrasts the good with the bad. The good ones are those who are upright in heart; the evil ones are those who turn aside to crooked ways. The evil ones are those who choose to follow the crooked and are therefore given up to their pursuit by Yhwh. He leads them into the paths that they are following. In making this comparison, the psalm takes up a common theme in the Psalter, extending back to Psalms 1 and 2.
The psalm concludes on a interesting note. Out of nowhere, it seems, the phrase, “Peace be upon Israel!” appears. On the one hand, this phrase completes the triad of mentioning all three names that are significant in the Songs of Ascents: Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel. On the other hand, the writer again uses poetic parallelism advantageously. In much the same way that the poet has placed the phrase, “from this time forth and forevermore,” at the end of v. 2 in order to draw attention to the perpetuity of Yhwh’s protection, so here he concludes his poem by returning to a major theme within the Songs of Ascents. This theme is the welfare (shalom/peace) in Jerusalem/Zion that will accompany Yhwh’s deliverance of His people. Part of this peace will be the (re)establishment of the Davidic kingdom as part of the larger promises that will come about to fulfill the promises to David in 2 Samuel 7 (see also Isaiah 2).
In summary, Psalm 125 calls upon Yhwh to act on behalf of His people, bringing resolution to the unnatural reality that the land allotted to His people needs peace. Those who long for that promise, described here as those who trust, who are good, and who are upright in heart, should persevere with the realization that Yhwh has eternally procured their protection through the plans He has made for David’s kingdom.