In My Distress I Cried Unto the Lord (Psalm 120)

43 Custom

Psalm 120 is the first of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). It's a short psalm, expressing a cry for deliverance and peace in the midst of distress and falsehood.

The psalm starts with the psalmist expressing his deep distress and how he turns to the Lord for deliverance. In his lament, he vividly describes the deceit and lies of those around him, conveying a profound feeling of being engulfed by hostile forces. This sense of conflict is further emphasized as the psalmist contemplates the consequences that await the deceitful, suggesting a divine retribution for their actions. Amidst this atmosphere of hostility and conflict, the psalmist's plea for peace stands out, though it is faced with resistance. This portrayal of a personal struggle against deceit and the longing for peace captures a poignant human experience, seeking divine intervention in times of turmoil.

Although the psalm is short it elevates these themes:

  • Human Cry for Divine Intervention (אֶל־יְהוָה בַּצָּרָתָה לִּי קָרָאתִי [el-Adonaj ba-tzarat li karati]): The psalm illustrates the human experience of calling out to God (קָרָא [kara]) in times of trouble, a theme echoed throughout many psalms (Psalm 18:6; Psalm 34:17).
  • Conflict Between Truth and Falsehood (מִשְּׂפַת־שֶׁקֶר מִלָּשׁוֹן רְמִיָּה [mi-sfat-sheker mi-lashon r'miyah]): The psalm spotlights the struggle between truth (אֱמֶת [emet]) and deceit (רְמִיָּה [r'miyah]), a central moral battle in biblical texts (see Proverbs 12:17; Zechariah 8:16).
  • Yearning for Peace (אֲנִי־שָׁלוֹם [ani-shalom]): The psalmist's desire for peace (שָׁלוֹם [shalom]) amidst hostility reflects a deep yearning for shalom, significant in both personal and communal faith (see Isaiah 32:17; Psalm 34:14).
  • God as a Source of Help (יְהוָ֗ה הַצִּילָה נַפְשִׁי [adonaj hatzilah nafshi]): The psalm reinforces the belief in God (אֱלֹהִים [elohim]) as a refuge (מַחֲסֶה [machaseh]) and protector (מָגֵן [magen]), a key aspect of faith in the Tanak (see Psalm 46:1; Deuteronomy 33:27).

Psalm 120 sets the tone for the Psalms of Ascent as a journey from distress to a place of peace and security, symbolized by the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It holds a place of comfort and identification for those who find themselves in similar circumstances, calling out for God's intervention in their lives.


Word Meaning
שִׁיר song
הַ definite article
מַעֲלָה ascent, step, stair
אֶל towards
יְהוָה Lord
בְּ in
צָרָה need, distress, anxiety; concubine, second wife, enmity
לְ to
אֲנִי I
קרא to call; to meet

Biblical text

120:1שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֶל־יְ֭הוָה בַּצָּרָ֣תָה לִּ֑י קָ֝רָ֗אתִי וַֽיַּעֲנֵֽנִי׃2יְֽהוָ֗ה הַצִּ֣ילָה נַ֭פְשִׁי מִשְּׂפַת־שֶׁ֑קֶר מִלָּשׁ֥וֹן רְמִיָּֽה׃3מַה־יִּתֵּ֣ן לְ֭ךָ וּמַה־יֹּסִ֥יף לָ֗ךְ לָשׁ֥וֹן רְמִיָּֽה׃4חִצֵּ֣י גִבּ֣וֹר שְׁנוּנִ֑ים עִ֝֗ם גַּחֲלֵ֥י רְתָמִֽים׃5אֽוֹיָה־לִ֭י כִּי־גַ֣רְתִּי מֶ֑שֶׁךְ שָׁ֝כַ֗נְתִּי עִֽם־אָהֳלֵ֥י קֵדָֽר׃6רַ֭בַּת שָֽׁכְנָה־לָּ֣הּ נַפְשִׁ֑י עִ֝֗ם שׂוֹנֵ֥א שָׁלֽוֹם׃7אֲֽנִי־שָׁ֭לוֹם וְכִ֣י אֲדַבֵּ֑ר הֵ֝֗מָּה לַמִּלְחָמָֽה׃