When we lift our eyes upward, we naturally expand our breathing and relax. Psalm 123 begins with the Psalmist lifting eyes to the “Dweller in Heavens.” But, the relaxed breathing ends there. The focus shifts to the plight of the community and a painful metaphor: “Behold, as the eyes of slaves toward the hand of the master, as the eyes of a maidservant toward the hand of the mistress, so our eyes are toward Adonai our God until [God] grants us grace.” The image conveys total dependency and an element of fear. For the hand of a master in the time of slavery both gives food and wields the whip. Note the use of both genders, which would include God in both genders as well.
The national plight that the Psalmist describes is scorn by the arrogant. We are not told who mocks: whether fellow Israelites or other nations. There is a challenging comment on the final verse by the Ba’al Shem Tov, the mystic sage of the 18th century: “God sends you less-than-perfect people so that can get some insight into your imperfections,” for what often annoys us the most in others is as a mirror of ourselves.
Psalm 123 is only four verses and yet, so much to explore in the choice of imagery and words and how they relate to our own lives.
Please join me for our study of Psalm 123, honoring Richard Henley.