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Commentary On Psalms Volume 5 by Jean Calvin

PSALM 120.

A Song of Degrees.

If we suppose David to have been the author of this Psalm, as is very probable, he declares how diligently he engaged in prayer, when, to escape the cruelty of Saul, he wandered as an exile from place to place. But he especially complains of wicked informers, who unjustly and calumniously charged him with crimes of which he was altogether innocent. If a different supposition is preferred, the language will be a simple and general complaint against false reports. This Psalm, and the immediately subsequent fourteen, are called Psalms of Degrees; but for what reason is not agreed upon, even among the Hebrew doctors. Some conceive that there were fifteen steps to that part of the Temple which was allotted for the men, whereas the women remained beneath but this is a silly conjecture, for which there is no foundation; and we know the liberties which the Jews, in obscure and uncertain matters like this, take of giving forth as an explanation whatever comes into their own fancy. Some translate Psalms of Ascents; and by ascent they understand the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity -- an interpretation which is altogether forced; for it is manifest that the greater part of these Psalms were composed, either by David or Solomon; and it is easy to gather from their contents, that such of them as were written by David, were, sung in the Temple, while he was alive and on the throne. Others think that the word ascents refers to the tones of music Some also affirm that it was the beginning of a song. This being a matter of small moment, I am not disposed to make it the subject of elaborate investigation; but the probable conjecture is, that this title was given to these Psalms, because they were sung on a higher key than others. The Hebrew word for degrees being derived from the verb tslh, tsalah, to ascend or go up, I agree with those who are of opinion that it denotes the different musical notes rising in succession.

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