Introduction to Psalm 120

A Song of degrees. This psalm, and the fourteen following, are called "songs of degrees", or "ascents" {o}; for what reason it is not easy to say. Some think it refers to the music of them, and that this is the name of the tune to which they were set; or the first word of a song according to which they were sung, as Aben Ezra; or that they were sung with an higher voice, or an ascending note, as Saadiah Gaon. Others are of opinion that the title of them respects the ascent of persons or places, at what time and where they were sung; either when the Israelites went up to Jerusalem, at the three solemn yearly feasts; or when the Jews came up from Babylon, mention being made in some of these psalms of their being in Babylon, and of their return from their captivity there; and so the inscription of the Syriac version is,

"the first song of ascent; the people detained in Babylon pray to be delivered.''

But the common opinion of the Jews, and which is embraced by many Christians {p}, and is mentioned by Jarchi, Saadiah Gaon, Kimchi, and Ben Melech, is, that these are the songs sung by the Levites, on the fifteen steps, by which they went up from the court of the women to the court of the Israelites, or came down them; and on each step sung one of these psalms {q}. Though it may be they are so called because of their excellency; a song of degrees being an "excellent" {r} song, as an excellent man is called a man of high degree, 1 Chronicles 17:17; these being excellent ones for the matter of them, their manner of composure, and the brevity of them. It is generally thought this psalm was composed by David, on account of Doeg the Edomite, because of its likeness in some things with the fifty second psalm: and certain it is that the psalmist had been in some great distress, and at a distance from his own country and the house of God, and dwelt among wicked men when he wrote it; so that it is very probable it was composed during his exile through the persecution of Saul.

{o} twleml ryv "canticum ascensionum", Munster, Vatablus.
{p} L'Empereur in Middot, c. 2. s. 5. Lightfoot's Temple-Service, c. 20. so Theodoret in loc.
{q} Vid. Misn. Middot. c. 2. s. 5. Succah, c. 5. s. 4.
{r} "Canticum excellentissimum", Junius & Tremellius.