Psalm 125 Translation and comment

A song of ascents or degrees

Those who trust Yahweh are like Mount Zion:

Immovable, it will remain forever.

Just as the hills encircle Jerusalem

So Yahweh encircles his folk,

From this time and forever.

For the measuring rod of the wrongdoer

Will not be laid on the allotted land of the just.

So that just people may not turn

their hands to doing harm.

Do good,Yahweh, to those who are good,

Who are right in their hearts.

But those who turn into twisted ways,

May Yahweh remove them

Along with idolators.

May Israel have peace.

Scholars note that the Hebrew “shevet” can mean a rod or sceptre, but it can also mean a measuring rod which seems appropriate here, as the instrument with which a conquering people might measure up land for their own use. Trust in Yahweh leads the psalmist to think that this conquest will not past long.

The line about just people doing harm means either that they might collaborate with the oppressor, or turn to jihad.

The plea that Yahweh do good to good people is heartfelt and may indicate a reproach that Yahweh has been a bit deficient in this regard.

The Hebrew “awen” in the last verse is literally “nothingness” and often refers to idols. Hence my translation, “idolators.”

This is a psalm of the community after exile in Babylon. The ownership of the land is uncertain, the temple is destroyed, but Mount Zion stands as a sign of God’s faithfulness. This trust is against the evidence, and all the lovelier for that. The prayer that God should reward good people is moving in the fact that it has to be made. What’s a God for, after all?

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