PSALM 126 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JORNEY WITH REAL JOY

PSALM 126 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JORNEY WITH REAL JOY

 (The seventh Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with the important issue of having and looking forward to the real joy of the Lord that comes when we first experience for ourselves his salvation and then when we look forward to his salvation to come.)

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 126

After I completed my three years of Bible College training some forty years ago I was involved in thirteen years of full time church youth ministry. My ministry in those days just like today involved a lot of music. I remember from those days of youth ministry one song that still speaks powerfully to me called, “Happiness is the Lord”. The words of the first two verses of that song go like this,

Happiness is to know the Saviour

Living a life within His favour,

Having a change in my behaviour,

Happiness is the Lord.

 

Happiness is a new creation,

Jesus and me in close relation,

Having a part in His Salvation

Happiness is the Lord.

 Then the song has a fabulous refrain that really defines the difference between the joy or happiness God wants to give us and the joy or happiness that the world without God desires, it says,

Real joy is mine,

No matter if the teardrops start,

I’ve found the secret,

It’s Jesus in my heart”.

 

Then the song has one more verse that makes sure you know exactly what real joy or happiness is, it says,

 

“Happiness is to be forgiven,

Living a life that’s worth the living,

Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,

Happiness is the Lord”.

 This important message of real joy or happiness is the central theme of the seventh song of ascent and we can see that this is so from the fact that the phrase, “With Songs of Joy” appears three times in this six verse Psalm, vs. 2, 5 and 6.

The Psalm has two distinct parts which look at the joy of salvation found in verses 1 to 3 and then what I call the joy of salvation to come. Tremper Longman 111 speaks of this Psalm featuring a,

“Already and not yet perspective” which is a neat way of expressing the unusual structure of this Psalm.

The Psalm obviously is speaking about the Jews return from captivity in Babylon to Israel and particularly Zion or Jerusalem (around 537BC) but it also seems to indicate that after the initial joyful return from Babylon problems and difficulties set in and further deliverance or salvation was needed from the Lord.

A lot of commentators believe this Psalm would fit the situation of the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (around 458 – 444BC) when great opposition arose in particularly Jerusalem by non – Jewish settlers there.

So far as being a song sung for Pilgrim Travellers on their annual ascending journeys to Jerusalem to worship at one of the three main festivals there this song would have encouraged them as they journeyed to realise that even in the face of difficulty the Lord has done and will do great things for them and this should be the basis of real joy expressed in song as they looked to God to get them to their ultimate destination.

For us as Christians Longman’s “Already and not yet perspective” of our salvation is also a very real reality. We are saved in Christ and know the joy of our salvation in him. We are also being saved by Christ and know real joy even though we might face of difficulties in this life. Finally, one day will be in heaven or glory experiencing complete and wonderful joy again through what Christ has done for us.

So my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 3)   THE JOY OF SALVATION FOUND
  1. (1 – 2a)  Surprised by the joy of salvation
  2. (2b – 3)  The joy of what the Lord has done
  1. (4 – 6) THE JOY OF SALVATION TO COME
  1. Introduction to the second section – the ‘already but not yet’ principle
  2. (vs. 4)   A call for salvation
  3. (5 – 6)   The joy of salvation to come

 Lets then have a close look at this Psalm under the headings above:

  1. (1 – 3)   THE JOY OF SALVATION FOUND

 The feelings expressed in the first verse of Psalm 126 is one of “surprised joy” as the writer says this,

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed”.

 The idea of joy is expressed in verse 2a with the words,

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy”.

 To get the full impact of these words and understand what the original readers and singers of this song of ascent would have understood by what they read or sang I need to answer for you three important questions, which are:

  1. What does the writer mean by the words “Restored the fortunes of Zion”?
  2. Why was this a surprise or like a dream?
  3. What do the words “our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of Joy” mean?

Let me now give you a good answer to each of these three important questions:

  1. What does the writer mean by the words “Restored the fortunes of Zion”?

The opening words of this Psalm which read literally,

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”.

 This is an obvious reference to the Lord making it possible for his people now known as The Jews to return to their homeland form seventy years of captivity in Babylon. This took place in the year 537BC when the king of the Persians who had just defeated the Babylonians made a decree or law that allowed the captive Jews to return freely to their former homeland of Israel.

This seems like a fairly simple event in history but it was much more than that as when a people have been conquered by another nation and what was left of them were taken into exile to another country that would mean nine times out of ten the end of that nation and culture. The whole idea of exiling a conquered people was to compressively crush those people and have them assimilated into the conquering nation.

This return to Zion, Jerusalem and of course Israel was foretold by the prophets and Jeremiah even sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon that sets down this great prophecy, Jeremiah 29: 10 – 14,

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and full fill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

 “The fortunes of Zion”, could well be Zion as the writer of Psalm 126 chosen name for God’s people and if so means that God’s people who remember gathered as one people in Jerusalem and Zion where the Temple sat to worship God had been restored to live and prosper there.

This restoration was Old Testament style salvation and mirrors the greater acts of God in saving us spiritually through the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as it would have seen impossible that a conquered nation in ancient times taken into exile in another country far away could return to start again back in their former land so it would seem impossible that we can be saved from our sins and the eternal death our sins deserve yet that is the message of the Gospel.

We have been brought from darkness to light, death to life and transformed from being God’s enemies to be God’s friends even better God’s very own children as John declares in John 1: 9 – 13,

 “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”.

 This spiritual restoration in Christ was made possible only because of what Christ has done for us on the cross as the writer to the Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 9: 27 – 28,

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him”. 

  1. Why was this a surprise or like a dream?

So, if the Jews who returned to their homeland from 537BC knew this was foretold by the prophets like we read previously in Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon why were they so surprised when it actually happened?

This surprise was stated by the writer of Psalm 126 in the expression,

“We were like those who dreamed”

 Allan Harman explains this description of them being surprised this way,

“The reference to dreaming may describe the amazement of the people at what had happened, or, more probably, to their condition while still in Babylon”.

 In Babylon, they were locked away in miserable bondage and this would have been more like a nightmare than a dream but through a wonderful turn of events (another way of saying restored fortune) not of their own making they were back in Israel, Jerusalem and re-building the Temple on Mount Zion.

This dream like description of their salvation is used to describe Peters miraculous salvation or escape from prison in Jerusalem in Acts 12: 9,

“Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision”.

 So even though the Jews knew from the prophets or God’s word to them that God promised to bring them back to Israel and restore them to live and worship there when it happened they could not believe it was actually happening and so it seemed like a dream to them.

Maybe we could call it a dream come true and I am sure many people today think that Christians who claim to be saved through the Lord Jesus Christ are simply living a dream. However just like the Jews back in 537BC our salvation is not a dream but a very wonderful reality as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2: 1 – 7,

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”.

  1. What do the words “our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of Joy” mean?

These words I think capture something of the great joy and wonder of being saved by God and for those ancient Jews when they initially returned from brutal and dark bondage in Babylon where they were no more than slaves in a foreign land the joy and freedom of being back home again as a fully restored people would have been amazing.

The first four verses of Psalm 137 capture well how the Jews would have felt in Babylon as captives in a foreign land,

“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion! 4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

 So, it seems the Jews were well known as great singers and even the Babylonians knew this and wanted them to sing their joyful songs of Zion but how could they sing joyful songs when they felt so miserable and downtrodden.

However, after 70 years of miserable and painful captivity they were saved and restored to their homeland and stood again in Zion and so we read at the start of verse 2 of Psalm 126,

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy”.

Josh Moody who has an excellent piece on this Psalm Called “The Secret of Joy” picks up the story of the famous preacher C.H. Spurgeon being criticised about putting too much laughter in his sermons and Josh records Spurgeon’s reply to this criticism as,

“My good lady, if you only knew how much I restrain myself”.

 The message of the Gospel is what it says it is, “Good News” and it should bring to our faces a great smile of joy and happiness. It should cause us to laugh and be happy as Josh Moody describes,

“This laughter is not a little tweak of the lips. This is not a polite living – room chortle. This is not a snigger behind your hand. This is not a mid-happy laugh. Thus, is a slap – your – thigh burst in laughter”.

 I can say that in the Christian circles I mix in laughter and joy is the chief characteristic of my experience and I can remember many times of great joy and laughter as I have shared in fellowship with other believers not only in my home country of Australia but in all the countries I have had the blessing of visiting over many years.

Now back restored in Israel and particularly Jerusalem or Zion these ancient Jews could sing their songs of Joy which that could not sing as we saw from Psalm 137: 1 -4 in captivity in Babylon.

As Paul prays for the Roman Christians in Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. 

  1. (2b – 3)  The joy of what the Lord has done

 This joy of experiencing God’s amazing salvation is then spoken of in international terms in the second half of verse 2 with these words,

“Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them”.

 As I said before even the thought in the ancient world that a conquered people who had been forcefully removed into captivity in a foreign land and then returning simply just did not happen. Many much greater nations and their cultures have come and gone over the thousandsof years of history and I only know of the Jews as a nation that both after the time of the Babylonian conquest and recently after being ejected from Israel under the Romans two thousand years ago returning after 1948 to re- establish the state of Israel again.

So, the nations around Israel back in 537BC had to acknowledge that the God of Israel, here called The Lord had worked a miracle for them to bring them back to their homeland through the conquering Persians. Ray Fowler says,

“What God did for Israel was so amazing that even the surrounding nations had to sit up and take notice of what God had done and give God the glory”.

 The bible has the story of two great Exoduses one out of slavery in Egypt and the other our of bondage in Babylon and both seem to have been acknowledged by the Nations around Israel at the time.

In the case of the Exodus from Egypt we have the words Rahab said to the spies of what the people in Jericho were saying about what the God of Israel had done for them in Joshua 2: 9 – 11,

“I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

 And here we have the reaction of the nations to this second Exodus in verse 2b of Psalm 126,

“Then it is said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them”.

 Allan Harman picks up the connection of these two great biblical exodus stories for us as Christians when he writes,

“The manifestation of God’s saving power in the Exodus from Egypt and return from exile were preparatory of a far greater display in the coming and work of Jesus”.

 John the Baptist makes the exodus story connection to the coming of Jesus when he declares this,

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

 John sees Jesus as the Passover lamb, now the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. Paul makes the connection of Jesus as the Passover lamb as well in 1 Corinthians 5: 7 – 8,

“Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.

 So, the importance of us declaring to the world or nations of what he has done for us on the cross was so important to Jesus that he instituted a memorial service to keep that continually by word and action proclaimed to everyone of what the Lord has done for us as Paul tells the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26,

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

 Then in verse 3 the writer of Psalm 126 says that the basis of Israel’s joy is what the Lord has done for us, verse 3 puts it this way,

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

 Josh Moody aptly writes,

“I do think there is anyone who, if truly understood this psalm, would not want the dream it describes. Whatever your temperament (morning person or not), whatever your situation (tough or easy), so you not desire to have a constant joy that is so amazing and so obvious that people all around you say, ‘I want some of the joy juice he’s on”? The dream is described as God’s restoring his people, which causes laughter, joy, and witness”.

 So, for those who were on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of the three festivals held there these words would have been a great encouragement to them to sing with great joy what the Lord had done for them. After all, when the people of Israel were locked up in Babylon as captives and virtual slaves no pilgrimages took place but now coming back from Babylon, which could have been when the first part of this Psalm first sung they would have had much laughter, joy and singing going on as they made those annual journeys.

They had much to be joyful about and so do we with our amazing salvation that Christ has won for us which is a sure place in heaven for all eternity and so it is not unnatural for New Testament writers to speak of their joy in the Lord on many occasions like 1 Peter 1: 8 -9,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.

 So, we too can journey to God in heaven with other fellow believes filled with joy that shows itself in laughter and songs of joy.

As the last verse of the happiness is the Lord song says,

“Happiness is to be forgiven,

Living a life that’s worth the living,

Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,

Happiness is the Lord”.

  1. (4 – 6) THE JOY OF SALVATION TO COME
  1. Introduction to the second section – the ‘already but not yet’ principle

 The second half of this Psalm seems to be like a separate Psalm added to the first one as it clearly asks for restoration of Israel Gods chosen people now when the first part of the Psalm spoke of the joy of God’s restoration having been given to God’s people Israel already.

So how is this second half of Psalm 126 related to the first half?

I think the answer to this question is twofold and these two answers to this question intersect to give us some wonderful practical teaching for our lives as believers in the Lord, the God of the bible.

I call these two answers to this question:

  1. Historical
  2. Theological

Let me explain:

  1. Historical

The first reason why the writer of Psalm 126 asks for restoration of Israel after declaring the joy of restoration having been given by God in the first three verses of his Psalm is what I call a change in the historical state of Israel when the writer of Psalm 126 wrote the second half of his Psalm.

We know from the bible and outside of the bible recorded history that the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity in 537BC when the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree for captive people under the Babylonians could return to their former homelands and re-build them.

This initial return from captivity is what the first three verses are speaking about. We know particularly from the bible in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai that after a few years back home the Jews experienced great opposition and difficulty.

The reality was that they were now not the only people living in their former homeland and Ezra and Nehemiah speak of Samaritans, Arabs, Ammonites and probably many others causing the Jews great opposition and difficulty.

Probably because of this opposition and the enormous job to be done of rebuilding most of the work of rebuilding was either painfully slow or even stopped.

In the case of the re-building of the Temple God raised up Ezra who worked tirelessly to get that done and Nehemiah did the same in the case of the re-building of Jerusalem’s walls.

Some commentators have even suggested that because only small numbers of Jews initially returned to Israel this call for restoration in the second half of the Psalm is for further restoration or return to the land to take place as well.

  1. Theological

My second reason why our writer could have joy in God’s restoration or salvation of his people and then ask for restoration yet again is what I call a theological reason and that is captured well by my quote from Tremper Longman 111 commentary that simply says,

“The Psalmist speaks from an already – not yet perspective”

 I found a very good explanation of the “already – not yet theological perspective on the Got Question? Web page and I recommend you look this up if you want a more detailed description of it but here is my brief interpretation of it.

The opening Got Question? Explanation is as follows,

“The theological concept of “already but not yet” holds that believers are actively taking part in the kingdom of God, although the kingdom will not reach its full expression until sometime in the future. We are “already” in the kingdom, but we do “not yet” see it in its glory. The “already but not yet” theology is related to kingdom theologyor inaugurated eschatology“.

 Another aspect to the already – not yet theology is what I call our status in Christ now and the state in Christ we will be in in glory after we die or Christ returns and I think is explained well by what Paul says in Ephesian 2: 6 – 8,

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.

 Note how Paul speak of how we are seated with Christ which obviously is not where we are in this life but as GotQuestion? Explains,

“That’s because the present spiritual reality does not yet match up with the future, physical reality. One day, the two will be in sync”.

 Note further that our salvation is sure and secure now because Paul says in verse 8,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.

 So, the answer to the question are you saved? Is a threefold answer:

  1. I am saved – Justified
  2. I am being saved – Sanctified or being sanctified
  3. I will be saved – Glorification or will be glorified.

I like what Paul says in Philippians 3: 12,

 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

 So, in the case of Psalm 126 Israel had been restored or saved from captivity in Babylon but once they returned from captivity and difficulties through mainly opposition set in they needed further restoration or salvation to know the full salvation or restoration of their homeland.

This mirrors beautiful the theological teaching of the bible of how we are saved by faith in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ but we need to be saved throughout our life from the sin and the devil and we can look forward in the future to being saved when we are glorified and seated with Christ in heaven.

So, let’s look then at the actual text of this second section.

  1. (vs. 4)   A call for salvation

 So, our writer of Psalm 126 calls for further restoration of Israel and their homeland of Israel with the words,

“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev”.

 I did not comment in the first section on the term, “Restore our fortunes” and so to understand more fully what our writer is asking in prayer for God to do I will explain what I think he means by this term.

Tremper Longman 111 points out that this term, “Restore our fortunes” is found 25 times in the Old Testament and he believes that this term means in its context,

“A change of fortune for an individual or a community”.

 We see this clearly when the term is used in Job 42: 10,

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before”.

 And Jeremiah uses the same term in Jeremiah 32: 44 to describe what God would do for his people when they return from captivity in Babylon,

“Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”

 This reference from the book of Jeremiah could well be what our writer is speaking of as he also links this restoration of fortune to being linked to the Negev.

The writer of Psalm 126 uses the expression,

“Like streams in the Negev”?

 What then is the Negev?

The Negev from my research is the extremely dry desert area to the south of Israel and it seems it best pictured for the writer of Psalm 126 the spiritual and physical dry or barren state of Israel at the time he was writing his Psalm. We have seen this could well have been the difficult time of Ezra and Nehemiah when great opposition set in against the returning Jews to their homeland.

This opposition and hardship of rebuilding a totally smashed up country made even harder by hostile enemies was like being stuck out in a dry desert area without water. So, our writer wants God to perform a miracle like providing streams of water in the desert areas of the Negev.

Isaiah speaks of this spiritual miracle to come in similar terms in Isaiah 41: 17 – 20,

“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. 19 I will put in the desert he cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, 20 so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it”

 Albert Barnes makes this excellent comment on this passage in Isaiah when he writes,

“When the poor and needy seek water – Water is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of the provisions of divine mercy. Bursting fountains in a desert, and flowing stream unexpectedly met with in a dry and thirsty land, are often also employed to denote the comfort and refreshment which the gospel furnishes to sinful and suffering man in his journey through this world”.

 I saw a movie on Netflix TV recently about a minister who lost his biblical perspective of how the Gospel is the world’s answer to its many terrible problems when he saw footage of starving African children. He could not understand how a loving God could both allow this and then consign these children to hell when they died a terrible death so young.

The answer to this spiritual dilemma is what sin or mankind’s rebellion has done to this world and how even before our birth we are sinful and of course no one and I mean no one deserves to be saved but the love of God is that even though no one deserves to be saved God performed the miracle of grace and some, not all are saved when they turn to Christ with faith.

When they turn to Christ Jesus says this is what will happen to them in John 8: 37 – 38,

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”.

 Jesus is speaking here of the spiritual miracle of water flowing inside and out of our thirsty hearts. The miracle of spiritual restoration is what our writer is asking God for in verse 4,

“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev”.

 This would have been great words of hope for those making their annual pilgrimage or pilgrimages to Jerusalem as they walked the long difficult miles through the desert areas of the plains of Israel up into the hills or mountains of Jerusalem.

It is also a great word of hope and encouragement for us as we often walk the difficult path of faith in this world. I longed to say to the minister in the movie don’t give up on the Just and loving God and his word and particularly his Gospel message even when this world and our lives seem to be in such a mess the Good News is that not only does God save us through Christ but he also continues to help us in this dry spiritual world with his gift of the Holy Spirit who refreshes us with living water like a desert area receiving a miraculous downpour of life giving rain.

  1. (5 – 6)   The joy of salvation to come

 The final two verses fit so well into the theological principle I expounded earlier of “already – not yet perspective” and the joy that it brings even on the difficult road we travel to God. The last two verses use two different poetic images to say the same thing:

  1. (vs. 5)  Tears to Joy
  2. (vs. 6)  Sowing to Reaping

So, lets have a closer look at these two poetic images:

  1. (vs. 5) Tears to Joy

Allan Harman has the theory that this writer is picking up two well- known proverbial sayings of his time to make his point and the first proverbial saying is:

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy”.

 I like Spurgeon’s explanation of this verse when he writes,

“Hence, present distress must not be viewed as if it would last for ever, it is not the end, by any means, but only a means to the end. Sorrow is our sowing, rejoicing shall be our reaping”.

 David expressed a similar idea in Psalm 30: 5,

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”.

 Jesus put it this way when speaking to the disciples and us about the hardships particularly that will come from opposition will bring in this life when he says this in John 16: 20,

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy”.

 I remember years ago a speaker at my church who spoke of how he recently visited what was then one of the most persecuted churches in the world which was in a Muslim dominated country in North Africa and he said he found the Christians in that church some of the most joyful people he had ever met and their church service was filled with praise for the God they felt so close to through The Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, we can face tremendous opposition in this fallen, sinful anti God of the bible world but we can have the already – not yet perspective that can say with the Psalmist,

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy”

 To do that in our walk with the Lord that leads to God and heaven above we must follow the advice of the writer to the Hebrews who says in Hebrews 12: 1 – 2,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. 

  1. (vs. 6)  Sowing to Reaping

We must always remember that ancient Israel was an agricultural based society so a lot of the bible is written with references to agricultural images and terms. Verse 6 of Psalm 126 is a brilliant illustration of the use of agriculture as an image for our spiritual lives, it reads this way,

“Those who go out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them”.

 We know from Jesus parable of the soils which is a better name for that parable than the parable of the sower that ancient sowing of seed was a much more hit and miss affair. Jesus describes in his parable recorded in Matthew 13 four types of soil, paths, rocky, weed infested and good soil. He describes how the first three types of soil would not produce a harvest and only one, the good soil produced the successful harvest.

In this type of agriculture or crop sowing the first part of verse 6 would apply,

“Those who go out weeping carrying seed to sow”

 So, the sowing of seed is both hard work and sometimes results can be poor or even unsuccessful.

However, the second half of verse 6 speaks of the joy of the successful harvest,

“Will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them”.

 The joy of reaping a great harvest is expressed in the words,

“Carrying sheaves with them”.

 The successful harvest time far outweighs the difficulties of the days of sowing and so this verse is yet again another example of the “already – not yet perspective”.

We might face some difficulties in this life as we go the way of God but they are far outweighed by the future joy and glory to come in the next life with God as Paul says in Romans 8: 18,

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”.

 In verses 22 – 25 Paul speaks of the groaning or difficulty of this life compared to the hope and glory we have coming to us in the next,

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently”.

 Paul goes on in this passage to speak of how God does not leave us suffering or groaning without help and assistance for God, Paul says provides help and assistance through his Holy Spirit, as we read in verses 26 – 27,

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God”.

 This finally leads Paul to give us what I believe is our greatest grounds for joy in the Lord that should cause us to praise the Lord all our lives for we read in verses 28 – 30 these amazing words,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”.

 Note the very real “already – not yet perspective” of the last verse of this passage where in Christ we are predestined, justified and finally glorified. The original Greek has the ability of presenting the tense of present continuous and this is what we have in Christ both present and continuous grounds for real joy and praise.

CONCLUSION

 This short six verse Psalm of Psalm 126 might not have started its life as a song of ascent but rather a Psalm written at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when thanks and praise leading to great joy is presented for the original miraculous act of God restoring his people from the bondage of captivity in Babylon.

However, at the time of writing probably the time of Ezra and Nehemiah sixty or seventy years later great problems and difficulties had set in mainly because of great persecution from non – bible believing people now entrenched in living in Israel.

This led the writer of Psalm 126 to pray for restoration again from these difficulties and as he prayed he realised probably because he believed in what the Lord had done in the past and therefore would do in the future that this time of weeping would be replaced with joy or this time of sowing would lead to a joyful time of harvest.

This then became a song to be song on the pilgrim journeys to Jerusalem and the temple there as those journeys could prove to be very difficult but they ended in a time of great joy and laughter in Jerusalem where the whole nation of Israel gathered in sweet fellowship and worship of their great God.

We too have a pilgrimage or journey to complete and we also can look back at the joy our coming to the Lord brought us to start this great journey.

However, as we face problems and difficulties on the journey of life we too like Paul in Romans 8 can look forward to the glory awaiting us at the end of our great journey of life.

Even on our way we not only have the hope and joy of our journeys destination to look forward to but we have God’s spirit with us and in us to help us on the way and Paul sets out the fruits of the Spirit word in our lives in Galatians 5: 22 – 24,

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”.

 Paul then gives us his advice of how we should walk the journey of life in God or the journey of faith in the next verse, verse 25,

 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

 I close as usual with my original poem / song based on what I have learnt from this Psalm and a final word of prayer:

THE JOY OF TRAVELLING TO GOD

(Based on Psalm 126 and the tune of “Uncloudy Day)

 Oh, it seemed like a dream that had come true

When Israel returned that day

From captivity in a foreign land

For God made for them a way.

 

Chorus:

The Lord has done great things for us

With joy, we travel to God above

For the Gospel declares that God does save

By his wonderful amazing love.

 

Like Israel of old we can laugh and sing

For salvation has come to us

Like them God has blessed our lives

And all we have to do is trust.

 

Chorus:

 

O God we need your help today

Our world is stricken with drought

Sin has closed people’s minds to God’s word

They are thirsty but full of doubt.

 

Chorus:

 

So, as we travel God’s way in this world

We must believe even though its hard

But if we proclaim the powerful word of God

God’s amazing joy will start.

 

Chorus:

The lord has done great things for us

With joy, we travel to God above

For the Gospel declares that God does save

By his wonderful amazing love.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Dear father in heaven we thank you for your amazing love which we see in the giving of your Son on the cross to make a way back to you through how your Son’s death forgave our many sins. My we laugh and sing always as we experience the joy of our salvation in Christ. However, help us now to walk your way in this often-difficult life keeping our eyes fixed on your Son and the glory and joy that awaits us with you in heaven. This we pray in Jesus powerful name, Amen.

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PSALM 125 TALK:   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY OF FAITH

PSALM 125 TALK:   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY OF FAITH

(Psalm 125 is the sixth Psalm of a fifteen Psalm series called “Songs of Ascent” which we believe were songs song by ancient Jewish pilgrims as they ascended up to Jerusalem and the Temple there for one or more of three religious celebrations there each year. This Psalm deals with the reality of having faith or trust in the God of the universe to bless and guard the travelling pilgrim in the midst of great opposition from faithless people who oppose the faithful in their journeys to worship in Jerusalem. God gives his blessing and peace if they would but have faith in him as they travel his pilgrim journey of life.)

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

The first five Psalms according to the theory put forward by Paul Faris dealt mainly with matters concerning commencing these Pilgrim journeys although other aspects of the actual journey and its ultimate destination is also in these Psalms. However the main emphasis of the first five Psalms is matters concerning commencing these pilgrim journeys which is likened to our starting the Christian life. Now these next five Psalms deal more with the problems and difficulties of the actual journey and the support God offers us in dealing with them while we live out the Christian life or travel God’s way or road to heaven.

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 125

Atheists and other forms of non believers love make fun of Christian believers having faith and they say in our modern scientific world today there is no room for faith. Faith they say is an old fashion way of dealing with life and is the substitute for hard scientific fact. Faith in anything is both outmoded and unnecessary in our so called modern enlightened world they say.

Actually nothing could be so far from the truth and here are four everyday examples of how we all exercise faith:

  1.   We have faith that the sun will come up each day.
  2.   We have faith that driving on the wrong side of the road will lead to a terrible accident.
  3.   We have faith when we travel on a aeroplane that it wont crash.
  4.   We have faith that a dinning room chair wont collapse when we sit on it.

Sceptics might say well those things are all informed faith but faith in God is blind. I read and interesting chat on the internet the other day about blind faith that might seem informed and one person on this chat named Daniel Siva who calls himself a musician said this,

“Although non-religious people would argue about it all day, people take science on blind faith everyday. And it’s mostly for the same reason religious people do it: they don’t actually have the skills or the knowledge to investigate, experiment and discover the evidence of what they believe on their own, so all they can do is take another person’s word for it.

One of the funniest examples to me is a few years ago when all kinds of new add-ons for dinosaurs made the headlines, like “The T-Rex had feathers!” and a few months later, “The T-Rex had lips!” and everybody went, “Okay! The T-Rex had feathers and lips!”

Why was it accepted so easily? Because it came from the science community. But how many of those people who accepted it have ever seen a T-Rex, let alone one with feathers and lips? And how many of them have access to the kind of resources that could prove that conclusion to be true?

They believe because someone else with influence in that community said they found evidence, or at the very least said, “we think…”, which is then perpetuated in a matter-of-fact tone”.

So Daniel Siva makes a very valid point both non – believers and religious believers exercise what he calls blind faith and note how both have faith. A non – believer has faith in what he knows about God or God’s non – existence and acts or lives their lives on that belief by what he or she says and dose.  

While a God believing person acts on what they know about God’s existence and lives their lives on that belief by what he or she says and does.

What we all need to have is not blind faith but informed faith which I believe I have developed over many years particularly from my understanding of the bible. I will not go into the informed reasons why I believe in God in this Psalm Talk and I would like to point you to my Psalm 53 Psalm talk entitled, “God is real and alive” – a reasoned and biblical answer to the question – is there a God?

I have raised the issue of the place and importance of faith in this Psalm talk on Psalm 125 because it deals with both faith in God and what that means for our lives or in Songs of Ascent terms, our journey in life and faithlessness or faith placed in something other than the God of the bible and what that means for those peoples lives or journey in life.

Psalm 125 is the first of five Psalms in this 15 Psalm series called “Songs of Ascent” that we believe were used by ancient Israelite pilgrim travellers to one or more of the three religious festivals held in Jerusalem each year that features more of the actual journeys problems and needs. This mirrors spiritually what I would call living the Christian life rather than starting it.

All commentators agree that we have no idea who actually wrote it and when it was written but some good arguments are given for a date soon after the Jewish captivity in Babylon but for me this has little bearing on the interpretation of this Psalm except for maybe having a better understanding of who the enemies of the pilgrims are in verse 3.

I got onto the theme of faith and faithlessness in this Psalm and its importance in the pilgrims progress on his or hers journey to God in heaven from a Allan Harman’s observation of this Psalm when he writes,

“They are not only saved by faith, but should live by faith”.

Living by faith or travelling God’s way or road by faith is what I believe this Psalm is all about so my outline for this Psalm reflects this:

1.   (1 – 2)   THE JOURNEY OF FAITH

        1.   (vs. 1)   Faith secures the pilgrims journey

        2.   (vs. 2)   Faith protects the pilgrim on their journey

2.    (vs. 3)    THE FAITHLESS JOURNEY

       1.   (vs. 3a)   Faithlessness leads to destruction

       2.   (vs. 3b)   Faithlessness can effect the faithful

3.   (4 – 5)   THE JOURNEY OF FAITH LEADS TO GOD’S GOODNESS AND PEACE

       1.   (vs. 4)     The journey of faith leads to God’s goodness

       2.   (vs. 5a)   The journey of faithlessness leads to destruction

       3.   (vs. 5b)   The journey of faith leads to God’s peace

Lets then have a closer look at this Psalm under these three section headings:

  1.   (1 – 2)   THE JOURNEY OF FAITH

        1.   (vs. 1)   Faith secures the pilgrims journey

The writer of Psalm 125 wants the pilgrim singers of Israel to have faith in their God as they travel the long journey up to Jerusalem and he wants that faith which he calls “Trust in the Lord” to be anchored in God and so to do this he uses what Leupold calls, “two figures” which are in other words two poetic images the people of ancient Israel would have easily identified with. 

Interestingly these two figures are in their literal form two ways of describing there ultimate destination namely Jerusalem a city high up in the mountains of southern Israel. So the two poetic images are:

  1. Mount Zion (vs. 1)
  2. The typographical situation of Jerusalem (vs. 2)

So we will deal with the first poetic image in this first part of this Psalm, namely “Mount Zion” and with this in mind verse 1 reads this way,

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever”.

For the Jewish mind travelling up to a festival to Jerusalem for one or more of the Jewish festivals there this poetic image would have been obvious and very encouraging. Mount Zion was just one of the many hill tops in the city of Jerusalem which you can still see today. However the significance of Mount Zion is that it was the hill top where in David’s day the Tabernacle sat and from Solomons time on the Temple building sat.

We can see from many biblical references that Mount Zion held much significance to the Jews as we see in a reference to it in Psalm 87: 2 – 3,

“He has founded his city on the holy mountain. 2 The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob”.

Or Psalm 135: 21,

“Praise be to the Lord from Zion, to him who dwells in Jerusalem.

Even outside of the Psalms we have many references to Mount Zion like Joel 3: 17,

“Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy;

never again will foreigners invade her”.

Got?question.org  says this about the meaning of Zion throughout the bible,

The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible. It essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised up” as a “monument.” Zion is described both as the city of David and the city of God. As the Bible progresses, the word Zion expands in scope and takes on an additional, spiritual meaning”.

We must also realise that because the Temple sat on Mount Zion and the Temple represented the dwelling place of God on earth with his people than God and Zion are intimately connected together.

So in a ancient Jewish mind this verse would mean that those who have faith or who trust in the Lord are like the place where the Lord dwells with his people which is Zion a physical and spiritual special place that is very strong and secure.

This interpretation is confirmed by the second half of the verse that says,

“Which cannot be shaken but endures forever”.

So if the pilgrim Jewish traveller has faith anchored in the God of the bible it is a faith that is strong, “cannot be shaken” and long lasting, “endures forever”.

This is the sort of faith we all need if we want to continue to travel on the road to heaven or if we want to live by faith trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews makes this spiritual connection for us in his understanding of Mount Zion in Hebrews 12: 22 – 33,

 “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made”.

We come to the New Jerusalem the symbol for God dwelling with his people for all eternity by faith and the writer speaks of the living by faith connection in the verses leading up to the words we have just read which tell us where we have come from and are headed for in verses 14 and 15 of Hebrews 12,

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many”.

So as we journey to God in heaven we are to have faith anchored in God and his word that is strong and secure as God is in heaven which will appear one day to all as The New Jerusalem as Revelation 21: 1 – 3,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”.

   2.   (vs. 2)   Faith protects the pilgrim on their journey

Then we have the second poetic image all ancient Israelite pilgrim travellers would have easily understood which is the typographical situation of where they were headed for namely Jerusalem nestled high up in the mountains of southern Israel as verse 2 says,

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore”.

So in this second verse our writer is using the very hills or mountains the pilgrim travellers would have had in their sights as a visual illustration of the protection of God for those who trust in him or who have faith in him.

We have seen in other Psalms that mountains are a symbol of strength and stability like Psalm 95: 3 – 4,

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him”.

Or Isaiah 54: 10,

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you”.

Isaiah speaks of God’s unfailing love causing us to have stability and protection even if the solid immoveable mountains should actually be shaken. This is the idea in verse 2 of Psalm 125 that like mountains surrounding Jerusalem so God surrounds his people and this is not a temporary thing but a constant fact because the verse adds,

“Forevermore”.

So the pilgrim traveller, if they have faith in God and move forward in their journey to God in Jerusalem and the Temple then God will surround them and make their journey secure.

This is an Old Testament teaching on the security and assurance of God’s help and salvation in the lives of those who have faith in him. This teaching of security and assurance for all true people of faith is even more pronounced in the New Treatment like Jesus own words in John 10: 27 – 28,

 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand”.

And Paul’s teaching in Philippians 1: 4 – 6,

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

So as we journey to God in heaven or as we live by faith the Christian life we too can be assured that God surrounds us with his love and will not let us be shaken or destroyed.

2.    (vs. 3)    THE FAITHLESS JOURNEY

       1.   (vs. 3a)   Faithlessness leads to destruction

Verse 3 I believe presents the negative side of living by faith or seeking the journey of life which is not trusting in God but trusting in something other than God. So I call verse three “”The faithless Journey”. The fact of life is we are all headed for death and the great difference between the Christian journey to death and the non – believers journey to death is what we believe in and live by as we travel that journey to death.

We have seen in verse 1 of this Psalm that God’s way or journey involves trusting in him, the Lord and if we do we have his assurance in that journey that he will be with us surrounding us with his protection during the actual journey of life and through death and all eternity. So the believers hope is that they have an inheritance and in Old Testament terms that was seen in an allotment of land which verse 3 speaks about.

So verse three is one of two verses in this Psalm, 3 and 5, that deals with the lot of the faithless journey as we read in verse 3a,

“The sceptre of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous”.

Allan Harman pin points exactly what the term, “The Sceptre” means when he writes,

“The sceptre refers to the rule that conquerors exercise over lands that they occupy”.

This phrase and its obvious meaning points many commentators to the period of Jewish history when the whole land of Israel came under the control of the Babylonians and even after the captivity in the post captivity period the land of Israel was by then occupied under the control of the Persians by many non – God of the bible believing people who viciously persecuted the relative small number of returning Jews.

However God is saying to the pilgrim travellers as they travel through often hostile anti Jewish territory which was originally allotted by God to them that the non – believers or faithless people will not remain or will not forever rule over tham.

Ray Fowler in his talk on this Psalm makes the spiritual point of this first half of verse 3 with these words,

“The present rule of the wicked will not last. We sometimes worry about the wicked around us and a world that does not care about God or his ways. But verse 3 teaches us that the wicked will not have their way with God’s people forever, they will not interfere with the inheritance God has for his people”. 

Fowler gives us a great New Testament quote which I will share with you here. It is the words of 1 Peter 1: 3 – 5,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time”.

So God has for the people of faith those who trust in him an inheritance which is in heaven and this will never be taken away from us and note how Peter speaks of how we have gained this through two great things,

  1. God’s great mercy or grace (vs. 3)
  2. Through Faith (vs. 5)

This then is what we should carry with us as we journey towards God the mercy of God shown through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the importance of not only starting the christian journey or life by faith but by travelling the Christian life or journey by faith as well.

Lastly here this verse also hints at what verse 5 will state clearly that the journey of faithlessness leads only to destruction something we will look at more fully when we come to verse 5 in the last section of this Psalm talk.

   2.   (vs. 3b)   Faithlessness can effect the faithful

I found the second half of verse 3 a little more difficult to understand and interpret but after careful study of a number of commentators thoughts on this I came to a reasonable understanding of what I think it is saying, verse 3b says,

“For then the righteous might use their hands to do evil”.

If this Psalm was written early in the post Babylonian captivity period we can see that the faithless or wicked people who were strongly present in the land of Israel and particularly Jerusalem at that time did cause God’s faithful people much pain and difficulty. A good example of this is what we read in Nehemiah 4: 1 – 3,

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

This vicious and dangerous opposition appears in the book of Ezra as well and it mentions Arabs also in the list of faithless people who opposed the faithful people of God at that time. In Nehemiah chapter six his faithless opponents made up a story that men where coming to kill him in the very Temple itself but Nehemiah was awake to this plan and in Nehemiah 6: 13 Nehemiah says this,

“He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me”.

This is a interesting conclusion by Nehemiah and fits well into the words of the second half of verse 3 which again, says,

“For then the righteous might use their hands to do evil”.

The story of Nehemiah being almost drawn into committing a sin by the actions against him by faithless or wicked people is a good illustration of the principle the second half of verse 3 is stating that the wicked actions of faithless people can cause faithful people to do evil or sinful things in a reaction to what what has been done to them.

We must keep this in mind in our own lives when we face opposition and dirty tricks by those who oppose God today and not react to this opposition in a evil or sinful way. Peter gives us this sound advice about how we are to react to those who seek to do evil to us in 1 Peter 3: 8 – 12,

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 

10 “For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil”.

Peter is only following and putting into practice the teaching of our Lord as we see in Matthew 5: 44,

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

In our often long and difficult journey of life to God in heaven we can meet faithless people who can really try to hurt us in an attempt to bring us down and even to commit the sin of hate and even murder, at least in our minds but we must remember some other words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 5: 21 – 22,

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell”.

This might seem a harsh call by our Lord but their is no place or justification for revenge in the Christians life as our message is not a message of revenge and hate but a message of love and forgiveness.

Jesus wants us to walk the way of forgiveness and love and not be dragged into the way of the faithless who seek revenge and practice hate and this is what I believe the second half of verse 3 is speaking about.

The way then of the people of faith is not the way of the people of faithlessness.

3.   (4 – 5)   THE JOURNEY OF FAITH LEADS TO GOD’S GOODNESS AND PEACE

       1.   (vs. 4)     The journey of faith leads to God’s goodness

I have decided to break this third and final section of this Psalm into three distinct parts as the two verses deal with three distinct issues relating to its over all theme of travelling the journey to Jerusalem and the Temple that represents God with his people by faith. Travelling the journey not only as we set out on that journey by faith but also by faith as we travel it. 

This of course is spiritually linked to us in that we start the Christian life by faith in the grace of God given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and we continue on in the Christian life by faith in the grace of God made possible to us through the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.

So with all this in mind verse 4 says,

“Lord, do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart”.

I want to focus on what I see as the two main ideas of this verse that relates to walking the journey of faith to God in heaven expressed in Old Testament terms as a journey to Jerusalem and the Temple there.

The two main ideas of this verse are:

  1. God’s goodness is a gift not something earn’t
  2. Faith in God is shown only in the way we live our lives

Let me explain what these two main ideas are in verse 4.

  1. God’s goodness is a gift not something earn’t

The first part of verse 4 says,

“Lord, do good to those who are good”.

First of all note verse 4 changes how the writer is speaking as verse 4 is the start of a prayer or a request to God. This means that the writer of Psalm 125 is saying he and his people are not able to be good in themselves so he and they have to ask for it.

But what is he actually asking for here?

I am indebted to Allan Harman’s commentary on the Psalms, which I have quoted a lot but one of the great things Allan always makes me think of in his interpretation of the Psalms is that when these Old Testament writers speak of God’s love and here God’s goodness he is usually speaking about the love and goodness offered in the covenant promises made to Israel. 

On these opening words of verse 4 Allan writes,

“The word good has covenantal overtones and is used of things promised under God’s covenant”.

Allan then gives us three bible references to explain what he has just said which are Psalm 23: 6, 1 Samuel 25: 30 and 2 Samuel 7: 28.

Here is what 2 Samuel 7: 28 says,

“Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant”.

Even in the Old Covenant the goodness or blessing God offers Israel is not something they deserved but comes from God’s love as we read in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

This is the same in the New Covenant we do not deserve God’s love and forgiveness but it is a gift from God’s love or in New Testament wording, God’s grace or God’s undeserved love as Paul makes very clear in Ephesians 2: 4 – 9,

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

So this pilgrim song Psalm 125 which was probably sung for hundred of years by God’s chosen people as they travelled up to Jerusalem and the Temple there asked for The Good God of the bible or the God of love to bless them with his goodness or love just as he had promised in his agreement with them which is called the covenant.

So for hundred of years now Christian travellers or Christians living the Christian life that leads to God in heaven have continually ask God for his goodness or love as they lived the christian life or travel their journey to God in heaven.

  1. Faith in God is shown only in the way we live our lives

The next phrase in verse 4,

“To those who are upright in heart”

Is I think the Old Testament equivalent of James 2: 20,

“Faith without deeds (or works) is useless (or dead)”

”So if you say you have faith in the grace of God then how has that so called belief shown itself in your life and our writer would say in a,

“Upright heart”

He could not be saying having a upright heart earns us God’s goodness or blessing in our lives because he has just prayed,

“Lord, do good to those who are good”.

Those who are good or upright in heart, even in the Old Testament are those who have faith in the undeserved love of God which is called loving kindness or mercy in the Old Testament and grace or undeserved love in the New Testament as David writes in Psalm 13: 5,

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

Or as David says in Psalm 103: 11 – 12,

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”.

Fearing God is revering God which can only be done if we both believe and trust in God.

The New Testament of course says over and over again that we are only saved through faith or trust in the underserved love or grace of God as I quoted earlier Ephesians 2: 8 – 9,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

So as the pilgrim traveller in ancient Israel ascended up the steep slopes of the mountains surrounding Jerusalem on there way to the Temple they sang also a prayer that expressed their faith in the Good or loving God of the bible with the words,

“Lord, do good to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart”.

So should we pray as we seek to travel God’s road or live the life God wants us to live as we head for the glory of being with God in heaven which is a journey of faith.

     2.   (vs. 5a)   The journey of faithlessness leads to destruction

We saw in verse 3 the negative side of these pilgrimages journeys expressed in the form of faithless people opposing the people of faith in the God of the bible and particularly it seems their opposition to the annual pilgrimages the people of faith took. Now our writer of Psalm 125 returns one more time to these faithless people and tells us their ultimate fate in the hands of the God of heaven and earth the God we know through the bible, he writes,

“But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers”.

There are in the end only two ways we can go in life, God’s way or Not God’s way and their is no fence we can sit on as we are either in Jesus terms in Matthew 25: 31 – 46, sheep or goats and of course the sheep are the people who go God’s way and the goats those who don’t go God’s way in life.

When I was a young teenager and had not come to the Lord in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to start going God’s way I lived as though their was a fence that I could sit on and sometimes I thought I could jump in the paddock with the sheep and other times I could hop off the fence and spend time with the goats. I remember being challenged by my church youth fellowship leaders of that time that we cannot sit on the fence as the reality is if we had not decided to go God’s way we where actually in the field of the goats or the faithless people.

Our writer of Psalm 125 describes the faithless in two ways:

  1. Those who turn to crooked ways
  2. Those who are evildoers.

Let me make a brief comment on each of these two descriptions of faithless people,

  1.   Those who turn to crooked ways

Ray Fowler pinpoints really well the meaning of those who turn to crooked ways when he writes,

“The word translated ‘crooked’ here is a word that means ‘crooked’, winding, or devious. This is in direct contrast to the ‘straight’ or upright heart in verse four”.

Maybe this first description of faithless people fits as a description of my fence sitting days when I tried to run at church fellowship and church times with the sheep but the rest of the week I turned from the straight but narrow path of God to the crooked path of the Godless or the goats.

Remember Jesus tells us that in the judgment he will separate the sheep from the goats and also he says this in Matthew 7: 21 – 23,

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

So the fence sitters who cannot sit on the fence as they will always fall into the field of the goats or evildoers if they attempt to not walk God’s straight and narrow path to heaven.

  1. Those who are evildoers.

The second description of faithless people is the more open and obvious example of faithless people namely the evildoers. David knew all to well what these people were like and how they effected the lives or journey’s of the faithful. He also knew like the writer of Psalm 125 the fate of these evildoers and speaks of this in his Psalm 37: 14 – 15,

“The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. 15  But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken”.

The fact is that if you don’t go God’s way in life you are actually either passively or aggressively against God and those who seek to follow him. I have suffered myself a form of persecution from non – believing family and friends who seek to guide me away from being totally committed to the Lord. They are often well meaning but sadly misguided. 

Even today in other parts of the world very obvious wicked or evildoers do great harm to faithful people seeking to stop them going God’s way and Psalm 125 makes it clear what will be there fate in the hands of God,

“The Lord will banish them”.

Jesus speaks of this banishment in one devastating verse in Matthew 25: 41,

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”.

This is the final judgment of those who turn to crooked ways and those who are evildoers but before the final judgment God also does perform judgments on those who oppose his people who seek to go his way. We have seen all through history the rise and fall of evil like people like Nazi Germany or more recently Communism in Europe both wicked evil regimes who persecuted God’s people but both were banished and no longer attacked those who seek to go God’s way in life.

      3.   (vs. 5b)   The journey of faith leads to God’s peace

The final concept in this third and final section of Psalm125 concerning issues of the journey of faith or going on the pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem and the Temple there by trusting in the Lord is the important issue of peace. 

Psalm 125 finishes with a simple request for peace,

“Peace be on Israel”

This request for peace comes after of the words of the writer of Psalm 125 concerning the fate of those who turn to crooked ways and evildoers who will be banished by God. I think this means that this request for peace is a request for protection and help against the conflict and turmoil these evildoers are causing the people of faith called here simply Israel.

Ray Fowler sheds for me the best light or understanding of this request for peace when he writes,

“God will do good to those who are good. God will banish those who do evil. God will answer his people’s prayer for peace”.

Ray goes on to point out that there is a request for peace at the end of another song of ascent, Psalm 128 and that something like a request for peace ends song of ascent Psalm 122 and then Song of ascent Psalm 131 ends with a call for Israel to put their hope in the Lord.

So it would seem that when these great pilgrimages to Jerusalem took place the reality of conflict and difficulty was part of them so the pilgrim travellers naturally would ask God for peace which here is probably a cessation of conflict.

God does offer us a full cessation from conflict once we have finished our journey to heaven as we see from a passage like Revelation 21: 1 – 4,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

However this cessation from all conflict type peace only awaits us at the end of our journey of life just as it did for the ancient Israelite pilgrims when they stood in the safe walls of Jerusalem at the end of their great journeys.

However God does offer his faithful people peace, not cessation from conflict peace but what I like to call peace to cope as we see in the Old Testament in Isaiah 26: 3 – 4,

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal”.

Note how Isaiah makes the faith connection in the words,

“Because they trust in you”.

Then in the New Testament we have Paul’s words on God’s peace to cope in Philippians 4: 6 – 7,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.

So this request for peace for God’s people as they travel the journey of life will ultimately be ours at the end of our journey in heaven. However while we travel to heaven God’s peace to cope will be ours if we but trust in the Lord.

This peace to cope comes about because God gives us his assistance through his Holy Spirit and in fact through the work of the Holy Spirit Jesus is with us to help us in the conflicts and difficulties of this life. Jesus speaks of helping us like this in terms of carrying our loads in life in Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This leads us back to the opening two verses of this Psalm which after what we now know about the journey of faith strangely and wonderfully offer a perfect conclusion to this wonderful song of ascent,

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

2  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore”.

I close as usual with my poem / song and concluding prayer:

THE TRAVELLING TO HEAVEN SONG

(Based on Psalm 125 and the tune of “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”)

Those who trust in the Lord

Are like Zion up above.

For they cannot be shaken

As they know God’s great love.

 

God’s like a mountain that surrounds us

Yes his love surrounds us now.

And we cannot be shaken

For we know his loving power.

 

The wicked will not remain

When they stand before God above.

For God has for his people

A place thats free and full of love.

 

Lord do good to the people

Who do good to everyone.

And look up to you in heaven

And believe in your Son.

 

But all those who turn away

Have evil in their heart.

The Lord will banish them forever

When Jesus returns they will depart.

 

Look to God up in heaven

As you travel life’s great road

God’s peace will surely be with you

For Jesus will help you carry your load.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

Dear Father in heaven we thank you that you surround us with your love if we trust in you and seek to follow your Son who through the cross has made a way to you in heaven. Help us not to be faithless people but people of faith who seek your peace to first of all cope with the conflicts and difficulties of this life and then experience eternal freedom from conflict and difficulty in heaven with you. This we pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, Amen.

PSALM 124 TALK:    THE CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER MUST TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

PSALM 124 TALK:    THE CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER MUST TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

(This is the fifth Psalm in a 15 Psalm series of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” and we have come to see that these Psalms were used by ancient Israelites as they went on annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Temple their to worship together their God, the God of the bible. This Psalm is the last of the setting off Psalms that looks to their God’s help and protection in the past and it calls on the Pilgrim travellers to trust in the powerful name of the Lord as they set out on what was often a very dangerous journey to Jerusalem in ancient times.)

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 1.    PSALMS 120 – 124   THE JOURNEY BEGINS – THE WAY

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 124

At the outset of this Psalm talk I must acknowledge the work of a man named Ray Fowler who I discovered on the internet has two excellent talks on Psalm 123 and this one Psalm 124. I was so impressed with Rays work on this Psalm that I have quoted from it a couple of times in this Psalm talk.

Ray in his introduction mentioned the John Lennon song, “Imagine” and he says this,

“John Lennon imagined a world without God or heaven and thought it would be a better place. Psalm 124 imagine what would happen without God, and it is a picture of complete devastation”.

This idea that the world would be a better place without God and any form of religion is a very popular idea today and John Lennon’s song both captures it well and has helped to make it even more popular idea. At a folk festival I went to recently I overheard someone say to another person,

“The world would be a better and safer place if all religions were done away with”.

I was so stunned and taken a back by this and it has continually come back to me and I have tried to think through what I would have said if I had the opportunity to respond to this outrageous comment.

Let me share three things I have thought of on the topic of if their was no God”

1.    If there was no God we and our world would not be here for without God to create everything          nothing would exist.

2.    If there was no God our world would be torn apart and destroyed by chaos if God does not 

       continually up hold the universe and the laws of science that make this possible.

3.   If God does not exist than anything good in this world and universe would not exist as well.

In short no God, no religion that acknowledges him and I’m afraid John Lennon’s hope that no God and no religion would lead to peace is a delusion for no God and his followers to promote peace in this world would mean we would have only war and chaos that would destroy it.

The fact that non – christians say such things about God not existing only further illustrates both their spiritual blindness and rebellion to God.

Psalm 124 is set in the context of our rebellious dark and dangerous world, a world hostile to God and his followers but Psalm 124 speaks of yet another reason that God makes a difference in our world and that is that for those who trust and believe in his love and power protects them.

In fact his love and power delivers them from the powerful evil forces in this world and beyond that could easily overwhelm them as verse 6 says,

“Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth”.

I would like to answer two important questions before we look closely at this Psalm and the first is:

Who write this Psalm?

The Hebrew heading attributes this Psalm to David and Allan Harman points out that in the early days of David’s reign he faced what seemed like certain annihilation from Israel’s Philistine enemies . Harmon points to 2 Samuel 5: 17 – 21 to show what a dangerous situation God delivered David and his nation from,

“When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 19 so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?”

The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.”

20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim.21 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off”.

How does this Psalm relate to the “Songs of Ascent”?

So if David did write this Psalm at the time of God delivering him and his people from the all powerful Philistine threat then this Psalm became a Psalm looked to on many occasions after this including the threat of powerful enemies overrunning the returning Jews to Israel and Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.

This Psalm was also relevant to Israelites setting out on their often dangerous pilgrimage journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple. So as the pilgrim travellers set out knowing the danger of many powerful enemies attacking them on their long upward journeys to Jerusalem they reminded themselves through this Psalm to trust in the name of the Lord the maker of heaven and earth who had delivered his people from the attacks of powerful enemies in the past and would deliver them from powerful enemies in the present as well as God was on their side.

With the theme of trusting in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth and is on our side to help and deliver us my outline for this Psalm i

1.     (1 – 5)   IF GOD HAD NOT BEEN ON OUR SIDE

        (1 – 2)   God is on our side

        (3 – 5)   If God had not been on our side

2.     (6 – 7)   GOD IS ON OUR SIDE SO HE ALONE HAS SAVED US

         (vs. 6)  Praise the God who saves us

         (vs. 7)  Praise the God who saves the defenceless

3.     (vs. 8).  GOD IS ON OUR SIDE SO TRUST IN HIM FOR HELP

         (vs. 8a) Trust in the God who helps us

         (vs. 8b) Trust in the God who made heaven and earth

Lets then have a close look at this Psalm:

  1.   (1 – 5)   IF GOD HAD NOT BEEN ON OUR SIDE

       1.  (1 – 2)   God is on our side

This Psalm has a very unique and unusual beginning as it starts to make a statement which it doesn’t complete and then stops and asks Israel to make the same statement which again it does not complete unto the last verse. Let me quote these two verses and I will show you what I mean.

First of all the first two verses,

“Iff the Lord had not been on our side – Let Israel say – If the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us”.

So what is the writer of Psalm 124 saying?

Allan Harman believes the full statement the writer should had said is the inclusion of  verse 8, and therefore he is suggesting it should read this way,

“Iff the Lord had not been on our side – Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Or

“If the Lord had not been on our side – our help would not have been in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

So why does it read the way it does then?

Leopold answer to this question is that these,

“First two verses represent a sort of gasp on the part of a refugee who has escaped into a safe haven of refuge”.

If this is David, as the Hebrew heading suggests then when he came up against the Philistine’s dangerous threat he realised that God alone could save him and when he wrote the Psalm he realised that God and his power and might could alone save him.

Once David started to state this fact he stopped mid thought and called on his people to join him in saying how it was only because God was on their side and fought for them that they were saved from the Philistines dangerous and deadly attacks.

The MSG or modern Message bible paraphrase translation puts that way of understanding these first two verses this way,

“If God hadn’t been for us – all together now, sing out – If God hadn’t been for us when everyone went against us.”

I am loathed to think of modern wars like particularly The First World War as “God on our side” and not the Germans side. For instance on the first Christmas in the trenches in 1914 all along the western front soldiers from both sides defied there political and army superiors and sang Christian Christmas Carols and stopped hostilities and met in no mans land and exchange Christmas wishes and in some cases Christmas gifts.

War I believe is a National statement and result of sin and rebellion to God and Christians can find themselves sometimes on both sides of a conflict. However in the case of Israel and the Philistines and many other anti – God of the bible nations God was on there side.

Christians caught up in war must not identify I believe with the fallen sinful political reasons for them but identify with God through Christ.

Many soldiers in both the first and second war conflicts did identify with God on both sides of those conflicts and in many cases God was with those faithful soldiers and saved them to be a witness to his love and power of the God of the bible.

Other Christians lost their lives in those terrible conflicts but even then they were a witness to the love and power of God in both the way they died helping others and in the fact they went to be with God in heaven through their deaths on the battle field or in the hospitals they went to from the battlefields.

The spiritual background to this Psalm is Paul’s teaching on the Spiritual battle we daily face set out in Ephesians 6: 10 – 18. Paul sets the stage or reality of this spiritual battle in verse 12 of that passage when he writes,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

This description of the battle ground we face every day is very frightening but we can join David and say,

“If the Lord had not been on our side”

We too would be in a very no win situation but Paul says in Romans 8: 37,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

In the Ephesians 6 passage Paul says in verse 10,

 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”.

This is such a reality to Paul that he can conclude Romans chapter 8 with these words of confidence in 38 – 39,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

How would these first two verses of Psalm 124 relate to a Jewish Pilgrim setting out for Jerusalem and the Temple there?

I think even the opening words of this Psalm would have been a great encouragement to the Jewish Pilgrims as they set out on their annual journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple as they knew the journey ahead could be very dangerous and as we learnt in the last Psalm those pilgrim travellers could and usually did encounter many vicious enemies and even attacks from them.

The knowledge that The Lord has been on the side of his people Israel in the past would help these Pilgrim travellers to trust in God believing he is on their side too. They could believe that,

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”, (vs. 8)

If these ancient pilgrim journeys spiritually mirror our spiritual journey of life where we travel or live a life that ultimately leads to the New Jerusalem, heaven then we to can trust in the biblical fact that God is on our side and therefore our help is found in the Lord alone, the Lord or God of the bible who is the maker of haven and earth.

As the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 13: 6,

“So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

    2.  (3 – 5)   If God had not been on our side

The writer of Psalm 124, who we believe was King David now tells us with two vivid poetic images what the Lord did to show us that he was on the side of Israel. These two poetic images are:

  1. (vs. 3)   Saved from being swallowed alive
  2. (4 – 5)   Saved from raging flood waters

So lets have a look at these two vivid poetic images:

  1. (vs. 3)   Saved from being swallowed alive

The first vivid poetic image our writer uses to describe what the Lord saved his people from is the jaws of a mythical monster, verse 3 puts that this way,

“They would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us”.

Tremper Longman 111 sets down in his commentary a very good argument for the idea that this swallowing of a nation poetic image is a image borrowed from Canaanite Baal worship, he writes,

“Probably a mythological allusion to the Canaanite god Mot (death) swallowing Baal”.

Longman goes on to explain that,

“Mot is described as a god whose upper lip is in the heavens and lower lip is on earth, swallowing everything in his path”.

This could have been used by David to describe the Philistine threat he faced in the early part of his reign as Baal worship was the preferred religion of the Philistines. It also is a good poetic picture of the later two powerful conquering nations of Assyria and Babylon who both in the end did swallow up Israel in the North through the Assyrians and Judah in the south through the Babylonians. 

However here in Psalm 124 because the Lord was on the side of Israel whoever this is referring to did not swallow up Israel. The 2 Samuel chapter five reference does fit well to this poetic image as we read in verse 5 of that chapter,

“When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold”.

The words, “went in full force” means that the Philistines were very determined to overthrow David and Israel probably thinking that at the start of the regime change in Israel David and his nation were vulnerable to being overrun by them. 

The phrase in verse 3 that says,

“Their anger flared against us”, indicates that people like the Philistines really hated with a passion the people of the bible which fits the wording of the opening words of Psalm 2 that characterise the vicious opposition David faced both inside and outside of Israel because of his unique connection with the God of the bible, these three verses read this way,

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth rise up and the

rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”

The rest of Psalm 2 describes how God promises to rebuke and judge the nations who oppose him and his anointed king and this also reveals how God is on the side or fights for his people unless they turn away from him and his laws. 

Eventually God did turn away from his chosen people first in the northern kingdom of Israel and then in the southern Kingdom of Judah bringing down on them his judgment in the form of the Assyrians in the north and a coupe of hundred years later the Babylonians in the southern kingdom.

I mentioned in my comments of the first section of this Psalm that dealt with the concept of God being on our side in our spiritual battles of life Paul’s description of what we are constantly up against in Ephesians 6: 12,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

This battlefield is one in which without God’s fighting for us we would be swallowed up by the overwhelming powerful forces of evil but God word declares that he protects and saves us constantly as the apostle John tells us in 1 John 4: 4,

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”.

Paul gives us careful instructions of how we can have this daily protection from the forces of evil in his Ephesians 6 passage and this involves us putting on God’s armour which sets down in verses 14 – 18,

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people”.

  1. (4 – 5)   Saved from raging flood waters

The second vivid poetic image our writer of Psalm 124 uses to describe the protection against our powerful enemies is the image of a raging flash flood and reads this way in verses 4 and 5,

“The flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, 5 the raging waters

would have swept us away”.

This image most commentators suggest comes from the rare but real flash floods of the Palestine region and H.C Leopold explains that this way,

“Perhaps a flat flood in a typical wadi or dry mountain torrent of Palestine”.

The reality of this type of floods came home to me on my recent caravan trip around Australia one of the driest continents in the world where we drove through some of the dry flat areas of our countries north and saw signs that said “Road subject to Flooding”. Not only was the area we were driving through flat and dry but most of the creeks and rivers we crossed had no water in them. However only a month before we drove through that region a massive cyclone that had turned into a major rain depression and quickly dumped hundreds of inches of rain on that dry flat country and caused massive flooding torrents of water to flow.

In the dry mountains of Palestine the occasional big downpour of rain would engulf anything in its path and this is the poetic description our writer chose to use as a image of what God saved his people from. As we see a number of times in the Old Testament like Psalm 32: 6,

“Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them”. (see also Psalm 66: 12, 69: 1 -2, 144: 7 and Lamentations 3: 54.

This is not literally referring to floods but again powerful nations overrunning the people and the land of God’s people Israel but equally the image of a flood engulfing Israel in the north and Judah in the south is an image of the nations of Assyria and Babylon overrunning them like a great flash flood as the prophet Isaiah speaks of Assyria overrunning Israel in the North in Isaiah 8: 6 – 8,

“Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, 7 therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates— the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks 8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck.

Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel!”

As Christians we can trust in God and his word because if we do he is on our side in the great spiritual battles we face as we walk the way or journey to God in heaven as Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3: 3,

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one”.

2.     (6 – 7)   GOD IS ON OUR SIDE SO FOR HE ALONE HAS SAVED US

        1.   (vs. 6)  Praise the God who saves us

The writer of Psalm 124, who could be David then tells us in verses 6 and 7 that we should praise the Lord because it is he alone who has saved us. The way he communicates this in verses 6 and 7 which are two more vivid poetic images which are:

  1.     (vs. 6)   Saved from the teeth of a wild animal
  2.     (vs. 7)   Saved like a bird from a bird trap

Lets have a a closer look at these two vivid poetic images of what and how God has saved us.

  1.     (vs. 6)   Saved from the teeth of a wild animal

In the next section of this Psalm our writer makes it even clearer that because God is on our side or fighting for us and us alone then we should respond with praise and trust. This is clear from the opening words of verse 6 which says,

“Praise be to the Lord”.

Leuopld calls this phrase simply “Thanksgiving” and we have seen all through the book of Psalms the instruction to offer up thanks to God for both who he is and what he has done for us and here are just four other examples of this in the book of Psalms , Psalm 28: 6, 31: 21, 66: 20 and 144: 1.

Ray Fowler takes the theme of Praising God or giving him thanks to God as the concept of giving God the glory citing Psalm 115 verse 1 and then saying this,

“Have you escaped from trouble? Have you survived the flood? Don’t take the credit for yourself, but give credit where credit is due. Give God the glory for what he has done”.

Fowler points us to the story of the man who Jesus cast the demons out of and into a herd of pigs in Mark 5 and then points out what Jesus said to the man when he asked Jesus to let him go with him and Jesus reply is what we read in Mark 5: 19,

“Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

The man responds in the right way as the next verse says,

“So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed”.

So we are to give God the praise for his help and salvation a salvation that is described in the second part of verse 6 in the vivid image of being saved from the teeth or jars of a wild animal and this goes like this,

“Who has not let us be torn by their teeth”.

This seems to be a return to the image of a large wild beast or monster that our writer referred to in verse 3 when he said,

“They would have swallowed us alive”.

Now the beast or monster is not seen just swallowing someone alive but tearing them to bits with its teeth. 

If this is King David writing he could be referring again to the humanly speaking powerful Philistines again who worshipped a God called Mot who had a large ferocious mouth so David is saying God saved him and his nation from the jaws of the Philistines as we read in 2 Samuel 5: 19b – 21,

The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.”

20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim.21 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off”.

Note here how the Philistines abandoned their idols which would have included their idol for the God calledMot who failed to crush David and his nation and was left like a toothless tiger for David and his men to simply carry off.

Even if this is not the context of the original Psalm 124 I can site many stories all through the Old Testament where powerful enemies rose up against Israel and found themselves defeated by the God of Israel who we know as the God of the bible.

Many nations in the history of the world have come and gone usually as a result of other more powerful nations both overrunning them and devouring them yet this tiny nation of Israel even survives today and this must be a pointer towards the fact that the God of heaven and earth is on their side.

In New Testament terms the church, the New Israel of God has God on their side or has The God of the bible fighting all spiritual battles for them again as Paul proclaims in Romans 8: 31 – 39,

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

  1.     (vs. 7)   Saved like a bird from a bird trap

The second second vivid poetic image of how God alone has saved his people is that of a tiny bird being freed from a hunters trap in verse 7, which says,

“We have escaped like a bird from the fowlers snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped”.

This image of the Nation of Israel being like a tiny bird being freed from a hunters trap has been used before in the book of Psalms in Psalm 91: 3, which says,

“Surely he will save you from the fowlers snare and from the deadly pestilence”.

It is a powerful image because it pictures the Nation of Israel as a being only a tiny bird trapped in a hunters trap. This image has two main applications which are firstly the nation of Israel is very small and defenceless and then its enemies are big an powerful.

This is a perfect image of Israel right through its long history as it was never a big and powerful nation maybe the closest it came to this was in the time of King Solomon, Davids’ son but this quickly disappeared when the Nation of Israel was split in two after Solomon died.

The image is saying as an image, you Israel could not save yourself just as a tiny bird could not by itself escape from a powerful hunters trap. Yet because God was on Israels side he could brake the hunters trap and free the bird who in the image is Israel. 

Ray Fowler writes,

“This is another image of our utter dependance on God, because you don’t get out of a snare (or trap) on your own. Once you’re trapped. But here God comes along and breaks the snare, and then you escape”.

This a great image of how our salvation works as the bible says we are incapable of saving ourselves as Paul indicates to the Galatians in Galatians 4: 8 – 9,

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces ? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”

However by God grace alone we are saved from sin and its consequences namely being enslaved to it as Paul makes very clear in Ephesians 2: 8 – 9,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

So we are saved from sin and its consequences by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which means we are now free like that little helpless bird in the hunters trap God has broken the trap and set us free as Paul proclaims in Galatians 5: 1,

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”.

Knowledge of this great work of salvation of God should lead us to praise God and give him thanks or as Ray Fowler put it give God the glory for what he has done for us in Christ.

So far as the pilgrim travellers in ancient times setting off on the dangerous journey up to Jerusalem and its Temple this would have been a very encouraging thing to both hear and sing about. They were not left to defend for themselves their God was with them proven by what he had done for them in the past.

So it is with us on our journey of faith to heaven itself. It was made possible by God alone and it will be God alone who will safely get us there in the end.

3.     (vs. 8).  GOD IS ON OUR SIDE SO TRUST IN HIM FOR HELP

       1.   (vs. 8a) Trust in the God who helps us

With what we had just come to understand that our salvation is in God alone the last verse of this Psalm is not a surprise because it simply tells us,

“Our help is in the name of the Lord the maker of heaven and earth”.

I will deal with the first part of this verse as a seperate part to this last section of the Psalm which is simply verse 8.

The first part then is of course the words,

“Our help is in the name of the Lord”.

Our writer of Psalm 124, who could be King David has made it clear that he and his people were only saved and helped by God alone and that it was God alone who saved them from.

  1. Being swallowed alive (vs. 3)
  2. Being swept away in a flood (vv’s 5 and 5)
  3. Being torn apart by a wild animal (vs. 6)
  4. Being set free like a bird from a hunters trap (vs. 7)

All vivid poetic images of the small and hopeless state of Israel being saved by the power and might of their God alone. The key to understanding this first phrase of this verse 8,

“Our help is in the name of the Lord”

 is in understanding the meaning of the phrase, “The name of the Lord”.

H. C. Leopold explains so well what this phrase would have meant to a ancient Israelite who knew his bible, he writes,

“The aim of this term is to include in one term all the marvellous revelations of his power that the Lord has so amply demonstrated in the course of the history of His people”.

God’s name is God’s character and his character is to love and save his people and we see that even clearer in the New Testament where we learn from that famous key verse John 3: 16 that the God of the bible is both a loving and a saving God,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

This means we can trust in the God of the bible in both good and bad times in our lives for God is our helper and our saviour.

For the ancient Israelite setting out on their annual pilgrim journey to Jerusalem and the Temple this concept of God being their helper and saviour would have been a great encouragement for them helping them to not only set out on these pilgrimages but also help and encourage them on the course of their long and often difficult journeys.

This is the same for us following God’s way made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus who has gone before us like a trial blazer and inspiration for us to follow just as the writer to the Hebrews put it in Hebrews 12: 1 – 2,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

 2.   (vs. 8b) Trust in the God who made heaven and earth

The final phrase of this Psalm 124 adds power and authority to the phrase before it because it simply says,

“The Maker of heaven and earth”.

I like David Guzik’s take on this phrase he writes,

“It is not a vain confidence. The same God who created heaven and earth was mighty to help his people”.

The God of the bible is the real deal, he is the Alpha and Omega or beginning and end, he is the Lord of all because he made all and he is the King of Kings because without him nothing would have ever existed. As we read in Revelation 4: 11,

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all

things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Someone was there at the beginning of creation a long, long time ago to create everything by his mighty powerful hand and Paul tells us in Colossians 1: 16 – 20 that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son was there creating everything and even then planning the rescue mission on earth for us that made the way back to God,

 “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”.

The mystery because our puny brains which cannot fathom how God knew we needed saving even before we had fallen as God is all knowing and our knowledge and understanding is extremely limited but the God who made heaven and earth who knows the beginning and the end of this world can be relied upon as a perfect helper.

As Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2: 7,

“No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began”.

As I said at the start of this Psalm talk a world without God is a impossibility and even if it was possible would be a very scary and hopeless mess. However because God does exist and is such a powerful and loving God we can trust him to help us as we walk his way just as the ancient Israelite after they read or sang Psalm 124 could have the confidence to travel to Jerusalem and the Temple because they now knew their,

“Help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

I close as usual with my poem / song and final word of prayer.

THE LORD IS ON OUR SIDE

(Based on Psalm 124 and the tune of “Where you there when they crucified my Lord)

If the Lord had not been on our side

If the Lord had not been on our side

Oh our enemies would have swallowed us alive

If the Lord had not been on our side.

 

If the Lord had not been on our side

If the Lord had not helped us to abide

Oh life’s flood waters would have washed us away

And we would never see heavens glorious day.

 

Praise the Lord who has not let us be torn apart

Praise the Lord who has not let us be torn apart

Oh from our enemies he has helped us to depart

Like a bird set free with a fresh new start.

 

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Oh our God the maker of heaven and earth

Saves our lives and gives us new birth.

 

If the Lord had not been on our side

If the Lord had not been on our side

Oh we would not have had the power to abide

If the Lord had not been on our side.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

Thank you Father in heaven that you are on our side. Not that this should make us arrogant and full of pride but rather full of praise and humble service for we know that it is only through your undeserved love for us that you have saved us and given us new spiritual birth. May we trust always in your mighty love and power for you made the universe and saved us through your Son and continue to help and lead us by your Holy Spirit, in Jesus powerful name we pray, Amen.

PSALM 123 TALK:   THE CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER LOOKS UP TO GOD

PSALM 123 TALK:   THE CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER LOOKS UP TO GOD

(This is the fourth Psalm in the 15 Psalm series called “Songs of Ascent” and in this Psalm the writer prays a desperate prayer for himself and his fellow travellers for God’s mercy and help when facing vicious and powerful enemies. He does this by looking up to God who sits on his throne in heaven and therefore has amazing power and love to help him and his fellow pilgrim travellers).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 1.    PSALMS 120 – 124   THE JOURNEY BEGINS – THE WAY

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 123

Unfortunately I did not grow up in a Christian home and in fact it was quite the opposite as my father and grandfather were committed atheists and had no time for God or his church. My father often proudly told me the story that on the night my grandfather died the local Anglican minister came to his hospital bed room to offer ministry and prayer for my dying grandfather and he was told off by my grandfather with words something like, “get out of here I had no time for God and the church in my life and I have no time for them now as I am dying”.

I can say that over the years of my life as a active christian growing up in my family home and suffering persecution at times for my faith my father towards the end of his life had moved from being a atheist to a agnostic and even came to church a couple of times to hear me preach butt sadly he did not come to faith in Christ before he died at the age of 80.

What my father and grandfather refused to do in their lives was look up to God and that is what I did for the first time in my teenage years, look up to God and particularly Jesus for help and salvation. This looking up to God did cause me to be completely out of step with my family and many of my friends at the time but I have never regretted my decision to do this looking up to God in my life.

The fourth Psalm of the fifteen series of Psalms called “The Songs of Ascent” starts with the words,

“I lift my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven”.

I believe the pilgrim traveller to Jerusalem and the Temple of God there started their journey and maybe even travelled on it endured hostility and danger caused by non believing people who probably mocked the pilgrims and even attacked them as they travelled the long and dangerous journey up to Jerusalem. 

Some commentators have suggested that this Psalm was probably written in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah as it fits the hostile environment the returning Jews form the Babylonian captivity had to cope with even in Jerusalem itself (see Nehemiah 2: 19. and 4: 1 – 4). This argument is strengthened by the well used expression,

“Hand of the Lord”

Used seven times in the book of Ezra, Ezra 7: 6, 9, 28, 8: 18, 22 and 31 and two times in Nehemiah 2: 8 and 18, which mirrors the expression,

“Hand of their master”  in verse 2 of this Psalm.

However we cannot know for sure when this Psalm was written and maybe the problem of Pilgrim travellers copping abuse and ridicule for making these journeys as verses 3 and 4 suggest’s was a problem these pilgrim travellers had to cope with all through Israel’s history.

All we know for sure is that this Psalm is part of the “Songs of Ascent” series and most commentators agree were used by pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem and the Temple there for one or more of the Jewish festivals held there each year.

This idea of looking up to God introduced in the first verse of the Psalm forms my central theme for this short but wonderful Psalm and so with that in mind my outline for this Psalm is:

1.      (vs. 1)   LOOKING UP TO GOD

         1.   (vs. 1a)   Looking up

         2.   (vs. 1b)   Looking up to God in heaven

2.      (vs. 2)   LOOKING UP TO THE GOD OF MERCY

         1.   (vs. 2a)   Looking up to God with the eye’s of a servant

         2.   (vs. 2b)   Looking up to the mercy of God

3.      (3- 4)     LOOKING UP TO GOD FROM GREAT DIFFICULTY

         1.   (vs. 3)     Looking up to God for mercy in great difficulty

         2.   (vs. 4)     Looking up to God for help in the face of great opposition

Lets then have a closer look at this Psalm with the theme of Looking up to God in mind.

  1.     (vs. 1)   LOOKING UP TO GOD

         1.   (vs. 1a)   Looking up

The idea of looking up to God runs all through these Songs of Ascent and we have it expressed in the opening words of Psalm 120 when it says,

“I call on the Lord in my distress”

And even more strongly stated in the opening two verses of the next Psalm which says,

“I lift my eyes to the mountains” or “Hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth”.

And even in later “Songs of Ascent” like Psalm 130 verse 1, we read,

“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord”.

Allan Harman says that these words reveal a attitude in the Psalmist of,

“Reverence for God”.

When a person lifts their eyes they are saying they are looking up and in the case of the Psalmist the looking up is to God. Atheists of course love to point out that now that we have been able to do space travel we know for sure that God does not dwell above the sky but the bible does not say God lives above the sky as the second half of this verse says he lives in heaven,

“To you who sit enthroned in heaven”.

Heaven is not above the clouds as that still is in our physical realm but God is Spirit so he lives in the spiritual realm of heaven. Paul indicates in Ephesians 6: 12 that this heavenly or spiritual realm is vast and full of not only God and his domain but a darker and dangerous evil domain as well,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

However this looking up would have been a physical reality for the Pilgrim Traveller as they journeyed up from the flat often desert plains of Israel into the hills or Mountains where Jerusalem and the Temple were. They would have been always looking up. My father and mother moved close to us in the Blue Mountains for a few years many years ago and my father often said that when you live in the mountains you are either walking up hill or down and never really on flat ground.

So this pilgrim traveller was not looking down but his eyes were looking up. However this “looking up” has a spiritual interpretation as non – believers don’t look up or look to God as my grandfather certainly sadly didn’t, they look to themselves or some other than God of the bible entity or idea for help in their lives.

Paul speaks of this not looking up to God or looking away from God this way in Romans 1: 19 and 20,

“Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”.

Paul goes on to explain what this looking away from God leads to in verses 21 – 23,

 “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles”.

How does God react to this looking away from him?

Well Paul goes on to tell us the answer to this in verses 24 – 25,

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen”.

You might ask why?

Well God gave us the gift of free will so if we choose to look away from him then he says OK go, look aware but unfortunately you must suffer the consequences of that.

My Grandfather chose to look away and refused to look back or up even as he faced probably the greatest difficulty of life itself, death. 

Paul’s message of how we have looked away from God and suffered the consequences might seem be a hopelessly bleak message but there is light at the end of this dark tunnel which is in Paul’s message of the Gospel in Romans, salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, like Romans 3: 21 – 26,

 “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. 

He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—  26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”.

Paul is saying we can believe or in terms of Psalm 123, look up to God or even look back to God and God’s grace or mercy which we will explore in the second section of this Psalm will save us or bring us back in fellowship with God and save us from the consequences of sin which is death and Paul speaks of this amazing Good News this way in Romans 6: 23,

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

I mentioned the true story of how my fathers father, my grandfather refused to look up to God by refusing to even speak to the local Anglican minister the night of his death. However on the other side my family my wife’s father suffered from throat and lung cancer and eventually died from it. At his funeral the local Anglican minister came up to my wife and I and said, “I know you are both Christians so I want to tell you that your father, in my case father in law, allowed me to speak to him in his home a number of times before he died and I was able to share the Gospel with him and I believe he accepted Christ as his Saviour and gained much peace of mind and soul as a result”.

So my grandfather and father failed to look up to God but praise God my wife’s father seems to have looked up to God just before he died. I remember that this reminded me of the story of one of the thieves on the cross who we read looked to Jesus just before he died that day. Luke records this story in two verses this way, in Luke 23: 42 – 43,

“Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

After hearing a wonderful Easter Service message on the story of the thief on the cross many years ago I was inspired to write a little song about it and the first verse of that songs says,

Oh I wish you could see now all is not at loss

For Jesus remembered the thief on the cross.

    2.   (vs. 1b)   Looking up to God in heaven

So the first part of the first verse of Psalm 123 encourages us to look up or lift our eye’s and the second part of that same verse says who we should look up to and that is,

“To you (God) who sit enthroned in heaven”.

The phrase,

“Sit enthroned in heaven”

Is a phrase used at least three other times in the book of Psalms, Psalm 9: 4, 103: 19 and 113: 5 and Allan Harman says that this,

“recognises that God is enthroned in the heavens as the all – powerful creator of all things”.

The idea that God is the all powerful God who rules the earth and the universe from heaven is a theme explored in some detail in Psalms 93 – 100 and is introduced to us by the words of Psalm 93: 1 – 2,

“The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;

indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. 2 Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity”.

These Psalms were written or started to be collated I believe during and just after the exile of the Jews in captivity in Babylon and gave the Jews of that time great confidence of faith in the God of the bible when the world seemed to be turned up side down.

It could have looked like God and his people were defeated by great evil forces but God was always in control and was always ruling as verse 4 and 5 of Psalm 93 says,

“Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the Lord on high is mighty. 5 Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days”.

The words of this Psalm that says,

“Holiness adorns your house for endless days”.

Refers I think to God’s heavenly home but it also relates to the final destination of our pilgrim travellers as that was Jerusalem and the Temple and as Tremper Longman 111 points out,

“The Temple was the focus of God’s presence on earth, and the ark of the covenant was thought to be the footstool of his throne”.  (see 1 Chronicles 28: 2)

So the writer could be saying he is looking up to Jerusalem and the Temple in which sits the Ark of the Covenant which represents God’s dwelling with his people. It was not what the Temple was as it was a mere building as God told the prophet Nathan to tell King David in 2 Samuel 7: 5 – 6,

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling”

The New Testament makes this even clearer in Stephens last speech before he was stoned to death he says in Acts &: 48 – 49,

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?

says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?”.

No, the building was not special but what the building represented was special, God dwelling with his people and what the building was for, the place Israelites gathered together to worship the God of the bible made it a place to look up to.

In New Testament terms the Old Testament realities of the Temple and the ark of the covenant and the offering of sacrificial blood on it for the forgiveness of sins is only a shadow of what came through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ as the writer to the Hebrews explains in Hebrews 10: 1 – 10,

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: 

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased”,

 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’” 

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.

So in New Testament terms we come to God’s throne of grace through The Lord Jesus Christ who we look up to by faith in what he did for us on the cross as we read in Hebrews 4: 14 – 16,

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”.

2.      (vs. 2)   LOOKING UP TO THE GOD OF MERCY

         1.   (vs. 2a)   Looking up to God with the eye’s of a servant

So I have just stated that we only come to the throne of God because of the grace of God and grace means love we don’t deserve and in the Old Testament this is called mercy and this is how our writer of Psalm 123 believes he too can only come to God.

He makes this clear in two ways in verse 2 and the first way he makes this clear in this verse is through a cultural analogy of a slave or maybe servant of his day. He expresses this analogy this way in the first part of verse 2,

“As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress”.

Allan Harman points out that,

“In Eastern countries servants are often directed by hand signals”.

So a servant or slave had to sit or stand looking up to the hand signals of either their masters or mistresses. If they missed the hand signal they could be in big trouble. 

Of course the servants or slaves were also dependant on the good hand of their masters and mistresses for food and clothing and lodging so the first part of this verse is, I think a great picture of our standing before God. We can do nothing to save ourselves and we are therefore totally dependant on the loving hand of God.

The fact that God has a loving hand has nothing to do with us but is purely a result of his great loving nature,

David showed in his many Psalms that he knew he was saved, helped and protected only because of his God being a God of  loving mercy or grace as he states in Psalm 25: 6 – 7,

“Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good”.

Then again in Psalm 31: 7,

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul”

Finally the final clincher for David about how he was totally dependant on the love and mercy or grace of God would have been how God answered his prayers of confession for adultery and murder by giving him forgiveness and not treating him as he deserved as expressed in Psalm 51: 1 – 2,

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

David could not have even contemplated praying a prayer like this after what he had done unless he believed his God the God of the bible was a merciful loving God.

The New Testament application of this image of being a slave or servant in the eyes of God is to me simply amazing as Jesus states very clearly that he gave up being God in heaven to become a servant to save us from our many sins as Jesus states in Mark 10: 45,

“For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

Paul picks up how this great fact that Jesus  became a servant to save us should be something we should model our lives upon in his letter to the Philippians in Philippians 2: 5 – 8,

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient

to death— even death on a cross!”

So Jesus gave up being at the right hand of God to become a human being and even a servant and finally he became a executed criminal who had done no wrong to save us. How amazing is the grace of God when we realise what all that means however Paul does not stop there as he goes on to present the fact that once Jesus died for our sins on the cross he was raised from the dead and then ascended back to heaven so we can now look up to the ascended loving Saviour who will one day come again, Philippians 2: 9 – 11,

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.

    2.   (vs. 2b)   Looking up to the mercy of God

The second way our writer of Psalm 123 makes it clear that he can only look up to God through his mercy and love is by simply stating that fact in the second part of verse 2, when her says,

“So our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy”.

Note how he is not arrogantly assuming the mercy or grace of God in these words but says he will look up to God until God shows him and his fellow pilgrim travellers his mercy. 

As I have been saying the pilgrim journey to Jerusalem and the Temple of God there was a hazardous and often difficult journey and the pilgrims relied on the merciful help of God to successfully and safely make it.

The Christian journey or life that these Old Testament pilgrim journeys mirror is a spiritually hazardous and often difficult journey and we to rely on the grace of God to successfully complete that journey.

However the New Testament makes it clear that the grace of God will hep us all through this great journey of faith as we see from two relevant New Testament passages.

First of all we have Titus 2: 11 – 14,

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good”.

And Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in Philippians 1: 3 – 6,

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

So we are only saved because we have looked up to God who came down to earth to save us through his Son’s death on the cross and this demonstrates to us the grace or love of God and so this grace is something we can have confidence in and even have more confidence in than the writer of Psalm 123 who said he was waiting for God to show Israel his mercy or grace.

As Christians we can not only look up to God with confidence but look back to the cross where the grace of God was demonstrated once and for all and is ours by faith in and through The Lord Jesus Christ.

3.      (3- 4)     LOOKING UP TO GOD FROM GREAT DIFFICULTY

         1.   (vs. 3)     Looking up to God for mercy in great difficulty

Our writer so far in this Psalm has indicated he desperately needs help from God which he believes comes from the mercy of God who he is looking up to. Now in the final two verses he tells us what he needs help for from God and I call this the difficulties caused by those who oppose him and his people.

I have already said that because this Psalm is part of the Songs of Ascent which most commentators believe were songs sung by Jewish pilgrims as they travelled up to Jerusalem for one or all of the three annual festivals celebrated there that these enemies causing great difficulties are non Jews who for some reason or another hated the Jewish pilgrims making their pilgrimages.

This kind of opposition is best seen in the bible at the time of the return of the Jews to Israel and particularly Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity recored in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In this time the and particularly to the north of Israel many non Jewish nations had settled their and they opposed the Jews in a very vicious and underhanded way and did use slander and false accusations against them to try and stop both the building of the walls and Temple in Jerusalem.

To see the difficulties the Jews and possible Jewish pilgrims would have faced in the post Babylonian exile period have a look at Ezra 4 and 5 and Nehemiah 4.

With this in mind these last two verses read this ways:

“Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud”.

To open up these last two verses I have come up with three aspects to them I would like to discuss with you and they are:

  1.   A desperate double call for mercy (vs. 3a)
  2.   A statement of the kind of difficulty faced (vs. 3b)
  3.   A description of the people causing the difficulty (vs. 4)

So lets have a look at these three aspects of the last two verses of Psalm 123.

  1.   A desperate double call for mercy (vs. 3a)

The first aspect of these last two verses is the double call for mercy in verse 3, that goes like this,

“Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us”

Why is there a double call for mercy?

Ray Fowler who has an excellent study of this Psalm on the internet answers this question best for me when he writes,

“Notice the psalmist cries out for mercy twice in rapid succession. The psalmist is desperate here. He is being mocked and persecuted for his faith, and so in desperation he cries out to the Lord for mercy. When you are in desperate situations, you also need to look to the Lord as your merciful Saviour.”

I mentioned in my introduction that I grew up in a non -christian home and I did find all kinds of difficulties came about for me as a result of that. It is hard enough not being understood for why you go against your family and become a believer but being ridiculed by those you feel close to is very difficult. I thank God for my church and Christian friends who encouraged and helped me through the years of my growing up at home when I was a active Christian believer.

I see my own growing up difficulties as minor compared to so many Christians today living in hostile anti – christian countries where Christians are mocked, ostracised and even jailed or killed by the people in the communities they live in. These people I’m sure would call out to God for mercy just like the writer of Psalm 123 did.

I personally found the words of Paul in Philippians 4: 6 – 7 very helpful and encouraging all through my life when I faced all kinds of difficulties including difficulties caused through persecution.

As we travel through the great pilgrimage or journey of the Christian life we will come across speed humps and other difficulties on our road to God in heaven but we need to look up to God and pray for mercy and help as Paul says we should do in verse 6 of Philippians 4,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.

If we do look up to God in prayer instead of being anxious Paul tells us in verse 7 of this sane chapter,

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.

I have heard of many persecuted Christians doing just this in far more difficult situations than I have endured and over and over again they speak of the deep peace God has given them through the grace of The Lord Jesus Christ.

  1.   A statement of the kind of difficulty faced (vs. 3b)

So our writer of Psalm 123 calls out desperately to God in heaven for mercy but what is the difficulties he is facing that brought this about?

The answer lies in the words of the second half of verse 3 which says,

“For we have endured no end of contempt”.

It seems from these words that those non – Jews who opposed them and their pilgrimage journeys used words of ridicule and scorn against them. I could imagine groups of Jews on the rough roads travelling through towns where non – Jews also lived and having people hanging out of their windows shouting abuse at them or even walking up to them and abusing them to their faces.

I mentioned the contempt and abuse the Jews suffered after their return from Captivity in Babylon and we have a little account of the kind of verbal abuse the Jews had to bear at this time form non – Jews in Nehemiah 4: 1 – 3,

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

This abuse did not stop at this kind of public demonstration of it but it showed itself in back handed corruption against the Jews and even official letter of complaint with false information was sent by Jewish opponents to Cyrus the King as we read of in Ezra 4: 4 – 6,

“Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

The letter accused the Jews of sedition by building the walls of the city of Jerusalem to rebel against their Persian overlords to not pay their taxes to them.

As I said before Christians today in many parts of the world face similar verbal attacks and they also are falsely accused of disrupting the peace and other ridiculous false charges. 

We know that Jesus faced a tremendous amount of public abuse from particularly the religious leaders of his day who also made up false charges against him and Jesus warned his disciple and us that because they persecuted him they will seek to persecute us as he says in John 15: 18 – 20,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”.

Jesus goes on to explain why this will happen in verses 21 – 25,

They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to full fill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason”.

Jesus in the same chapters of John where he speaks of this opposition and therefore difficulties also promises to send his disciple and all who put their faith in him his Holy Spirit who in the original Greek could be translated a ‘The Comforter”. We read of this promise for instance in John 14: 15 – 21,

“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate (comforter) to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

So when we face the difficulties caused by the contempt, scorn or ridicule of those who oppose us and our message we need to look up to God and Jesus will help us and even comfort us through the person of his Holy Spirit.

  1.   A description of the people causing the difficulty (vs. 4)

The Psalm ends with a description of the people who oppose these pilgrim travellers and they are given the duel descriptions of:

  1. Arrogant (vs. 4a)
  2. Proud (vs. 4b)

Lets have a closer look at each of these two descriptions of those who showed contempt to the pilgrim travellers.

  1.   Arrogant (vs. 4a)

The first part of verse 4 says,

“We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant”.

Those who oppose Christians today like atheists like Richard Dawkins who comes across as a self assured arrogant man, listen to theses two quote form his book, “The God Delusion”,

“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.” 

Dawkins is saying here that God believers like Christians are simply infantile in their thinking by daring to look up to God who is greater than anyone.

Or this further quote from the same book,

“Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base though.” 

Dawkins is only one example of attitudes towards God believing people today and his comments above are really mild compared to the arrogant general nasty attitude society in general has towards Christians today.

I reminded you of what Jesus said to his disciple and us in John 15 about how the world hated him first so it will hate us also. Ray Fowler says this about the plight of the arrogant,

“The arrogant and proud do not receive God’s mercy because they don’t think they need God’s mercy. And because they don’t think they need God’s mercy, they don’t look to God for mercy. And because they don’t look to God for mercy, they don’t ask God for mercy. And because they do not ask, they do not receive.”

Fowler then quotes James 4: 6,

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”

  1. Proud (vs. 4b)

The Psalm closes with this final description of the opponent’s of the Pilgrim Travellers, which is similar to the first,

“Or contempt from the proud”.

Ray Fowler has already shown us how arrogance is linked with pride particularly through his quote of James 4: 6. Here James is quoting Proverbs 3: 34, 

“He mocks proud mockers but shows favour to the humble and oppressed”.

It is interesting that this proverbs version speaks of God showing favour or mercy to the humble and oppressed which means God cares for us when arrogant proud non believers attack us in this case verbally.

So as the Jews journey towards their goal of Jerusalem and the mountains they encounter all kinds of difficulties and these difficulties included verbal attacks from non believers of the God of the bible who in a arrogant and proud way sought to Lord it over the poor pilgrim travellers.

However Psalm 123 offers the perfect antidote to this problem which I think is perfectly expressed in the opening words of this Psalm which says,

“I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven”.

As we journey through the Christian life we too will face difficulties like contemptuous words from non – believers but we need to look up to God. I like the way Ray Fowler concludes his study of this Psalm and I quote it here,

“Psalm 123 is the cry of a person who has nothing left to do but pray. When you have had enough, when you are at the end of your rope, don’t despair but look to the Lord. Don’t take matters into your own hands, but look to the hand of your master. Look to the Lord for mercy. Confess your complete dependence on God for all things. And then through Jesus you may approach God’s throne with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need”.

I close as usual with my original poem / song and prayer.

I LIFT MY EYES TO GOD

(Based on Psalm 123 and the tune of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”

I lift my eyes when I am down

To the God who lives in heaven

For he sent his son so that anyone 

Can one day go  to heaven.

He died upon the cross for me

And his death has set me free

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

I lift my eyes to the throne of God

Like a servant looks to his master

For by the grace of God he lifts me up

From my sins great disaster.

For by the grace I’m saved from sin

And his changing me now within

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

I lift my eyes to God’s throne of grace

And I pray that God will help me

For my enemies seek to bring me down

With words that really hurt me.

But I know the Lord hears my prayers

For his word tells me he cares.

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

I lift me eyes to the God above

The God who sits in heaven

The God who said I love the world

So I’ll send my Son from heaven.

He wants us now to turn from sin

And ask his Son to come in.

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

I lift my eyes to you Lord the God who sits on his throne in heaven and I ask that by your grace I might be saved. Saved from my sins by the death of your Son, saved from my going astray by your Holy Spirit strengthening me and saved from my enemies by your mighty powerful hand working in me, through me and going before me. Help me to encourage others to join the journey you want us to take that one day leads to you in heaven. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

PSALM 122 TALK:   THE CHRISTIAN’S JOUNEY’S DESTINATION AND TRAVELLING COMPANIONS

PSALM 122 TALK:   THE CHRISTIAN’S JOUNEY’S DESTINATION AND TRAVELLING   COMPANIONS

(The third Psalm in the collection of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which are songs designed for the ancient pilgrims of Israel to sing as they made their often long journeys up into the hills or mountains in Israel to Jerusalem at least three times a year for one of three religious celebrations held their. This Psalm deals with the destination proclaimed as the pilgrim set out and also speaks of his fellow pilgrim travellers which is spiritually a wonderful picture of the fellowship of all believers we call today The Church.)

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm Talk for Psalm 120.

PART 1.    PSALMS 120 – 124   THE JOURNEY BEGINS – THE WAY

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 122

One of the joys of the christian life for me is the fellowship I have had and continue to have with not only fellow Christian believers in my country of Australia but from around the world. I have had the blessing of God in my life to both visit and minister in other countries and what I call the fellowship of all believers is one of the many blessings of doing this. Infect I never get tired of joining in not only fellowship with Christians from other countries and cultures but worshipping with them as well and I have often considered that this is, for me, a small taste of heaven to come.

The theme of the Christian life being a journey enjoyed and even helped by other fellow pilgrims is to me the central theme of the third song of Ascent and I will explore this theme with you in this Psalm talk.

Before I give my outline I must answer the question of who, when and why was this Psalm written.

 The Hebrew heading says that this Psalm was actually originally composed by non other than King David. Three other songs of Ascent are attributed to him as well, Psalms 124, 131 and 133. 

Some bible scholars reject the authorship of this Psalm to David but I go along with bible commentators like Allan Harman who see no problem in attributing this Psalm to the pen of David. Allan Harman gives these three reasons for believing that the Hebrew heading is correct:

1.    David’s connection with Jerusalem as its capturer and establisher as the capital of Israel  (2 Samuel 5: 6 – 8)

2.    David entered a major building program in Jerusalem once he captured it (2 Samuel 5: 9 – 12).

3.    David brought the Ark of the Covenant up into Jerusalem and set it in the Tabernacle and later this Tabernacle was  replaced by his son Solomon when he built the Temple on the same Spot as the Tabernacle (2 Samuel 6: 12 – 19)

Some commentators argue this Psalm could not have been written by David as it refers to the house of the Lord and this was the name given to the Temple that did not exist in David’s time. However H.C Leopold gives us four instances in the Old Testament where The Tabernacle was also called “The House of the Lord”, Judges 19: 18, 1 Samuel 1: 7, 24 and 2 Samuel 12: 20.

Why David wrote is not really known but a good case can be put forward for the idea that some time after David set up Jerusalem as Israels capital and before Israel was split into two seperate Kingdoms, verse 4,

“That is where the tribes go up – the tribes of the Lord – to praise the name of the Lord”

and when David moved The Ark of the Covenant into the Tabernacle there he wanted to encourage his people to fulfil the command of the Lord in Deuteronomy 6: 16 – 17,

“Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you”.

This meant that most of the people had to travel to Jerusalem and therefore make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and this then, according to this argument is a song David wrote for these pilgrim travellers to sing as they made their pilgrimage’s to Jerusalem.

The three David Pilgrimage songs did not become part of the official book of Psalms unto the editors of the fifth book of Psalms included the seperate collection of Songs of Ascent that were used on and off for hundreds of years before the fifth book was put together by Pilgrim travellers to Jerusalem for one or all of the Festivals held there.

So with the theme of the Christian life being a journey enjoyed and even helped by other fellow pilgrims or fellow travellers in the Christian life or way to the destination of The New Jerusalem which is the Church on and earth and heaven to come my outline for this Psalm is:

1.    (1 – 2)   THE JOURNEY’S END FROM THE BEGINNING

       1.   (vs. 1)   The encouragement of other believers to journey to God together

       2.   (vs. 2)   The journey’s end from the beginning

2.    (3 – 5)   JERUSALEM (THE CHURCH) IS A PLACE OF UNITY FOR ALL BELIEVERS

       1.   (vs. 3)   Jerusalem (the church) is well ordered

       2.   (vs. 4)   Jerusalem (the church) is where believers join together to praise God

       3.  (vs. 5)    Jerusalem (the church) is where believers should resolve their differences

3.   (6 – 9)   JERUSALEM (THE CHURCH) IS A PLACE OF PEACE

       1.   (6 – 8)   Jerusalem (the church) the place of God’s peace

       2.   (vs. 9)  We should seek together the prosperity of God’s church

Lets then have a close look at this third song of ascent with this outline of this Psalm in mind.

  1.   (1 – 2)   THE JOURNEY’S END FROM THE BEGINNING

       1.   (vs. 1)   The encouragement of other believers to journey to God together

The first two verses set up the two teaching points of this entire Psalm namely:

  1.   The encouragement of other believers to journey to God together
  2.   The goal of that journey and how it inspires us to take the journey with others

So verse 1 contains the main teaching point of the encouragement of other believers to journey to God together, David our writer puts that this way in verse 1,

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord”.

Some commentators argue that this could not have been written by David as he did not need to journey to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three festivals held there because he lived and reigned in Jerusalem. However if we see this Psalm as a song David composed for Pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem then this verse makes a lot of sense.

David knew the value and power of fellow believers encouragement and this is why he sees the journey of a pilgrim at beginning being encouraged by fellow believers to go on what was more than likely a hard and dangerous journey to Jerusalem as we saw from the previous Psalm, Psalm 121.

Paul always made a big deal about the power of the encouragement of other believers to help us live the Christian life or journey on the way to God in heaven as he writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 7,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort”.

Paul is arguing that he needed the comfort or encouragement of the believers in Corinth and they in tern needed his comfort or encouragement and in fact God leads us sometimes in life into different kinds of difficulties so we can receive his help and encouragement and we hen can help and encourage others who might be going through the same problems or difficulties.

A New Testament cross reference for this entire Psalm is Hebrews Hebrews 10: 24 – 25,

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

In the opening verse of David’s first song of ascent he envisaged fellow believers doing what the writer to the Hebrews wants his readers to do and that is,

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (vs. 24)

To

“Not giving up meeting together” (vs. 25)

David says that the Pilgrim who eventually got to Jerusalem with the encouragement and support of his fellow encouraging believers will,

“Rejoice” with them.

So if going on these Old Testament Pilgrim journeys is analogy of living the Christian life that leads to heaven then when we get to heaven we will rejoice with those who helped or encouraged us to follow Christ to get to heaven.

May I say don’t wait till you get to heaven to do this but even now on the Christian journey rejoice with those who have helped you on this great journey of faith with the Lord.

Listen to Paul doing just that for the believers in Philippi in Philippians 4: 10,,

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it”.

Then again in verses 14 – 16,,

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need”.

This word of thanks by Paul for the Philippians concerns material money aid but in other places like the opening chapter of 1 Thessalonians his rejoicing for other believers was their shared enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel message in their area and region as Paul writes in verses 4- 8,

 “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it”

So every aspect of the Christian journey or experience and even life is a collaborative venture and this is the first great clue to the role and function of the church in our journey to heaven.

  2.   (vs. 2)   The journey’s end from the beginning

I think my most controversial aspect of this Psalm talk will be my interpretation of the second verse of this Psalm as all of the commentators I looked up said that this verse suggests the writer has already arrived in Jerusalem and is now standing at the gates of Jerusalem because it reads this way,

“Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem”

This is reading this verse literally or without considering what it might be saying poetically. So my take on this verse is that I believe the writer is poetically picturing himself at the end of his journey while actually at the start of it, thus my heading, “The journeys end from the beginning”.

My reasons for this is that the first verse is a poetic picture of the start of our writers journey when it says,

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord”.

Now the writer pictures himself arrived in Jerusalem and standing at its gates the threshold of making the final steps of his long journey up to the Temple. 

When our writer pictures himself their at the gates of Jerusalem he then develops a picture of Jerusalem from a pilgrim travellers perspective. A kind of poetic word picture travel brochure.

We get a better understanding of this interpretation when we consider its writer being David, he wants the people in his kingdom to be inspired to come up to Jerusalem for the festivals held there for up to three times a year and so he wants them to be inspired to come to Jerusalem via the long journey up to it  and what better thing could he come up with for that inspiration than for them to picture themselves standing at the gates of there final destination, Jerusalem.

When I recently travelled 19,000 kilometres around my country Australia my wife and I had to drive hundreds of kilometres each day pulling our caravan and the scenery between the places we stopped at was often very much the same but what often kept us going was the interesting and usually beautiful scenery to come of our destination which we usually had built up in your minds from touring brochures we had picked up at Information centres in previous towns.

So what would be the poetic picture we should have in our minds for the Christian journey?

The New Testaments poetic picture to inspire us is non other than that of The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven that will be a place where we will spend eternity with God in heaven as depicted in Revelation 21: 1 – 5,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Some might say this picture is far to out of this world for me to fully appreciate but the New Testament offers us what I call a foretaste of what this is like in its teaching on the New Jerusalem being the Church of God on earth in passages like Hebrews 12: 22 – 24,

 “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”.

When Christians gather in church together they are experiencing just a little taste of heaven for they are meeting together with other believers to worship God together, they have God through his Spirit present with them and they have the inspiration of The Lord Jesus Christ to think of, sing about, hear about and speak about in sweet fellowship which again is something all true believers will know and experience far, far more in heaven for eternity.

This is why we need to work on making our church meetings not only Christ centred but Christ inspiring with lots of opportunities to experience sweet fellowship with other believers, then we can all truely say,

“Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem”.

2.    (3 – 5)   JERUSALEM (THE CHURCH) IS A PLACE OF UNITY FOR ALL BELIEVERS

       1.   (vs. 3)   Jerusalem (the church) is well ordered

So David wants his people of his kingdom to visualise themselves standing at the gates of Jerusalem to inspire them by his song to make the journey up to it and to the Temple going there to celebrate the annual festivals there up to three times a year. He then seeks to further inspire them by picking up some of the attractions of that city and reasons for making such a difficult and often dangerous journey.

The first attraction David chooses to speak about is the physical make up of this unique and what would have been in ancient times inspiring layout as he writes in verse 3,

“Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together”.

I like Spurgeon’s explanation of this verse,

“Not a conglomeration of huts, but buit as a city with substantial structures; and not a straggling city, like some we read of, that have been called “cities of magnificent distances,” but it was “compact together.”

David quickly entered into building projects when he took over Jerusalem with his palace (2 Samuel 5: 11), sturdy homes of its permanent citizens and walls around it as well (2 Samuel 5: 9).

Then in Solomons time the magnificent Temple and many more buildings made Jerusalem a truly desirable city that would inspire anyone who visited it.

How does this relate to the Church, the New Jerusalem of God?

I like Spurgeon’s answer to this he writes,

“Happy is the church that is at peace; blessed are the people who are joined together by a gracious brotherly love”.

I like this quote as the New Testament interpretation of the expression David uses of,

“Closely compacted together” 

I praise God that the church service I attend when I am not away from home is a closely compacted fellowship of brotherly love, only around 50 people but warm and encouraging. Other services of my church which are much larger in attendance also I am told generate a feeling of close brotherly love.

Paul tells the Roman church how they can experience the joys of close compacted brotherly love in Romans 12: 9 – 13,

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”.

I praise God that I have visited many other churches over the years both in my country, Australia and many others and have experienced something of what Paul is speaking of here in the book of Romans and I hope you might know that at the church you attend as well when you enter the doors  of your New Jerusalem, The Church of Jesus Christ here on earth.

       2.   (vs. 4)   Jerusalem (the church) is where believers join together to praise God

So David seeking to inspire his people to make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem now picks up another attraction and reason for going up to Jerusalem annually, as we read in verse 4,

“That is where the tribes go up – the tribes of the Lord – to praise the name of the Lord according to the statutes given to Israel”.

There are actually three things here that should inspire Israelites to make the journey and as they are doing it continue to journey on and these three reasons are

1.     The destination of the fellowship of pilgrim travellers.

2.     The reason why the fellowship of pilgrim travellers make the journey

3.     The biblical reason for the fellowship of pilgrim travellers to make the journey.

Lets have a closer look at each of these three things that David chose to inspire these annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

  1.     The destination of the fellowship of pilgrim travellers.

The first part of verse 4 says,

“That is where the tribes go up – the tribes of the Lord”.

David is saying firstly Jerusalem is the destination of this journey but it is a journey not made by pilgrims on their own but made with other members of their tribe. 

We know that their were 12 tribes who entered the promised land and under the kingship of David and Solomon these twelve tribes lived all over the land of Israel and would have annually come up to Jerusalem for the celebration of at least three great festivals, Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles.

However after Solomon the nation of Israel split into two different Kingdoms with 10 tribes to the North called Israel with its capital of Samaria and two tribes in southern Israel called Judah wo kept Jerusalem as its capital.

So if this was written by David and used extensively for a number of years in the days of David and  Solomon by the pilgrims from the 12 tribes then the destination would have been Jerusalem. 

Capital cities of any nation give the people in those nations a place where they can come together as a nation and so Jerusalem served to do this for many years before the kingdom of Israel was divided in two.

Also this verse says that the pilgrim journey was a fellowship experience and as I said before Jesus is recorded as going on these annual pilgrimage journeys up to Jerusalem. One of these pilgrimage journeys Jesus is recored going on was the one recorded in Luke 2: 41 – 51 when Jesus was only twelve years old.

On the return journey which was a fellowship of tribal groups travelling together Jesus is not with them as he stayed behind in Jerusalem listening to Temple teachers of his day and asking them questions. It takes them some time to realise Jesus was not with them as, I believe the pilgrimage crowd was so big and Luke 2: 43 – 46 puts it this way,

“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions”.

The Christian journey or life is not a solo experience but a fellowship experience a fellowship of believers all travelling together to the final destination of heaven. So the tribes of Israel represent the new nation or Kingdom under God which is his church on earth, the New Jerusalem which will be united with Christ in heaven when he returns to earth the second time at the end of the age we currently live in that I like to call The Gospel Age.

Here are two passages from the New Testament that express this great truth:

  1. 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

    2.    Galatians 4: 25 – 31,

Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman

than of her who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son. 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman”.

So Paul is arguing here that the Old Jerusalem, the city of God before the coming of Jesus has been superseded by the New Jerusalem which he calls here,

“The Jerusalem that is above”

So as those who have come to God through faith in his Son Jesus Christ are now, children of promise verse 28 and children of the free women (symbol for Christ) and not children of a slave women (symbol for the devil).

2.     The reason why the fellowship of pilgrim travellers make the journey

The second thing that David used in verse 4 to inspire the Pilgrims to make the journey to Jerusalem is expressed this way in the second part of the verse,

“To praise the name of the Lord”.

In the Old Testament the Jewish festivals served as a rallying point for praise or worship of the God of the bible.

Peter writing in the New Testament told us in the verses I quoted earlier,  1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

Note we are this new chosen people of God who are called to,

“Declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

So we are to make this journey to God in heaven not on our own but with a tribe or group of believers who do so to praise the God who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light made possible by God’s Son, Jesus Christ who did it through the mercy or grace of God.

The writer to the Hebrews speaking to christians in churches in his day put it this way in Hebrews 13: 15 – 16,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”.

3.     The biblical reason for the fellowship of pilgrim travellers to make the journey.

David continues to inspire his people to come up to Jerusalem for the celebration of the festivals by also stating that this pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple or the Sanctuary in his day was a biblical imperative and puts that this way,

“According to the statute given to Israel”.

Statute is another word for law and I have already quoted this law for the people to come to the place God has appointed for the three main festivals God gave Israel to celebrate in Deuteronomy 6: 16 – 17,

“Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you”.

David believed that the place God chose for these celebrations of the three main Jewish festivals was Jerusalem as David found out from the Lord in very difficult circumstances.

The story goes that David sinned big time after he conquered the Jebusite’s who occupied Jerusalem and had a number of great victories over many of Israels enemies by disobeying the word of the Lord in counting his fighting men. A great plague overtook Israel and many people died and just as it looked like Jerusalem itself would fall to this plague David and his fellow leaders prayed desperately and God relented after David buys a Jebusite threshing floor on one of the hills in the city where David is to make a sacrifice to the Lord on. On the site of that newly purchased threshing floor David has a vision of the Angel of the Lord who turns away from killing anymore Israelites.

Then God makes it clear to David that this newly purchased threshing floor is to be the site of the Tabernacles and later Temple in Jerusalem for the people to come to for the celebration of the three God ordained festival (see 1 Chronicles 21: 18 – 30).

The first verse of the next chapter I 1 Chronicles says this,

“Then David said, ‘The house of the Lord God is to be here, also the altar of burnt offering for Israel”.

So in Psalm 122 verse 4 David is reminding the Pilgrim Traveler’s that their pilgrim destination is Jerusalem and The Temple or Tabernacle and this is laid down as the place and the thing to do according to God’s law.

What is the relevance of this to us as Christians?

I have heard many people over the years say that they are Christian believers like me but choose not to go to church as they feel they can worship God far better out in God’s creation. This idea has many problems and one is that the bible tells us that attending and being involved in his church when it gathers is his ordained plan for all Christians, as we saw in the earlier reference  of Hebrews 10: 24 – 25,

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

It seems even in New Testament times some Christians had this same idea of the people I have met who say they can be a Christian without going to Church. It is not that because we go to church we are a Christian but because we are a Christian we should and must join with others for fellowship, mutual encouragement and true worship of the God we say we believe in.

One person I read years ago said it is like a person claiming to be a baseball player who also claims he doesn’t need to join a baseball team and play baseball to be a baseball player. He might appreciate the many fine aspects of the game of baseball but to be a player he must join at team and play otherwise he is simply a baseball interested person.

So a true believing Christian will be like a baseball player find a church or baseball team and join it and attend or play regularly and then we are saying by our actions I belong to Christ and his people because I am member of his church or in the case of the baseball player I am a active member of the baseball team.

   3.  (vs. 5)    Jerusalem (the church) is where believers should resolve their differences

The final reason David gives his people to inspire them to journey to Jerusalem up to three times a year is in verse 5 which says,

“There stand the thrones for judgement, the thrones of the house of David”.

Albert Barnes explains this verse really well with these words,

“The word throne is now commonly appropriated to the seat or chair of a king, but this is not necessarily the meaning here. The word may denote a seat or bench occupied by a judge. 

The meaning here is, that Jerusalem was the supreme seat of justice; the place where justice was dispensed for the nation. It was at once the religious and the civil capital of the nation”.

So the pilgrim traveller is being told that if he or she has any civil grievance they can get this sorted out when they are in Jerusalem as Jerusalem is not only the spiritual centre of Israel but the political and civil capital as well.

For us as Christians I can only think of one application for this verse and that is the concept that as Christians we are to resolve any differences we might have in the church and not in the outside civil courts which was a principle Paul had to lay down for the Corinthian church of his day for some reason or another.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 6: 1 – 6,

“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”

You might think this is not something that we need to consider today but let me tell you a good friend of mine who now attends a church in a country area of my state was horrified to find that a neighbouring church in the same Christian denomination of his had taken their disputes with their church leaders to court to resolve issues concerning the sale of church property. This according to my friend was such a negative witness in his area that many people said things like if this is how so called Christians act amongst themselves we don’t wont anything to do with them and their so called church that spoke of love but acted with hate and conflict in the general community they lived in.

3.   (6 – 9)   JERUSALEM (THE CHURCH) IS A PLACE OF PEACE

       1.   (6 – 8)   Jerusalem (the church) the place of God’s peace

The final section of this Song of Ascent verses 6 – 9 is I think David asking the Pilgrim travellers to Jerusalem to pray for Jerusalem as they travel to it annually each year.

We must remember that this is a song and a song designed by David for Pilgrim Travellers coming up to Jerusalem each year for one of the festivals celebrated there in and around the Tabernacle in Davids time and in and around the Temple in Solomons time. So as the pilgrims sang this song they where also asked to pray for Jerusalem. 

The prayer request for Jerusalem has two parts:

  1.   (vs. 6)   Peace for the people of Jerusalem
  2.   (vs. 7)   Peace for the city of Jerusalem as a whole

Lets then look at the two parts of this prayer for Jerusalem.

  1.   (vs. 6)   Peace for the people of Jerusalem

The sixth verse in Davids song for Pilgrim travellers starts with the word pray and therefore is a prayer request and this prayer request starts with the words,

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”

David’s prayer request for peace in Jerusalem is actually in the original Hebrew language a very clever play on words as Allan Harman points out that the name Jerusalem means foundation of peace and the Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom. So the word play in English Allan Harman says would read like this,

“Ask for the peace of the foundation of peace”.

Doug Hershey points out that Shalom the Hebrew word for for peace is not the absence of conflict or war but,

“To be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back — to generously re-pay something in some way”.

It was vital for Jerusalem to have this kind of peace and also to be secure if these pilgrimages wanted to continually pilgrimage to Jerusalem so it naturally follows that the idea of the city and its inhabitants being secure is what the second half of verse 6 says,

“May those who love you be secure”

If the city is secure then those who love that city are secure.

I really like Albert Barnes application of this verse for us as Christians who are part of the New Israel of God and of course the New Jerusalem which is the church, he writes,

“To us now it inculcates the duty of praying for the church: its peace; its unity; its prosperity; its increase; its influence on our country and on the world at large. It is a prayer that the church may not be divided by schism or heresy; that its members may cherish for each other right feelings; that there may be no jealousies, no envy and no jars; that the different branches of the church may regard and treat each other with kindness, with respect, and with mutual recognition; that prosperity may attend them all”.

I attended a interdenominational Bible College and I learnt through that experience that conflict and strife can easily erupt in the church on a wider level but I also learnt through my three years their how to do what Albert Barnes says we all must do,

“Regard and treat each other with kindness, with respect, and with mutual recognition; that prosperity may attend them all”.

I was reminded of the importance of this when I attended during my first year at Bible College my first Christian Convention held at Katoomba two hours drive out from Sydney in the beautiful Blue Mountains and seeing the big sign up the front above the speakers desk that quotes Paul’s word from Galatians 3: 28,

“All one in Christ Jesus”.

  1.   (vs. 7)   Peace for the city of Jerusalem as a whole

This prayer request for the people of Jerusalem then is followed by a similar request for the city itself in verse 7, which says,

“May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels”

The term,

“Security within your citadels”

Is a term that means the whole city as Leopold points out when he says that the citadels refers to,

“The two outside limits”  of the city.

So again if the actual city was secure with peace then the pilgrims could journey up to it and enjoy the worship and fellowship God designed them to have there. We can see eventually what happened to Israel once Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC and we see how devastating this was for the Jews with these words from the book of Lamentations  2: 7,

The Lord has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary. He has given the walls of her palaces into the hands of the enemy; they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord as on the day of an appointed festival”.

This terrible day happened to Israel as an act of Judgment because of their many sins and we read in Daniel 9: 25 – 19 Daniels prayer prayed in exile in Babylon for the Lord to help his people return to their land and particularly to Jerusalem,

“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favour on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Daniel knew of the prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy that after 70 years of exile this prayer would be answered as he speaks of it before he started praying the prayer above in Daniels 2: 1 – 2,

“In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years”.

So on our Pilgrim journey to God in heaven our Jerusalem here on earth is the church of The Lord Jesus Christ and we should pray for peace within its walls and amongst its people and be warned that even though Christ Church will never be destroyed Matthew 16: 18,

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it”.

Individual parts of it can be judged if found wanting in sin and lack of true love for God as we see in the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation in chapters 1 – 3. 

I think some of the final words of these three chapters sums up what we all must do today in the Christian church, Revelation 3: 19 – 20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me”.

We must pray for peace in our churches and make sure that Christ and his word is at the centre of all we say and do.

2.   (vs. 9)  We should seek together the prosperity of God’s church

David’s final word to the pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem in his song for them now called Psalm 122 is that they all seek the prosperity of the Lord’s house, verse 9 says,

“For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity”.

So much emphasis today is made of the needs of the individual christian in our churches but the bible over and over again is concerned for individuals but it is more concerned for the church or the people of God as a whole. 

This verse in Psalm 122 is a good illustration of what I am saying, David wants the people to sing as they travel together a pledge to seek the prosperity of God’s house or Temple and in New Treatment terms God’s House or Temple is the people of God come together through faith in his Son, The Lord Jesus Christ as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3: 16,

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

And as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 3: 6,

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory”.

And finally Peter says in 1 Peter 2: 4 – 5,

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

Note how each of these New Testament references refer to the Church as a body of people and so as David encouraged his people to pray for the prosperity of God’s House I would like to use this to encourage you to pray for the prosperity of God’s house today, the people of God known as his church on earth as Paul showed us how to pray for the church in Colossians 1: 9 – 14,

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.

Spurgeon adds this these words of advice,

“Not only pray for it, but work for it, give for it, live for it: “I will seek thy good!”

CONCLUSION

We have seen in this third Song of Ascent how David sought to inspire the Pilgrim travellers on their way up to Jerusalem and the Temple to go together with other believers and to be encouraged by them to eventually stand in the gates of their great city.

We have seen how Davis sought to inspire them to go on this often dangerous and difficult journey by always having a vision of the wonder and beauty of their final destination in there minds and hearts. Also David wanted them as they set out for Jerusalem and as they journeyed towards it to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and its people and to always seek the prosperity of The House of the Lord that dwelt in the city of Jerusalem.

As Christians we need to always realise that our journey to heaven is not a lonely solo effort but we are always walking God’s way with other fellow believers and in fact we are part of a great New Jerusalem and even House of the Lord which we should pray for peace and seek it is well. 

Finally we are not to seek our own prosperity but the prosperity of God’s world wide church which we are a part of and when we play our God given role in that we will see God’s House or God’s church grow and prosper unto it is fully united with Christ as The New Jerusalem or the eternal home of Heaven with God at it’s centre.

I close  as usual with my original poem / song and prayer:

LETS GO TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD

(Based on Psalm 122 – to the tune of “All the good times are past and gone”)

Lets all go to the house of the Lord

Lets all travel their now.

For God’s church is the house of the Lord

The home of God’s peace and power.

 

My feet now stand in God’s heavenly home

For thats where I’m headed for.

The place called New Jerusalem

To where one day I’ll soar.

 

Heaven is a place so beautiful

God’s church is foretaste of it.

So lets all go to the house of the Lord

And be led by his Holy Spirit.

 

Pray for peace in the house of the Lord

Pray that it might be secure.

Trusting alone in the Lord Jesus Christ

Who alone can make it sure.

 

For the sake of your family and friends

I pray that you will have peace.

For if God’s house does prosper now

Our joy of the Lord will increase.

 

Lets all go to the house of the Lord

Lets all travel their now.

For God’s church is the house of the Lord

The home of God’s peace and power.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

Yes Lord we thank you that through your people’s witness to us we have heard your call to travel to your heavenly home through trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross and through that wonderful act of love and made a way back to you Father in heaven. Help us to pray for the peace and prosperity of your church here on earth so that through its witness and message many more people might join it on its journey to the New Jerusalem your eternal home above. In Jesus Powerful name we pray this, Amen.

PSALM 121 TALK:  THE CHRISTIANS JOURNEY’S DESTINATION AND TRAVEL TRAPS

PSALM 121 TALK:THE CHRISTIANS JOURNEY’S DESTINATION AND TRAVEL TRAPS

(The second of 15 Psalms or songs of ascent that deals with getting our final travel destination clear in our minds, namely God in heaven and also raises some of the dangers ahead in getting there and God promises to protect us on our journey to him in heaven).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

For a introduction to the Psalms of Ascent see Psalm Talk for Psalm 120.

PART 1.    PSALMS 120 – 124   THE JOURNEY BEGINS – THE WAY

ONTRODUCTION TO PSALM 121

I once heard in a sermon at my church years ago where the preacher asked the question:

Are you a destination traveller or a person who travels for the adventure and enjoyment of travel itself?

The Christian Pilgrimage or Journey is actually a bit of both as we go God’s way to arrive at a destination – Heaven but we also look to God to help us on that journey and we both enjoy and learn from this journey as God leads us through both good and difficult times on this journey of life.

So the second Song of Ascent that is part of the first five of these songs that deal with beginning our journey speaks of the destination we must all set our sights on, “The Mountains” vs 1 and “The Lord” vs. 2. 

Then this second Psalm of Ascent uses Old Testament poetic terms to identify some of the dangers this Pilgrimage or Journey will encounter and spells out who will protect us from these dangers as we travel on God’s way to the Mountains – a poetic Old Testament symbol for God in Heaven as we will learn in the Psalm talk that follows.

It is interesting that the other way of interpreting, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains” is that the hills or mountains represented to the pilgrim traveller difficulty and hardship but this interpretation says that the Psalm is saying our help in overcoming these difficulties is found in the Lord who promises to help us. Both interpretations I think lead to the same conclusion and maybe our writer cleverly made the Psalm to read the way it does so that both interpretations can be seen and appreciated.

God through Jesus calls us to look to Jesus as The Way, The Truth and the Life to find the road to God the Father (John 14: 6) who dwells in heaven so this Psalm 121 will help us prepare for starting out on God’s way – road in life that will ultimately lead us to be with God in heaven.

With this central theme of the Christians journey’s destination and travel traps in mind my outline for this Psalm is:

1.   (1- 2)   THE JOURNEYS DESTINATION IN SIGHT

  1.     (vs. 1)    The journeys destination
  2.     (vs. 2)     The journey’s protector named

2.     (3 – 6)   THE JOURNEY’S DANGERS IDENTIFIED

  1.     (3 – 4)     The danger of falling
  2.    (5 – 6)      The danger of exposure – (shelter from evil)

3.     (7 – 8)   THE JOURNEY’S PROTECTOR GUIDES US

  1.     (vs. 7)     God the great protector
  2.     (vs. 8)     God’s protection is comprehensive

So lets now have a close look at each of these three Journey preparations we must all do as we begin our journey with the Lord to heaven.

  1.   (1- 2)   THE JOURNEYS DESTINATION IN SIGHT
  1.     (vs. 1)    The journeys destination

We do not know the writer of Psalm 121 but he certainly knew both where he was headed on his Pilgrimage and who would help him on his great journey there. He sets his sights on the pilgrimage’s destination right at the start of his Psalm which he phrases in both the form of a question and using a Old Testament biblical poetic phrase, he writes in verse 1,

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?”

Some translation use the word “Hill” instead of “mountains” but both have the same image in mind.

To us, not being people who lived as Jews before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 this verse is not clear in what it is actually saying so let me take you into the mind of a pre- AD 70 Jewish mind and then you will see what this verse is actually telling us.

H.C Leopold points out in his commentary on the Psalm,

“When a native Israelite said that he looked for help to the mountains, that expression had a very specific meaning”.

Leopold goes on to explain that “Mountains” in the Old Testament had great spiritual significants and he catalogues many of the key events in the life of the Ancient Israelites that took place on mountain tops, like Abraham and the near sacrifice of his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22) or Moses receiving the law of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and of course the choosing and building of the Temple on Mount Zion (2 Samuel 24: 16 – 25 and 1 Chronicles 5 – 7). 

Many other great events in the Old Testament took place on mountains but “the mountains” I’m sure the writer of Psalm 121 had in mind was the mountains where Jerusalem dwelt and in that mountainous city where a number of hills, sometimes called mountains and the main hill there was called Zion which was a hill in the city that Solomon had build the Temple on and under the leadership of Ezra was re-built after its destructions by the Babylonians and the return of the Jews after their 70 year captivity in Babylon.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains”

Is the Pilgrim traveller looking up from a distance to the final destination of his Pilgrim journey, namely Jerusalem and the holy mountain of Zion where the Temple of God sat.

As I said in my introduction some see, “I lift my eyes to the mountains” as a way of saying I look up to the difficult journey ahead and this interpretation could have also been in the mind of the writer as he goes on to speak of the difficulties and dangers of this pilgrimage to God’s mountains and I believe God’s ultimate hill or mountain destination, Mount Zion and the Temple built on top of it.

The second phrase,

“Where does my help come from?”

And its answer in verse 2,

“My help comes from the Lord”

Only makes sense when we realise what that Old Testament city of Jerusalem and particularly The Temple meant to a Old Testament Jew. The Temple we learn from the Old Testament was, God’s dwelling place on earth with his people. This does not mean God was confined to a building on earth but rather it means that Jerusalem and the Temple had special significance to the nation of Israel, listen to part of Solomons prayer on the day the first Temple in Jerusalem was dedicated, 2 Chronicles 6: 18 – 21,

18 “But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19 Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 

20 May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 21 Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive”

The Temple was like a giant visual aid that told the people of Israel that God was real and through his covenant of love he made with them he was with them and would guide and help them.

This is why our writer of Psalm 121 can look to the Mountains of Jerusalem and the Temple, I believe and confidently say,

“My help comes from the Lord”

So as Christians what does this first verse of Psalm 121 say to us?

For us the answer lies in the person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ as he is God manifest in the flesh for us and all mankind not just the Jews, John 1: 14,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Jesus is God’s perfect visual aid for us in that we cannot see God as he is Spirit but we can see a man and the man named Jesus Christ was someone who revealed what God is really like as we read in Hebrews 2: 9,

 “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

Note the writer says that we see Jesus not just as a miracle worker and great teacher which he was but we see Jesus the God – Man who died for our sins on the cross so that,

“By the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

This is why Jesus can say in John 14: 6,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

So at the start of our spiritual journey we must look up from our sinful state and see Jesus and particularly Jesus who was lifted up on a cross to die for our sins so that a way back to God was possible and was in fact made.

Note finally that the way or road (as the word for road and way are the same in the original language of the New Testament) leads to the Father and where does God the Father dwell, Solomon indicates the answer to this in his Temple Dedication prayer in 2 Chronicles 6: 18,

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! “.

So as we begin our spiritual journey we have to set out sights on the final destination of our spiritual journey namely God in highest heaven.

2.       (vs. 2)    The journey’s protector named

Then in verse 2 our pilgrim setting out on his great journey to the Mountains that contain Jerusalem and The Temple where God’s dwelling with his people is symbolise names who will help him get there by his protection and guidance, he writes in verse 2,

“My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

The idea of God helping the pilgrim traveller is right through Psalm 121 expressed in various other ways, like three times, “watching over us”, vs. 3, 4, 5 and 8, “not letting us come to harm”, vs. 6 and “keeping us” from harm in vs. 7. 

Any journey we might take in life has inherent dangers and possible problems and we must be aware of this before we start out on any journey from the relative safety of our homes. Inexperienced travellers have got themselves into all sorts of problems and difficulties when they have set out on their journey ill prepared for that journey.

For our writer he knew his pilgrimage was going to be dangerous and in the next section he will elude to some of these dangers but in verse 2 he is confident that generally speaking he knows were his help will come from and that is,

“The Lord”

But not just any God or Lord but,

“The Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

The Maker of Heaven and earth is an expression describing the God of the bible popular in Psalms in this fifth book of Psalms as it is used in four other Psalms, 111: 15, 124: 8, 134: 3 and 146: 6. 

Isaiah makes it even clearer who this Lord is in his more detailed use of this expression in Isaiah 37: 16,

“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth”.

So if the God of the universe for he is its maker goes with us we have the most powerful helper we could possible come up with to help us as we journey to God in heaven.

Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and the power of his might in Ephesians 6: 10 especially as we battle against unbelievably powerful enemies he describes this way in verse 12 of that chapter,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

Over the years I have gone on many special short term mission trips with my brother in Christ Ted Penney and we have never gone out spiritually unprepared as we seek to take every step of the way in prayer to The Lord for protection and guidance and have enlisted up to 50 believers to back us in prayer to the Lord for our ministry and journeys overseas. 

Both Ted and I can testify to the many ways God has helped us and kept us safe from the many evil forces we have faced on these trips away in service to our Lord. 

Every day of our lives is in fact a spiritual journey if we now know the Lord and so we must look to the Lord the maker of Heaven and earth for help and guidance.

2.     (3 – 6)   THE JOURNEY’S DANGERS IDENTIFIED

  1.     (3 – 4)     The danger of falling

The writer of Psalm 121 then in his preparations for his Pilgrimage to the Mountains that contain Jerusalem and God’s Temple now specifies some of the dangers he will face on this great pilgrimage and how God will protect him against these dangers ahead.

The first danger is what I call the danger of falling for we read in verse 3,

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber”.

If this journey will take this pilgrim traveller up into mountains then the danger of slipping over and falling off a cliff is very real. H.C Leopold points out,

“Roads no more than trails, slipping and stumbling could be dangerous with rocks and stones strewn in the path”.

The Old Testament pilgrim then had to prepare for the dangerous journey ahead on these very primitive roads. On my last mission trip to Myanmar Ted and I went on a three day journey into The Chin Hills in Myanmar. We were not actually traveling on hills but mountains that were up to 6,000 ft high on very narrow rough roads that had no guard rail and one slip by the car we travelled in could mean certain death off cliffs that the bottom of could not be seen from the top. I prayed constantly on that trip for The Lord to keep us safe as we were thrown around up and down on the so called roads we travelled on.

If we take in the battle Paul tells us we are involved in (Ephesians 6: 12) every day on our spiritual journey to heaven then we should be in constant prayer and trust in the Lord for only in him Paul says we are strong, Ephesians 6: 10.

Note how God stops us from falling or slipping, it because,

“He watches over you”

And this watching over us is always there because he,

“Will not slumber”

I love the bible story of Elijah on Mount Carmel when he battles with the priests of Baal to see which God would light the sacrifice there. As the priests of Baal called out to their God, Baal and nothing happened, Elijah said this, jokingly to them in 1 Kings 18: 27,

“Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

The God of the bible according to Psalm 121 verse 3,

“Will not slumber”

As Elijah proved and the prophets of Baal saw when God sent fire from heaven to light the sacrifice and burn it up.

Then in verse 4 its says,

“Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.

In our spiritual journey that ends in heaven we too must realise there is the danger of falling or slipping spiritually but if we continue to trust in The Lord Jesus Christ we will not fall as he promises in John 10: 27 – 30,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

The unfortunate reality of the Christian journey is God does not go to sleep and will never leave us but we can go to sleep, spiritually and seek to leave him. Those who choose to fall away from God face a very terrible journey and I know for I did such a foolish thing in my mid teenage years.

However even if we fall to sleep (spiritually) and fall away from God, God, because he never slumbers or sleeps is always there for us to turn back to as James encourages us to do in James 4: 8 – 10,

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.

I have continually praised God since my late teens because I realised that God had not slumbered or slept when I was falling away from him and I turned back to God and he lifted me up and put me back on track to continue to travel on his road to heaven.

2.       (5 – 6)     The danger of exposure – (shelter from evil)

One of the basic needs of all human beings is adequate shelter and sadly their are many people living in our world today suffering from lack of adequate shelter even in cities and towns in my own so called wealthy country there are people living on the street. 

For anyone going on a long and difficult journey adequate shelter must be planned for. This is why my wife, who plans our many trips away spends a lot of time organising accomodation options for those trips. Ted and I always arrange our accommodation before we leave Australia so that we have adequate shelter on our short term mission trips.

The writer of Psalm 121, a pilgrim traveller up into the mountains of Israel to Jerusalem and the Temple there was concerned about the travel problem of inadequate shelter because in verse 5 he writes,

“The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand”.

In a land like Israel in the Near East the danger of sun stroke from poor shelter or no shelter was very real and important. However this pilgrim trusted in the Lord to watch over him when facing this very real danger. 

The writer of Psalm 121 describes his God, The Lord or Yahweh as his,

“Shade at your right hand”.

Allan Harman believes that the idea of God being his shade is a shortened version of the often used expression in the Old Testament and particularly the book of Psalms as,

“The shadow of your wings”. (Psalms 17: 8, 36: 7, 57: 1, 63: 7 and even Isaiah 51: 16.

Harman also quotes Isaiah 25: 4, which says,

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall”.

Here Isaiah is telling us according to my NIV study bible that,

“God is concerned for the poor and is a refuge for them. When we are disadvantaged or oppressed, we can turn to God for comfort and help”.

Of course in our spiritual journey to God in Heaven we are all spiritually poor and need God’s help to shelter us from the dark forces of evil we all face daily. As Paul declares in 2 Thessalonians 3: 3,

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one”.

I cannot leave speaking about verse 5 without making a comment or two on the phrase at the end of that verses that says,

“At your right hand”.

I have commented a number times in my Psalm talks about the right hand of God and basically the right hand is an expression is both a position of honour and also represents God’s power as usually our right hand is our strongest hand. 

A good example of this from the book of Psalms is Psalm 16: 8,

“ keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

So as we begin our spiritual journey to heaven we need to look to Jesus who has gone ahead of us trail blazing if your like all the way to the right hand of God from which he can shelter and protect us on our way to him as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 12: 2,

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

Then is verse 6 we have, what I found a tricky verse to come to a understanding of because it says,

“The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night”.

If our writer only said,

“The sun will not harm you by day”

Then we could say he is simply continuing to make the point that God will provide for us in the journey of life, shelter from the sun however he says also,

“Nor the moon by night”

But the moon offers no source of danger we need shelter from.

The three possible explanations for this are:

1.      The moon in ancient times was considered to be a factor in causing mental illness and we get our word “lunatic” from the           Latin name for the moon, luna.

2.    The moon appears in the night so shelter from the cold of night could be what the reader has in mind.

3.   The writer could simply being saying God offers shelter and protection day and night or always.

      This is the interpretation I favour as it fits in with the two verses that follow it.

So on our spiritual journey to heaven we need to realise that only God himself, the powerful one can protect us from the many dangers we can and do face. 

In fact so real are the dangers we face that sometimes God allows us to go through what seems very difficult times and I attended a bible study this where we studied the first eleven verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 1 and these two verses jumped out at me, verses 6 and 7,

‘If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort”.

Paul is telling the Corinthians in the opening verses of his second letter to them that if we hit some bad pot holes on the road in our journey these are for a purpose. That purpose is to equip us to help and comfort others suffering similar or the same things we have suffered and been helped by God to come through.

3.     (7 – 8)   THE JOURNEY’S PROTECTOR GUIDES US

  1.     (vs. 7)     God the great protector

The final two verses of Psalm 121 conclude our writers reflections on what he needs from God as he is about to commence his pilgrimage or journey to “the Mountains”, Jerusalem or Temple of God and his special presence there.

He has referred to two possible dangers, falling and lack of shade and we have seen that God is going to always be there to help him with these two traveling dangers. So now he speaks of God as his protector against harm or evil and how this protection is all embracing and constant.

Lets have a look first at verse 7 which speaks of how his God, the God who made heaven and earth, the God of the bible is his great protector,

“The Lord will keep you from all harm”

I have said that any journey away from the relative safety go home proposes possible dangers. At the time of writing this Psalm talk I had just returned from a four and a half month driving trip around Australia and we pulled our caravan to do this 19,000 kilometres. We faced the danger of a traffic accident, getting lost, being burgled and many other unforeseen dangers. Such is the reality of modern travel but a man named Andre Gide once said,

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.

The same could be said about my many short term mission trips overseas that I could for the sake of personal safety simply never venture out from home but trusting in the Lord we can have the confidence that,

“The Lord will keep you from all harm”.

The journey up to Jerusalem even in Jesus day was dangerous because of the possible attack by thieves and robbers as Jesus draws on in his famous parable of the Good Samaritan where a traveler is robbed and attacked on the Jericho road part of that Journey.

However Leopold suggests that the original Hebrew word for “harm” could be translated bad or even evil. Spiritually the biggest danger we face on our journey to God in heaven is evil and the evil one as Paul confidently told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: 18,

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen”.

Note how Paul says “evil attack”, if we choose to venture on God’s way or road to heaven we will face attack from evil and the evil one but if we continually trust in the Lord he will,

“Keep us from all harm”

The writer of Psalm 121 says this is possible because,

“He (The Lord) will watch over your life”.

The image of someone watching over us is like the watchman  on a ancient city wall watching out for the possible dangers that could come on a city or the sentry or guard on watch for a building or even person. God is the sentry or guard for our life who we learnt in verse 4, 

“Watches over Israel (God’s people)” 

And who,

“Will neither slumber nor sleep”.

Finally the same idea of constancy and comprehensiveness is picked up in the final verse of the Psalm,

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore”.

What a comfort these words would have been for the ancient Israelites setting out on their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Temple there. God was not just with them but he was watching over them both morning (coming) and night (going) or maybe even at the start of their journey and the end of it as well.

On our spiritual journey to God in heaven God is with us if our sights are set on him and if we but trust in him as both our protector and our guide. I close with the opening three verses of Hebrews 12, my original poem / song lyric inspired by this Psalm 121 and a closing prayer.

First then Hebrews 12: 1 – 3,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

I LOOK TO THE HILLLS

 (Based on Psalm 121 and the tune of “Banks of The Ohio”)

I look to the hills as I travel God’s way

Knowing that he’s with me to help me each day.

I look to the hills where I could fall

But the Lord helps me because he goes before.

 

I look to the hills the hills of life

And know the Lord help’s me in my strife.

I look to the hills God’s home above

Where one day I’ll enjoy his love.

 

I look to the hills and Lords my guide

For his always with me throughout my life.

I look to the hills and God’s by my side

For he never sleeps so in him abide.

 

I look to the hills where I need to be warm

But the Lord watches over me in life’s many storms.

I look to the hills where there is harm

But the Lord holds me in his loving arms.

 

I look to the hills where I’m traveling to

The glory of God that one day I’ll view.

I look to the hills and the Lord protects me

For the Lord is with me for eternity.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

Lord help me to always set my sights on your hills or mountains which is your eternal home as the final destination of living the life you have made for me. I know from your word that this way in life has been made by your Sons death on the cross and I thank you for that. Help me to stay on your path in life, keep me safe from the many dangers this way in life can produce but above all continue to equip me with your Holy Spirit so that I can serve others helping them join your way and helping them in continuing to follow it. In Jesus name I pray Amen.