PSALM 131 TALK   HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD

PSALM 131 TALK   HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD

(GOING DOWN BEFORE THE LORD TO COME UP AND GO ON  IN CHRISTIAN JOURNEY           OF FAITH)

 (The twelfth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with how we must humble ourselves before the Lord in trust and hope if we want to go on and up on the road to God 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 an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 131

 I always get a laugh out of the satirical song by Mac Davis that says,

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble

When you’re perfect in every way

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

Cause I get better lookin’ each day

To know me is to love me

I must be a hell of a man

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble

But I’m doin’ the best that I can.”

 I found on the internet some very funny true sayings about humility by famous people in the past on the internet, here are the best three I discovered,

1.   Edgar Watson Howe – “A modest man is usually admired, if people ever hear of him.”

2.   Helen Nielsen – “Humility is like underwear, essential, but indecent if it shows”.

3.   Ted Turner – “If I only had a little humility, I would be perfect”.

Then there is that colloquial saying, “I’m humble and proud of it” but all jokes aside humility is a tricky topic to speak on but thanks to Psalm 131 and James 4: 10 that task becomes a little easier. For even though Psalm 131 is a short Psalm of only three verses it tells us simply and clearly some of the things God has to say about what is the nature and implications of true humility as we seek to walk his way to heaven.

C.H. Spurgeon says that Psalm 131 is,

“One of the shortest Psalms read, but one of the longest to learn”

 Psalm 131 Hebrew title attributes it’s composition to King David who showed throughout his long life both true humility and the sin of pride and it seems like David inserted the battles he had with humility in the opening words of verse 2 of this Psalm which simply says,

“But I have calmed and quieted myself”.

 These words could indicate David’s struggles with humility and living a life of trusting the Lord and give us all a word of encouragement as we battle with the sin of pride and going our own way in life.

This short Psalm is a “Song of Ascent” and I feel it fits into this collection of songs that were originally sung by Jewish Pilgrims to Jerusalem and the Temple there as it speaks of the general character they must have as they made those long journeys and that is the character of humility and trust or hope in the Lord as apposed to self- reliance and lack of faith that characterise those not going God’s way in this life.

I will refer to one New Testament verse throughout this Psalm talk, James 4: 10

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

 This verse, I believe captures both the central message of this Psalm and the overall teaching of the bible on nature and implications of true Godly humility.

With all this in mind my outline for this Psalm is:

  1. (vs. 1)   A RECEIPE FOR HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 1a) Humility is not being proud or haughty
  2. (vs. 1b) Humility is knowing your true place in life
  1. (vs. 2) A PICTURE OF TRUE HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 2a) The struggles to find humility
  2. (vs. 2b) The picture of true humility
  1. (vs. 3)  A PLEA FOR HUMILITY BY TRUSTING IN GOD
  1. (vs. 3a) Hoping and trusting in God is the way of humility
  2. (vs. 3b) Hoping and trusting in God should always be sought

 Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm under these headings:

  1. (vs. 1)   A RECEIPE FOR HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 1a) Humility is not being proud or haughty

I found this definition of the word recipe on the internet that captures what I mean by a recipe for humility,

“Something which is likely to lead to a particular outcome”

 I believe verse 1 of Psalm 131 fits this definition for “Humility” or what the bible says “Humility” is or should look like. This recipe for humility has two parts which are:

  1. (1a) What we don’t do to be humble
  2. (1b) What we do to be humble.

I will deal first with what we don’t do to be humble and verse 1a says,

“My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty”

 So, the two things we are not to do if we want to be truly humble is:

  1. Don’t be proud
  2. Don’t be haughty

So, let’s have a close look at what each of these two things means we are not to do.

  1. Don’t be proud

There is a kind of pride God hates and there is a kind of pride God loves. First of all, I need to tell you the kind of pride God hates and this is expressed well in Proverbs 8: 13,

“To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance,evil behaviour and perverse speech”.

 The kind of pride that God hates comes from our rebellious or sinful nature as Psalm 10: 5 seems to tell us,

“His ways are always prosperous;your laws are rejected by him;he sneers at all hisenemies”.

 “Got Question. Org” sums up why our pride comes from our rebellious or sinful nature when it says,

“Pride is giving ourselves the credit for something that God has accomplished. Pride is taking the glory that belongs to God alone and keeping it for ourselves. Pride is essentially self-worship. Anything we accomplish in this world would not have been possible were it not for God enabling and sustaining us.

 “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)”.

 So, when David says,

“My heart is not proud, Lord”

 He is saying that he realises his true place under God’s heaven and that all that he is or has comes from God and God alone. This is then the recipe for true humility which James 4: 10 says is,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

Before I leave this negative aspect of humility namely not being proud I would like to comment on the kind of pride God loves and that is twofold:

  1. Pride in a job well done for God
  2. Pride in the accomplishment of others working for God

Let me explain:

  1. Pride in a job well done for God

God word does speak of being proud of a job well done for God and others for instance in Galatians 6: 4,

“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves

alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”.

 Note how this good kind of pride does not come about by comparing ourselves with others as the wrong kind of pride comes about when we think we are better than someone else.

Paul gives us the perfect antidote to this bad kind of pride in Philippians 2: 3 – 4,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”. 

2.  Pride in the accomplishment of others working for God

The first kind of good pride leads naturally to the second kind of good pride namely a kind of pride we express in the accomplishment of others as Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 7: 4,

I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds”.

 This kind of pride expressed to others is a great way of encouraging them to continue the good work they are doing for the Lord.

  1. Don’t be haughty

The second thing David speaks of we should doing to be truly humble is in verse 1 when it says,

“My eyes are not haughty”

 Note how being proud in the first part of this verse is in the “heart” and the second part is in the “eyes” or comes from looking out to others. Tremper Longman 111 explains well what,

“My eyes are not haughty” actually means when he writes,

“This is equivalent to a person today saying that they do not look down their noses at other people”.

 Paul offers us the antidote to this problem of our eyes being haughty or looking down on others in Romans 12: 3,

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”.

 I’m sure we all find what we call in the western world, “Snobs’ or people who think they are better than us or others very annoying well if you look down on someone thinking you are better than then you are simply being a snob and humility is a quality you simply do not have.

Again, James says we are not to look down on others but to look up to God by humbling ourselves before God and he will lift us up (James 4: 10).

This means the way God wants us to live is not like the worlds way where people live their lives looking down on others rather we are to humble ourselves before God and look out for others. James speaks of this in verse 6 of chapter 4,

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

  1. (vs. 1b) Humility is knowing your true place in life

 David has told us two things we should not do to be truly humble, don’t be proud and don’t look down on others or be haughty so, what must we actually do to be truly humble?

David gives the answer to this question in the second half of verse 1,

“I do not concern myself with great matters or things to wonderful for me”.

Leopold sights the words of Jeremiah to his scribe Baruch in Jeremiah 45: 5 as a cross reference here,

“Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”

 This Leopold suggests that what David is saying we should do if we want to be truly humble is not seek “great things” or as verse 1b actually says “great matters” for our own selfish ends but rather seek to serve God faithfully.

Alan Harman sheds great light on the phrase when he writes,

“Things to wonderful for me”.

 By pointing out that this phrase is used in others Psalms to describe the deeds of God, like Psalm 71: 17,

“Since my youth, God, you have taught me,and to this day I declare your marvellous deeds”

 The next Psalm, Psalm 72 has the same use of the term in verse 18. Harmon’s conclusion is that,

“The idea may be that he does not attempt to elevate himself in a God like position”.

 Today the arrogance and Godlessness of modern man speaks of how they think and act like they are in charge of their lives and they can determine their destinies and they know better than the so -called God of the bible. This is the slippery slope to destruction as Proverbs 14: 12 says,

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death”.

 Ray Fowler spells out what I think David has been saying with these words,

 “I have learned not to walk above my means. I have learned not to reach beyond my grasp.

 I have learned not to expend great effort trying to do things beyond my ability or attempting to understand things beyond my comprehension. I am willing to admit that there are things I cannot do, and many things I do not understand. And that’s okay, because my walk is humble, not proud. I’m not caught up in greatness, or achievements or accomplishments.

 I maintain a lowly, humble walk before the Lord, and I bow my knee to his great power and understanding.”

 Again, my key verse offers the way of humility, James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

For the Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple there David’s song of Psalm 131 would have reminded them to stay focussed on God and not be drawn away by seeking to look to themselves and matters they should not concern themselves with if they desired to get to the end of their long journey. We to need this kind of focus and if we have it James says “God will lift us up”.

  1. (vs. 2) A PICTURE OF TRUE HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 2a) The struggles to find humility

David then offers us one brilliant but simple picture of what true humility is, a young child calmly sitting close to its loving mother, he writes,

“But I have calmed and quietened myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content”.

 Before I look closely at the image of the child with its mother I would like to comment on the introductory phrase of this verse that says,

“But I have calmed and quietened myself”.

 As I said in the introduction these words seem to indicate this Psalms writer, who we believe is David had a real battle as we all do with living our lives with true humility. Tremper Longman 111 in his commentary on Psalms says this about this phrase,

“The Psalmist present confidence did not come naturally, but after a struggle he calmed and quietened himself”.

 The idea that David struggled with humility and its opposite quality “Pride” rings a bell with my understanding of the life of David so I would like to give you two instances of David acting without humility and then two examples of David acting with true humility.

  1. David acting without true humility

i)  When David nearly killed Nabal

The first instance I would like to sight of David not acting with true humility is found in 1 Samuel 25 where David is on the run from King Saul and he and his men found shelter in the desert area of Paran. There David and his men helped protect the herds and land of a man named Nabal.

After some time in that place David sent men to Nabal’s house to ask for some food and supplies as a way of showing thanks for their good work for him. However, Nabal’s reaction was to insult David and his men and refuse to help them.

David’s reaction was to strap on his sword in rage and take some of his men to ride down to Nabal’s house and slaughter him and his men and family. David’s ill thought through reaction to Nabal of rage that came from a man not looking to God but acting out of his own foolish pride is calmed and quietened by the wise and Godly actions of his faithful wife Abigail.

Abigail rides out to meet David on the road to their house with food and supplies and when she meets David she says these very wise and Godly words recorded for us in 1 Samuel 25: 25 – 26,

“Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal”.

 She then lays before David the food and supplies she brought out to him and then adds these wise words of council in verses 28 – 31,

“Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

 These words of Abigail Nabal’s wife had an amazing calming effect on David, who you might say came to his senses and acted with Godly humility. We see this in the words David uses in response to what Abigail has just said and done in verses 32 – 34,

“David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

 David then offers Abigail his blessing and lets her return home un harmed and he moves away from Nabal’s house probably to enjoy the food with his men that Abigail brought him. After Nabal recovers from a drunken party Abigail tells him how close he came to death at the hands of David and his men and ten days later we are told the Lord struck Nabal dead.

After this Abigail becomes one of the wives of David and her Godly humble actions and words became a great story of how a person should act with true humility. However, in the case of David it is a good illustration of him, at least at first not having true humility and more like a man who wants to take things into their own hands without trusting in God.

ii)    David commits adultery and murder

The next instance I want to share with you about how David did not act in a humble, trusting in God way was when he was firmly established as the king of Israel and he fell to the two horrific sins of adultery and murder.

This sordid story is recorded in 2 Samuel 11 and it first tells us of how David covets another man’s wife after seeing her bathing looking down from one of his palaces balconies and he then sends for her and commits adultery with her.

The women known as Bathsheba falls pregnant to David and David attempts to cover up his sins with even worst sins in having Uriah, Abigail’s husband killed in battle by being moved to the front lines of his army.

Here we see David acting completely without true humility and more with pride and disobedience to God and his laws. David of course is told by the prophet Nathan that God knows David’s sins and David reacts with repentance asking God to forgive him.

God does forgive David but David still faces some sad consequences of his sins with the death of the child he had with Bathsheba and on- going turmoil in is family which we will look at soon as well.

  1. David acting with true humility

i)   David not killing king Saul

David’s life was not only long but it was also very difficult throughout most of it and one of the difficulties David faced was his eight years or so of being on the run from King Saul who accused him falsely of treachery and for this sought to hunt him down and kill him.

The other problem is that before the prophet and judge Samuel died he anointed David as the true king of Israel as God had rejected Saul as king owing to his continued disobedience to God and his law.

The first book of Samuel records two times what seems on the surface two God given opportunities for David to kill his nemesis King Saul when Saul was trying to hunt down and kill David.

Both times that David decides not to kill Saul and on the second occasion when David had an opportunity to kill king Saul 1 Samuel 26: 7 – 11 tells us what happened and what David said about killing his enemy,

“So, David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.

 Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.”But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”

 David shows by his words and actions an act of true humility and trust in the Lord and this humility and trust does seem to be the main characteristic David reveals of himself during his long life except for a couple of instances when his sinful pride also reveals itself in his actions and shows us something of what David wrote in Psalm 131 verse 2a about the struggle he had with true humility throughout his long life.

ii)   David cursed by a tribal member from Saul’s tribe when on the run from his rebellious          son Absalom.

My second example of David acting in a humble way before God is in 2 Samuel chapter 16 verses 5 – 14. This incident took place when David was on the run again in his life and this time it is from his very own eldest Son Absalom.

Absalom engineered what seemed at first a successful rebellion to take over his father’s throne. He like King Saul years before sought to track down and kill his father and members of his family so he would have had no possible challenge to his rule over Israel.

On the run with members of his family and loyal soldiers of his army a man named Shimei a member of Saul’s tribal group of Benjamin catches up with David and throws rocks and insults at David and his men. This is the sort of things Shimei said to David, 2 Samuel 16: 7 – 8,

“Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

 David’s humble response is recorded in verses 9 – 14,

“Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”

 11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

 13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself”.

 This is an example of David acting in a humble God trusting way. Note how David indicated that he believed if he humbled himself before God or trusted God not the circumstances of his life God would eventually lift him up as he says in verse 12,

12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

 So, the challenge is to actually practice humbling yourself before God when things are not seeming to be going well in your life but we must remember at all times of our lives what James says in James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

Spurgeon is write when he said this Psalm is:

“One of the shortest Psalms read, but one of the longest to learn”

David took a life time of struggles and set- backs to learn how he could be humble before the Lord as his opening words of verse two seem to indicate,

“But I have calmed and quieted myself”

 Which the message bible translates as,

“I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart”.

 Trouble and difficulties then are used by God to teach us true humility and Paul says this about the role of suffering or strife in our lives in Romans 5: 3 –  5,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”. 

  1. (vs. 2b) The picture of true humility

 David then gives us a beautiful picture of what true humility is in the second half of verse 2 and that picture of humility reads this way,

“I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content”.

 David had many children and like most fathers he would have witnessed the close and special bond of a child and its mother. This is one of the few times in the bible where the God of heaven and earth is likened to a mother but we cannot read into this more than it is trying to tell us about the nature of true humility.

The first issue is why does David speak of the child as a weaned child?

Most of the experts I read say that the difference between a weaned child and an un -weaned child seems to be that an un- weaned child is still restlessly seeking milk from its mother’s breast but a weaned child is more settled and is more comfortable snuggling up to its mother’s side.

Jesus used a child as a living visual aid to make a similar point to his disciples in Matthew 18. At the start of this chapter the disciples come to Jesus with a question about which disciple will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then does something both unusual and for his day controversial he calls over a little child and places that child among them and then says, verses 3 – 5,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”.

 This was both an unusual and controversial thing for Jesus to do and say because of the extremely low status of children in ancient times. We have the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”, but in Jesus day children were not even considered important enough to be even seen and in Jewish and Roman cultures of Jesus day children rated only one step above animals and grown women above them with men dominating the top place in society.

So, David is saying in verse 2b that before God is like a baby close to her mother a truly lowly place and therefore a truly humble place before God. This is what the disciples also needed to learn that as James later said in James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

This graphic picture of a weaned child with its mother has one more thing to teach us about humility and that is in the words of that verse that says,

“I am content”

 The weaned little child is not restless David is saying when he or she is next to his or her mother and this picture of not being restless is also saying what being truly humble is all about. It means that we accept the lot or the place God gives us in this life.

The apostle Paul had learnt this lesson when he says to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 11 – 12,

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

 The disciples in Matthew 18 sought to be great or greater in the kingdom of heaven but Jesus told them visually and verbally they had to be like a little child who seeks only to be with its mother and rest in her a picture of someone content because they rest or trust in God no matter what is the circumstances of their lives.

For Paul, he knew tough times as well as incredible good times but at all times he humbled

himself before God and God lifted him up. This is seen in his words to the Philippians about contentment in verse 13 that says,

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

  1. (vs. 3) A PLEA FOR HUMILITY BY TRUSTING IN GOD
  1. (vs. 3a) Hoping and trusting in God is the way of humility

The last verse of this three verse Psalm does not mention the word humility but humility permeates throughout it. It is a plea for Israel to act and live with humility by David expressed in the idea of putting their hope in God which is another way of saying look to God or humble yourself before God in trust and obedience.

The first part of the verse says,

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord”

 Some commentators point out that this plea for the nation to act in a humble way in putting their hope in God came about because Israel at the time of writing was not doing this or it was looking to other things or even beliefs for their hope and security.

This could fit the early reign years of King David when he led his people to great victories over many of their enemies who had been supressing them.

It seems that when things are going well in our lives then there comes with this a sense of self – reliance or even self-importance and our hoping in God can slip away.

Paul learnt to be content in all situations good and bad, need and plenty and did this because at all times he looked to God and humbled himself before him.

The New Testament teaches us that we are the new Israel of God, Galatians 6: 16 and Galatians 3: 28 – 29, so this plea to hope in the Lord applies to us as well and in my life at the moment and the lives of many others in my church this is a plea we need to hear and obey.

God has blessed us and our church with so much of the riches of his grace and the trap is now above any time we can become complacent and feeling self -reliant that we start to look away from God and not humble ourselves before him.

This plea to put out hope in God reminds me of Jesus plea to do the same thing put in another way in Matthew 6: 33, that says,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

 If we, humble ourselves before God even in the seemingly good times in life we are truly putting our hope in God or seeking his Kingdom first and remember James 4: 10 says if we do humble ourselves before God,

“He will lift you up”

 As the ancient Jews journeyed to Jerusalem and the Temple there they needed to be reminded to put there hope in God and so also do we need to respond to this plea as we walk God’s way to heaven.

  1. (vs. 3b) Hoping and trusting in God should always be sought

 The final phrase at the end of Psalm 131 is,

“Both now and forevermore”

 Allan Harman explains the meaning of this phrase with,

“Hoping in the Lord is not a momentary act but an abiding experience”.

 Having a humble heart or Humbling ourselves before the Lord is not just something we do once or from time to time but is both for now and evermore a life style act of trust and obedience to the Lord and his word.

This expression has appeared in the songs of ascent psalms before and in fact is the last words of Psalm 121 and appears at the end of the second verse of Psalm 125.

Maybe the writers or even later editors of the fifth book of Psalms wanted the readers and singers of these Psalms to always have a humble or God hoping attitude to life while on their pilgrim journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there.  They also wanted them to have this same God trusting, God honouring and before God humbling attitude every moment of their people’s lives.

Recently I helped lead the singing in church and we sang the old hymn “May the Mind of Christ My Saviour” and two verses stood out to me that rap up this last verse of this Psalm in the context of having true humility.

I like the first verse,

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling

All I do and say.

And the fourth verse,

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self -abasing,
This is victory.

 Those last two words sum up the main message of this Psalm so well,

Him exalting, self -abasing,
This is victory.

So, reminiscent of the verse from the book of James I have been quoting all through this Psalm talk, James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

 Before I close I been thinking about that comedy song I quoted at the start composed by Mac Davis entitled “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble and I thought I might have a try at rewriting it with some of the things I have learnt from this Psalm in mind. It is not funny but I believe my version is biblical,

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

When you’re not perfect in any way

Sometimes I can’t look in the mirror

For I see such a sinner each day

God knows me yet he loves me

He must be a wonderful God

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

But his helping me change as I trod.

I close as usual with my own original poem / song and final word of prayer:

HUMBLE YOURSELF

(Based on Psalm 131 and the tune of “Whispering Hope”)

 

My heart seeks to not be so proud Lord

My eyes seek to not look down on men

I look to the Lord for inspiration

And seek to live only for him.

I won’t meddle in useless affairs Lord

I won’t be caught up in grandiose plans

I will trust in the Lord and his word now

And place my life in his hands.

 

Chorus:

 

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

All my life I have struggled to find Lord

Your humble way in my life

But through all the trials I’ve faced Lord

You’ve changed me transforming my life.

And now I’m just like a baby

In the arms of my mother’s love

For I am content in your Love Lord

For God saved me when he came from above.

 

Chorus:

 

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

God’s people should hope in the Lord now

Trusting in his life- giving word

Turning from selfish plans Lord

To share your wonderful word

This should be done every day Lord

As we seek to live each day

So, trust in the Lord all God’s people

As you humbly walk God’s way.

 

Chorus:

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven we are inspired by the example of your Son to walk humbly before you because he was willing to give up heaven to come down to be one of us and die for our sins on the cross. Help us to live our lives trusting only in you and your word. Help us to not live selfish Godless lives but lives that reflect your love to others. Help us to humble ourselves before you Lord and we know from your word you will lift us up in service for you and one day the glorious life of eternity with you in heaven. In Jesus now we pray this, Amen.

 

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PSALM 130 TALK   OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

PSALM 130 TALK   OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

(LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD ON THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY OF FAITH)

 (The eleventh Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with how it is possible for us to make the journey to God in heaven as we are all sinners in need of great forgiveness. We are like a drowning man desperately calling out for help but God reaches down with his love and forgiveness and lifts us up to give us hope and help to go his way to heaven with others who have the same faith and hope in the God of the bible).

(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 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 130

 Bill Durden a sixty-four-year-old retired Navy pilot went fishing one night a couple of years ago off the coast of Mexico and snagged his fishing line on the motor of his boat and was pulled over board. He ended up treading water for 20 hours before being rescued.

Bill tells the amazing story of his desperate struggle to stay alive in the extreme elements of open sea, blaring sun, then the pitch- black darkness of the night and lots of marine life attaching themselves to his legs and even bumping him during the night. He prayed for a miracle of a rescue and even prayed for a stray bottle of coke to float past him to quench his ragging thirst.

In the morning, he found a buoy of a crab trap and grimily hung on to that and in his desperate despair he prayed for the miracle of being lifted out of the depths of the sea. Then around 10.30 he saw a flare light up in the sky. He then heard the distinctive roar of an airplane engine and saw a A.C. 130 Coast Guard plane flying overhead. The plane spotted him wearing his bright yellow shirt, he did not have a life jacket on and soon a helicopter arrived and lifted him up to safety.

This story mirrors the message and images used to convey it in Psalm 130 as this Psalm starts with the famous words,

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

 The term “out of the depths” is only used in other parts of the Old Testament as a image of a man who is caught in dangerous and deep waters.

 Just like Bill Durden was and in a similar way David uses this image of rescue in Psalm 69: 1 – 3,

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold.I have come into the deep waters;the floods engulf me.I am worn out calling for help;my throat is parched.My eyes fail,looking for my God”.

David’s words in this Psalm and the opening verses of Psalm 130 could easily have been words Bill Durden would have said when he was lost in deep water at sea and certainly they describe perfectly the harrowing experience he had two years ago.

However, Psalm 130 is using this concept of being saved out of deep waters figuratively for we will see from the rest of the Psalm that the writer is speaking about being saved or lifted up from the consequences of sin.

I believe the bible presents very clearly that it is the sin problem that causes the terrible mess we are all in and so we all suffer from what I will call the despair of sin and so we all need to be lifted out of the depths of despair caused by our many sins.

Psalm 130 is the sixth penitential Psalm (6, 32, 38, 51, 106, 130 and 143) which deal with confession of sin and its wonderful remedy the love and forgiveness of the God of the bible. It is the eleventh Song of Ascent and if Paul Faris is correct it is the start of the final five Songs of Ascent that deal with perfecting or finishing the journey of faith to God in heaven and in Old Testament terms finishing or perfecting the pilgrim journey to Jerusalem and the Temple there.

How then does Psalm 130 fit into the perfecting or finishing of our journey of faith to God in heaven?

My thinking on this is that this is a bridge Song of Ascent Psalm in that to commence the journey of faith to God in heaven or in ancient times, for the Jews to pilgrim journey to Jerusalem and the temple there you must first be lifted out of the despair and depths of sin through God’s forgiveness. To continue on in this journey of faith to God in heaven you need his constant forgiveness of your sins and finally to arrive in heaven or for the ancient Jews Jerusalem you need God’s love and forgiveness as well.

I see this Psalm being like and ascent or a series of steps upwards moving from the depths of the despair of sin to God’s forgiveness and then continuing ever upwards on our journey of faith with ongoing hope or faith in God and his word and finally moving even further upwards to heaven itself with others who share the love of God and the hope he gives us to get there.

So, my outline for this Psalm reflects this upward journey of faith in the love and forgiveness of God:

  1. (1 – 2) OUT OF THE DEPTHS

     1.  (vs. 1) Out of the depths of despair

     2. (vs. 2) God being attentive to our cry

     2.  (3 -4)  INTO FORGIVENESS

  1. (vs. 3) All have sinned
  2. (vs. 4) But God forgives

3.   (5 – 6) CONTINUING IN HOPE OR FAITH

  1. (vs. 5) Waiting and hoping
  2. (vs. 6) Waiting with faith

    4.  (7 – 8) SHARING THE LOVE

  1. (vs. 7)  Hope and love
  2. (vs. 8)  Redeemed from sin

  Let’s then have a closer look at this amazing Psalm:

  1. (1 – 2) OUT OF THE DEPTHS
  1. (vs. 1) Out of the depths of despair

The opening verse of this Psalm has been the inspiration for many people including famous people like Martin Luther who David Guzik writes,

“Luther, when buffeted by the devil at Coburg, and in great affliction, said to those about him, Come, let us sing that psalm, ‘Out of the depths’, in derision of the devil”.

 Guzil also points out that another famous Christian preacher and leader John Wesley on the afternoon of his conversion to Christ attended a worship service in St Paul’s Cathedral and it is said that Psalm 130 was sung that day and Wesley was so moved by it he saw it as one of the means that God used to open his heart to the Christian Gospel.

So that first verse simply says,

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

 As I said in my introduction the concept of being lifted or delivered out of the depths is always used in other parts of the Old Testament as being lost or going down in water like the waters of the sea as in Ezekiel 27: 34,

“Now you are shattered by the sea in the depths of the waters; your wares and all your company have gone down with you”.

 Or as I pointed out in my introduction Psalm 69: 1 – 3,

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold.I have come into the deep waters;the floods engulf me.I am worn out calling for help;my throat is parched.My eyes fail,looking for my God”.

 Bill Durden knew what it was like to be in the depths of despair in a vast deep ocean and I believe our writer knew that his sin as we will see in the second section had trapped him in the depths of life’s despair.

This cry could have literally come from our writer while he was locked up in captivity in Babylon or it simply could have been spoken when he was back in the Promised Land suffering at the hands of many enemies who now lived in the land after the Jews return from captivity in Babylon.

Nehemiah prays a kind of desperate prayer like this in Nehemiah 4: 4 – 5,

“Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders”.

 Often God has to allow people even today to sink to a pretty low state in life before they finally realise the sorry state sin has led them to before they are willing to cry out to God for help and salvation. I like the story of the disciples in the boat on Lake Galilee when they are caught in a massive storm and Jesus is strangely asleep and the disciples wake him with these words recorded in Matthew 8: 25,

“Lord, save us! We’re going to drown”.

 Spurgeon writes,

“The depths usually silence all they engulf, but they could not close the mouth of this servant of the Lord; on the contrary, it was in the abyss itself that he cried unto Yahweh. Beneath the floods prayer lived and struggled; yea, above the roar of the billows rose the cry of faith. It little matters where we are if we can pray; but prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places”.

 If you are reading this at a time when you are feeling the despair of sin or your sins all you have to do is cry out to God to save you and you can take the assuring words of Jesus if you do in Matthew 7: 7 that says,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”.

 David knew what it meant to face the depth of despair of sin when he realised how sinful he was after committing adultery and then murder to cover it up and in a later Psalm he writes these encouraging words in Psalm 145: 14,

“The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down”. 

  1. (vs. 2) God being attentive to our cry

Then in verse 2 our writer adds these words to his desperate cry for God to lift him up from the depths of the despair of sin,

“Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy”.

 This man was serious about God lifting him out of his desperate despair caused by his full realisation of his many sins as we will learn of in verse 3 and his prayer was loud and real as I’m sure Bill Durden’s prayers to God for rescue would have been as he tread water for 20 hours off the Gulf of Mexico.

Leopold suggests the use of the word “Attentive”,

“Suggests that God may bend over solicitously to the poor man in his need and hear his petitions”.

 John Gill calls the God of the bible a,

“God hearing prayer God”.

 All through the bible God is presented as a God hearing prayer God like 2 Chronicles 7: 14,

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

Or, Psalm 102: 17,

“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;he will not despise their plea”.

 And in the New Testament James says in James 5: 13 – 15,

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven”.

 Note how James says God will not only hear the prayer but will raise them up and so we have a wonderful God we can call to in the depths of our despair to lift us up from that despair and we will learn as this Psalm continues how and why this is possible.

    2. (3 -4) INTO FORGIVENESS

    1.  (vs. 3) All have sinned

The writer of Psalm 130, a song of ascent takes a step up from his despair with God’s help in verse 3 when he realises and acknowledges a very important biblical fact namely the state of humanity because of our sin, he writes in verse 3,

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord who could stand”.

 The problem with people today is that they don’t believe they are sinners or doing the wrong thing has its consequences. The devil has so blinded the eyes of people today that when sins catches up with them they blame God for the trouble they are in but the bible is clear we are all accountable for our actions and Paul spells this out clearly in Romans 1: 21 – 25,

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.

 24 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”.

 The writer of Psalm 130 makes it clear if God kept a record of his sins and other parts of the bible says he does, then he could not stand or have any hope of being lifted up from the depths of his despair.

What people today need to realise is what Paul says in Romans 3: 23,

“23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

I said to my wife the other day that even when I see problems caused by sin even in our church I am reminded that, “all have sinned” and in fact the church is not a museum of perfect specimens but a Hospital for sinners. As Christians, we are not perfect just forgiven.

How is the realisation that we are all sinners a step up from the despair of sin in our lives?

Well, we cannot receive the forgiveness God offers us if we don’t believe we need it as Jesus said in Matthew 9: 13b,

“For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The fact is no admission of sin that leads to repentance then there is no forgiveness received for it was never sought in the first place. So, in that sense the first step up and out of the depths of the despair of sin is to acknowledge you have it in the first place.

  1. (vs. 4) But God forgives

 The next step up from the depths of despair caused by our many sins is like a giant lift upwards like Bill Durden received when the coast guard helicopter lifted him out of the water to safety of that helicopter for verse 4 says,

“But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you”.

 The God of the bible, you see is not only a hearing prayers God but is also a forgiving God and this is not just a New Testament idea it is right through the whole bible. The writer of Psalm 130 knew this and proclaimed it in his Song of Ascent with the words,

“But with you (God) there is forgiveness”.

 Many years ago, I watched a TV program about a rather extreme religious group in America that proclaimed they believed in the God of the Old Testament who is a God of vengeance and judgment and as a result they believed they should act like that God and they condemned other Christians that taught love and forgiveness.

Even the Australian TV interviewer who was not a believer said something like but doesn’t the bible also speak of God being a God of love. The person she was interviewing simply quoted vengeance and judgment verses back at her and refused to admit that the bible had anything to do with the so called soppy and weak idea of God loving people.

I was shocked and wanted to jump into the TV some- how and quote verses from the Old Testament like verse 4 of this Psalm. The fact is the bible does speak of God’s Judgment but the amazing thing is even though no – one deserves forgiveness the God of the bible because he is a loving God offers it freely to those who come to him in repentance and faith.

Let me give you three Old Testament verses and three New Testament verses that back this idea up.

Three Old Testament verse’s

  1. Isaiah 43: 25 – 26

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.26 Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence”.

  1. Daniel 9: 9,

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him”.

  1. Micah 7: 18 – 19,

“Who is a God like you,who pardons sin and forgives the transgressionof the remnant of his inheritance?You do not stay angry foreverbut delight to show mercy.19 You will again have compassion on us;you will tread our sins underfootand hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea”.

 So much for the false and misleading idea that the Old Testament speaks only of a God of vengeance and judgment and I could have given you hundreds of other Old Testament verses that speak of God’s love and forgiveness particularly from the book of Psalms.

 Three New Testament verse’s

  1. Acts 3: 19,

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”. 

  1. Ephesians 4: 31 – 32,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.

  1. 1 John 1: 9,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

 The fact is God is a God of vengeance and Judgment and this is revealed in what lies behind what he writer of Psalm 130 said in the previous verse about how he could not stand before God if God kept a record of his sins.

The fact also is that the God of the bible is not just a God of vengeance and judgment but a God of love and forgiveness and he appeased his vengeance and judgment in the death of his sinless Son on the cross so that we can be forgiven and therefore be raised from the depths of despair our sin that inflicts us.

Just as Peter declares I 1 Peter 2: 24,

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”


Or as Paul declares in Ephesians 1: 7,

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”.

 Note then how Paul uses the word “Grace” which means we have God’s forgiveness because we don’t deserve it but because God gives it to us out of his love. Paul says it is actually a gift and we cannot claim any credit for it as it is totally God’s act of love for us from beginning to end as he clearly says in Ephesians 2: 8,

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

God lifts us up then from the depths of despair by his love and forgiveness and this is such a remarkable lifting up that it leads to what the writer says it leads to in the second half of verse 4, namely,

“So that we can, with reverence, serve you”  

 Or serve God.

Allan Harman says,

“Receiving mercy increases our sense of awe and reverence in God’s Holy presence”.

 God’s love rightly understood transforms our lives and leads us to want to serve this loving God and his people as well. As Paul states, so beautifully in Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

 The gift of God’s mercy and love through the death and resurrection of God’s son Jesus Christ transforms even how we now worship God. Worship now becomes service not just on Sundays in church but every day of our lives showing how much we appreciate what God has done for us in Christ lifting us up from the depths of despair of sin by his loving forgiveness.

    3.  (5 – 6) CONTINUING IN HOPE OR FAITH

    1.  (vs. 5) Waiting and hoping

Once out of the water Bill Durden was now able to walk again on dry land although it did take him some days to get over the ordeal of treading water for 20 hours but eventually he went back to normal life but the experience of that night changed him and he had both a stronger faith in God and different perspective of the value of life and those he loved like his wife and family.

Our writer of Psalm 130 speaks also of further upward steps he now was making as a result of God’s great gift of forgiveness. He seems to be now more determined to hope and trust in God which he also calls waiting on God, he writes in verse 4,

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope”.

 I like John Gill’s comment on the phrase, “my whole being waits” or “my whole soul waits”,

“This was not mere bodily service or waiting upon God and for him in an external way; but expresses the intenseness of his mind, the earnest desires of his heart after God, his affection for him, and the exercise of all other graces on him; his whole soul, and all the powers of it, were engaged in this work”.

 The fact is we are saved or in the context of this Psalm lifted out of the depths of the despair of sin by faith and we continue this upward journey by faith in God and his word as well. This is why the writer of Psalm 130 says,

“And in his word, I put my hope”.

 At the end of the article I read on the rescue of Bill Durden I read these words that Bill said himself.

“For the last couple of nights, when the sun goes down, I get knots in my stomach. But I’ll go back on the boat. I just won’t go alone. Today, I bought four automatic, self-inflating life vests and I’m going to buy some other rescue equipment,” he says. “I am so thankful to the Coast Guard; they’re the reason I’m here. I feel grateful to be alive. And I want to not think about it for a while.”

 My point in giving you this quote from the Bill Durden story is that the whole experience Bill had of being lost in the deep waters off the Gulf of Mexico for 20 hours treading water and being lifted out of those depths of despair had an on- going impact on his life and it made him make changes in his thinking and acting.

So, it should be for us when we realise what God has done for us in Christ. God’s loving forgiveness should transform our lives and cause us to both wait on God in service and cause us to think and act with hope and faith in God and his word.

Faith then should lead to obedience as Jesus speaks of in John 14: 15,

“If you love me, keep my commands”.

Then in John 15: 10 – 12 Jesus makes this connection between love and obedience even clearer,

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”.

 So, waiting on the Lord is similar to hoping or trusting in the Lord and that should show itself in wanting to and seeking to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Bing saved by the love and forgiveness of God should and must make a difference for the better in our day to day lives.

  1. (vs. 6) Waiting with faith

 Then we have another verse about waiting on the Lord which I think tells us the kind of waiting or faith with actions we should have as the verse says,

“I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning”.

 The watchmen were the city guards who were stationed on the city walls to look out for any kind of in- coming danger and attack and during the long night of watching they waited patiently for the certain rising of the sun in the coming morning thus the repeated phrase of this verse that says,

“More than watchmen wait for the morning”.

 Our faith or hope is not a vain hope or faith but a certain hope or faith that is as certain as the rising of the sun each morning. The writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 11: 1 describes this kind of faith this way,

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.

 Paul speaks of faith and hope overflowing in our lives as we go God’s way in this life 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”.

So, as we step out each day in the journey to God in heaven we should do so in certain faith and hope and as we do so God will fill us with joy and peace even if the way gets difficult God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit helping us go his way in life.

    4.  (7 – 8) SHARING THE LOVE

  1. (vs. 7)  Hope and love

The final step upwards in our journey of faith to God in heaven is made through the sharing of the love of God with other fellow believers as verse 7 declares,

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

 We must always remember that on our journey to God in heaven we never walk alone but we share the unfailing love of God with many fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I love the second verse of The Servant Song, one of my favourite hymns that says,

We are pilgrims on the journey

We are brothers on the road

We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load”.

 When the writer calls Israel to put their hope in God we must remember that the New Testament calls the church The New Israel of God, Galatians 6: 16. The church is the body of Christ and in Ephesians 4: 4 – 13 Paul tells us what being part of the body of Christ is and what God has designed it to achieve,

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.“7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly region]10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body ofChrist may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.

 In the church, we work and sing together as brothers and sisters in Christ as we all make our way to God in heaven by faith and hope in the Lord Jesus, sharing the love Jesus has given us. I think the fifth verse of The Servant Song says it all so well,

“When we sing to God in heaven

We shall find such harmony.

Born of all we’ve known together

Of Christ’s love and agony”.

 Beautiful words that express what verse 7 of Psalm 130 is telling us with New Testament insight and we too can say like the writer of that Psalm that in Christ we have,“full redemption”. Something I will explain more fully in my explanation of the last verse of this Psalm.

  1. (vs. 8) Redeemed from sin

 The Psalm ends with a confident statement of faith in the redemption or salvation of God with the words,

“He himself will redeem Israel from their sins”.

 H.C Leopold tells us that Martin Luther classified this Psalm as,

“Pauline in character”

 One cross reference I got from Allan Harman’s commentary certainly bears this out, it is part of Pauls advice to Titus in Titus 2: 13 – 14,

“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”.

 I really like my NIV study notes explanation of verse 14 and I copy down here for you to read as well,

“Christ’s redeeming us opens the way for him to purify us. Redeem means to purchase our release form the captivity of sin with a ransom (see Mark 10: 45). We are not only free from the sentence of death for our sin, but we are also purified from sin’s influence as we grow I Christ”.

 Mark 10: 45 says,

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.”

This concept of redemption of our sins is the height of the lifting us out of the depths of the despair of sin this Psalm offers and it is something we can appreciate when we first come to the Lord and as we seek to go his way in life and also something we can look back to as we complete or finish the journey of faith – heaven itself.

For the ancient Jew travelling together with other fellow believers to Jerusalem and the Temple there this word of confidence and faith in the saving work of their God would have been a great encouragement at all parts of their great journeys to Jerusalem and the temple there.

So, it should be for us as we walk the road of faith the God in heaven with fellow redeemed or saved brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing a common faith, sharing a common hope and sharing a common love that God has given us in Christ.

I close as usual with an original poem / song and a final word of prayer:

OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

(Based on Psalm 130 and the tune of “Going Home)

Out of the depths I cry O Lord

O Lord hear my plea

May your mercy come to me

And set my poor heart free.

 

Refrain:

 

Out of the depths of despair

I’m saved by God’s Sacrifice

For Jesus died on the cross

And paid for sins great cost.

 

If you O Lord recorded all

The sins that I have done

I would not be able to stand

Before you when you come.

 

Refrain:

 

You are there Oh my God

Through you forgiveness came

And so, I’ll praise your love O Lord

And glorify your name.

 

Refrain:

 

And so, I wait on you O Lord

For in you I know there’s hope

For your love has saved my soul

And given me help to cope.

 

Refrain:

 

Out of the depths of despair

I’m saved by God’s Sacrifice

For Jesus died on the cross

And paid for sins great cost.

 

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven I thank you for sending your Son, your great sacrifice for us. For Jesus came and died on the cross to pay for our many sins. Help us to look always to you knowing that you love us with an undeserved and unfailing love. Help us to join every day with others who also know your love to work together in service for you and to help and encourage everyone to continually walk your way of faith and hope that will lead us all to the very gates of heaven itself. In Jesus name I pray this, Amen.

PSALM 129 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY CAN GET DIFFICULT  

PSALM 129 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY CAN GET DIFFICULT

 (The tenth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with some of the difficulties we will face on God’s journey of faith to heaven. The difficulties this Psalm speaks of come from those who oppose us and the God we believe in. The Psalm tells us that God is with us and will give us victory over these enemies. The enemies of God will in fact be frustrated in their attempts to disrupt our journey to heaven and will face God’s curses rather than his blessing).

(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 129

 A good friend from my church recently loaned me a movie on a DVD called “All Saints” which is about a newly ordained minister named Michael Spurlock being sent to his first church which was the All Saints Church in Smyrna Tennessee. He was not expected to be their long as the church had recently had a large split when 80% of the congregation left with their minister to form a new independent church.

The movie presents the idea that Spurlock was sent to this church to help close it down once the property was successfully sold. In-fact the real story is that he was sent to see what he could do in a short time frame and selling it was one of the options.

Just as Spurlock came to the decision that the church should to be sold a group of refugee migrants from Myanmar came to his door. These migrants from Myanmar where farmers from the Karen tribal group who happened to be former Myanmar Anglican church members and they wanted to use a large field that was out the back of the church to farm. Interestingly I have visited and ministered in many Karen Anglican Churches in Myanmar myself over the past ten years on my teaching mission trips to that country.

So, just as Michael Spurlock thought the church did not have a future he realised that God saw this differently and sent to his church from the other side of the world new members for his church who were farmers. After Spurlock consulted the bishop it was agreed that the farming option with the Karen people would be given a go.

The film then tells the story of how Spurlock, the Karen and even older and new white American church members struggled with God’s help to get the church field to a successful harvest.

One of the struggles the farming faced was the unusual lack of rain in Smyrna Tennessee had that year but God led Spurlock to a number of hand watering equipment including an old farm tractor which Spurlock got a loan for but needed a successful harvest to pay it back.

Then on the very day the church met to bring in the harvest the heavens opened and even after much wonderful community effort most of the harvest was lost and it looked like the whole farming venture had been a tragic mistake.

Michael Spurlock did not lose his faith but simply acknowledged that God knew what he was doing. The last scenes of the movie are of the area Bishop coming to the church to it seemed tell the people their church was to be sold and Spurlock was to go back to his pre- ordained job as a paper salesmen.

To the surprise of Spurlock and his now thriving congregation the bishop told them that the local diocese would financially back the church making it a special mission church that particularly reached out to the growing numbers of local refugees from Myanmar. Spurlock was moved on to gain more experience in ministry at a church in New York and a new more experienced minister and one of the leading lay Karen man was appointed as a lay minister in charge of special ministry and outreach to the growing numbers of Karen people from Myanmar.

This story shows us that going God’s way is as one famous saying says, “is not a rose garden” in fact problem and difficulties can and do come our way but we can be assured that if we love God and seek to go his way we can know God’s leading and help in and through the difficulties we might face.

The “All Saints” movie and this Psalm 129 reminds me of the famous verse in the New Testament Romans 8: 28, which says,

“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”.

 Spurlock and his church congregation could have thought that God was leading them to a successful harvest day but instead God lead them to a humanly speaking day of disaster but that year of hard community work seeking to reap a material harvest was instead used by God to harvest a spiritual crop of new members in the kingdom of God.

God used the difficulties and the hardship for good and that is the message that comes through Psalm 129, a Psalm more than likely composed after the Jews returned from the disaster of the Babylonian captivity. That disaster was used by God to Judge his people of their previous many sins but God then led them back to the promised land after the Babylonians themselves were oppressed and defeated.

This Psalm became a Song of Ascent or a Psalm sung by the people of God as they journeyed up to Jerusalem up to three times a year to celebrate special festivals there. These journeys would have often proved full of difficulties especially caused by opposition by those who hated them and the God they served. So, this Psalm would have been a great encouragement for the Pilgrim travellers especially as they faced difficulties on those often- long journeys to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we can gain encouragement from this Psalm and the New Testament teaching it will direct us to as well. As we continue to go God’s way or take the journey of faith to God in heaven we also can face times of great difficulty but God is with us to help deliver us from our many enemies.

We will look at this Psalm in this Psalm talk with the theme of journeying to God in the face of great difficulty and my Psalm outline reflects this:

  1. (1 – 2)  THE DIFFICUTY OF OPPOSTION AS WE JOURNEY TO GOD
  1. (vs. 1)   The reality of opposition
  2. (vs. 2)   The reality of God overcoming our difficulties
  1.  (3- 4)   THE DIFFICULTY OF THE PAIN CAUSED BY OPPOSITION
  1. (vs. 3)   The pain caused by opposition
  2. (vs. 4)   The reality of overcoming opposition

    3.    (5 – 8)    A PRAYER FOR FACING DIFFICULT OPPOSITION

 

  1. (vs. 5)   May God make those who oppose us fail
  2. (6 – 7)   May God make those who oppose us reap frustration
  3. (vs. 8)   May God make those who oppose us not to be blessed

 Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm:

  1. (1 – 2)  THE DIFFICUTY OF OPPOSITION AS WE JOURNEY TO GOD
  1. (vs. 1)   The reality of opposition

This Psalm starts in a similar style to Psalm 124 with the writer putting words into his readers or his singer’s mouths as we see first of all in verse 1,

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, let Israel say,

 This way of speaking is also used in Psalm 118 verses 2 – 4 and is a poetic way of the Nation both saying and remembering the important reality that all through their history they have faced opposition that caused them great difficulty.

The term, “from my youth” is used in a number of places to speak of the days Israel was freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and in the day’s, that followed that in the wilderness wanderings as we Jeremiah 2: 2 says,

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:“This is what the Lord says:“‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved meand followed me through the wilderness,through a land not sown”.

 So, the long history of Israel, the children of God is one of continual times of conflict caused by great opposition from neighbouring hostile nations. Often this opposition arose because God’s people had turned away from going God’s way and turning to other God’s instead of the God of the bible but other times, even when Israel was faithful to the God of the bible like the time of King David other nations rose up against them because they hated and opposed the God they worshipped and followed.

In fact, David is told by God that this opposition and conflict from other nations will be a feature of his reign in Psalm 2: 1 – 3,

“Why do the nations conspireand the peoples plot in vain?The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band togetheragainst the Lord and against his anointed, saying,“Let us break their chainsand throw off their shackles.”

 The New Testament teaches that this opposition to God is a symptom of our sin which Paul speaks of in a verse like Romans 8: 7,

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so”.

 Hostility to God and his law leads people to be hostile to those who uphold God and his law and this idea led Jesus to say this to his disciples before he left to go to the cross, rise from the dead and return to heaven 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.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also”.

 So, to the readers and singers of Psalm 129 they would have been forced to reflect on the reality that they as a Nation, the people of God had continually faced opposition from other nations all through their long history and particularly in more recent times when they were again captives and slaves in a foreign land, Babylon.

So, becoming a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and going his way will not give us a “rose garden” existence. In fact, it often leads us to some very difficult testing times of conflict and difficulty. However, we will learn in the next section that God does not desert us in times of difficulties but comes beside us, goes before us and delivers us from the conflict and difficulties we might face as we go his way.

  1. (vs. 2)  The reality of God overcoming our difficulties

 So, the Christian life or way is not an easy, bed of roses way as it does have its own unique set of difficulties like difficulties caused by those who oppose us because they oppose God. However, like the children of Israel we have a great and powerful God helping us and protecting us and even giving us victories over our enemies as verse 2 declares,

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.”

 Ray Fowler applies these words to us today by saying,

“You can suffer pain without suffering defeat. We sometimes think if we’re hurting that means we’re defeated. But it’s not true. You can be down but not out. You can persevere through pain”.

 Paul speaks of how he had learnt this secret in his life and ministry to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 10 – 13,

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. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

 Paul also spoke of the very real and powerful enemies we as true believers all face in Ephesians 6: 12,

For 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 just before this he speaks of how we can have victory over these powerful forces of evil and how against them when we trust in God we can be strong, verses 10 – 11,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”.

 Note how Paul is not advocating become a Christian or go God’s way and you will avoid conflict rather he is saying go God’s way and he will equip you to be strong and stand your ground in the many battles of life.

The cessation from the battles of life is only promised in heaven when we move from this life to the next as 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.”

 It seems God has a purpose and a plan for our good and this good is sometimes through the difficulties of life. In the story of the people of God in the bible who were greatly oppressed from their youth or beginnings all through their long history but they survived and gained the victory.

This was never truer than what had happened just before this Psalm was probably written. Babylon had overrun Israel completely and a remnant of people were taken into captivity in Babylon but after 70 long difficult years God brought them back to their promised land by using another nation to smash the Babylonians and use these victors as a means to bring them back.

God had a purpose to the initial tragic events of being conquered by the Babylonians and that was to Judge his people for their many sins.

The excellent web page Got? Question poses the question Does God sometimes use evil to accomplish His plans”?  Its answer is very useful:

Habakkuk 1: 5 – 11 is a prophecy in which God relates His intention to raise up Babylon, a “ruthless” and “dreaded” nation, to achieve His purpose. This raises the question; Does God sometimes use evil to accomplish His plans?

There is an important distinction to be made between God controlling evil and God creating evil. God is not the author of sin, but He can use sinful men to attain an objective. Romans 8:28 says, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” “All things” includes both good and bad things. God can use struggles, heartbreaks and tragedies in ways to bring about His glory and our good. Such events, even though we don’t understand the reason for them, are part of His perfect, divine plan. If God could not control evil, He would not be God. His sovereignty demands that He be in control of everything, even “dreaded” nations such as Babylon”. So, God did use evil in the form of the Babylonians to judge his people but he used another pagan evil nation to judge the Babylonians the Persians under their great King Cyrus and Isaiah says this about him in Isaiah 44: 28,

“Who says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please: he will say Jerusalem, let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, let its foundations be laid”.

 So, when Psalm 129 verse 2 says,

“They have not gained the victory over me”.

 In the bible, we are reading the amazing story of God’s people, a tiny in world- wide terms insignificant nation who even exist as a nation today.

Of course, the world wide or universal church of Jesus Christ is God’s new Israel (Galatians 6: 16) who now can claim God’s victory over evil in the many battles of life as Paul states clearly in 2 Corinthians 2: 14,

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere”.

 So, as we go God’s way and journey to him in heaven we will face all kinds of difficulties but we can be assured that Jesus is with us through his Holy Spirit and is both helping and protecting us giving us victories over the evil forces we encounter as we travel the road of faith.

    2.    (3- 4)   THE DIFFICULTY OF THE PAIN CAUSED BY OPPOSITION

  1.  (vs. 3)   The pain caused by opposition

In the next two verses the writer of Psalm 129 speaks of the pain and difficulty our opposition can cause us and also how again even though God’s way can sometimes be painful God will deliver us from the evil forces that can cause us this pain.

Verse 3 then, speaks in a vivid poetic picture of the pain we can feel,

“Ploughmen have ploughed my back and made their furrows long”.

This image of pain some commentators believe could be a vivid image taken from the cruel methods of the Babylonians who used farming implements to inflict pain on their captives. It also could be a way of speaking of the scourges caused by whipping again commonly used by conquering nations like the Babylonians.

Isaiah speaks of how Judah will be treated by the conquering Babylonians in similar terms in Isaiah 51: 23,

“I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,who said to you,‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked on.”

 Alan Harman points out that this description of ploughing ones back is to be taken figuratively and writes, this figurative description is to,

“Illustrate the sufferings of Israel and her eventual release from captivity”

 The most famous whipping or scourging in the bible is that of Jesus before he was crucified and this fulfilled another prophecy of Isaiah in which he speaks of this scourging and painful crucifixion, Isaiah 53: 3 – 5,

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 
But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities;the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed”.

 Psalm 129 verse 3 could be a very good description then of the scourging Jesus endured before his crucifixion.

This verse tells us that pain also could be a difficulty we could face on the road to God in heaven but all burdens including physical and spiritual pain are not over looked by Jesus and he says to anyone who seeks to follow him to find rest from our souls through his assistance to carry our loads in Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“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.” 

  1. (vs. 4)   The reality of overcoming opposition

Another image that seems to come out of the Babylonian cruel methods of taking captives seems to appear in the next verse which says,

“But the Lord is righteous; he has cut free from the cords of the wicked”

 Jeremiah speaks of the cruel way King Zedekiah was taken into exile after the fall of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 52: 11,

“Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death”.

 However, this verse speaks of how the cords or shackles were cut free which is speaking about the Jews miraculous release from the bondage of captivity in Babylon.

What does this verse say caused this miraculous release from bondage?

The answer is the words that start this verse,

“But the Lord is righteous”

 Alan Harman explains this phrase this way,

“God acts in accordance with both his nature and his promises and vindicates his people”.

 God, you see is not like us he is a Holy loving God and this is why it was necessary for his only Son to die on the cross as a payment for our sins. He did this to appease his holiness because sin had to be paid for. He did this to show his love in going to the cross to save us even though we don’t deserve to be saved.

Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 2: 24 – 25,

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

 Paul speak of the Gospel message as God’s message of salvation that reveals the righteousness of God in Romans 1: 16 – 17,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”.

 So, as we walk the way of faith or the way to God that Jesus made through his death and resurrection we must realise that we have been released from the cords of sin and death as Paul says in Romans 6: 18,

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness”.

 Paul tells the Galatians that Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin so we must not let sin bind us again, 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”.

 So, on our journey to God in heaven we must live as people who are free from sin by not letting sin take a hold of us. Of course, we all still sin but as we get closer and closer to God in heaven we should know more and more that God,

“Has cut me free from the cords of the wicked” or the cords of sin.

    3.  (5 – 8)    A PRAYER FOR FACING DIFFICULT OPPOSITION

    1.   (vs. 5)   May God make those who oppose us fail

The second half of this Psalm 129 turns into a prayer with the word “May” commencing it and continuing two more times at the start of verse 6 and verse 8 the last verse of this Psalm. This last section could also be seen as a prediction of what will happen to those who oppose God and his people and of course is also another example of an imprecatory prayer or a prayer that asks God to destroy or punish our enemies.

I have said many times that these Old Testament prayers particularly found in the book of Psalms are not recommended in the New Testament. This is primarily because of two reasons:

  1. The Teaching of Jesus
  2. The nature of the Christian Gospel – message

Let me explain:

  1. The Teaching of Jesus

In a number of places in the Gospels Jesus is recorded as teaching that he wants us to love and pray for our enemies and not act as a judge or to hit out against them. We see this in Matthew 5: 43 – 44,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbourand hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

 What lay behind Jesus teaching on this he explains in the next three verses:

“That you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

  1. The nature of the Christian Gospel – message

It seems that the very nature of God is love and even though he is a righteous God who demands payment for our sins he is also a loving God who has provided a way for us to be forgiven which is through the death and resurrection of his only Son Jesus Christ. Many verses in the New Testament reflect this like Ephesians 2: 4 – 8,

 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”.

 So, because we are saved by love or grace – love we don’t deserve we must act as people under grace and treat others even our enemies in a way that reflects grace.

This is why I find the actions of people like extreme Muslims so horrifying as they kill all kinds of people, including fellow Muslims in the name of God who they call Allah. There is no sign or evidence in their treatment of people of mercy and grace and in fact they seem to see Christians as people who most of all need to be exterminated because we represent a God of mercy and love who is not, in their twisted understanding the real God of the universe.

With all this in mind I must say that when I read any imprecatory prayers in the Psalms like the ones at the end of this Psalm 129 I think of the certainty of the coming judgment and then the need for the Gospel message to be proclaimed to the world for without God’s forgiveness through Christ there is only the judgment of God. God’s judgment comes about because a person who opposes or ignores God and in some cases oppose God’s faithful followers is under the judgment of God.

With all this in mind lets first look at verse 5 which says,

“May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame”.

 This is an imprecatory prayer or pray for God’s judgment on his people’s enemies that expresses two very important things:

  1. To oppose Zion is Old Testament way of saying you oppose God and his people
  2. To oppose God and his people will lead to shame or failure

Let me explain these two important things:

  1. To oppose Zion is Old Testament way of saying you oppose God and his people

We have seen in many Psalms the significance of the term, “Zion”, This term or place name came up in verse 5 of the previous Psalm and in my Psalm, talk for this Psalm, Psalm 128, I wrote this about the biblical meaning of “Zion”.

“The word Zion simply means in the Hebrew language “Fortress” but when you follow through all the meanings Zion is given in the Old Testament it becomes a rich and informing name for a number of important biblical concepts.

 Let me explore with you just three important concepts Zion represents:

   1.   God’s dwelling place on earth

 Zion first and foremost Zion was the place David placed God’s sanctuary upon in the city of Jerusalem and so many parts of the Old Testament speak of Zion as God’s chosen dwelling place on earth under the Old Covenant like Psalm 76: 2,

 “His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion”.

   2.   Another name for Jerusalem

 In the previous reference of Psalm 76: 2 we have the name Salem which is the older pre- David time name for Jerusalem and you can see from this reference that sometimes Jerusalem itself is called Zion. This is even clearer from a reference like 2 Samuel 5: 7,

 “Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David”.

Or Psalm 48: 2,

“Beautiful in its loftiness,the joy of the whole earth,like the heights of Zaphon is Mount

Zion, the city of the Great King”.

   3.  Another name for the people of God. 

 Finally, Zion also is used as another special name for Israel or the people of God as we see in Zechariah 9: 9,

 “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!See, your king comes to you,

 righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.

 This is the famous prophecy that predicts Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and shows clearly the close identification of Israel and Jerusalem being known as Zion”.

 So, to hate Zion as verse 5 says is to hate:

  1. God’s dwelling place on earth or the concept that God dwells with his people.
  2. It means also to hate Jerusalem the home of God’s dwelling place on earth.
  3. Finally, it means to hate God’s people who are known as Zion as well.

So, “all who hate Zion” are all who hate God and his faithful followers.

  1. To oppose God and his people will lead to shame or failure

 The second part of verse 5 simply says,

“Be turned back in shame”.

 Allan Harman explains this phrase this way,

“The prayer is that they will come to a position where their evil plans are thwarted and they are disgraced in the eyes of others”.

 So often in the story of God’s people in the bible this is a very good description of what happened to the enemies of God. A great example of this was in the time of King Hezekiah who ruled around the time that Israel in the north fall to the conquest of the Assyrians in 722BC.

Hezekiah twenty -one years later faced the might of the Assyrians whose armies had successfully taken most of Judah, Hezekiah’s kingdom and where now at the gates of Jerusalem and humanly speaking nothing could have stopped Assyria taking Jerusalem or Zion and God’s people also known as Zion at that time.

However, in 2 Kings 18 and 19 we have the amazing factual story of the armies of Assyria being turned back in shame and failure through God miraculously sending some kind of disease through the Assyrian camp and they had to withdraw from Judah and go back to Assyria. The Assyrian king Sennacherib who led this failed campaign a few days after returning to Assyrian was assassinated by some of his sons while he was worshipping his false God’s in his temple in Nineveh.

Some believe that because of this amazing story that verse 5 of Psalm 129 describes what happened means that this Psalm was written at that time maybe even by King Hezekiah himself.

However, this verse could fit many similar stories of God turning back with shame his people’s enemies including the turning back in shame of the all-conquering Babylonians through the Persians that led the Jews back to Zion or Jerusalem which is a more probable time – frame for the writing of this Psalm.

So, with Jesus command to love our enemies in mind what does verse 4 say to us?

I think this verse is saying to us as Christians two great truths:

  1. If you oppose God and his people you will face failure and God’s judgment
  2. What we need to encourage people who oppose us to do is turn back to God.

Let me explain what I mean:

  1. If you oppose God and his people you will face failure and God’s judgment

The prayer in verse 5 asks God to turn back in shame those who oppose God and his faithful followers and in fact I have already indicated that the fact is those who opposed God and his people in the Old Testament where often turned back, failed and faced shame and God’s judgement.

In the New Testament to oppose God and his people also is a road or way that leads to destruction as the famous quote of Jesus words in Matthew 7: 13 – 14,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.

 The writer to the Hebrews states clearly the certainty of God’s coming Judgement in Hebrews 9: 27,

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. 

  1. How we need to encourage people who oppose God and his people to turn back to God.

In the next verse of Hebrews 9 we read the hope of being saved from this certain coming judgement,

“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”.

 But to have this hope of salvation the taking away of our sins through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross we must turn back to God which in New Testament terms is expressed in the word “Repent” as we read in the words of Jesus himself in Mark 1: 15,

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

 We must pray for, proclaim and encourage those who continue to oppose God and his faithful followers to repent or as verse 5 of Psalm 129 says,

“Turn back”

  1. (6 – 7)  May God make those who oppose us reap frustration

 The writer of Psalm 129 was a man of his time and place as he has already used an agricultural poetic image in his Psalm in verse 3 when he spoke of ploughing a person’s back and now in verse’s 6 and 7 he continues the use agricultural images in his imprecatory Prayer.

He writes,

“May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow; a reaper cannot fill his hands with it, nor one who gathers fill his arms”.

 The agriculture image here is one of frustration as it depicts something that happened in ancient Palestine houses that had flat opened roofs which got dust and dirt on them and through wind and bird droppings seeds of weeds and grass were often accidentally planted. This very morning, I pulled out some weeds between the cracks of a retainer wall on my houses driveway that, to me, amazingly grow so well in almost impossible places.

The frustration is that this grass or weed plantings amount to nothing, they wither and die with heat and they do not produce any kind of useful crop. In other words, like the weeds in the retainer walls of my driveway they are nothing more than a nuisance.

The writer than in verses 5 and 6 wants those who oppose God and his faithful followers to become like the grass and weeds on the flat roofs of houses, useless and frustrated people.

So, with Jesus command to love our enemies in mind what does verse’s 5 and 6 say to us?

Again, I think they say two things to us:

  1. If you oppose God and his people you will face frustration and God’s judgment
  2. What we need to do is encourage people who oppose us to turn back to God.

Let me explain:

  1. If you oppose God and his people you will face frustration and God’s judgment

The agricultural image of the grass or weeds growing in unproductive ground like the open flat roof of a house in ancient Palestine is something like what Peter says in 1 Peter 3: 12 when he quotes from Psalm 34: 15 – 16,

“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.”  

 The fact is if you go against God and his people your end is only frustration and judgment but if you turn back to God and go his way you have God’s full attention and that leads to hope not despair. This should be part of the message then we as Christians should seek to communicate to un – believers.

  1. What we need to encourage people who oppose us to turn back to God.

If going against God leads only to frustration and judgment and going God’s way leads to hope and salvation we need to warn people and offer them the message of salvation – the Gospel.

Paul advices Timothy to do just that in his charge to him in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 2,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction”.

 Note how Paul says to preach the word “in season” and “out of season” which means when it is out of season it will prove difficult because it will be opposed and in season when the message of the Gospel seems to be easier to proclaim. So, the way of God is not always easy as we have been seeing all through this Psalm talk. It is not easy but it is not a way or road that leads to failure, frustration and of course judgment.

  1. (vs. 8)May God make those who oppose us not to be blessed

The final imprecatory prayer verse that closes this Psalm reads this way,

May those who pass by not say to them “The blessing of the Lord be on you: we bless you in the name of the Lord”.

 At first, I could not make head or tail of this verse, what was it saying and then I read these words in Ray Fowlers comments on this verse,

“The blessing of the Lord be upon you; we bless you in the name of the Lord”. This was the standard blessing during harvest time in Israel where you would greet each other with blessings from the Lord”.

 Ray backs up this idea with a reference to Ruth 2: 4 where Boaz greats the harvesters with this kind of blessing.

With this insight in mind the writer of Psalm 129 is saying we should not wish God’s blessing on those who openly oppose God and his faithful followers. He wants God not to bless these people.

The reality is from what the bible says those who do not go God’s way in life and choose to oppose God and those who faithfully follow him will not be blessed by God but cursed and judged.

We see this in the Old Testament Deuteronomy 28: 15 – 20,

“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him”.

 Or in the New Testament Paul speaks of God’s coming judgement this way in Romans 2: 5 – 9,

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”.

 So, with Jesus command to love our enemies in mind what does verse’s 8 say to us?

My answer might shock you for I will take Jesus command to love and pray for our enemies seriously and in doing this will say we should seek God’s blessing on our enemies, the blessing of God’s grace.

Let me tell you why?

First of all, the New Testament presents the concept that we are all sinners as Paul states clearly in Romans 6: 23,

“Forall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

 Secondly this means before we came to Christ for forgiveness and victory over sin we were all enemies of God as Paul states clearly in Romans 5: 10,

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

 In fact, Christ died for sinners not people who are righteous or think they are righteous as no one is righteous without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Paul states in Romans 5: 6 – 8,

“6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

 Thirdly and finally without the Grace of God or the undeserved love of God no – one can be saved as Paul makes very clear from Ephesians 2: 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, we are to pray for our enemies rather than not say God bless as verse 8 of Psalm 129 suggests. With Jesus command in mind then we should say to our enemies something like, “May God bless you with his grace so that you can see his love for you in Christ”.

A good friend of mine at my church has been involved in prison ministry for many years and he has told me stories of some of the most wretched sinners in jails coming to Christ and these men have been transformed by the love of Christ, by the blessing of his grace in Christ. One notorious murderer who recently died in jail came to Christ through prison ministries and even in jail he witnessed so powerfully to the love of God in Christ that many prisoners came to Christ through his witness and did leave jail to lead productive lives for God.

CONCLUSION

 So, as we travel the journey of faith to God we will face times of difficulty that Peter says in 1 Peter 1: 6 – 7 will test our faith and help to refine or improve us,

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”.

 Paul speaking about the reality of difficulty or suffering in the Christian walk speaks more clearly of how God uses this to make us better people for him in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

 Because of the great benefits of the positive results of suffering if it is endured and overcome by faith in Christ James says we should consider trials of all kinds as pure joy, James 1: 2 – 4,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.

It was exactly one year ago from the time of writing this Psalm talk that my wife and I suffered a great difficulty and trial in our lives as my wife came down with pneumonia while travelling with her sister in Vietnam. My wife came close to death and I was stuck at home because I could not travel as I had to have a kidney stone removed before the doctors would let me travel overseas.

After much prayer from my church and Christian friends my wife, praise the Lord, pulled through and was able to travel home safely with her sister and she has had no ill effects from this illness.

God might lead us into strange even un explainable experiences in our walk to heaven with him like Michael Spurlock at the All Saints Church in Smyrna Tennessee who experienced what seemed unexplainable difficulties when his churches wonderful harvest crop was washed away when it was about to harvested.

However, my experience a year ago and the experience of Michael Spurlock was that even in our dark difficult times Jesus is with us helping us carry those burdens and by faith and we can hold onto the promise Paul gives us in Romans 8: 28,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose”.

 I close as usual with an original poem / song and final word of prayer:

PEACE IN MY HEART

(Based on Psalm 129 and the tune of “Down in the Valley”)

 

We’ve been oppressed Lord since we were young

Sometimes we feel Lord no joy will come.

But we have found Lord peace in our hearts

For you are with us when the tear drops start.

 

We gain the victory through God’s dear Son

For through his death our salvation won.

Satan might drive us to despair

But through God’s Spirit we know the Lords there.

 

Refrain:

 

O down in the valley we looked to the Lord

For in the valley we need God’s word.

For as we face danger and troubles start

We look to the Lord for peace in our hearts.

 

May all who hate God turn from their shame

May they come to God and praise his name.

May they not be like the grass that grows in the sun

That withers and dies when the night time comes.

 

O bless Lord our enemies with now your grace

For all people are far from your glorious face.

May they like us Lord find peace in their hearts

For through The Lord Jesus God’s love does impart.

 

 

Refrain:

 

O down in the valley we looked to the Lord

For in the valley we need God’s word

For as we face danger and troubles start

We look to the Lord for peace in our hearts.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven we look to you for help and blessing in this life for even when life gets difficult you are there with us giving s help and peace. Thank you Lord that when the tear drops start we can know your peace within our hearts. We ask Lord that even those who sometimes oppose us will come to know your love and like us receive the gift of your love. Help us to show your love even to our enemies and help us to look to you always even in life’s darker times knowing that one day we will be with you in the full and certain peace of heaven above. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

PSALM 128 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY BY GOING GOD’S WAY

PSALM 128 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY BY GOING GOD’S WAY

 (The ninth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” deals with the important issue of going God’s way or living the life God wants us to live and has in fact planned for us to live. We go God’s way by seeking to follow the Lord Jesus Christ trusting and obeying him because he loves us so much and promises to always be with us. He also promises to help us ad give us his joy and peace even when we might suffer great difficulty in this life. Finally, he promises to give us the gift of eternal life that starts now and is fully realised when we go to be with 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 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 128

 Many years ago, when I was much younger my wife and I went on our first trip to outback Australia. The outback is a unique and amazing place that is very flat, dry and full of coloured landscapes. One hot night we stopped in the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge on our road trip in the outback and that night we witnessed yet again an amazing sunset. I decided to take my camera and capture a photo of the western horizon. As the sun set I ran down a dusty dirt road that seemed to be heading directly west into the setting sun on the horizon and I will never forget that evening for as long as I live.

A month or so after we returned from our road trip holiday in the outback I was praying one morning on a train on the way to work and the image of that outback desert sunset setting on the horizon at the end of the dirt road came into my head. As I thought about running down that road in prayer I was inspired to write these words,

“Run along my path and find tomorrow

Do not stray or wander from my way.

Today the dry and dusty desert

Tomorrow the home of rest and play.

 I believe God wants us to go his way in this life which is pictured in the Bible in a number of places as walking down a road or path in life a path of faith and obedience and a path that leads ultimately to God himself in heaven. My inspired words became part of a poem I wrote that day called, “The Road” which I will quote in this Psalm talk.

Let me share three bible references that illustrates the concept of walking down God’s way or road in life and the first is one of my favourite quotes in the bible, Proverbs 3: 5 – 6,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heartand lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight”.

 The second is the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: 13 – 14,

 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.

The third comes from the Psalm we are looking at in this talk, Psalm 128: 1

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him”.

 To walk implies a path or a way and we will see from this Psalm that walking God’s path or going God’s way involves having faith in him which in Old Testament terms is expressed in fearing God and obeying God.

For us to do this we will see involves us turning around on the road or way of life we are currently going as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7: 13. This wrong way is travelling on the broad way or road away from God that ultimately leads to destruction and note many are travelling that road in life.

However, if we turn around on that road which involves making what we call in Australia a U turn or as we call it a “uie” we will then travel on a narrower road but a road or way of living that leads to life.

In Psalm 128 the promise of life or as Jesus called it in John 10: 10, “life to the full” or in other translations “Abundant life” is expressed in the terms of “Blessed”, which I will explain more fully in the first section of this Psalm talk.

The blessed life or abundant life as Jesus referred to it is in Psalm 128 expressed in Old Testament or ancient Israel terms which I will seek to bring up to date with the teaching and application of the New Testament.

So far as author and time of writing of this Psalm we cannot tell but the best guess of the time of writing is what I read in H.C. Leupold’s commentary on the book of Psalms that suggests the post Babylonian period of Nehemiah and he refers to Nehemiah chapter 5 as a possible historical setting for this Psalm. This of course is purely speculation and because of that I will not refer directly to this passage in my Psalm talk but offer it as interesting background reading.

With the overall theme of Going God’s way or walking his road of faith and obedience my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (vs. 1)  GOING GOD’S WAY BY TRUSTING AND OBEYING GOD
  1. (vs. 1a) Going God’s way leads to blessing through trust
  2. (vs. 1b) Going God’s way leads to blessing through obedience
  1. (2 – 4) GOING GOD’S WAY LEADS TO MATERIAL AND FAMILY BLESSING 
  1. (vs. 2) Going God’s way leads to material blessing – eternal spiritual blessing
  2. (vs. 3) Going God’s way leads to family blessing – family of God blessing
  3. (vs. 4) Going God’s way leads to blessing by trusting in God
  1. (5 – 6)  GOING GOD’S WAY LEADS TO BLESSING ON GOD’S FAMILY – THE CHURCH
  1. (vs. 5) Going God’s way leads to national blessing – The church of God
  2. (vs. 6) Going God’s way leads to long life- The blessing of eternal life with God

 Let’s then have a closer look at this ninth Song of Ascent Psalm, 128:

  1. (vs. 1) GOING GOD’S WAY BY TRUSTING AND OBEYING GOD
  1. (vs. 1a) Going God’s way leads to blessing through trust

This ninth song ascent Psalm, Psalm 128 starts with the same words the first Psalm in the book of Psalms starts with, “Blessed”. When I studied that first Psalm over nine years ago I discovered that the Hebrew word for “Blessed” actually means “Happiness” and that led me to write this in that first Psalm talk on Psalm 1,

“However. happiness without God is tied to money and wealth but as we will see from this bible study real happiness is not found there. Being blessed by God is what real happiness is all about and it means that a Christian can know real happiness despite the circumstances they find themselves in. In Philippians 4 verse 7 Paul speaks of,

  “the peace of God” transcending all understanding and keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 Christians are more than happy, God blesses them”.

 You see, the world seeks happiness in life in material things like how wealthy they are and how many possessions they have. People want life to easy and full of fun and pleasure but God has a different form of happiness or blessedness he wants to give us and I will explore some important aspects of God’s form of happiness in this Psalm talk.

So, the opening phrase of this Psalm verse 1a says,

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord”

 Fearing God is I believe an Old Testament way of speaking aboutf trusting in the Lord and I like Ray Fowlers very comprehensive definition of what it means in Old Testament terms to fear God, he writes,

“To fear the Lord does not mean to be afraid of God so that you run away from him. Rather it means to be in awe of God’s majesty so that you approach him with great reverence and respect. It means you take God seriously, and you put him first in your life”.

 This putting God first in our life is an act of trust or faith and is beautifully expressed in one of my bible road verses I quoted earlier from Proverbs 3: 5 – 6,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heartand lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight”.

 These verses speak of trusting in God and not leaning to our own understanding and that is another way of putting what Ray Fowler said in his quote about putting God first in our life. Paul knew very clearly that putting God first or making him Lord of our life and is the basis of faith and our salvation in Christ as he says in Romans 10: 9 – 10,

“ If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”.

 So, real fear of God is real trust in God and that real trust in God leads to God’s blessedness or happiness. This happiness is what I like to call real joy and real joy is ours as the old Happiness is the Lord songs says,

“No matter if the tear drops start”

 Paul advocates that our joy or glory in God actually can and does involve suffering or difficulties sometimes as he sates clearly in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

 So, the blessedness or happiness faith or trust in God brings is a deep and meaningful happiness as it surpasses suffering or difficulty and gives us the peace Paul speaks of in Philippians 4 verse 7,

 “The peace of God” transcending all understanding and keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.

 So, going God’s way in our lives is often like walking down a seemingly narrow and difficult road but Jesus is with us helping us and giving us his peace in our difficult times of life and he and his road will ultimately lead us to a place of total rest and paly as I wrote in the first verse of my Poem, “The Road”,

In the still of a hot summer’s evening,

I stood upon its hot throbbing skin

And as the sunset fills the sky with colour

The road’s horizon beckons me to sing

Run along my path and find tomorrow

Do not stray or wander from my way.

Today the dry and dusty desert

Tomorrow the home of rest and play. 

  1. (vs. 1b) Going God’s way leads to blessing through obedience

However, the second half of verse 1 makes it clear that fearing or trusting God is not enough for we must show I believe that we truly fear or trust in God by obeying him as verse 1b says,

“Who walk in obedience to him”.

 Some might think that the idea of obedience to God to find his blessedness or happiness is an Old Testament concept as in the New Testament we are save not by works but by faith in the grace of God.

Yes, we are saved by faith alone in the grace of God but how do we show that we actually have the faith we say we have and of course New Testament writers like James says we show that we have real faith by our actions in life or how we live our lives in obedience to God and his word as James makes this clear in James 2: 14 – 17,

 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

 James does not mention obeying God here but implies it but Jesus does use the “obey” word when he speaks of this in John 14: 15,

“If you love me, keep (or obey) my commands”.

 Jesus goes on to make this even clearer in verse 21,

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them (obeys 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”.

 John, we believe in his later life wrote some letters to the churches he knew and ministered to and in the start of that first letter John speaks of the message he heard from Jesus, 1 John 1: 5 – 7,

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the

darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.

 Back in Psalm 128 its writer speaks of walking in obedience which for him in Old Testament terms meant obeying the law or the Ten Commandments and the laws that flowed from them but here in 1 John our obedience involves walking in the light and of course the light is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ who is God’s light come into the world to save us from our sins.

Walking in the light of Jesus then involves us having real faith in and as John says in John 14: 15 involves obeying or keeping his commands and John goes on to tell us in 1 John 5: 3 that his commands are not burdensome.

The road or way of God might seem narrow and difficult at times but the straight and narrow way of God is the road or way that leads to his blessedness or happiness.

In chapter 5 of 1 John, John sets down for us how obedience to the commands of Jesus and our being saved by faith actually intersect and are actually what I call two sides of the one coin, he writes,

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,for everyone born of God overcomes

 the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”.

 So, our way to God or road to God involves us obeying the commands of Jesus and sometimes we are tempted to not do this by the world at large that is going against God but if we have real faith in God we will look to God in faith and obedience and find his loving way of faith and obedience and I spoke of this in my fourth verse of my poem. “The Road”.

“Down we run towards a bustling city

Where many roads begin to cross the way,

There we stop for rest and recreation

But their confusion seems to hold the sway.

Run along my path and find tomorrow

The road is clear and points the way

And so we learn to run the straight and narrow

As we follow in its loving way. 

  1. (2 – 4) GOING GOD’S WAY LEADS TO MATERIAL AND FAMILY BLESSING 

           Introduction to interpreting correctly the rest of this Psalm

Before I seek to open up the second and third section of this ninth Song Ascent Psalm, Psalm 128 I must explain two important aspects to this Psalm that will influence its interpretation. Those two aspects of interpretation are that this Psalm is:

  1. A work of wisdom literature
  2. A work of wisdom literature written in Old Testament culture and understanding

So, let me quickly explain how these two aspects of this Psalm influence my interpretation of it:

  1. A work of wisdom literature

Psalm 128 like the Psalm before it was written in the style of Old Testament poetry called “Wisdom Literature” and in my last Psalm talk I said this about wisdom literature,

“Wisdom literature offers usually practical teaching about God and life”

So, Psalm 128 the ninth song of ascent offers us teaching about going God’s way of trusting or fearing God and obeying him in our daily lives that leads to his blessing or real God given happiness. So this Psalm will speak of God’s blessing in terms of:

  1. Material blessing
  2. Family blessing
  3. National blessing
  4. The blessing of long life

We will need to keep this in mind in our interpretation of the four aspects this Psalm pinpoints to speak of the blessing of trusting and obeying God in New Testament teaching terms.

  1. A work of wisdom literature written in Old Testament culture and understanding

Likewise, we must also keep in mind what God promises his faithful obedient people in the Old Testament and then project them forward into the far deeper spiritual interpretations of the New Testament so in New Testament terms the four aspects of Psalm 128 would be:

  1. Material blessing – Eternal Spiritual blessing
  2. Family blessing – The family of God blessing
  3. National blessing – The church of God and its eternal blessing
  4. The blessing of long life – The blessing of eternal life with God

So, let us deal with the first of these results of trusting and obeying God or as I have been applying it going God’s way.

  1. (vs. 2) Going God’s way leads to material blessing – Eternal Spiritual blessing

We read these words in verse 2 of this Psalm,

“You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours”.

 In the Old Testament, covenantal law God offered his faithful obedient people material blessings and in an agricultural rural setting this would be seen in successful harvests spoken of here in Psalm 128 as eating,”the fruit of your labour” and “prosperity will be yours”.

We see this in the statement of blessings on God’s faithful obedient people in Deuteronomy 28: 1 – 6,

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out”.

 The sad reality of Israel’s history in the bible is that they often did not remain faithful to the God of the bible and they disobeyed his law or in terms of the road to God they went their own way and turned away from God’s way to follow the evil ways of false God’s.

The results of this are the opposition of the blessing of God for faithful obedience in verse 2 of Psalm 128 spoken of in Deuteronomy 28: 33,

“A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labour produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days”.

 If this Psalm was written after the return from captivity in Babylon then what Deuteronomy 28: 33 is speaking of is a very real recent memory for the Babylonians took possession of Israel for at least 70 years and ate or materially gained from the labour of those who were left in the conquered land of Israel.

So, what is the blessing of God for his faithful people spoken about in verse 2 of Psalm 128 for us a Christians?

I believe that this verse is not advocating that as faithful obedient followers of Christ we will be given material wealth and prosperity in this life as the New Testament makes no such claim. Sure, many Christians prosper materially because they give up when they come to Christ materially destructive life style practices of excessive drinking, gambling and wasting their hard-earned money of material possessions. These more healthier life style choses coupled with a willingness to honestly work harder does lead many Christians to be more materially well off.

However, the New Testaments spiritual blessings are far deeper and more meaningful than material wealth and besides some Christians materially are not well off especially in the poorer countries of the world.

I myself in my younger days often struggled to keep financially afloat especially when I became unemployed on a couple of occasions but I can testify to the fact that God always helped me and my family to get through these difficult times in our younger years of married life.

So, I see the New Testament promising us two forms of spiritual blessings:

  1. Spiritual blessings in this life
  2. Spiritual blessings in the life to come

Let me explain:

  1. Spiritual blessings in this life

I like how Paul speaks of material blessings in Philippians 4: 11 – 13 where he speaks of the material assistance the Philippians gave him but he uses this to speak to them and us that there is far greater spiritual blessing we have in Christ that helps us to be content in all situations in this life, Paul writes,

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

 You see Christ helps us or blesses us in this life no matter if we are poor materially or rich materially because we have something far more precious than earthly goods or earthly wealth we have Christ and his Spirit living in our lives and the fruits of that are clearly spoken of in another word from Paul in Galatians 5: 22 – 26,

“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. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other”.

  1. Spiritual blessings in the life to come

Paul again looked forward also to a far richer and greater spiritual blessing to come and he spells this out in a number of places but particularly in Romans 8: 18 where he says,

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

Then in verses 22 – 25 he spells out this spiritual blessing in greater depth when he says,

“22 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”.

 This is not a pie in the sky when you die type hope and blessing because in the next two verses Paul speaks of the Spirits help and work in our lives in this life 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”.

 So, as we go the way of God or walk his road to heaven we are blessed by God with incredible blessing on the way and at the end of our journey. In the second verse of my poem The Road I speak of difficult times on the road to God and how God helps us with his blessings in those darker times of life:

As I run I sense that I am climbing

Ascending from the plains I breathe the mountain air

And then the way grows dark, steep and narrow

And as I cry the road speaks with loving care,

Run along my path and find tomorrow

And Oh, the road again quells my fears,

Soon this mountain will be behind me

And then I’ll rest in a land that has no tears.

  1. (vs. 3) Going God’s way leads to family blessing – family of God blessing

In the Old Testament, the blessing of a large family and the prosperity a large family in possession of physical land brought in ancient times was a major concept of the first covenant as we read in Deuteronomy 28: 11,

“The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you”.

 The fruit of your womb is reference to a man having a wife who will bless him with many children which is what verse 3a is speaking of when it says,

“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house”.

 The phrase “within your house” many commentators believe denotes the Old Testament reality that a man’s wife’s chief domain of work was in the family home. A good wife turned a house into a home with the blessing of many children raised in the knowledge of God. It

seems Old Testament women had their main role in God’s out workings of his blessings to his people in the home while their husband’s role was more outside the home labouring in the fields.

We saw from the previous Psalm 127 in verse 3 that,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him”.

 So, the reference to children in Psalm 128 verse 3 makes sense that many children gathered around the family table for a meal are part of God’s Old Testament blessing. So, the second half of verse 3 says,

“Your children will be like olive shoots around your table”.

 The two images used for the blessing of a fruitful wife and abundant children of grapes vines that produce grapes for wine and olive shoots that produce olives for the production of olive oil represent the kind of agricultural bounty ancient Israelites would have longed for and would have attributed to the blessing of God if they had them.

So, God is saying to the ancient Israelites that if they go his way by trusting in him and obeying him he will give them crops and family life in abundance. The opposite is that if they choose to be unfaithful and disobedient people to him and his word then they would not be blessed with abundant crops and families as the second half of Deuteronomy 28 says, like verses 15 – 18,

“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks”.

So, what is the New Testament application of verse 3 concerning the blessing of a fruitful family?

In the New Testament and particularly the New Covenant we as people who trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ and are now God’s chosen people, God’s royal priesthood and part of God’s household or family.

Peter presents this truth this way in 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”.

 Paul speaks of us as God’s Household or God’s family in Ephesians 2: 19 – 22,

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”.

 So, if we go God’s way by trusting and obeying his Son, Jesus Christ we will be able to enjoy the blessing of being part of God’s family. I also believe that going God’s way will also as part of God’s family the church give us the blessing of a Godly wife or husband which usually leads to the blessing of Children but I believe Psalm 128 in New Testament terms is more about the spiritual blessings we have in Christ.

In Christ, we are blessed by being part of his great family the church that if it is centred in trust and obedience to Christ and his word we will grow and flourish and bear much fruit like a fruitful grape vine or olive tree as Jesus alludes to in John 14: 5 – 8,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 I must also point out here that if we and our church do not remain in Christ or we do not truly trust and obey The Lord Jesus Christ than like the curses under the Old Covenant we and our church will not be blessed as Jesus indicates in John 15: 1 – 4,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me”.

 In my travels around my own country Australia and many other countries I have come across abandoned churches where obviously the life of a former group of people who worshipped there died usually because they in some way or another abandoned trusting and obeying the Lord and as Jesus predicted in John 15: 2,

 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful”.

 And Jesus makes it clear how and why they are cut off or abandoned in verse 4,

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me”.

 So, as we travel the road of God or go God’s way that leads to him in heaven we are not alone but are part of a great family of fellow travellers or believers and my third verse of my poem The Road captures something of this:

Soon I see the brilliant sunrise

It’s warm and fresh and it fills my weary breast

And as I run I sense that someone’s joined me

Joined my journey on the road to rest.

Run along my path and find tomorrow,

The road confirms its promise to us,

And so, we joyfully run together

Heading for the hope in which we trust.

  1. (vs. 4) Going God’s way leads to blessing by trusting in God

 The writer then restates the basis of being blessed or made truly and deeply happy by God in verse 4 and Allan Harman points out the Hebrew word we translate “Yes” actually means “Take Notice”, verse 4 says,

“Yes (or take notice) this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord”.

 It is though the writer is getting us to take a breath or pause to reflect on the key issue of fearing or trusting in God. To fear God, we have said is to reverence him to acknowledge his rightful place in our lives and the book of Proverbs, particularly Proverbs 1: 7 says,

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (or Wisdom) but fools despise wisdom and instruction”.

 So many today even deny the existence of God or seek to water down or even corrupt his word and therefore we have today a lot of knowledge but very little wisdom which is knowledge rightly and effectively applied.

Some might say that people like me, bible believing Christians are in the minority but whenever someone says that to me I always remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: 13 – 14,

 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.

If you lived in Nazi Germany and you opposed the mad and evil propaganda of Adolf Hitler you would have been in the minority and either killed or imprisoned if you chose to disagree with it.

So, does being in the majority of thought and beliefs guarantee it being right?

Psalm 128 says clearly that God’s blessing comes only to those who fear or trust in God and so we must go God’s way if we want to find true happiness in this life and the next as Jesus says in John 14: 6,

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. 

  1. (5 – 6)  GOING GOD’S WAY LEADS TO BLESSING ON GOD’S FAMILY – THE CHURCH
  1. (vs. 5) Going God’s way leads to national blessing – The church of God

This Psalm 128 verses 5 and 6 then changes to a kind of blessing prayer and some commentators believe these words were actually a priestly blessing that a priest used to bless the travelling pilgrims on their journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there.

This priestly blessing prayer then has two aspects to it:

  1. (vs. 5) National blessing
  2. (vs. 6) The blessing of long life

We will deal first with National blessing which is stated this way in verse 5,

“May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life”.

 This priestly blessing features two very important Old Testament place names of Zion and Jerusalem. To fully understand what this national blessing is and why it is a national blessing we must first understand the biblical significance of these two place names by coming to a clearer understanding of the name and significance of the name Zion.

The word Zion simply means in the Hebrew language “Fortress” but when you follow through all the meanings Zion is given in the Old Testament it becomes a rich and informing name for a number of important biblical concepts.

Let me explore with you just three important concepts Zion represents:

  1. God’s dwelling place on earth

Zion first and foremost Zion was the place David placed God’s sanctuary upon in the city of Jerusalem and so many parts of the Old Testament speak of Zion as God’s chosen dwelling place on earth under the Old Covenant like Psalm 76: 2,

“His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion”. 

2. Another name for Jerusalem

In the previous reference of Psalm 76: 2 we have the name Salem which is the older pre- David time name for Jerusalem and you can see from this reference that sometimes Jerusalem itself is called Zion. This is even clearer from a reference like 2 Samuel 5: 7,

“Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David”.

Or Psalm 48: 2,

“Beautiful in its loftiness,the joy of the whole earth,like the heights of Zaphon is Mount

Zion, the city of the Great King”. 

3. Another name for the people of God

Finally, Zion also is used as another special name for Israel or the people of God as we see in Zechariah 9: 9,

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!See, your king comes to you,

 righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.

 This is the famous prophecy that predicts Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and shows clearly the close identification of Israel and Jerusalem being known as Zion.

How does this help us understand Psalm 128 verse 5 that says?

“May the Lord bless you from Zion, may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your lives”.

 I think it means then that the writer wants the people of Israel to have God bless them from his presence and from his covenant of love as blessing from Zion or Jerusalem is from his special presence with his people who he called into being through his loving covenant that involves him giving the land of Israel also represented by Zion or Jerusalem.

God’s special presence and promise of love is their prosperity and security for all of their lives.

For us as Christians we can see as David Guzik points out that we too have been blessed out of Zion or Jerusalem, he writes,

“Whenwe consider that much of the teaching and ministry of Jesus did was in Jerusalem, we see that we are blessed out of Zion. 

  • When we consider that Jesus died as a sacrifice and a substitute for our sins in Jerusalem, we see that we are blessed out of Zion.
  • When we consider that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, we see that we are blessedout of Zion.
  • When we consider that the gospel was first preached out of Jerusalem and the church was birthed there, we see that we are blessed out of Zion”.

 The writer to the Hebrews links the concept of Zion and Jerusalem to the new covenant telling us that we have come to The New Jerusalem, Zion and nation or people of God the church through the shed blood of the Jesus the means and symbol of the New Covenant in 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”.

 So, in our pilgrim journey of faith to God in heaven we look to Zion or Jesus in heaven the place of the New Jerusalem that the book of Revelation says will come down from heaven and God will be finally united with his people so that God himself will dwell forever with his people, 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.”

 I tried to capture something of this great hope in the final verse of my poem, “The Road,

Finally, the road gets straighter

And it’s turned through many a bend,

Stretching out towards the horizon

There we see a glimpse of the end.

Run along my path and find tomorrow,

The road has surely served us well,

Guiding us towards the sunset

Where all joy is said to dwell. 

  1. (vs. 6) Going God’s way leads to long life- The blessing of eternal life with God

The second part of the priestly blessing is in verse 6, the final verse of Psalm 128 and it asks God for the blessing of long life,

“May you live to see your children’s children – peace be on Israel”.

 The blessing of long life is part of the Old Testament covenantal promises like the land and good crops and a large family are as we see in a verse like Deuteronomy 5: 33,

“Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess”.

 In verse 6 of Psalm 128 the promise of long life is couched in terms of living to an age that we see our grandchildren and it has been said that it is one of the worst things a person can experience in their lives is to have to bury one of your own children. To not see them grow up and bless you with grandchildren is a great sorrow to bear and I praise God that I have been able to see my children grow up and for one of them has come two beautiful grandchildren that my wife and I love very much.

In the new covenant the promise of long life is replaced with the promise of eternal life as we see in a passage like 1 John 5: 11 – 12,

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”.

 Paul makes it clear that without Jesus death for us we deserve and will face death but Jesus has given us through his death and resurrection the gift of eternal life, Romans 6: 23,

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

 Psalm 128 like Song of Ascent Psalm 125 finished with a request for peace,

“Peace be on Israel”.

 I will give you my insights on this request for peace by directly quoting my own words on this from Psalm 125,

“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.”

 So, like Psalm 125, Psalm 128 request for peace is a fitting request for a Song of Ascent Psalm as we travel to the place of perfect peace, which is in Old Testament terms is Zion or Jerusalem and in New Testament terms is in The New Jerusalem in Heaven. Perfect peace then is in heaven but peace to cope is the peace God gives us while we are on the journey to heaven.

We have seen from a number of New Testament quotes that God through Jesus offers us this peace to cope and that peace is yet another example of God’s blessing to us on our journey to God in heaven by walking his way of trust and obedience.

So, as I looked down that long dusty desert road at the setting sun on the horizon all those years ago I realised that God had a road or way for me to travel on to heaven and so I wrote these words reflecting on this,

In the still of a hot summer’s evening,

I stood upon its hot throbbing skin

And as the sunset fills the sky with colour

The road’s horizon beckons me to sing

Run along my path and find tomorrow

Do not stray or wander from my way.

Today the dry and dusty desert

Tomorrow the home of rest and play.

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

GO GOD’S WAY

(Based on Psalm 128 and the tune of “Ae Fond Kiss”)

Blessed are they who fear the Lord

For they trust and obey God’s word

If they go God’s way they will prosper

And one day they will see the Lord.

 

Your family life God will bless

If you walk God’s way each day

Go God’s way and serve him faithfully

And your life will be blessed in every way.

 

May the Lord bless you from heaven

May God’s church on earth be strong

Go God’s way and serve his Children

And you will help God’s Kingdom to come.

 

Blessed are they who trust in the Lord

They all know great peace within.

If they go God’s way and serve him

Christ the Lord will surely go with them.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven I pray that you will help us to trust and obey your word all the days of our lives. May the blessing of trust and obedience to your word and particularly the word of your Son Jesus Christ be ours all the days of our lives. Help us Lord to serve your Church the body of Christ as we walk together to you in heaven. Lord may we continually walk your way knowing your peace to cope and looking forward to the blessing or gift of eternal life to come with you in heaven. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PSALM 127 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY BUILDING OUR LIVES ON GOD

PSALM 127 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY BUILDING OUR LIVES ON  GOD

 (The eight Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with the important issue of looking to God to build and secure our lives and families. Not trusting in our own efforts to build a spiritually successful life and family but as we come to the Lord through faith alone in him so we live our lives with faith in what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection).

(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 127

 In my younger days as a Church Youth Worker I held a positon of the director or a church boy’s organisation that sought to reach boys and their families for Christ. In one very wealthy area of my city, Sydney the leaders of the boy’s groups there had little support from the boys Fathers because the Fathers spent most of their waking hours toiling in very well- paid jobs that required them being away from home to fulfil their employment requirements.

This is a very real and sad reflection on family life today and I remember asking one of the leaders in that area are these boys families supportive of these fathers. They said that they generally accepted that this was the only way the life style they enjoyed could be maintained. However, they did say that in their area marriage break downs were also very common and often families in their area suffered from good male role models for the boys in their groups.

Psalm 127 deals directly with the problem of giving God and our families their rightful place in our lives and if we do we will discover God’s blessing. Ray Fowler puts the main idea of this Psalm this way,

“Without God it’s not worth it, but when you give God the rightful place in your life, you can rest in his blessing”.

 I will refer a number of times in this Psalm talk to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6: 33,

“But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

 The Psalm starts with the famous phrase, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain”.

 I have taken up this image of building as my central image and the Psalm deals with four real life images that require building:

  1. Building a house
  2. Securing a city
  3. Working like a Workaholic
  4. Establishing a family

These four images are used to help us in our journey through life that leads to God in heaven to build our lives on God not leaving him out but looking to him with faith. We start the journey to God by faith which involves putting him first in our lives and we must continue that journey through life by faith putting God first in everything we do.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 7,

“For we live by faith, not by sight”.

So far as the authorship and time of writing this Psalm the Hebrew heading says that Solomon wrote this Psalm and there is a hidden but strong clue imbedded in the original Hebrew in the phrase at the end of verse 2 that points to Solomon as well.

The phrase is, “To those he loves” this phrase Ray Fowler points out is,

The Hebrew word, ‘Jedidiah’. Which means ‘beloved’. This was the special name God gave to Solomon in 2 Samuel 12: 25”

However, I would say Solomon probably wrote the Psalm, if he did, early in his reign when he was actually looking to God to build his life and family on but as Solomon’s reign went on we read in 1 Kings 11: 9 – 13 what sadly happened to him,

 “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

 Solomon’s main problem as his reign progressed was the taking of many women in marriage and these women worshipped God’s other than the real God of the bible. This led both Solomon and his nation away from worshipping the God of the bible alone and serves as a warning to us all that on our journey of life to God in heaven we must be careful not to compromise our faith in God or we too will back slide away from God as sadly Solomon did according to 1 Kings 11: 9 – 13.

So, with the central theme of building our lives on God in the journey of life my outline for this Psalm is:

  1.   (vs. 1a)   BUILD YOUR LIFE ON GOD
  1. Build your life on God
  2. If you don’t your labour is in vain
  1.   (vs. 1b)   BUILD YOUR SECURITY IN LIFE ON GOD
  1. Build your life’s security on God
  2. If you don’t you have no security
  1. (vs. 2)    BUILD YOUR LIFES WORK ON GOD
  1. Workaholics
  2.  Working and resting in God
  1. (3 – 5)   BUILD YOUR FAMILY ON GOD
  1. (vs. 3)  Children and families are a gift from God
  2. (4 – 5)  Children and families bless our lives

           CONCLUSION:   JOURNEY WITH GOD AS YOU BUILD YOUR LIFE ON HIM

 So then let’s have a closer look at this Psalm:

  1. (vs. 1a)  BUILD YOUR LIFE ON GOD
  1. Build your life on God

 Is the start of verse 1 only speaking about literally physical buildings being built without God? as the opening line of this Psalm 127 says,

“Unless the Lord builds the house”.

 We know that Solomon was a great builder and he particularly was responsible for the building of the Temple often called in the Old Testament, “The House of God” as we saw in the Song of Ascent Psalm 122: 1,

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

 However, I believe that Solomon had far more than earthly buildings in mind when he wrote,

“Unless the Lord builds the house”.

 I think “the house” here is anything we undertake to build in life and I agree with Ray Fowler who says,

“God wants you to find blessing and fulfilment in your work, but it is not going to happen apart from him”.

 If this first phrase only speaks of literally building a house then this verse has nothing to say to me as I am one of the most impractical person you could meet and I have to get other gifted practical people like builders to do building work around my house.

No, as the rest of the Psalm goes on to use other practical issues of life like the guarding of a city, our day to day work and our families the point is unless you do activity in this life that requires your labour or effort under the Lordship of Christ then your labour or work is in vain and that is what I think Jesus is telling us in Matthew 6: 33,

“But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

You see, you must get your priorities in life right first and then you can build or work on what you do in this life.

Another interesting application of this phrase is its application to the church and not just the church’s buildings as in the New Testament the Church is called “The Household of God”, 1 Timothy 3: 15,

“If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”.

 As Christians believer’s we need to seek to build God’s church not in our own human strength and abilities for if the Lord is not actually doing the work through us we will see from the second half of this verse, our work for the Lord is in vain.

Paul speaks of this with the Corinthian church when they fell into the trap of following church leaders and not the God the church leaders sought to get them follow,1 Corinthians 3: 5 – 9,

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. 9  For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building”.

 Note how Paul calls the church in Corinth, “God’s field” and “God’s building” and this proves that he knew and operated on the principle in his church building that this was the Lords work not his.

  1.  If you don’t your labour is in vain

 So, the first part of this first phrase stated here in verse 1tells us that we must do all human endeavour in this life under the guidance and assistance of the Lord and the second part simple says if we don’t then,

“The builders labour is in vain”.

 Bob Deffinbaugh sees this Psalm speaking about work and the problem of workaholics which I will discuss in the third section of this Psalm talk but Bob says this about the vanity or uselessness of doing any kind of work in this life without God,

“Our work is in vain when we engage in the activity alone, without God’s involvement”.

 Most people today don’t even acknowledge the existence of God let alone seek to do any kind of work in their life looking to God to help them. No wonder so many hard -working people become so disillusioned with their life and their work today. They are simply proving Solomon’s words to be true that,

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour is in vain”.

 One of my brother in laws who is now a Christian believer many years ago worked for a very hard -working concreter who unexpectedly committed suicide by jumping to his death of a road way bridge. This man’s death had a powerful effect on my brother in law and shook him up so that eventually years later he opened up to the Christian Gospel when a Christian neighbour eventually shared it with him.

Spurgeon writes,

Men desiring to build know that they must labour, and accordingly they put forth all their skill and strength; but let them remember that if Jehovah is not with them their designs will prove failures”.

 We must not start to do anything without first seeking to do it with and for God in heaven just as Proverbs 16: 3 says,

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans”.

 The New Testament explains well why this is so in Hebrews 3: 4,

“For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything”.

 Jesus explained the principle of building our lives on him and his word with the famous parable of the house’s built on rock and sand in Luke 6: 46 – 49,

“46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’s and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

 To walk through life not acknowledging God or seeking to do his will is not only a frustrating path to take but it is also a very dangerous path to take as well as Jesus tells us in Matthew 7: 13 – 14,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.

 I leave the last word on this serious warning in verse 1a to Ray Fowler who says,

God may choose to frustrate your plans, or he may simply choose to frustrate you. But either way, unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain”. 

       2.    (vs. 1b)   BUILD YOUR SECURITY IN LIFE ON GOD

       1.    Build your life’s security on God

We come then to the second half of verse 1 which Solomon uses another practical image or issue in ancient life to make a similar point and the image or issue is that of the security of a city or town in ancient times.

The fact is that before the days of guns and cannons the principle means of defence was large strong city walls to keep invading armies out. These walls also had twenty- four hour guards or watchmen posted on top of them to look out for any form of danger approaching the city or town.

So, the first part of the phrase used here says,

“Unless the Lord watches over the city”.

 This watching over the city is basically an important part of the city or towns security system. So, Solomon is asking who are you looking to for your security in life?

He is saying we can seek to be secure in life by again by our own efforts. All through Israel’s long history recorded in the bible they looked away from God for their security and sought to find security in alliances with other more powerful counties around them. Ironically this was probably a major reason for the back slipping of Solomon himself as he married so many foreign wives to try and shore up for Israel better security. The logic is, would a neighbouring country seek to invade you if your king was married to one of his daughters of the neighbouring king?

However, all Solomon achieved by his many marriages to neighbouring Kings daughters was the destruction of his nations ability to look to God alone for their security. Ray Fowler points out that ancient China built a massive wall across its northern border to keep invading armies out but as he says,

“They didn’t breech the walls they simply bribed the guards”.

 Today many people in the west feel very insecure in the face of rogue nations like North Korea and Muslim terrorism and their hope for security is in massive arms build- up and alliances with powerful western nations like USA but our only real powerful source of security is in the Lord who in Psalm 121: 5 – 8 says,

“The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;the sun will not harm you by day,nor the moon by night.The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;the Lord will watch over your coming and goingboth now and forevermore”.

 So not only does God people need to look to the Lord for security in this life as they live in a town or city but also when they made their annual pilgrim journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there.

We to in our pilgrimage to heaven need to realise we face a great enemy on this journey and Paul speaks of this powerful enemy and how we find security and even victory against this enemy in Ephesians 6: 10 – 13,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Paul goes on to speak of what our spiritual armour should consist of and he pinpoints the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with readiness to share the Gospel, shield of faith, sword of the spirit which is the word of God, helmet of salvation and all this is put on by prayer led by God’s Holy Spirit. 

           2.    If you don’t you have no security

 Like the opening image of the building of the house the second phrase concerning the watching over a city says much the same thing if we seek to do it without the Lord iit says,

“The guards stand in watch in vain”.

 Albert Barnes says,

“It is universally true that, after all the care for their own preservation which people can employ, their safety depends wholly on God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

 This verse is not saying we are to do nothing and just let God do it all as this would be in contradiction to many other scriptures like Psalm 90: 17,

“May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us- yes, establish the work of our hands”.

 Or in the New Testament Paul says in Colossians 3: 23,

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”.

 I like the famous saying of Oliver Cromwell who said to his troops when facing the Kings army in the days of the English revolution and when they used powder shot rifles,

“Trust in God and keep your powder dry”.

 So, in another sense our counties alliance with the USA is not wrong or unpractical but if that is the sole basis of our countries security than the words of Psalm 127 verse 1b will one day haunt us,

“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain”.

 In the great spiritual- war we as Christians are fighting we must always keep in mind the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10: 4 – 5,

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”.

 Finally, James gives us the advice we always must keep in mind if we want to have true spiritual security in James 4: 7 – 10,

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.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”.

    3.  (vs. 2)    BUILD YOUR LIFES WORK ON GOD

  1. Workaholics

 I borrowed my title for verse 2 from the work of Bob Deffinbaugh who entitled his study of Psalm 127 – “A Word for Workaholics”. I’m not convinced the whole Psalm is about this but certainly I believe verse 2 is all about this.

In- fact I think the first part of this verse is a very good description of a workaholic as it says,

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat”.

I mentioned in my introduction of the area of my city, Sydney where very wealthy people live and how in that area often the Fathers of the families who live there are hardly ever home as their jobs or businesses demand long hours seven days a week away from their families at home. I found this concept of work very hard to understand but I did realise for me the aspect of committing to much time and energy into a job as I had to work very hard at different times in my full -time ministry days to make time at home for my wife and family.

Yes, even those who are working full time for the Lord can fall into the trap of becoming a Workaholic. Ray Deffinbaugh pinpoints the problem well with these words,

“The workaholic has lost his perspective on what is necessary evil and what is a gracious good. By working day and night men cannot give diligent attention to more important matters such as study and meditation in the Scriptures, worship and devotion to family”.

 Note how Solomon uses the word “vain” again and says that the life style of a workaholic is a “In Vain” lifestyle. H.C Leopold says,

“Long – continued and arduous effort without a thought of the need of divine blessing is the height of futility”.

 It would seem that verse 2 like verse 1 is addressed to the person who has excluded God from their thinking and acting in life.

Why then do people choose to work day and night?

Solomon’s answer to this is the simply phrase,

“Toiling for food to eat”.

 This I think is a poetic description for making money and the material things money brings with it. The Fathers in the wealthy areas of Sydney who have become workaholics if asked why they work so hard would probably say to provide for my family so we can live in a big house in a wealthy suburb, so my kids can go to the best schools, so that we can have the occasional overseas holiday or even so I can have a large amount of money to retire on.

Jesus had much to say to people with this kind of attitude and way of living and I really like Jesus parable of the rich fool in Luke 12: 16 – 21,

“And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

 Then Jesus said in Matthew 6: 19 – 21,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 

20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

 Finally, Jesus is not saying living this way for him will leave us financially high and dry for Jesus says again in Matthew 6: 33,

“But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

 Before I stop talking about workaholics I must say God is not saying we should not work hard as many verses in the bible speak of not being lazy but working hard like Proverbs 10: 4 – 6,

The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked”.

As Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 3: 11- 13,

“We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good”.

 So, I think there is a big difference between a workaholic and a hard worker and the difference is a godly hard worker seeks the balance between work and leisure and particularly giving time to his or her family a we will see in the last two verses of this Psalm.

  1. Working and resting in God

 So, what advice does Solomon give to the workaholic?

I believe in the final phrase of verse 2 answers this when it says,

“For he grants sleep to those he loves”

 I found this phrase a puzzle to understand unto I read these words by Allan Harman,

“While many look to gain from their own hard labours, believers can rest secure in the knowledge that as God gives them sleep he is working and blessing them”.

 This phrase is not speaking about believers being blessed with good sleep but rather they can work during the day and then stop and rest as God wants us to and we can know that God does not rest and is still working for us when we are resting as we read in Psalm 121: 3 – 4,

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.

Ray Fowler says,

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to work. And the wrong way to work is when you leave God out of it”.

A workaholic, even a believer is working the wrong way being totally committed to work alone, not putting God or Jesus first is a person who needs to come to their senses and let God have his way in their lives.

So, as we walk the way of God to heaven we need to make sure Jesus is Lord and not our desire to live for money or material wealth. Paul has this to say about living for money and riches in 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 10,

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. 

    4.   (3 – 5)   BUILD YOUR FAMILY ON GOD

    1.    (vs. 3)  Children and families are a gift from God

The last practical issue of life Solomon uses to make the point of building our lives on God or on faith in God is children and families.

He starts this practical image with the amazing statement that Children and I believe family life is a gift from God as verse 3 says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him”.

 Some might think this is a principle God is declaring for only believers but God, I believe gives all humanity the gift of children and families and the principle of God giving all humanity good things is expressed well in Jesus words in Matthew 5: 45,

“He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

 So, children and families are a good gift God gives all mankind which starts all the way back to Genesis 1: 28,

“God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it”.

 Even after the fall God’s gift of children continues except a women’s giving birth to children will bring her great pain, Genesis 3: 16,

To the woman he said,“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;with painful labour, you will give birth to children.Your desire will be for your husband,

and he will rule over you.”

 So, children and families is something believers and non-believers have as gift from God and even with modern IVF help the creation of life is still in the hands of God.

Alan Harman says,

“Children are a free gift of God, a token of his grace”,

However, children and families play a major part of God’s revelation of himself as we see from Cain and Abel through to Abraham and the children of God under the leadership of Moses and even through family stories like Joshua, king David and all the Kings of Israel and Judah that shows us how God works his purposes out through families.

This is what lies behind the words of verse three that says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord”.

 Alan Harman explains this very well with these words,

“Heritage from the Lord”, “Used in the Old Testament with reference to the land of promise which came to Israel as unearned as any inheritance”.

 Harman also points out that the next phrase, “offspring a reward from him”, is a parallel expression. So, in the Old Testament God created a family his family of faith as described to Abrahams son Isaac,

“Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

 In the New Testament, we are part of the outworking of God’s great family plan as Paul make clear in Galatians 3: 28,

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

 We then as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are members of God’s family or as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2: 19, God’s household,

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household”.

 Through faith in Christ we are then children of God which is God’s heritage or God’s reward and we see how ingrained this idea of being God’s children is in the minds of the early disciples from for instance the Apostle John’s words in 1 John 3: 1 – 2,

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.

 It was the Apostle John who made it clear that we become a child of God or we join the family of God through faith in God’s Son in John 1: 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”.

 So, on our journey to God we must continually undertake it by faith not by sight. We must realise that through faith we are part of God’s family and because we are he promises to guide and protect us.

In the final two verses Solomon spells out in an Old Testament poetic image the practical reward or blessing of having children or a family. He uses twice the image of bows and particularly arrows and I call these images:

  1. (vs. 4)  Arrows in the hands of a warrior
  2. (vs. 5)  Arrows in a quiver or arrow carrier

Let’s then have a closer look at these final two verses:

  1. (vs. 4) Arrows in the hands of a warrior

We must remember that all of the Psalms were written in ancient times and so often the images they employ to convey the message they are seeking to convey are not so real to us today. In verse 4 we have an example of an image used we don’t easily understand, verse 4 says,

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth”.

 The image here is of arrows and or course in ancient times the bow and arrow was one of the main weapons people used to defend themselves and so having a supply of arrows meant you had a good chance of defending yourself when you were attacked. So, having children in ancient times was as crucial as having a good supply of arrows to fire off in your defence.

Tremper Longman 111 says,

“Children confer real advantage on a person in the battles of life”.

 I cannot imagine what my life would be like now without both my physical family and of course my spiritual family. My three children have so enriched my wife and I life so much and now we have the further blessing of two beautiful grandchildren.

In ancient times having children had even more value than today as without social security it was only through your children, in ancient times you had security and support in the later years of your life. Even today cultures like the Chinese and many others rely on the support of their children to help and support their parents in their old age.

Then as people of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we have the blessing and support of our spiritual family, the Church. Paul speaks often to the churches he wrote to in terms of the church being God’s Household or family or as a body where we all work together in the journey of faith and the battles of this life.

As Paul writes in Colossians 3: 15 – 17,

“ Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

 Paul in this third chapter of Colossians goes on from the words above to speak about earthly family responsibilities of wives, husbands and children. When Paul gives similar instructions in Ephesians he says this about the responsibility of Husbands in Ephesians 5: 25 – 28,

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansingher by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself”.

 Note how husbands are to seek to emulate The Lord Jesus Christ who loved the church, his family by the giving of his life for us. Later in the book of Revelation the church is viewed as Christ bride that one day will be fully united with him in his second coming, see Revelation 21: 1 – 4.

So, as we walk the journey of faith to God in heaven we are not alone for we are part of the great family of God, the church which has many children who like an ancient warrior had many arrows to help fight and defend himself and family we have many brothers and sisters who help us go the way of God and defend ourselves in the battles of life.

  1. (vs. 5) Arrows in a quiver or arrow carrier

The last verse of this Psalm also uses the bow and arrow image as well but this time it is the arrow carrier called a quiver that features in it as the verse says,

“Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”

 Albert Barnes explains the idea of a quiver of arrows and the blessing of many children this way,

 “The quiver is a case in which arrows are carried; and as a man – a hunter or warrior – feels secure when he has his quiver full of arrows, so a man is blessed in proportion to the number of his sons”.

 As I said before in ancient cultures the blessing of many children secured a person’s later years of life and so to not have a family in ancient times was a very sad and dangerous thing in many ways.

So, it is with us, spiritually if we don’t know Christ and his family that knowing him brings us into then it is both sad and dangerous for us spiritually. Yet so many today choose wilfully to reject God’s offer of his love and the hope of the eternal heavenly home that faith in him leads us to.

Jesus offers us these great words of hope and promise about the heavenly home he has for us in the next life in John 14: 1 – 4,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 Jesus goes on to tell poor old Thomas what that way is in verse 6,

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

 So, when we travel Jesus way or road to God we can have the security of having many arrows in our quiver or many fellow brothers and sisters travelling with us, helping us, encouraging us even in the judgment to come which I believe the end of verse 5 speaks about in Old Testament cultural terms with the words,

“They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court”.

The original term for court in Hebrew was the word for the city gate because in Old Testament times it was at the city gate most disputes were settled. So being part of God’s family means we have no fear in the great court or judgment to come as Jesus says in John 5: 24,

 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”.

 So those who journey to God as part of God’s family and are therefore God’s children will as verse 5 says, “Will not be put to shame” particularly in the coming judgment of God. In Old Testament terms having a big family particularly of sons was of great benefits and blessing when facing great opposition and in New Testament terms being part of God’s family has great benefits and blessings for us as members of the household of God.

Paul speaks of how we are brought into God’s family to become God’s sons and some of the benefits we have as members of God’s family in Galatians 4: 4 – 7,

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir”.

 CONCLUSION:  JOURNEY WITH GOD AS YOU BUILD YOUR LIFE ON HIM

 This Psalm like many of the proverbs falls into the wisdom style of writing in the bible and it is interesting that the Hebrew heading for this Psalm attributes it to the pen of Solomon who was known as the great composer of most of the Proverbs as we read in Proverbs 25: 1.

Wisdom literature offers usually practical teaching about God and life and so Psalm 127 the eighth song of ascent offers us teaching about looking to God and his help in all aspects of human endeavour and in this Psalm, we have seen four aspects of human endeavour:

  1. Building a house
  2. Guarding a city
  3. Working a job
  4. Raising a family

However, because this is more than a piece of wisdom literature for it is a Psalm also called “A Song of Ascent”. I have sought to look beyond the four practical aspects of life to a deeper spiritual meaning for the words of this Psalm.

If this Psalm was sung as the ancient Jews travelled their long journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there than that deeper meaning involves the idea of looking to God to build our lives upon as we journey to God in heaven.

Looking to God to build our lives upon as we journey to him is best summed up in the words of Matthew 6: 33,

“But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

So, as we seek to build anything in this life, a home, church or career we must acknowledge God as the foundation and helper in these endeavours and in so doing we put him first seeking his Kingdom first and in doing so receive the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 When we seek any kind of security in this life again we must look to God as our security and helper in the great battle we are involved in as his faithful followers. So, we must in the sense of our security seek God and his kingdom first and in doing so we will have the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 In our work either in general life or in service to the Lord we must seek to conduct it relying on God who grants us both success in work and rest to cope with the hard labour involved in it and in the sense of our work we must seek God and his kingdom first and in doing so we will have the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 Finally, in our building of a family either our earthly family or spiritual family which is our church we must realise God along gives us the heritage or reward of our family and so in building a family we must seek God and his kingdom first and in doing so we will have the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 I close as usual with an original poem / song and a final word of prayer.:

TRUST NOW IN JESUS

(Based on Psalm 127 and the tune of “Hard Times”)

 

O unless the Lord builds the house we live in

Then the building we build is in vain.

O unless the Lord watches over our domain

Then our lives will know conflict and pain.

 

Chorus:

 

Many days do I labour to succeed

Hard work, Hard work, doesn’t guarantee

But if you trust now in Jesus and make him number one

Then God’s blessings surely then will come.

 

If we work every hour and never have a rest

Then your toil will cause you great pain.

For the Lord gives us rest so we can revive

So, our work without God is in vain.

 

Chorus:

 

God gives us children as a gift of grace

They’ll God’s blessing for all of our days.

So, build now your family trusting in the Lord

And they’ll help you in so many ways.

 

Chorus:

 

O blessed is the man who comes now to the Lord

He is part of God’s great family.

If you turn from the Lord and seek to go your way

Then God’s judgment will bring calamity.

 

Chorus:

 

Many days do I labour to succeed

Hard work, Hard work, doesn’t guarantee

But if you trust now in Jesus and make him number one

Then God’s blessings surely then will come.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven help us now to trust in you as we seek to build our lives not on anything else than your word. Help us to put Jesus first in our loves and not rely on our own efforts to save ourselves. May we walk your way Lord in our work, who we trust in for security and in how we seek to build our families. May we know your blessing and protection in our lives and may the work we seek to do be done in service to you and others, In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.