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.

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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.

PSALM 126 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JORNEY WITH REAL JOY

PSALM 126 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JORNEY WITH REAL JOY

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

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

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 126

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

Happiness is to know the Saviour

Living a life within His favour,

Having a change in my behaviour,

Happiness is the Lord.

 

Happiness is a new creation,

Jesus and me in close relation,

Having a part in His Salvation

Happiness is the Lord.

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

Real joy is mine,

No matter if the teardrops start,

I’ve found the secret,

It’s Jesus in my heart”.

 

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

 

“Happiness is to be forgiven,

Living a life that’s worth the living,

Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,

Happiness is the Lord”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So my outline for this Psalm talk is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opening words of this Psalm which read literally,

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were like those who dreamed”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Josh Moody aptly writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Happiness is to be forgiven,

Living a life that’s worth the living,

Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,

Happiness is the Lord”.

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

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

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

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

I call these two answers to this question:

  1. Historical
  2. Theological

Let me explain:

  1. Historical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Theological

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

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

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

The opening Got Question? Explanation is as follows,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like what Paul says in Philippians 3: 12,

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

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

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

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

  1. (vs. 4)   A call for salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer of Psalm 126 uses the expression,

“Like streams in the Negev”?

 What then is the Negev?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. (vs. 5) Tears to Joy

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

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

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

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

 David expressed a similar idea in Psalm 30: 5,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. (vs. 6)  Sowing to Reaping

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

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

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

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

“Those who go out weeping carrying seed to sow”

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

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

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

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

“Carrying sheaves with them”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE JOY OF TRAVELLING TO GOD

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

 Oh, it seemed like a dream that had come true

When Israel returned that day

From captivity in a foreign land

For God made for them a way.

 

Chorus:

The Lord has done great things for us

With joy, we travel to God above

For the Gospel declares that God does save

By his wonderful amazing love.

 

Like Israel of old we can laugh and sing

For salvation has come to us

Like them God has blessed our lives

And all we have to do is trust.

 

Chorus:

 

O God we need your help today

Our world is stricken with drought

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

They are thirsty but full of doubt.

 

Chorus:

 

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

We must believe even though its hard

But if we proclaim the powerful word of God

God’s amazing joy will start.

 

Chorus:

The lord has done great things for us

With joy, we travel to God above

For the Gospel declares that God does save

By his wonderful amazing love.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

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

PSALM 125 TALK:   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY OF FAITH

PSALM 125 TALK:   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY OF FAITH

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

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

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

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

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 125

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.   (1 – 2)   THE JOURNEY OF FAITH

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

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

2.    (vs. 3)    THE FAITHLESS JOURNEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1.   (1 – 2)   THE JOURNEY OF FAITH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or Psalm 135: 21,

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

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

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

never again will foreigners invade her”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Which cannot be shaken but endures forever”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or Isaiah 54: 10,

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

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

“Forevermore”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.    (vs. 3)    THE FAITHLESS JOURNEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So with all this in mind verse 4 says,

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

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

The two main ideas of this verse are:

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

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

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

The first part of verse 4 says,

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

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

But what is he actually asking for here?

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

On these opening words of verse 4 Allan writes,

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

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

Here is what 2 Samuel 7: 28 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next phrase in verse 4,

“To those who are upright in heart”

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

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

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

“Upright heart”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1.   Those who turn to crooked ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Those who are evildoers.

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

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

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

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

“The Lord will banish them”.

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 125 finishes with a simple request for peace,

“Peace be on Israel”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note how Isaiah makes the faith connection in the words,

“Because they trust in you”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TRAVELLING TO HEAVEN SONG

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

Those who trust in the Lord

Are like Zion up above.

For they cannot be shaken

As they know God’s great love.

 

God’s like a mountain that surrounds us

Yes his love surrounds us now.

And we cannot be shaken

For we know his loving power.

 

The wicked will not remain

When they stand before God above.

For God has for his people

A place thats free and full of love.

 

Lord do good to the people

Who do good to everyone.

And look up to you in heaven

And believe in your Son.

 

But all those who turn away

Have evil in their heart.

The Lord will banish them forever

When Jesus returns they will depart.

 

Look to God up in heaven

As you travel life’s great road

God’s peace will surely be with you

For Jesus will help you carry your load.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

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

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 124

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who write this Psalm?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        (1 – 2)   God is on our side

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

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

         (vs. 6)  Praise the God who saves us

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

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

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

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

Lets then have a close look at this Psalm:

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

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

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

First of all the first two verses,

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

So what is the writer of Psalm 124 saying?

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

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

Or

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

So why does it read the way it does then?

Leopold answer to this question is that these,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If the Lord had not been on our side”

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

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

In the Ephesians 6 passage Paul says in verse 10,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longman goes on to explain that,

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

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

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

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

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

The phrase in verse 3 that says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

would have swept us away”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Praise be to the Lord”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They would have swallowed us alive”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Fowler writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first part then is of course the words,

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

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

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

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

“Our help is in the name of the Lord”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Maker of heaven and earth”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2: 7,

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

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

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

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

THE LORD IS ON OUR SIDE

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

If the Lord had not been on our side

If the Lord had not been on our side

Oh our enemies would have swallowed us alive

If the Lord had not been on our side.

 

If the Lord had not been on our side

If the Lord had not helped us to abide

Oh life’s flood waters would have washed us away

And we would never see heavens glorious day.

 

Praise the Lord who has not let us be torn apart

Praise the Lord who has not let us be torn apart

Oh from our enemies he has helped us to depart

Like a bird set free with a fresh new start.

 

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Oh our God the maker of heaven and earth

Saves our lives and gives us new birth.

 

If the Lord had not been on our side

If the Lord had not been on our side

Oh we would not have had the power to abide

If the Lord had not been on our side.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

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

PSALM 123 TALK:   THE CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER LOOKS UP TO GOD

PSALM 123 TALK:   THE CHRISTIAN TRAVELLER LOOKS UP TO GOD

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

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

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

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

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 123

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hand of the Lord”

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

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

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

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

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

1.      (vs. 1)   LOOKING UP TO GOD

         1.   (vs. 1a)   Looking up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1.     (vs. 1)   LOOKING UP TO GOD

         1.   (vs. 1a)   Looking up

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

“I call on the Lord in my distress”

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

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

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

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

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

“Reverence for God”.

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

“To you who sit enthroned in heaven”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does God react to this looking away from him?

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

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

You might ask why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Jesus remembered the thief on the cross.

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

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

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

The phrase,

“Sit enthroned in heaven”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The words of this Psalm that says,

“Holiness adorns your house for endless days”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan Harman points out that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then again in Psalm 31: 7,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to death— even death on a cross!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is there a double call for mercy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For we have endured no end of contempt”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1.   Arrogant (vs. 4a)

The first part of verse 4 says,

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

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

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

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

Or this further quote from the same book,

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

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

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

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

Fowler then quotes James 4: 6,

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

  1. Proud (vs. 4b)

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

“Or contempt from the proud”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I LIFT MY EYES TO GOD

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

I lift my eyes when I am down

To the God who lives in heaven

For he sent his son so that anyone 

Can one day go  to heaven.

He died upon the cross for me

And his death has set me free

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

I lift my eyes to the throne of God

Like a servant looks to his master

For by the grace of God he lifts me up

From my sins great disaster.

For by the grace I’m saved from sin

And his changing me now within

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

I lift my eyes to God’s throne of grace

And I pray that God will help me

For my enemies seek to bring me down

With words that really hurt me.

But I know the Lord hears my prayers

For his word tells me he cares.

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

I lift me eyes to the God above

The God who sits in heaven

The God who said I love the world

So I’ll send my Son from heaven.

He wants us now to turn from sin

And ask his Son to come in.

So come with me on the journey now

That one day leads to heaven.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

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

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 122

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the opening verse of David’s first song of ascent he envisaged fellow believers doing what the writer to the Hebrews wants his readers to do and that is,

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (vs. 24)

To

“Not giving up meeting together” (vs. 25)

David says that the Pilgrim who eventually got to Jerusalem with the encouragement and support of his fellow encouraging believers will,

“Rejoice” with them.

So if going on these Old Testament Pilgrim journeys is analogy of living the Christian life that leads to heaven then when we get to heaven we will rejoice with those who helped or encouraged us to follow Christ to get to heaven.

May I say don’t wait till you get to heaven to do this but even now on the Christian journey rejoice with those who have helped you on this great journey of faith with the Lord.

Listen to Paul doing just that for the believers in Philippi in Philippians 4: 10,,

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it”.

Then again in verses 14 – 16,,

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need”.

This word of thanks by Paul for the Philippians concerns material money aid but in other places like the opening chapter of 1 Thessalonians his rejoicing for other believers was their shared enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel message in their area and region as Paul writes in verses 4- 8,

 “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it”

So every aspect of the Christian journey or experience and even life is a collaborative venture and this is the first great clue to the role and function of the church in our journey to heaven.

  2.   (vs. 2)   The journey’s end from the beginning

I think my most controversial aspect of this Psalm talk will be my interpretation of the second verse of this Psalm as all of the commentators I looked up said that this verse suggests the writer has already arrived in Jerusalem and is now standing at the gates of Jerusalem because it reads this way,

“Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem”

This is reading this verse literally or without considering what it might be saying poetically. So my take on this verse is that I believe the writer is poetically picturing himself at the end of his journey while actually at the start of it, thus my heading, “The journeys end from the beginning”.

My reasons for this is that the first verse is a poetic picture of the start of our writers journey when it says,

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord”.

Now the writer pictures himself arrived in Jerusalem and standing at its gates the threshold of making the final steps of his long journey up to the Temple. 

When our writer pictures himself their at the gates of Jerusalem he then develops a picture of Jerusalem from a pilgrim travellers perspective. A kind of poetic word picture travel brochure.

We get a better understanding of this interpretation when we consider its writer being David, he wants the people in his kingdom to be inspired to come up to Jerusalem for the festivals held there for up to three times a year and so he wants them to be inspired to come to Jerusalem via the long journey up to it  and what better thing could he come up with for that inspiration than for them to picture themselves standing at the gates of there final destination, Jerusalem.

When I recently travelled 19,000 kilometres around my country Australia my wife and I had to drive hundreds of kilometres each day pulling our caravan and the scenery between the places we stopped at was often very much the same but what often kept us going was the interesting and usually beautiful scenery to come of our destination which we usually had built up in your minds from touring brochures we had picked up at Information centres in previous towns.

So what would be the poetic picture we should have in our minds for the Christian journey?

The New Testaments poetic picture to inspire us is non other than that of The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven that will be a place where we will spend eternity with God in heaven as depicted in Revelation 21: 1 – 5,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Some might say this picture is far to out of this world for me to fully appreciate but the New Testament offers us what I call a foretaste of what this is like in its teaching on the New Jerusalem being the Church of God on earth in passages like Hebrews 12: 22 – 24,

 “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”.

When Christians gather in church together they are experiencing just a little taste of heaven for they are meeting together with other believers to worship God together, they have God through his Spirit present with them and they have the inspiration of The Lord Jesus Christ to think of, sing about, hear about and speak about in sweet fellowship which again is something all true believers will know and experience far, far more in heaven for eternity.

This is why we need to work on making our church meetings not only Christ centred but Christ inspiring with lots of opportunities to experience sweet fellowship with other believers, then we can all truely say,

“Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem”.

2.    (3 – 5)   JERUSALEM (THE CHURCH) IS A PLACE OF UNITY FOR ALL BELIEVERS

       1.   (vs. 3)   Jerusalem (the church) is well ordered

So David wants his people of his kingdom to visualise themselves standing at the gates of Jerusalem to inspire them by his song to make the journey up to it and to the Temple going there to celebrate the annual festivals there up to three times a year. He then seeks to further inspire them by picking up some of the attractions of that city and reasons for making such a difficult and often dangerous journey.

The first attraction David chooses to speak about is the physical make up of this unique and what would have been in ancient times inspiring layout as he writes in verse 3,

“Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together”.

I like Spurgeon’s explanation of this verse,

“Not a conglomeration of huts, but buit as a city with substantial structures; and not a straggling city, like some we read of, that have been called “cities of magnificent distances,” but it was “compact together.”

David quickly entered into building projects when he took over Jerusalem with his palace (2 Samuel 5: 11), sturdy homes of its permanent citizens and walls around it as well (2 Samuel 5: 9).

Then in Solomons time the magnificent Temple and many more buildings made Jerusalem a truly desirable city that would inspire anyone who visited it.

How does this relate to the Church, the New Jerusalem of God?

I like Spurgeon’s answer to this he writes,

“Happy is the church that is at peace; blessed are the people who are joined together by a gracious brotherly love”.

I like this quote as the New Testament interpretation of the expression David uses of,

“Closely compacted together” 

I praise God that the church service I attend when I am not away from home is a closely compacted fellowship of brotherly love, only around 50 people but warm and encouraging. Other services of my church which are much larger in attendance also I am told generate a feeling of close brotherly love.

Paul tells the Roman church how they can experience the joys of close compacted brotherly love in Romans 12: 9 – 13,

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”.

I praise God that I have visited many other churches over the years both in my country, Australia and many others and have experienced something of what Paul is speaking of here in the book of Romans and I hope you might know that at the church you attend as well when you enter the doors  of your New Jerusalem, The Church of Jesus Christ here on earth.

       2.   (vs. 4)   Jerusalem (the church) is where believers join together to praise God

So David seeking to inspire his people to make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem now picks up another attraction and reason for going up to Jerusalem annually, as we read in verse 4,

“That is where the tribes go up – the tribes of the Lord – to praise the name of the Lord according to the statutes given to Israel”.

There are actually three things here that should inspire Israelites to make the journey and as they are doing it continue to journey on and these three reasons are

1.     The destination of the fellowship of pilgrim travellers.

2.     The reason why the fellowship of pilgrim travellers make the journey

3.     The biblical reason for the fellowship of pilgrim travellers to make the journey.

Lets have a closer look at each of these three things that David chose to inspire these annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

  1.     The destination of the fellowship of pilgrim travellers.

The first part of verse 4 says,

“That is where the tribes go up – the tribes of the Lord”.

David is saying firstly Jerusalem is the destination of this journey but it is a journey not made by pilgrims on their own but made with other members of their tribe. 

We know that their were 12 tribes who entered the promised land and under the kingship of David and Solomon these twelve tribes lived all over the land of Israel and would have annually come up to Jerusalem for the celebration of at least three great festivals, Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles.

However after Solomon the nation of Israel split into two different Kingdoms with 10 tribes to the North called Israel with its capital of Samaria and two tribes in southern Israel called Judah wo kept Jerusalem as its capital.

So if this was written by David and used extensively for a number of years in the days of David and  Solomon by the pilgrims from the 12 tribes then the destination would have been Jerusalem. 

Capital cities of any nation give the people in those nations a place where they can come together as a nation and so Jerusalem served to do this for many years before the kingdom of Israel was divided in two.

Also this verse says that the pilgrim journey was a fellowship experience and as I said before Jesus is recorded as going on these annual pilgrimage journeys up to Jerusalem. One of these pilgrimage journeys Jesus is recored going on was the one recorded in Luke 2: 41 – 51 when Jesus was only twelve years old.

On the return journey which was a fellowship of tribal groups travelling together Jesus is not with them as he stayed behind in Jerusalem listening to Temple teachers of his day and asking them questions. It takes them some time to realise Jesus was not with them as, I believe the pilgrimage crowd was so big and Luke 2: 43 – 46 puts it this way,

“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions”.

The Christian journey or life is not a solo experience but a fellowship experience a fellowship of believers all travelling together to the final destination of heaven. So the tribes of Israel represent the new nation or Kingdom under God which is his church on earth, the New Jerusalem which will be united with Christ in heaven when he returns to earth the second time at the end of the age we currently live in that I like to call The Gospel Age.

Here are two passages from the New Testament that express this great truth:

  1. 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

    2.    Galatians 4: 25 – 31,

Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman

than of her who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son. 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman”.

So Paul is arguing here that the Old Jerusalem, the city of God before the coming of Jesus has been superseded by the New Jerusalem which he calls here,

“The Jerusalem that is above”

So as those who have come to God through faith in his Son Jesus Christ are now, children of promise verse 28 and children of the free women (symbol for Christ) and not children of a slave women (symbol for the devil).

2.     The reason why the fellowship of pilgrim travellers make the journey

The second thing that David used in verse 4 to inspire the Pilgrims to make the journey to Jerusalem is expressed this way in the second part of the verse,

“To praise the name of the Lord”.

In the Old Testament the Jewish festivals served as a rallying point for praise or worship of the God of the bible.

Peter writing in the New Testament told us in the verses I quoted earlier,  1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

Note we are this new chosen people of God who are called to,

“Declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

So we are to make this journey to God in heaven not on our own but with a tribe or group of believers who do so to praise the God who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light made possible by God’s Son, Jesus Christ who did it through the mercy or grace of God.

The writer to the Hebrews speaking to christians in churches in his day put it this way in Hebrews 13: 15 – 16,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”.

3.     The biblical reason for the fellowship of pilgrim travellers to make the journey.

David continues to inspire his people to come up to Jerusalem for the celebration of the festivals by also stating that this pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple or the Sanctuary in his day was a biblical imperative and puts that this way,

“According to the statute given to Israel”.

Statute is another word for law and I have already quoted this law for the people to come to the place God has appointed for the three main festivals God gave Israel to celebrate in Deuteronomy 6: 16 – 17,

“Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you”.

David believed that the place God chose for these celebrations of the three main Jewish festivals was Jerusalem as David found out from the Lord in very difficult circumstances.

The story goes that David sinned big time after he conquered the Jebusite’s who occupied Jerusalem and had a number of great victories over many of Israels enemies by disobeying the word of the Lord in counting his fighting men. A great plague overtook Israel and many people died and just as it looked like Jerusalem itself would fall to this plague David and his fellow leaders prayed desperately and God relented after David buys a Jebusite threshing floor on one of the hills in the city where David is to make a sacrifice to the Lord on. On the site of that newly purchased threshing floor David has a vision of the Angel of the Lord who turns away from killing anymore Israelites.

Then God makes it clear to David that this newly purchased threshing floor is to be the site of the Tabernacles and later Temple in Jerusalem for the people to come to for the celebration of the three God ordained festival (see 1 Chronicles 21: 18 – 30).

The first verse of the next chapter I 1 Chronicles says this,

“Then David said, ‘The house of the Lord God is to be here, also the altar of burnt offering for Israel”.

So in Psalm 122 verse 4 David is reminding the Pilgrim Traveler’s that their pilgrim destination is Jerusalem and The Temple or Tabernacle and this is laid down as the place and the thing to do according to God’s law.

What is the relevance of this to us as Christians?

I have heard many people over the years say that they are Christian believers like me but choose not to go to church as they feel they can worship God far better out in God’s creation. This idea has many problems and one is that the bible tells us that attending and being involved in his church when it gathers is his ordained plan for all Christians, as we saw in the earlier reference  of Hebrews 10: 24 – 25,

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

It seems even in New Testament times some Christians had this same idea of the people I have met who say they can be a Christian without going to Church. It is not that because we go to church we are a Christian but because we are a Christian we should and must join with others for fellowship, mutual encouragement and true worship of the God we say we believe in.

One person I read years ago said it is like a person claiming to be a baseball player who also claims he doesn’t need to join a baseball team and play baseball to be a baseball player. He might appreciate the many fine aspects of the game of baseball but to be a player he must join at team and play otherwise he is simply a baseball interested person.

So a true believing Christian will be like a baseball player find a church or baseball team and join it and attend or play regularly and then we are saying by our actions I belong to Christ and his people because I am member of his church or in the case of the baseball player I am a active member of the baseball team.

   3.  (vs. 5)    Jerusalem (the church) is where believers should resolve their differences

The final reason David gives his people to inspire them to journey to Jerusalem up to three times a year is in verse 5 which says,

“There stand the thrones for judgement, the thrones of the house of David”.

Albert Barnes explains this verse really well with these words,

“The word throne is now commonly appropriated to the seat or chair of a king, but this is not necessarily the meaning here. The word may denote a seat or bench occupied by a judge. 

The meaning here is, that Jerusalem was the supreme seat of justice; the place where justice was dispensed for the nation. It was at once the religious and the civil capital of the nation”.

So the pilgrim traveller is being told that if he or she has any civil grievance they can get this sorted out when they are in Jerusalem as Jerusalem is not only the spiritual centre of Israel but the political and civil capital as well.

For us as Christians I can only think of one application for this verse and that is the concept that as Christians we are to resolve any differences we might have in the church and not in the outside civil courts which was a principle Paul had to lay down for the Corinthian church of his day for some reason or another.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 6: 1 – 6,

“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”

You might think this is not something that we need to consider today but let me tell you a good friend of mine who now attends a church in a country area of my state was horrified to find that a neighbouring church in the same Christian denomination of his had taken their disputes with their church leaders to court to resolve issues concerning the sale of church property. This according to my friend was such a negative witness in his area that many people said things like if this is how so called Christians act amongst themselves we don’t wont anything to do with them and their so called church that spoke of love but acted with hate and conflict in the general community they lived in.

3.   (6 – 9)   JERUSALEM (THE CHURCH) IS A PLACE OF PEACE

       1.   (6 – 8)   Jerusalem (the church) the place of God’s peace

The final section of this Song of Ascent verses 6 – 9 is I think David asking the Pilgrim travellers to Jerusalem to pray for Jerusalem as they travel to it annually each year.

We must remember that this is a song and a song designed by David for Pilgrim Travellers coming up to Jerusalem each year for one of the festivals celebrated there in and around the Tabernacle in Davids time and in and around the Temple in Solomons time. So as the pilgrims sang this song they where also asked to pray for Jerusalem. 

The prayer request for Jerusalem has two parts:

  1.   (vs. 6)   Peace for the people of Jerusalem
  2.   (vs. 7)   Peace for the city of Jerusalem as a whole

Lets then look at the two parts of this prayer for Jerusalem.

  1.   (vs. 6)   Peace for the people of Jerusalem

The sixth verse in Davids song for Pilgrim travellers starts with the word pray and therefore is a prayer request and this prayer request starts with the words,

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”

David’s prayer request for peace in Jerusalem is actually in the original Hebrew language a very clever play on words as Allan Harman points out that the name Jerusalem means foundation of peace and the Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom. So the word play in English Allan Harman says would read like this,

“Ask for the peace of the foundation of peace”.

Doug Hershey points out that Shalom the Hebrew word for for peace is not the absence of conflict or war but,

“To be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back — to generously re-pay something in some way”.

It was vital for Jerusalem to have this kind of peace and also to be secure if these pilgrimages wanted to continually pilgrimage to Jerusalem so it naturally follows that the idea of the city and its inhabitants being secure is what the second half of verse 6 says,

“May those who love you be secure”

If the city is secure then those who love that city are secure.

I really like Albert Barnes application of this verse for us as Christians who are part of the New Israel of God and of course the New Jerusalem which is the church, he writes,

“To us now it inculcates the duty of praying for the church: its peace; its unity; its prosperity; its increase; its influence on our country and on the world at large. It is a prayer that the church may not be divided by schism or heresy; that its members may cherish for each other right feelings; that there may be no jealousies, no envy and no jars; that the different branches of the church may regard and treat each other with kindness, with respect, and with mutual recognition; that prosperity may attend them all”.

I attended a interdenominational Bible College and I learnt through that experience that conflict and strife can easily erupt in the church on a wider level but I also learnt through my three years their how to do what Albert Barnes says we all must do,

“Regard and treat each other with kindness, with respect, and with mutual recognition; that prosperity may attend them all”.

I was reminded of the importance of this when I attended during my first year at Bible College my first Christian Convention held at Katoomba two hours drive out from Sydney in the beautiful Blue Mountains and seeing the big sign up the front above the speakers desk that quotes Paul’s word from Galatians 3: 28,

“All one in Christ Jesus”.

  1.   (vs. 7)   Peace for the city of Jerusalem as a whole

This prayer request for the people of Jerusalem then is followed by a similar request for the city itself in verse 7, which says,

“May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels”

The term,

“Security within your citadels”

Is a term that means the whole city as Leopold points out when he says that the citadels refers to,

“The two outside limits”  of the city.

So again if the actual city was secure with peace then the pilgrims could journey up to it and enjoy the worship and fellowship God designed them to have there. We can see eventually what happened to Israel once Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC and we see how devastating this was for the Jews with these words from the book of Lamentations  2: 7,

The Lord has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary. He has given the walls of her palaces into the hands of the enemy; they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord as on the day of an appointed festival”.

This terrible day happened to Israel as an act of Judgment because of their many sins and we read in Daniel 9: 25 – 19 Daniels prayer prayed in exile in Babylon for the Lord to help his people return to their land and particularly to Jerusalem,

“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favour on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Daniel knew of the prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy that after 70 years of exile this prayer would be answered as he speaks of it before he started praying the prayer above in Daniels 2: 1 – 2,

“In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years”.

So on our Pilgrim journey to God in heaven our Jerusalem here on earth is the church of The Lord Jesus Christ and we should pray for peace within its walls and amongst its people and be warned that even though Christ Church will never be destroyed Matthew 16: 18,

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it”.

Individual parts of it can be judged if found wanting in sin and lack of true love for God as we see in the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation in chapters 1 – 3. 

I think some of the final words of these three chapters sums up what we all must do today in the Christian church, Revelation 3: 19 – 20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me”.

We must pray for peace in our churches and make sure that Christ and his word is at the centre of all we say and do.

2.   (vs. 9)  We should seek together the prosperity of God’s church

David’s final word to the pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem in his song for them now called Psalm 122 is that they all seek the prosperity of the Lord’s house, verse 9 says,

“For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity”.

So much emphasis today is made of the needs of the individual christian in our churches but the bible over and over again is concerned for individuals but it is more concerned for the church or the people of God as a whole. 

This verse in Psalm 122 is a good illustration of what I am saying, David wants the people to sing as they travel together a pledge to seek the prosperity of God’s house or Temple and in New Treatment terms God’s House or Temple is the people of God come together through faith in his Son, The Lord Jesus Christ as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3: 16,

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

And as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 3: 6,

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory”.

And finally Peter says in 1 Peter 2: 4 – 5,

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

Note how each of these New Testament references refer to the Church as a body of people and so as David encouraged his people to pray for the prosperity of God’s House I would like to use this to encourage you to pray for the prosperity of God’s house today, the people of God known as his church on earth as Paul showed us how to pray for the church in Colossians 1: 9 – 14,

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.

Spurgeon adds this these words of advice,

“Not only pray for it, but work for it, give for it, live for it: “I will seek thy good!”

CONCLUSION

We have seen in this third Song of Ascent how David sought to inspire the Pilgrim travellers on their way up to Jerusalem and the Temple to go together with other believers and to be encouraged by them to eventually stand in the gates of their great city.

We have seen how Davis sought to inspire them to go on this often dangerous and difficult journey by always having a vision of the wonder and beauty of their final destination in there minds and hearts. Also David wanted them as they set out for Jerusalem and as they journeyed towards it to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and its people and to always seek the prosperity of The House of the Lord that dwelt in the city of Jerusalem.

As Christians we need to always realise that our journey to heaven is not a lonely solo effort but we are always walking God’s way with other fellow believers and in fact we are part of a great New Jerusalem and even House of the Lord which we should pray for peace and seek it is well. 

Finally we are not to seek our own prosperity but the prosperity of God’s world wide church which we are a part of and when we play our God given role in that we will see God’s House or God’s church grow and prosper unto it is fully united with Christ as The New Jerusalem or the eternal home of Heaven with God at it’s centre.

I close  as usual with my original poem / song and prayer:

LETS GO TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD

(Based on Psalm 122 – to the tune of “All the good times are past and gone”)

Lets all go to the house of the Lord

Lets all travel their now.

For God’s church is the house of the Lord

The home of God’s peace and power.

 

My feet now stand in God’s heavenly home

For thats where I’m headed for.

The place called New Jerusalem

To where one day I’ll soar.

 

Heaven is a place so beautiful

God’s church is foretaste of it.

So lets all go to the house of the Lord

And be led by his Holy Spirit.

 

Pray for peace in the house of the Lord

Pray that it might be secure.

Trusting alone in the Lord Jesus Christ

Who alone can make it sure.

 

For the sake of your family and friends

I pray that you will have peace.

For if God’s house does prosper now

Our joy of the Lord will increase.

 

Lets all go to the house of the Lord

Lets all travel their now.

For God’s church is the house of the Lord

The home of God’s peace and power.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

Yes Lord we thank you that through your people’s witness to us we have heard your call to travel to your heavenly home through trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross and through that wonderful act of love and made a way back to you Father in heaven. Help us to pray for the peace and prosperity of your church here on earth so that through its witness and message many more people might join it on its journey to the New Jerusalem your eternal home above. In Jesus Powerful name we pray this, Amen.

PSALM 121 TALK:  THE CHRISTIANS JOURNEY’S DESTINATION AND TRAVEL TRAPS

PSALM 121 TALK:THE CHRISTIANS JOURNEY’S DESTINATION AND TRAVEL TRAPS

(The second of 15 Psalms or songs of ascent that deals with getting our final travel destination clear in our minds, namely God in heaven and also raises some of the dangers ahead in getting there and God promises to protect us on our journey to him in heaven).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

For a introduction to the Psalms of Ascent see Psalm Talk for Psalm 120.

PART 1.    PSALMS 120 – 124   THE JOURNEY BEGINS – THE WAY

ONTRODUCTION TO PSALM 121

I once heard in a sermon at my church years ago where the preacher asked the question:

Are you a destination traveller or a person who travels for the adventure and enjoyment of travel itself?

The Christian Pilgrimage or Journey is actually a bit of both as we go God’s way to arrive at a destination – Heaven but we also look to God to help us on that journey and we both enjoy and learn from this journey as God leads us through both good and difficult times on this journey of life.

So the second Song of Ascent that is part of the first five of these songs that deal with beginning our journey speaks of the destination we must all set our sights on, “The Mountains” vs 1 and “The Lord” vs. 2. 

Then this second Psalm of Ascent uses Old Testament poetic terms to identify some of the dangers this Pilgrimage or Journey will encounter and spells out who will protect us from these dangers as we travel on God’s way to the Mountains – a poetic Old Testament symbol for God in Heaven as we will learn in the Psalm talk that follows.

It is interesting that the other way of interpreting, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains” is that the hills or mountains represented to the pilgrim traveller difficulty and hardship but this interpretation says that the Psalm is saying our help in overcoming these difficulties is found in the Lord who promises to help us. Both interpretations I think lead to the same conclusion and maybe our writer cleverly made the Psalm to read the way it does so that both interpretations can be seen and appreciated.

God through Jesus calls us to look to Jesus as The Way, The Truth and the Life to find the road to God the Father (John 14: 6) who dwells in heaven so this Psalm 121 will help us prepare for starting out on God’s way – road in life that will ultimately lead us to be with God in heaven.

With this central theme of the Christians journey’s destination and travel traps in mind my outline for this Psalm is:

1.   (1- 2)   THE JOURNEYS DESTINATION IN SIGHT

  1.     (vs. 1)    The journeys destination
  2.     (vs. 2)     The journey’s protector named

2.     (3 – 6)   THE JOURNEY’S DANGERS IDENTIFIED

  1.     (3 – 4)     The danger of falling
  2.    (5 – 6)      The danger of exposure – (shelter from evil)

3.     (7 – 8)   THE JOURNEY’S PROTECTOR GUIDES US

  1.     (vs. 7)     God the great protector
  2.     (vs. 8)     God’s protection is comprehensive

So lets now have a close look at each of these three Journey preparations we must all do as we begin our journey with the Lord to heaven.

  1.   (1- 2)   THE JOURNEYS DESTINATION IN SIGHT
  1.     (vs. 1)    The journeys destination

We do not know the writer of Psalm 121 but he certainly knew both where he was headed on his Pilgrimage and who would help him on his great journey there. He sets his sights on the pilgrimage’s destination right at the start of his Psalm which he phrases in both the form of a question and using a Old Testament biblical poetic phrase, he writes in verse 1,

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?”

Some translation use the word “Hill” instead of “mountains” but both have the same image in mind.

To us, not being people who lived as Jews before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 this verse is not clear in what it is actually saying so let me take you into the mind of a pre- AD 70 Jewish mind and then you will see what this verse is actually telling us.

H.C Leopold points out in his commentary on the Psalm,

“When a native Israelite said that he looked for help to the mountains, that expression had a very specific meaning”.

Leopold goes on to explain that “Mountains” in the Old Testament had great spiritual significants and he catalogues many of the key events in the life of the Ancient Israelites that took place on mountain tops, like Abraham and the near sacrifice of his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22) or Moses receiving the law of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and of course the choosing and building of the Temple on Mount Zion (2 Samuel 24: 16 – 25 and 1 Chronicles 5 – 7). 

Many other great events in the Old Testament took place on mountains but “the mountains” I’m sure the writer of Psalm 121 had in mind was the mountains where Jerusalem dwelt and in that mountainous city where a number of hills, sometimes called mountains and the main hill there was called Zion which was a hill in the city that Solomon had build the Temple on and under the leadership of Ezra was re-built after its destructions by the Babylonians and the return of the Jews after their 70 year captivity in Babylon.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains”

Is the Pilgrim traveller looking up from a distance to the final destination of his Pilgrim journey, namely Jerusalem and the holy mountain of Zion where the Temple of God sat.

As I said in my introduction some see, “I lift my eyes to the mountains” as a way of saying I look up to the difficult journey ahead and this interpretation could have also been in the mind of the writer as he goes on to speak of the difficulties and dangers of this pilgrimage to God’s mountains and I believe God’s ultimate hill or mountain destination, Mount Zion and the Temple built on top of it.

The second phrase,

“Where does my help come from?”

And its answer in verse 2,

“My help comes from the Lord”

Only makes sense when we realise what that Old Testament city of Jerusalem and particularly The Temple meant to a Old Testament Jew. The Temple we learn from the Old Testament was, God’s dwelling place on earth with his people. This does not mean God was confined to a building on earth but rather it means that Jerusalem and the Temple had special significance to the nation of Israel, listen to part of Solomons prayer on the day the first Temple in Jerusalem was dedicated, 2 Chronicles 6: 18 – 21,

18 “But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19 Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 

20 May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 21 Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive”

The Temple was like a giant visual aid that told the people of Israel that God was real and through his covenant of love he made with them he was with them and would guide and help them.

This is why our writer of Psalm 121 can look to the Mountains of Jerusalem and the Temple, I believe and confidently say,

“My help comes from the Lord”

So as Christians what does this first verse of Psalm 121 say to us?

For us the answer lies in the person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ as he is God manifest in the flesh for us and all mankind not just the Jews, John 1: 14,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Jesus is God’s perfect visual aid for us in that we cannot see God as he is Spirit but we can see a man and the man named Jesus Christ was someone who revealed what God is really like as we read in Hebrews 2: 9,

 “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

Note the writer says that we see Jesus not just as a miracle worker and great teacher which he was but we see Jesus the God – Man who died for our sins on the cross so that,

“By the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

This is why Jesus can say in John 14: 6,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

So at the start of our spiritual journey we must look up from our sinful state and see Jesus and particularly Jesus who was lifted up on a cross to die for our sins so that a way back to God was possible and was in fact made.

Note finally that the way or road (as the word for road and way are the same in the original language of the New Testament) leads to the Father and where does God the Father dwell, Solomon indicates the answer to this in his Temple Dedication prayer in 2 Chronicles 6: 18,

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! “.

So as we begin our spiritual journey we have to set out sights on the final destination of our spiritual journey namely God in highest heaven.

2.       (vs. 2)    The journey’s protector named

Then in verse 2 our pilgrim setting out on his great journey to the Mountains that contain Jerusalem and The Temple where God’s dwelling with his people is symbolise names who will help him get there by his protection and guidance, he writes in verse 2,

“My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

The idea of God helping the pilgrim traveller is right through Psalm 121 expressed in various other ways, like three times, “watching over us”, vs. 3, 4, 5 and 8, “not letting us come to harm”, vs. 6 and “keeping us” from harm in vs. 7. 

Any journey we might take in life has inherent dangers and possible problems and we must be aware of this before we start out on any journey from the relative safety of our homes. Inexperienced travellers have got themselves into all sorts of problems and difficulties when they have set out on their journey ill prepared for that journey.

For our writer he knew his pilgrimage was going to be dangerous and in the next section he will elude to some of these dangers but in verse 2 he is confident that generally speaking he knows were his help will come from and that is,

“The Lord”

But not just any God or Lord but,

“The Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

The Maker of Heaven and earth is an expression describing the God of the bible popular in Psalms in this fifth book of Psalms as it is used in four other Psalms, 111: 15, 124: 8, 134: 3 and 146: 6. 

Isaiah makes it even clearer who this Lord is in his more detailed use of this expression in Isaiah 37: 16,

“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth”.

So if the God of the universe for he is its maker goes with us we have the most powerful helper we could possible come up with to help us as we journey to God in heaven.

Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and the power of his might in Ephesians 6: 10 especially as we battle against unbelievably powerful enemies he describes this way in verse 12 of that chapter,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

Over the years I have gone on many special short term mission trips with my brother in Christ Ted Penney and we have never gone out spiritually unprepared as we seek to take every step of the way in prayer to The Lord for protection and guidance and have enlisted up to 50 believers to back us in prayer to the Lord for our ministry and journeys overseas. 

Both Ted and I can testify to the many ways God has helped us and kept us safe from the many evil forces we have faced on these trips away in service to our Lord. 

Every day of our lives is in fact a spiritual journey if we now know the Lord and so we must look to the Lord the maker of Heaven and earth for help and guidance.

2.     (3 – 6)   THE JOURNEY’S DANGERS IDENTIFIED

  1.     (3 – 4)     The danger of falling

The writer of Psalm 121 then in his preparations for his Pilgrimage to the Mountains that contain Jerusalem and God’s Temple now specifies some of the dangers he will face on this great pilgrimage and how God will protect him against these dangers ahead.

The first danger is what I call the danger of falling for we read in verse 3,

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber”.

If this journey will take this pilgrim traveller up into mountains then the danger of slipping over and falling off a cliff is very real. H.C Leopold points out,

“Roads no more than trails, slipping and stumbling could be dangerous with rocks and stones strewn in the path”.

The Old Testament pilgrim then had to prepare for the dangerous journey ahead on these very primitive roads. On my last mission trip to Myanmar Ted and I went on a three day journey into The Chin Hills in Myanmar. We were not actually traveling on hills but mountains that were up to 6,000 ft high on very narrow rough roads that had no guard rail and one slip by the car we travelled in could mean certain death off cliffs that the bottom of could not be seen from the top. I prayed constantly on that trip for The Lord to keep us safe as we were thrown around up and down on the so called roads we travelled on.

If we take in the battle Paul tells us we are involved in (Ephesians 6: 12) every day on our spiritual journey to heaven then we should be in constant prayer and trust in the Lord for only in him Paul says we are strong, Ephesians 6: 10.

Note how God stops us from falling or slipping, it because,

“He watches over you”

And this watching over us is always there because he,

“Will not slumber”

I love the bible story of Elijah on Mount Carmel when he battles with the priests of Baal to see which God would light the sacrifice there. As the priests of Baal called out to their God, Baal and nothing happened, Elijah said this, jokingly to them in 1 Kings 18: 27,

“Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

The God of the bible according to Psalm 121 verse 3,

“Will not slumber”

As Elijah proved and the prophets of Baal saw when God sent fire from heaven to light the sacrifice and burn it up.

Then in verse 4 its says,

“Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.

In our spiritual journey that ends in heaven we too must realise there is the danger of falling or slipping spiritually but if we continue to trust in The Lord Jesus Christ we will not fall as he promises in John 10: 27 – 30,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

The unfortunate reality of the Christian journey is God does not go to sleep and will never leave us but we can go to sleep, spiritually and seek to leave him. Those who choose to fall away from God face a very terrible journey and I know for I did such a foolish thing in my mid teenage years.

However even if we fall to sleep (spiritually) and fall away from God, God, because he never slumbers or sleeps is always there for us to turn back to as James encourages us to do in James 4: 8 – 10,

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.

I have continually praised God since my late teens because I realised that God had not slumbered or slept when I was falling away from him and I turned back to God and he lifted me up and put me back on track to continue to travel on his road to heaven.

2.       (5 – 6)     The danger of exposure – (shelter from evil)

One of the basic needs of all human beings is adequate shelter and sadly their are many people living in our world today suffering from lack of adequate shelter even in cities and towns in my own so called wealthy country there are people living on the street. 

For anyone going on a long and difficult journey adequate shelter must be planned for. This is why my wife, who plans our many trips away spends a lot of time organising accomodation options for those trips. Ted and I always arrange our accommodation before we leave Australia so that we have adequate shelter on our short term mission trips.

The writer of Psalm 121, a pilgrim traveller up into the mountains of Israel to Jerusalem and the Temple there was concerned about the travel problem of inadequate shelter because in verse 5 he writes,

“The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand”.

In a land like Israel in the Near East the danger of sun stroke from poor shelter or no shelter was very real and important. However this pilgrim trusted in the Lord to watch over him when facing this very real danger. 

The writer of Psalm 121 describes his God, The Lord or Yahweh as his,

“Shade at your right hand”.

Allan Harman believes that the idea of God being his shade is a shortened version of the often used expression in the Old Testament and particularly the book of Psalms as,

“The shadow of your wings”. (Psalms 17: 8, 36: 7, 57: 1, 63: 7 and even Isaiah 51: 16.

Harman also quotes Isaiah 25: 4, which says,

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall”.

Here Isaiah is telling us according to my NIV study bible that,

“God is concerned for the poor and is a refuge for them. When we are disadvantaged or oppressed, we can turn to God for comfort and help”.

Of course in our spiritual journey to God in Heaven we are all spiritually poor and need God’s help to shelter us from the dark forces of evil we all face daily. As Paul declares in 2 Thessalonians 3: 3,

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one”.

I cannot leave speaking about verse 5 without making a comment or two on the phrase at the end of that verses that says,

“At your right hand”.

I have commented a number times in my Psalm talks about the right hand of God and basically the right hand is an expression is both a position of honour and also represents God’s power as usually our right hand is our strongest hand. 

A good example of this from the book of Psalms is Psalm 16: 8,

“ keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

So as we begin our spiritual journey to heaven we need to look to Jesus who has gone ahead of us trail blazing if your like all the way to the right hand of God from which he can shelter and protect us on our way to him as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 12: 2,

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

Then is verse 6 we have, what I found a tricky verse to come to a understanding of because it says,

“The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night”.

If our writer only said,

“The sun will not harm you by day”

Then we could say he is simply continuing to make the point that God will provide for us in the journey of life, shelter from the sun however he says also,

“Nor the moon by night”

But the moon offers no source of danger we need shelter from.

The three possible explanations for this are:

1.      The moon in ancient times was considered to be a factor in causing mental illness and we get our word “lunatic” from the           Latin name for the moon, luna.

2.    The moon appears in the night so shelter from the cold of night could be what the reader has in mind.

3.   The writer could simply being saying God offers shelter and protection day and night or always.

      This is the interpretation I favour as it fits in with the two verses that follow it.

So on our spiritual journey to heaven we need to realise that only God himself, the powerful one can protect us from the many dangers we can and do face. 

In fact so real are the dangers we face that sometimes God allows us to go through what seems very difficult times and I attended a bible study this where we studied the first eleven verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 1 and these two verses jumped out at me, verses 6 and 7,

‘If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort”.

Paul is telling the Corinthians in the opening verses of his second letter to them that if we hit some bad pot holes on the road in our journey these are for a purpose. That purpose is to equip us to help and comfort others suffering similar or the same things we have suffered and been helped by God to come through.

3.     (7 – 8)   THE JOURNEY’S PROTECTOR GUIDES US

  1.     (vs. 7)     God the great protector

The final two verses of Psalm 121 conclude our writers reflections on what he needs from God as he is about to commence his pilgrimage or journey to “the Mountains”, Jerusalem or Temple of God and his special presence there.

He has referred to two possible dangers, falling and lack of shade and we have seen that God is going to always be there to help him with these two traveling dangers. So now he speaks of God as his protector against harm or evil and how this protection is all embracing and constant.

Lets have a look first at verse 7 which speaks of how his God, the God who made heaven and earth, the God of the bible is his great protector,

“The Lord will keep you from all harm”

I have said that any journey away from the relative safety go home proposes possible dangers. At the time of writing this Psalm talk I had just returned from a four and a half month driving trip around Australia and we pulled our caravan to do this 19,000 kilometres. We faced the danger of a traffic accident, getting lost, being burgled and many other unforeseen dangers. Such is the reality of modern travel but a man named Andre Gide once said,

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.

The same could be said about my many short term mission trips overseas that I could for the sake of personal safety simply never venture out from home but trusting in the Lord we can have the confidence that,

“The Lord will keep you from all harm”.

The journey up to Jerusalem even in Jesus day was dangerous because of the possible attack by thieves and robbers as Jesus draws on in his famous parable of the Good Samaritan where a traveler is robbed and attacked on the Jericho road part of that Journey.

However Leopold suggests that the original Hebrew word for “harm” could be translated bad or even evil. Spiritually the biggest danger we face on our journey to God in heaven is evil and the evil one as Paul confidently told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: 18,

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen”.

Note how Paul says “evil attack”, if we choose to venture on God’s way or road to heaven we will face attack from evil and the evil one but if we continually trust in the Lord he will,

“Keep us from all harm”

The writer of Psalm 121 says this is possible because,

“He (The Lord) will watch over your life”.

The image of someone watching over us is like the watchman  on a ancient city wall watching out for the possible dangers that could come on a city or the sentry or guard on watch for a building or even person. God is the sentry or guard for our life who we learnt in verse 4, 

“Watches over Israel (God’s people)” 

And who,

“Will neither slumber nor sleep”.

Finally the same idea of constancy and comprehensiveness is picked up in the final verse of the Psalm,

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore”.

What a comfort these words would have been for the ancient Israelites setting out on their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Temple there. God was not just with them but he was watching over them both morning (coming) and night (going) or maybe even at the start of their journey and the end of it as well.

On our spiritual journey to God in heaven God is with us if our sights are set on him and if we but trust in him as both our protector and our guide. I close with the opening three verses of Hebrews 12, my original poem / song lyric inspired by this Psalm 121 and a closing prayer.

First then Hebrews 12: 1 – 3,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

I LOOK TO THE HILLLS

 (Based on Psalm 121 and the tune of “Banks of The Ohio”)

I look to the hills as I travel God’s way

Knowing that he’s with me to help me each day.

I look to the hills where I could fall

But the Lord helps me because he goes before.

 

I look to the hills the hills of life

And know the Lord help’s me in my strife.

I look to the hills God’s home above

Where one day I’ll enjoy his love.

 

I look to the hills and Lords my guide

For his always with me throughout my life.

I look to the hills and God’s by my side

For he never sleeps so in him abide.

 

I look to the hills where I need to be warm

But the Lord watches over me in life’s many storms.

I look to the hills where there is harm

But the Lord holds me in his loving arms.

 

I look to the hills where I’m traveling to

The glory of God that one day I’ll view.

I look to the hills and the Lord protects me

For the Lord is with me for eternity.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

Lord help me to always set my sights on your hills or mountains which is your eternal home as the final destination of living the life you have made for me. I know from your word that this way in life has been made by your Sons death on the cross and I thank you for that. Help me to stay on your path in life, keep me safe from the many dangers this way in life can produce but above all continue to equip me with your Holy Spirit so that I can serve others helping them join your way and helping them in continuing to follow it. In Jesus name I pray Amen.