PSALM 133 TALK   UNITED WE STAND IN THE BLESSINGS OF GOD

PSALM 133 TALK   UNITED WE STAND IN THE BLESSINGS OF GOD

(GETTING TO THE FINAL DESTINATION OF THE JOURNEY OF  FAITH   UNITED TOGETHER FOREVER)

 (The thirteenth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with being united before God and experiencing his many blessings together).

(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 133

 I usually don’t like jokes about heaven but this one is not only funny it has a very good point to it. The joke goes that a man dies and meets St Peter at the Pearly gates and Peter then takes the man into heaven to show him around. They first come across a large group of people with books in their hands with half of these people saying prayers that the other half respond to. The man being shown around heaven asks St Peter, “who are those people”? and St Peter says “they are our Anglican or Episcopalian Christians”.

St Peter and the man move on a bit further into heaven and they come across some people together playing instruments like tambourines and all kinds of brass musical instruments and the man asks St Peter, “who are those people”? and St Peter says, “They are our Salvation Army Christians”.

They go a bit further into heaven and come across people waving their arms in the air shouting out Hallelujah and Praise the Lord and the man asks St Peter, “who are those people?” and St Peter says, “they are our Pentecostal Christians”.

Finally, they travel on a little further into heaven and the man sees people walking around bumping into each other and other people but not acknowledging any of them and the man asks St Peter, “who are those people” and St Peter answers, “they are people who think that no one else is up here but them”.

As I said I usually don’t like jokes about heaven but the point of this joke is the way some Christians act and live in this life is that they alone know the truth about God and they alone will be going to heaven.

One of the joys of my life and ministry has been the fact that I have had the privilege of ministering and fellowshipping with Christians from all kinds of churches and denominations and on my recent short- term mission trip to Myanmar I taught the message of the Psalms to people in churches and Bible Colleges in Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren and even a Seven Day Adventist Bible College. In all of these different Churches and Bible Colleges I experienced the blessing God gives to those who gather together united in The Lord Jesus Christ and his inspiring word to us.

I am often called “Brother Jim” and I have grown to like this title and often refer to and sing Richard Gillard song “The Servant Song” and the first verse that song says this,

“Brother, let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too”.

 Psalm 133 is short Psalm like a number of the Songs of Ascent Psalms but it might be short but it is certainly very beautiful and its central theme is “The unity of God’s People”. The Hebrew title says that David wrote it probably in his early reign when the unity of his people was extremely important as his country for the first few years of his reign as king did not recognise him as king only his tribe in the south of Israel, Judah recognised him as king. Then in 2 Samuel 5: 1 – 5 David is recognised even by the people of Israel in the North as the king of a united Israel.

Only David son Solomon would reign over both South and North Israel and experience fully the unity that Psalm 133 speaks of. However, as the people who did not live in Jerusalem travelled up to Jerusalem and the Temple there they would have travelled and joined together in Jerusalem as one Nation or in unity as this song encourages them to. I’m sure in those times of unity they would have experienced the blessing God promises us if we live in unity with other fellow believers.

My joke about haven is nothing more than a joke as all of our so called denominational differences will not exist in heaven and no one will be there bumping into people and not knowing they are there for all our often-petty differences will be a thing of the past in heaven. In heaven, we will be one people standing before the Lord united in our common love for the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him to earth to die for our sins on the cross that actually made it possible for all of us to be there.

My challenge to all bible believing Christians is if unity is what we will experience in heaven why don’t we experience it here on earth as we are all journeying to heaven by faith like the ancient Jews did when they journeyed together to Jerusalem and the Temple there?

Just as Paul said to the Corinthians who themselves lost this sense of unity even in the days of the early church in 1 Corinthians 1: 10,

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought”.

 With this theme of Christian unity in mind then my outline for this Psalm is:

  1. (vs. 1) HOW GOOD IS UNITY
  1. (vs. 2) HOW PRECIOUS IS UNITY
  1. (vs. 3a) HOW FAR REACHING AND REFRESHING IS UNITY
  1. (vs. 3b) HOW BLESSED ARE WE UNITED

 We will now look at Psalm 133 with these four sections in mind:

  1. (vs. 1) HOW GOOD IS UNITY

The first verse of this Psalm is dedicated to the benefits of the unity of God’s people and it reads like this,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”.

 David apparently according to commentators who know Hebrew say that his opening Hebrew word of this Psalm literally means “Behold” or “Pay attention” which means David is saying what I am about to say is very important.

So, what is David actually saying to his people in this opening verse?

Allan Harman sums the over- all meaning of what David is saying with these words,

“Unity in the family is extolled as a very precious thing”.

 I first experienced this wider sense of unity with Christians when I went to an interdenominational Bible College in my early twenties. Many of my Anglican friends asked me why I was not going to The Anglican Theological College and my answer was that I wanted to get a broader understanding of the bible and along with that have the precious experience of fellowshipping with Christians from a variety of churches.

Through my wonderful experiences of my three years of theological training at an interdenominational Bible College I became life time friends with men and women from Baptist, Brethren and Reformed churches and they helped shape me into a person who loves to work in unity with Christians from all kinds of denominational backgrounds.

Again, the actual Hebrew word for “God’s people” in this verse actually literally means “brothers” and this could mean both direct family associations but also distant family relationships as ancient Hebrews all would have had.

For us as Christians many verses in the New Testament speak of us as belonging to God’s family and we too are all brothers and sisters in Christ as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 13: 1,

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters”.

 And as John teaches in his first letter chapter 3 verses 1 and 2 that when we come to Christ by faith we are now children of God,

“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”.

\And Paul says we are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters in Christ through adoption in Ephesians 1: 5,

“He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”.

 So, what’s so good about unity in the family of God according to the first verse of Psalm 133?

David says that unity is both”

  1. Good
  2. Pleasant

So, let me explain what these two words or terms mean:

  1. Good

The word good in Hebrew Ray Fowler points out means something like “Excellent” or “Agreeable” or “Beneficial”.

When Christians act together or work together in unity they are presenting to the world the very nature of God which is love as Jesus told his disciples in this in John 13: 34 – 35,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So, Jesus wants us as his followers to be characterised by love and love can only be seen when we as Christians work together and appear to be working together in unity.

After my time at Bible College I worked as a church Youth worker and a few years after Bible College when I worked as a Church Youth Worker I experienced another wonderful experience of Christian unity when I worked with many Christians from many different denominations working together at the Billy Graham Crusade in my home city of Sydney Australia.

I think one of the reasons these amazing crusades where so effective was God was able to use them to show non – believers how Christians do both love one another and the world. It is sad that we only have a few times when we as Christians work together in unity for when we do it is very good or beneficial.

  1. Pleasant

David not only says unity is good or beneficial but it is pleasant which could also be translated as “Precious” and David Guzik writes,

“It is pleasant because it makes life together as God’s people so much more enjoyable than seasons when constant bickering and conflict dominate”.

 I’m sure we have all experienced Christians bickering and conflict and I remember at our church years ago two families had a nasty dispute over discipline. It seems one mother decided to speak strongly to a miss behaving boy in another family and the other boy’s mother overheard the mothers angry rage. Then both sets of parents bickered opening after church about this for a number of weeks. This was a very unpleasant thing to witness and it was very upsetting for our entire congregation. Our minister eventually was able to privately settle this dispute between these two sets of adults.,

 This is an illustration of the opposite experience David is speaking about in this verse for disunity is very unpleasant and is a disappointingly negative and unhelpful experience.

Why does the Christian church sometimes suffer from disunity?

The answer for me comes from an older Christian writer and theologian named Michael Griffiths who I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago at a large Christian conference. Michael wrote a book about the church called “The Cinderella with Amnesia” and in that book Michael advocated that there are two ways of seeing the church.

The first way is seeing the church as a museum of perfect specimens or the church is a group of righteous perfect people that meet together to worship a righteous perfect God.

The second is that the church is a hospital for sinners.

If you think the church is full of righteous people or people who think they are righteous and perfect then you will be sadly disappointed. For when some kind of conflict occurs in your church like we had years ago between those two Christian families then your faith in God and particularly your church could be shattered.

However, I agree with Michael Griffiths the church is not a museum of perfect specimens but a Hospital for sinners and sadly Christians can fall into sin both inside the church and out of it as well. The bumper sticker is correct, “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven”.

In Romans 14 Paul deals with the problem of disunity in the Roman church. In Paul’s time its seems Christians had disputes over what should or should not eaten and what sacred days should have observed or not observed but Paul gives us advice on how we can maintain unity in the church when we have differences of opinion on non-essential Gospel issues.

Paul starts this advice with these words in Romans 14: 1,

“Accept the one whose faith is weak without quarrelling over disputable matters”.

 In verse 13 Paul lays down this charge which I find very helpful when I encounter other Christians who disagree with me and want to argue with me about it,

“Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put stumbling block or obstacles in the way of a brother or sister”.

 When I encounter someone with a different theological point of view than me who wants to have an argument with me about it I try and put my point forward to this brother or sister in Christ in a loving way but then I refuse to carry on the argument seeking to respect the opinion of my fellow brother or sister in an attempt to do what Paul says we should always seek to do in verse 19 of Romans 14,

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification”.

 The fact is I agree with David in Psalm 133 when he says,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”.

Give me unity any day and for the sake of it and its benefits I will continue to seek to avoid arguing with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ even if I think I am right and they are wrong.

2   (vs. 2)  HOW PRECIOUS IS UNITY

David then gives us two Old Testament vivid images of what unity is like and the first of these two images has the point of the preciousness of the experience of unity. David writes in verse 2,

“It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe”.

 Christian unity is not only good and pleasant it is also precious and this Old Testament image speaks volumes of that. To get the full impact of this Old Testament image or illustration I must explain a few things first.

The image deals with the anointing of oil which Tremper Longman III explains was used to,

“Anoint priests, kings and occasionally prophets to their office”.

 Longman goes on to explain that the oil,

“Represents the gift of God’s Spirit that would enable these important officials to exercise responsibilities”.

Ray Fowler cleverly pin- points the message of the illustration being the preciousness of unity which runs all through the way this image is presented. Let me take up Ray’s theory to open up the meaning of this image.

  1. The Oil itself is precious

The image is described as,

Precious oil”

 Oil particularly the special oil used in the anointing of Aaron (Exodus 30: 22 – 25) would have been both expensive and the products to make it rare to get a hold of. So, it is with unity among God’s people it is hard to achieve and therefore precious when you experience it.

I spoke earlier of the dispute between two families at my church years ago and how that dispute created a feeling of disunity. Once that dispute was resolved and the bickering stopped the feeling of unity again came back into our church and that was a very precious feeling. So, unity is precious and we all should work hard and prayerfully for it to be a living reality in our churches and within the wider Christian community today.

  1. It is precious oil spread on the head

This would have been a vivid aspect to this illustration of preciousness as the custom even in the time of Christ was that when you visited someone’s house you helped them wash their feet and for a special guest you would refresh your visitors head with oil.

We should be willing to anoint one another’s head with oil which is the image of humble service to one another because God has anointed our head with oil as Psalm 23: 5 says,

 “You (God) anoint my head with oil”

 This is an Old Testament image of God blessing us like a person anointing a special guest with expensive precious oil.

So, to anoint one another with oil is like Jesus washing the disciple’s feet an act of humble service to anyone and everyone but especially to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. So, if we fail to unite in service with our fellow brothers and sisters maybe our problem is that we lack both humility and the willingness to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As Paul says in Colossians 3: 13 – 14,

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”.

Unity is precious then like the act of anointing the head of a special guest to the home of an ancient Hebrew person.

  1. Running down on the beard

This is running down of the oil is said twice I think for emphasis and Ray Fowler believes this part of the image or illustration is speaking of,

“God’s blessings flow down to us from heaven”.

 Fowler then quotes James 1: 17,

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”.

 Fowler adds,

“Living together in unity is a gift to be received from God”.

 If Christian unity is a gift from God then it is precious and we should thank God for it when we experience it. I thank God continually for my on- going opportunities for experiencing and promoting Christian unity.

  1. Down to the collar of his robe

This precious oil not only is poured on the head of the high priest but it runs down his beard and flows onto the top of his garments and David Guzik explains the significance of this when he writes,

“What abundant blessings unity is! It is like oil poured out so richly that it flows from head, to the beard, down to the very edge of the priest’s garments”.

 Unity among fellow Christians is very precious and it should flow down from God on to us and then out to each other and then on and on to the world at large.

Peter gives us the formula for how the church can experience the preciousness of Christian unity, the church working as one in 1 Peter 4: 8 – 11,

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”.

 Note how Peter in this reference speaks of the gifts and grace coming from God but being shared out to others not kept selfishly for oneself.

  1. (vs. 3a) HOW FAR REACHING AND REFRESHING IS UNITY

The second image or illustration of the effects of God’s people experiencing unity is at the start of verse 3 which simply says,

“It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion”.

Like the first image or illustration of the effects of Christian unity this second one does not make sense to us until we realise some very real Old Testament realities that people living in ancient Israel would have known.

This verse uses two mountains in its illustration of the effects of unity of God’s people and both mountains are miles apart. Mount Hermon is in the very North of ancient Israel now on the border of Lebanon and Syria. While Mount Zion is in the southern region of ancient Israel in of course Jerusalem. Mount Hermon is a high snow-capped maintain with lots of dew or rain water while Mount Zion is a smaller dryer mountain to the south.

This means dew falling on Mount Hermon then falling on Mount Zion is impossible and is therefore an image meaning something. That something is I think two things:

  1. The far- reaching nature of unity
  2. The refreshing nature of unity

Let me explain:

  1. The far – reaching nature of unity

With the two mountains, so far apart in this image the good effects of unity in God’s family, the church is therefore pictured as being far- reaching as Ray Fowler again so well explains,

“The fact that Hermon and Zion are united by the dew in this image also reminds us that in the church we are all one. It is a unity of the great and small, the high and the low, the north and south brought together, it is unity that crosses all human boundaries and divisions”.

 I have been speaking about in this Psalm talk some of my own experiences of Christian unity and another one that stands out for me is the first time I attended The Christian Conference Centre at Katoomba a couple of hours drive west of Sydney and near where I currently live. As you walk into the very large auditorium there you see directly in front of you over the elevated stage where the speaker stands to preach a sign that reads, “All One in Christ”.

This sign really struck me in a very inspirational way the first time I saw it as I was there with many of my Bible College friends who came from many different denominational backgrounds yet we were all working together ministering to many young people and that feeling of unity in Christ was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

That sign comes from Pauls letter to the Galatians, in chapter 3: 28,

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. 

  1. The refreshing nature of unity

The second aspect of this image is its obvious refreshing nature of the image particularly for someone in or thinking of Mount Zion as that mountain was not only smaller than Mount Hermon but dryer as well. David Guzik explains this aspect of the image of unity well when he writes,

“It is like the rich dew that covers Mount Hermon, making it green and moist. It is an almost complete contrast to the dry wilderness found in other parts of Israel. Unity among God’s people makes life thriving and healthy”.

When we as Christians move out of our holy huddles and into the wider world we can have such an impact. I have visited churches all over the world and when I have had the privilege of sharing God’s word and joining in the fellowship with these sometimes-small church gatherings the refreshing nature of Christian unity is so wonderful.

Not too long ago my wife and I went on a road trip around Australia for over four months and every Sunday while we were away we went to church in the towns we were visiting. A lot of those towns were in remote dry and not so populated parts of my country Australia and many times members of the churches we visited spoke of how refreshing and up – lighting it was when Christians like us visited and worshipped with them. We were like the dew of Mount Hermon falling on dry Mount Zion to those Christian people living in dry remote parts of my country.

As Paul advices, the Philippians in Philippians 2: 1 – 4, which reveals how we should work on Christian unity with loving refreshing service,

“Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”.

       4.  (vs. 3b) HOW BLESSED ARE WE UNITED

The final words of David’s little song on the value and impact of unity in the family of God sums up all he has been saying about unity,

“For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore”.

 I told the joke in my introduction about all the different types of Christians in heaven and how one group thought that non- one else was up there but them. This is a joke as the pictures of heaven particularly in the book of Revelations are of a great united oneness that knows no earthly divisions like denominations. Like the scene of heaven described in Revelation 7: 9 – 10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:“Salvation belongs to our God,who sits on the throne,and to the Lamb.”

 Note how this picture of heaven sees us united as one because it speaks of the vast multitude coming from every nation, tribe and language but speaking as one in praise of our salvation found only in God and the lamb which in the book of Revelation is name for The Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins on the cross.

David says that unity bestows blessing on us and this blessing and the unity that produces it is forevermore. David Guzik quotes here James 1 : 9 – 10,

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower”.

 He then writes,

 “In other word’s it doesn’t matter how high or low you are in the eyes of the world. In Christ we are one, and we have a special unity through Christ and the Holy Spirit”.

 One of the greatest causes of disunity in the church is what I call classism or snobbery when some people think they are better than others and look down on them causing a breakdown in unity in the Church. The reality is that in heaven there is no class or looking down on others.

The disciple themselves got heaven wrong when they asked Jesus about being seated higher in heaven than others in Mathew 18 and Jesus reply is quite radical, Matthew 18: 2 – 5,

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”.

 The Christian Gospel started to radically change society in the first century with slaves coming to Christ in big numbers and in the church and they were generally accepted as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Gospel radically started to change the status of women which continues to this day. So, it is in the Christian Gospel message we find our grounds for common unity.

Like the ancient Jews travelling to Jerusalem and the Temple their unity and the oneness of being part of God’s family was good, pleasant, precious, far reaching and refreshing so it is for us travelling to heaven by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are eternally blessed when we stand and walk together to God in heaven. I close with one more reference on Christian Unity, Romans 6: 5,

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his”.

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

UNITE US ALL IN-GOD’S LOVE

(Based on Psalm 133 and the tune of “The Old Rugged Cross)

 

How beautiful it is to live in peace

With those who love and serve the Lord

For our unity comes through the grace of God

Which transforms us by God’s life- giving word.

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

How precious is the unity we share

In the God who sent his Son down to earth.

It’s like the oil of God’s holy Spirit’s power

Who comes in to give us Spiritual rebirth

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

How far reaching is the unity we share

In the undeserved love of the Lord

For we can go to the end of the world and find

A love for God’s wonderful word.

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

For united we stand in the love of the Lord

With our brothers and sisters, we will come

To the shores of a place where we’ll live for evermore

With God and our Saviour his Son.

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

We look to you Father up above to unite us all in your great love. When we are tempted to bicker and fight help us by your Holy Spirit to seek peace and love. When we see a brother or sister in Christ going the wrong way in life help us to lovingly guide them back to walking your way with love and care for them. When we feel disappointment, and hurt caused by a fellow Christian help us to reach out with love and forgiveness. So, may we all who love your word and your Son, The Lord Jesus Christ walk together united in our love for you to the shores of your eternal home where we will be together united forevermore. In Jesus name we pray this, Amen.

 

 

 

 

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PSALM 132 TALK   GOD’S ETERNAL DWELLING PLACE OF REST

PSALM 132 TALK   GOD’S ETERNAL DWELLING PLACE OF REST

         (GETTING TO THE FINAL DESTINATION OF THE JOURNEY OF FAITH)

 (The thirteenth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with the final destination of the Christian journey Zion God’s eternal dwelling place).

(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 132

 One of my first holidays overseas was in Fiji a beautiful set of Islands in the south Pacific. For the first week, we went to a large and busy resort on the main island but on the second week of our holiday we went to a small private Island actually owned and run by Australians. This tuned out to be my first experience of the kind of holiday where you sit around a pool with a cool drink and read a book and simply relax.

For the first couple of days I loved the rest and relaxation but soon I wanted to get up and do something. I even walked around the Island, which only took an hour or so and one day we went on a small boat trip to an uninhabited Island where we swam in super clear water and had a delicious BBQ on the beautiful scenic beach.

So, what is your idea of resting?

Psalm 132 deals with the twin ideas of resting and dwelling and speaks of David’s passionate desire to build God a house or Temple on earth a house or significant dwelling to place the Ark of the covenant in which is the symbol of God’s dwelling with his people on earth.

Then it deals with taking the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem and placed in what would have been only a large Tent called the Tabernacle. The Ark had been taken in battle by the Philistines who sought to give it back because it caused so many problems for anyone who had it in their town. Before David eventually got it successfully up to Jerusalem it spent a number of years in a place Psalm 132 calls “the fields of Jaar” which is another name for a place in ancient Israel called Kirjath – jearim.

The last part of the Psalm speaks of how God promises David a house instead of him building a house for him and God’s house for David is an eternal dynasty from which God will bring to earth The Lord Jesus Christ who will make the way for all who trust and obey in him to enter God’s eternal dwelling or resting place.

God’s eternal dwelling or resting place will be far superior to any earthly resting place like an exotic Island paradise like Fiji as when we are in it that resting place according to verse 16b,

“Her faithful people will ever sing for joy”

 This Psalm seems to be a Psalm written early in reign of the Davidic kings and could have been written by David’s Son Solomon or someone else in Solomon’s time as verses 8 – 10 are part of a direct quote from Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple he built in Jerusalem recorded in 2 Chronicles 6: 41 – 42.

So far as how it fits into a “Song of Ascent” is I believe in its subject matter about the final destination of the ancient pilgrim journeys namely Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Temple there.

For us as Christians on the great journey of faith the ultimate destination is the eternal heavenly Zion or dwelling and resting place of God where we will find both eternal dwelling and rest. We will get there by trusting and obeying throughout our life the greater Son of David The Lord Jesus Christ who is the king of kings and Lord or Lords and our saviour.

With the theme of God’s dwelling place of rest in mind then my outline for this Psalm is:

  1. (1 – 10)DAVID’S DESIRE TO BUILD GOD’S DWELLING PLACE OF REST ON EARTH

 

  1. 1. (1 – 5)David’s desire to build God’s house or dwelling place on earth
  1. (6 – 10) Taking the ark of the covenant to God’s dwelling place

 

  1. (10 – 12)GOD PROMISE OF AN ETERNAL HOUSE FOR DAVID

1.  (11 & 12b) God promises to establish an eternal house for David

  1. (vs. 12a) A house or dynasty conditional on obedience to God

 

      3.  (13 – 18)   GOD’S CHOOSES ZION AS HIS DWELLING PLACE OF REST

 

  1. (13 – 16)God chooses Zion as his dwelling place
  2. (17 – 18)God promise of a future greater king and dwelling place of rest

Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm using these headings,

  1. (1 – 10)DAVID’S DESIRE TO BUILD GOD’S DWELLING PLACE OF REST ON EARTH
  1. (1 – 5)David’s desire to build God’s house or dwelling place on earth

 To understand what these opening verses are really telling us I need to explain the historical events that led to them being written. David had become king of Israel and started to establish the nearly conquered mountain top city of Jerusalem as the capitol of the nation of Israel he now ruled.

Jerusalem story in the bible goes back as far as Abraham who met its king in his day called Melchizedek a mysterious character called in Genesis 14: 18, a priest of the God most high. Jerusalem was called Salem at that time and Salem means, “King of Peace”.

Then in Genesis 22 we have the story of Abraham taking his Son to Mount Moriah which is the old name for the hill in Jerusalem that became mount Zion. God stops Abraham at the last minute and provides a lamb for sacrifice.

Then we come to David’s time David conquered Jerusalem by defeating the Jebusites in 1052 BC/BCE (1 Chronicles 11:4-9).

David then goes on a massive building project which includes building himself a palace (2 Samuel 5: 9 – 12) and not long after this moves the neglected Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem. The Ark of the covenant we will see represented the spiritual reality of God dwelling with his people Israel through his covenant of love an agreement between God and his chosen people Israel.

The Ark of the Covenant had been on the move, not resting for a long time but now it finally came to rest in God’s chosen place, Jerusalem on God’s chosen place of sacrifice, Mount Zion which we will see later was selected by God as the place of sacrifice in Abrahams day but also in David and Solomon’s day as well.

So, David now has the Ark of the covenant in what seems a temporary dwelling, the tent or Tabernacle with its inner sacred and holy place called The Holly of Hollies which is where the Ark of the covenant rests.

David argues that I live in a palace but God’s dwelling place is a tent so I want to build God a great house, dwelling place or Temple to house God’s special Ark of the Covenant.

This leads to our first verse of Psalm 132 that says,

“Lord, remember David and all his self-denial”.

 So, we can see these words are spoken after David’s time as the verse speaks of “remembering” David and as I said in the introduction this could have been written by Solomon or someone else around that time.

But what does the writer want God to remember?

This question is partially answered by what we read at the start of verse 2,

“He swore an oath to the Lord”

 An oath it seems concerning the building of a house, dwelling place, Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem as verse 5 says,

“Till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob”.

 This “self-denial” which has been also translated as hardships Allan Harman proposes were inward troubles as he writes in his commentary,

“David’s troubles or hardships endured were not outward ones but rather the inward of distress that the ark of the covenant was separated and that the ark did not have a permeant resting place”.

 We get a glimpse of this inner troubles of David from the words of 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 2,

“After the king was settled in his place and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

 So, David was inwardly troubled that his God who he calls, “The Mighty One of Jacob” a name for God meaning “Warrior” used originally in Genesis 49: 24 is living in a tent while he lives in a luxurious palace.

This comes out even more in the words that our writer attributes to David as his spoken oath concerning this in verses 3 and 5,

“I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my sleep or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob”.

 These words show the depths of David’s feelings for the building of God’s house or dwelling the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant that David was able with the Lords help bring up and into Jerusalem.

The question David should have answered first was,

Does God want a house on earth or a dwelling to make his presence known to mankind?

The answer to this is two- fold and the first part of God’s answer to this question comes from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament:

  1. Isaiah 66: 1 – 2,

Isaiah makes it clear that God lives in heaven and the earth is like the footstool of his throne,

“This is what the Lord says:“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord”.

 Stephen refers to this reference from Isaiah in his speech before his stoning with these words in Acts 7: 48,

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”.

 I have travelled through Europe a couple times now and seen many of its so called magnificent cathedrals and none of them have made me feel close to God and in fact for me they have left me cold and disappointed when I think of the money I believe was wasted years ago on such massive buildings.

Not that we don’t need fine church buildings but they should be practical, attractive and functional buildings that lend themselves to places to worship and service of the members of those churches and the communities they exist in.

The church I currently attend has just opened a very attractive and functional extension to what I call its multipurpose building and we are praying that it will be used to extend the kingdom of God in the community we live in.

2. John 1: 14,

The New Testament presents clearly that even though God does not dwell in buildings made by men he chose to dwell in the body of a human being to both reveal himself to us and use that indwelling as a means to save us and bring us to his heavenly home.

As John says in verse 14 of the first chapter of his Gospel,

“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”.

 The Greek word for dwelling in this verse could be translated, “pitched his tent” and other verses in this Gospel of John like 14: 6 speak of how Jesus, the Son of God become flesh and made a way back to the Father in heaven through his death and resurrection.

  1. (6 – 10)Taking the ark of the covenant to God’s dwelling place

 We will learn soon in this Psalm that David was not allowed by God to build the house for the Ark of the Covenant but David was led by God to bring that sacred object up and into Jerusalem to be placed in a large tent called The Tabernacle.

Verses 6 – 9 speak of this very event and I have broken this part of the first section down into three smaller parts:

  1. The transporting of the ark (vs. 6)
  2. The call to worship (vs’s 7, 8)
  3. The request for blessing of the worshippers (vs. 9)

Let me comment on each of these three smaller parts of this second section of this Psalm:

  1. The transporting of the ark (vs. 6)

This verse contains the names of two significant Old Testament places, “Ephrathah” another name for David’s home town Bethlehem and “Fields of Jaar” another name for the place the Ark of the Covenant was kept for a number of Years in the house of a man Abinadab who lived in Kiriath Jearim (1 Chronicles 13: 5).

Verse 6 then says,

“We heard it from Ephrathah we came upon it in the fields of Jaar”.

 My reading of 1 Chronicles 13 which deals with how David first tried, unsuccessfully to move the Ark of the Covenant up into Jerusalem suggests to me that David sought to rally the people together to bring the Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem which is how verse 6 of this Psalm reads as well.

Allan Harman sees verses 6 – 9 as a call to worship and I see it as a call to worship centred on moving the Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem. This call to worship starts in David’s home town Bethlehem or Ephathah right through the land to the very place the Ark of the Covenant was then resting.

2.  The call to worship (vs’s 7, 8)

This call to worship centred on moving the Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem becomes much clearer in verses 7 and 8 that says,

“Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool, saying, Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might”.

 We need to understand the Old Testament worship mind set of ancient Israelites to understand these two verses correctly.

In the time of Moses, the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness had at the centre of their worship The Tabernacle which was a large movable tent that contained the relatively small gold-plated box called The Ark of the Covenant.

Numbers 10: 35 tells us what Moses and I believe the people said whenever they packed-up the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant to set off to the next place God led them to,

 ‘Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you”.

 So, David is speaking like Moses about what he hopes will be the final journey of The Ark of the Covenant to its final resting place in Jerusalem, God’s designated place for his Tabernacle and under Solomon, The Temple and of course within these structures a small curtained off room called. The Holy of Hollies”.

I remember visiting a Medieval church somewhere in Europe which had a closed off front area you could only see into called the holy Sanctuary where only the priest entered to consecrate the bread and wine for communion. This idea falsely comes from the Old Testament Holy of Hollies which was broken down by Jesus death for our sins on the cross.

In the Gospel of Mark 15: 38 we read these words about what happened in the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross,

“The curtain of the Temple was torn in two from the top to bottom”.

 The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that the concept of a Holy of Hollies for Christians has been superseded by the death of Jesus and his blood spilt there with these words in Hebrews 10: 19 – 22,

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water”.

 However, in David’s time worship was regulated through The Tabernacle and later Temple with regular on- going sacrifices directed to the Ark of the Covenant also known in the Old Testament as, God’s “footstool”.

 This Ark of the Covenant was then the symbol of God dwelling and being with his people and in all of the battles in the wilderness wanderings it went before the army of Israel leading them to victory thus the Ark of the Covenant at the end of verse 8 is called,

“The Ark of your might”

 These verses are extremely significant in the context of the Songs of Ascent being songs sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple there. They were answering David’s call to worship coming from all parts of Israel to worship in the Temple of Jerusalem, the resting or dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant the representation of God with his people helping them in all sorts of ways including victory over their enemies.

3.  The request for blessing of the worshippers (vs. 9)

The Psalm writer then asks God to bless these Old Testament worshippers with these words,

“May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy”.

 David Guzik explains the reference to the priests being clothed in God’s righteousness with these words which he quotes from a famous commentator known as Alexander Maclaren,

“The pure vestments of the priests were symbols of stainless character, befitting the ministers of a holy God. The psalmist prays that the symbol may truly represent the inner reality”.

 I have never been impressed by elaborate liturgical clothing and one day many years ago a high Church of England friend of mine took me to a church service at his parish church. After the service, he asked me what I thought of their way of worshipping God and my frank reply was that it was, “a lot of pomp and ceremony with little substance”. His reply really shocked me for he said, “Well you like to worship God in spirit an in truth but some of us like to worship God with smell and colour”.

 By the way “smell” referred to all the incense they threw around that day. Maybe wearing vestments and throwing incense around has a place but the danger in this kind of worship might be the avoidance of Jesus own definition of true worship found in John 4: 24,

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth”.

 In verse 9 of our Psalm 132 the writer here is calling for the priests to see themselves as not clothed in Old Testament vestments, which they would have been but more clothed in a right attitude of righteousness.

For the general worshippers then he wants God to help them to,

“Sing for joy”

Albert Barnes explains these words this way,

“The fact that there is a God, and such a God, and that this God is ours – that we may serve him, glorify him – is suited to fill the mind with joy”.

 This reminds me of Paul’s words in Colossians 3: 16 – 17,

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”.

 I’m sure the ancient Hebrews who travelled to Jerusalem and the Temple there did lots of singing and these songs and of course that means this song they would have sung with great joy and once there we will see God helped them make their worship even more joyful.

So, it is with us on the Christian journey to God’s heavenly dwelling or resting place we should worship with great joy and that joyful worship will be even greater when we finally get to heaven where we will join with other believers and the angels in endless praise and joy. 

    2.  (11 – 12)GOD PROMISE OF AN ETERNAL HOUSE FOR DAVID

  1. (11 and 12b)God promises to establish an eternal house for David

Our writer of this Psalm in the first half of this Psalm asked that God remember David’s deep and totally committed desire to build a house or dwelling place for his God in Jerusalem which we have learnt also meant a house or dwelling place for The Ark of the Covenant. This request gets another go with the words of verse 10,

“For the sake of your servant David do not reject your anointed one”.

This prayer request did not go unheard by the Lord but his answer would have been a surprise to both David and his people for it was not a house for God but a house for David and that house was an eternal dynasty of kings.

Verses 11 reads like this,

“The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke; “One of your descendants I will place on your throne”.

 But more than a one generation succession is promised here as verse 12b says,

“Then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever”.

 I will deal with the first part of this verse 12 separately soon but for now I want to point out that David swore an oath to God to build him a house or dwelling in Jerusalem and God answered that desire and prayer of David with a promise of an eternal house or dynasty through his direct descendants.

This is a reference to the words God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7: 11b – 13,

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever”.

 Note how God uses the description of this eternal kingdom as “a house” as the verses before this in 2 Samuel 7 are a response to David’s deep desire and commitment to build a house for God which of course is technically known as a Temple. Listen to what God said about an earthly home built for him in 2 Samuel 7: 5 – 7,

“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,

Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

 God seems to be saying he doesn’t want a house built for him on earth after all we learnt earlier form Isaiah 66: 1, 2 that,

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord”.

 No, God’s intentions for his people is a land or a place for them to dwell in and the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol that God was with his people leading them, fighting for them and generally being with them in a spiritual way not a literal way like some Temple building and that is what God says through the prophet Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7: 8 – 11a,

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 

10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies”.

 So, God swore an oath to David according to verse 11 of Psalm 132 and I believe this oath is expressed in the prophet Nathans words we have just looked at and we will see that in another surprising way God kept his oath to David of an eternal home or dynasty in that one of David’s great descendants was The Lord Jesus Christ and he is the inheritor of David’s eternal kingdom as the Angel tells Mary in Luke 1: 30 – 33,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

So, on our journey to God in heaven we must keep our focus on The Lord Jesus Christ and not earthly things like great buildings or ornate religious ceremonies or anything that detracts us from following him to our real eternal home, dwelling or resting place, God’s heavenly eternal home.

  1. (vs. 12a)A house or dynasty conditional on obedience to God

I have made the opening statements of verse 12 a separate section because they lay down God’s conditions for the promise of an eternal Kingdom for David’s descendants and they are expressed in these words,

“If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them”.

 The conditions or requirements for God’s promise are the same for Israel being God’s chosen people and we know from the rest of the bible both David’s descendants and their people generally failed to keep God’s conditions of the covenant of obedience to his statutes and laws.

Even in the example of David’s son Solomon we see a reign of two halves. Solomon starts out trusting and obeying God and does so throughout the early part of his reign with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem and its wonderful God centred dedication. However, as Solomon’s rule goes on he marries many foreign wives and they both lead Solomon and his people away from trusting in and obeying the God of the Bible.

At the end of Solomon’s life, we read this assessment and condemnation of his life and reign by God himself in 1 Kings 11: 9 – 13,

“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.”

 The United Kingdom of Israel only lasts through David and Solomon’s rule and Solomon’s son Rehoboam loses most of his Kingdom in a revolt by Jeroboam and he is only King of the tribe of Judah to the south centred in Jerusalem.

Worse comes to pass many centuries later when the Babylonians conquer Judah and sack Jerusalem destroying its walls and Temple and even worse killing the last of the kings in the line of David who had not kept the covenant of God and not obeyed his laws. It seems then that God’s promise of and eternal kingdom to David is lost. However, we learnt from the Angels words to Mary that a great descendant of David did inherit and establish God’s eternal home or dynasty as we read in Luke 1: 30 – 33,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end”.

 Jesus had to come for the Old Covenant had to be superseded by a new and greater one for the Old Testament story of Israel revealed that mankind is incapable of keeping God’s law to be saved so God had to step in and save us through the sending of his Son as Paul states clearly in Romans 5: 6 – 8,

“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”.

 This death on the cross for our sins is the basis of this New Covenant a better way for us to come to God’s eternal home or dwelling place as the writer to the Hebrews points out in Hebrews 9: 11 – 15,

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

 So, as we walk the way to heaven we must realise that this way was made only by the spilt blood of Jesus who through his death cleared the way to God for us to walk. Jesus then is the great descendant of David that The Old Testament called “The Messiah” which literally means “Anointed One” who has established the throne of David for ever and ever, an eternal throne that sits in very centre of God’s eternal home, dwelling or resting place known as heaven. 

    3.  (13 – 18)   GOD’S CHOOSES ZION AS HIS DWELLING PLACE OF REST

    1.   (13 – 16)God chooses Zion as his dwelling place

So even though God has told David he does not want or did not desire an earthly home he still institutes the building of a more permanent home or Temple for his Ark of the Covenant which verses 13 – 18 declare.

I see two aspects of this declaration of God concerning the choosing of his earthly dwelling or resting place:

  1. (13 – 14) God’s declaration of his chosen earthly dwelling place
  2. (15 – 16) God’s promise to bless his people through it

 Let’s then have a closer look at these two aspects of God’s declaration concerning the choosing of his earthly dwelling or resting place:

  1. (13 – 14) God’s declaration of his chosen earthly dwelling place

God now declares his choosing for an earthly home, dwelling place which is the final resting place of his Ark of the Covenant in verses 13 and 14,

“For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.”

 Zion or its old name Mount Moriah gets God’s nod of approval as his special place on earth a number of times. I see this nod of approval of Mount Moriah – Zion three times in the bible:

  1. (Genesis 22: 1 – 18) When Abraham was tested and God provided the sacrificial lamb.

2. (1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24) When David buys a threshing floor owned by a   Jebusite where the Angel of the Lord appeared in Jerusalem and withdrew his hand of death over David’s kingdom after David sinned by counting his fighting men which God had forbade him to do. Here David made a sacrifice to God and here David decided that God wanted the Tabernacle and later Temple should rest. These earthly structures would house The Ark of the covenant.

  1. (2 Chronicles 7) When God sent fire down from heaven to consume the first burnt offerings made in the newly built Temple there.

So, over a long period of time God reveals that the Mount Moriah later known as Mount Zion is the chosen desired dwelling and resting place on earth.

Mount Zion is also one of the bibles names for Jerusalem and this follows that Mount Zion is within the enlarged city of Jerusalem that David and later Solomon instigated.

Here God continued to choose as the place to reveal himself even through his Son, The Lord Jesus Christ who ministers and preaches there, rides triumphantly into and is eventually sacrificially killed there and of course rises from the dead there as well. Finally, from Jerusalem the Gospel message will go out into all the world as Jesus commands it should in Acts 1: 8,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And of course, Matthew 28: 19 – 20 expands this into “The Great Commission”,

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 This command was given to the disciple just outside Jerusalem and from there the Gospel message of how we can come to God through The Lord Jesus Christ went into all the world.

In the later parts of the New Testament Zion and even Jerusalem become symbols and even names of God’s heavenly eternal home for all believers and this is the very idea that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews speak of 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”.

  1. (15 – 16) God’s promise to bless his people through it

What we read in the next two verses is a natural follow on from the presence of the Lord on Mount Zion namely his blessing for his people through his in- dwelling presence in his people’s lives which I believe is symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant resting on Mount Zion. Verses 15 and 16 says then,

“I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor I will satisfy with food. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people will ever sing for joy”.

 The provisions God promises to bless his people here with are physical namely food in verse 15 but interestingly this changes to spiritual blessings in verse 16 where the priests are blessed with clothes of salvation a greater blessing than righteousness in verse 9 of this Psalm.

God’s people are also blessed with spiritual blessing in verse 16 namely singing eternal joy again far greater than just joy in verse 9. Ray Fowler points out that,

“The New Testament tells us that these things are fulfilled in us today in our salvation in Christ”.

 Ray then quotes 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”.

 We declare God’s praises today in this life to the world through the preaching of the wonderful Gospel message which Peter refers to in the words,

“Who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

 However, we look forward to an even greater day of blessing in the New Jerusalem where we will dwell intimately and fully with God forever 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.”

 So as we make the journey to God like those ancient Hebrews journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple their we can realise God’s blessing on us that can be the meeting of our physical daily needs but are more prominent and wonderful in God blessing us with our spiritual needs beyond that we expected or even hoped for as Paul states in Philippians 4: 19,

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” 

  1. (17 – 18)God promise of a future greater king and dwelling place of rest

I mentioned earlier the Old Testament promise of “The Messiah” or “Anointed One” and here in these final two verses of this Psalm a fine example of that kind of promise exists as these two verses say,

“Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. I will clothe his enemies with shame, but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown”.

 Ray Fowler explains these verses so well I will give you the main things he says about them in the following quote,

“The horn in the Old Testament is a symbol of strength. The lamp is a symbol for light and life and goodness. The crown here speaks not only of Christ rule but also his holiness”.

 Ray notes how the crown is radiant and therefore speaks of Christ glory or in the context of the Psalm the glory of the coming Messiah.

I read last year a modern Jewish criticism of Jesus being the Messiah and that went something like that Jesus fulfilled many of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah but not all of them so Jesus could not have been the Messiah.

The answer to this is that Jesus has to come twice to fulfil all the prophecies and do all the jobs the Messiah has to fulfil. For instance, he could not save us from our sins as the suffering servant and be a judge at the same time. So, Jesus came the first time to be the suffering servant Messiah but will come a second time after we have an opportunity to respond to his message of salvation as the glorified judge of all mankind.

As Peter refers to in 2 Peter 3: 9,

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

 So, these final two verses mix up the two comings of Christ as one coming as after all Jesus first and second coming are but one great event with two parts.

We see Jesus presented as a horn of salvation in Zechariah’s prophetic song in Luke 2: 68 – 75,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.69 He has raised up a hornof salvation for us in the house of his servant David70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—72 to show mercy to our ancestorsand to remember his holy

covenant,73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days”.

 Note even this prophecy mixes up Jesus first and second coming.

Jesus calls himself the Light of the world in John 8: 12 similar to the Messiah in verse 17 of our psalm “setting up a lamp”.

Then Jesus has victory over his enemies not in his first coming but through what he achieved in his first coming fulfilled in his second coming. As we read in many references in the New Testament but here are just two to give you a taste of what The New Testament has to say about Jesus defeat of sin, evil and his many enemies,

  1. Hebrews 2: 14 – 15,

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”. 

  1. Revelation 17: 14,

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

 Finally, the radiant crown that adorns Christ head I refer you to the writer to the Hebrews again when says this in Hebrews 2: 7 – 9,

“You made them a littlelower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour
8and put everything under their feet.”In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 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 again the two comings of Jesus that makes it possible for him to be firstly made lower than the angels but then through what he did as Isaiah’s suffering servant on the cross rose to victory and has been crowned in glory with a radiant or glorious crown.

So, for the ancient Hebrews on their long journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there this song of ascent we call Psalm 132 would have been a great source of inspiration and hope.

So, it is with us on our journey of faith to God’s eternal dwelling place in heaven this Psalm offers us great inspiration and hope.

Jesus has prepared a place for us and interestingly when he speaks of this great promise he uses the image of a home or dwelling place in John 14: 1 – 3,

“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”.

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

MY RESTING PLACE

(Based on Psalm 132 and the tune of “There is a ship”)

David longed to build God’s house on earth

In Jerusalem where the Temple would dwell

But God for bade David’s hearts desire

And his Son Solomon did build it well.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And I long to be there with him

For this is my resting place

For in that place there is no sin.

 

David moved the Ark from fields of jaar

Up to Zion God’s chosen mountain there

And there he blessed his people with joy

For they came to him to sing and share.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And I long to join God’s people there

For this is my resting place

For in that place true worship we’ll share.

 

David did receive from God above

The promise of an eternal house

And through his line came the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came to earth to die for us.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And through his son we will live with him

For this is my resting place

A place that I will praise and sing.

 

The people gathered on Zions hill

God’s chosen place to worship him

From there his light shinned to the world

For the Gospel went out from Jerusalem.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And through Christ love there we’ll find release.

For this is my resting place

A place of joy and eternal peace.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

Thank you, Father who lives in heaven, above that you revealed yourself through your ancient people Israel centred in your chosen place of worship on Zions hill in Jerusalem. Thank you Lord that through the line of David you sent to earth your only Son who died for our sins overlooking Jerusalem your chosen place of reconciliation and through his death we have the gift of eternal life. Help us now to take the message of your love to the world as it began in Jerusalem and may we all look forward to the New eternal Jerusalem where we will gather with all who believe in you to experience true joy and worship for ever more. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

PSALM 131 TALK   HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD

PSALM 131 TALK   HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD

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

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

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

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 131

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

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble

When you’re perfect in every way

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

Cause I get better lookin’ each day

To know me is to love me

I must be a hell of a man

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble

But I’m doin’ the best that I can.”

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

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

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

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

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

C.H. Spurgeon says that Psalm 131 is,

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

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

“But I have calmed and quieted myself”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Don’t be proud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 So, when David says,

“My heart is not proud, Lord”

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

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

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

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

Let me explain:

  1. Pride in a job well done for God

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

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

alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”.

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

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

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

2.  Pride in the accomplishment of others working for God

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

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

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

  1. Don’t be haughty

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

“My eyes are not haughty”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Things to wonderful for me”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I have calmed and quietened myself”.

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

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

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

  1. David acting without true humility

i)  When David nearly killed Nabal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii)    David commits adultery and murder

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

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

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

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

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

  1. David acting with true humility

i)   David not killing king Saul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurgeon is write when he said this Psalm is:

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

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

“But I have calmed and quieted myself”

 Which the message bible translates as,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am content”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first part of the verse says,

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He will lift you up”

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

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

 The final phrase at the end of Psalm 131 is,

“Both now and forevermore”

 Allan Harman explains the meaning of this phrase with,

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

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

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

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

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

I like the first verse,

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

All I do and say.

And the fourth verse,

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

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

Him exalting, self -abasing,
This is victory.

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

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

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

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

When you’re not perfect in any way

Sometimes I can’t look in the mirror

For I see such a sinner each day

God knows me yet he loves me

He must be a wonderful God

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

But his helping me change as I trod.

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

HUMBLE YOURSELF

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

 

My heart seeks to not be so proud Lord

My eyes seek to not look down on men

I look to the Lord for inspiration

And seek to live only for him.

I won’t meddle in useless affairs Lord

I won’t be caught up in grandiose plans

I will trust in the Lord and his word now

And place my life in his hands.

 

Chorus:

 

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

All my life I have struggled to find Lord

Your humble way in my life

But through all the trials I’ve faced Lord

You’ve changed me transforming my life.

And now I’m just like a baby

In the arms of my mother’s love

For I am content in your Love Lord

For God saved me when he came from above.

 

Chorus:

 

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

God’s people should hope in the Lord now

Trusting in his life- giving word

Turning from selfish plans Lord

To share your wonderful word

This should be done every day Lord

As we seek to live each day

So, trust in the Lord all God’s people

As you humbly walk God’s way.

 

Chorus:

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

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

 

PSALM 130 TALK   OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

PSALM 130 TALK   OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

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

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

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

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 130

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. (1 – 2) OUT OF THE DEPTHS

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

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

     2.  (3 -4)  INTO FORGIVENESS

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

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

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

    4.  (7 – 8) SHARING THE LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that first verse simply says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Spurgeon writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leopold suggests the use of the word “Attentive”,

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

 John Gill calls the God of the bible a,

“God hearing prayer God”.

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

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

Or, Psalm 102: 17,

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

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

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

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

    2. (3 -4) INTO FORGIVENESS

    1.  (vs. 3) All have sinned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. (vs. 4) But God forgives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Old Testament verse’s

  1. Isaiah 43: 25 – 26

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

  1. Daniel 9: 9,

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

  1. Micah 7: 18 – 19,

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

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

 Three New Testament verse’s

  1. Acts 3: 19,

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

  1. Ephesians 4: 31 – 32,

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

  1. 1 John 1: 9,

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

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

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

Just as Peter declares I 1 Peter 2: 24,

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


Or as Paul declares in Ephesians 1: 7,

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

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

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

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

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

 Or serve God.

Allan Harman says,

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

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

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

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

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

    1.  (vs. 5) Waiting and hoping

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And in his word, I put my hope”.

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

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

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

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

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

“If you love me, keep my commands”.

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

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

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

  1. (vs. 6) Waiting with faith

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

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

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

“More than watchmen wait for the morning”.

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

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

 Paul speaks of faith and hope overflowing in our lives as we go God’s way in this life in Romans 15: 13,

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

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

    4.  (7 – 8) SHARING THE LOVE

  1. (vs. 7)  Hope and love

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

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

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

We are pilgrims on the journey

We are brothers on the road

We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load”.

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

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

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

“When we sing to God in heaven

We shall find such harmony.

Born of all we’ve known together

Of Christ’s love and agony”.

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

  1. (vs. 8) Redeemed from sin

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

“He himself will redeem Israel from their sins”.

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

“Pauline in character”

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

“While we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good”.

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

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

 Mark 10: 45 says,

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

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

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

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

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

OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

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

Out of the depths I cry O Lord

O Lord hear my plea

May your mercy come to me

And set my poor heart free.

 

Refrain:

 

Out of the depths of despair

I’m saved by God’s Sacrifice

For Jesus died on the cross

And paid for sins great cost.

 

If you O Lord recorded all

The sins that I have done

I would not be able to stand

Before you when you come.

 

Refrain:

 

You are there Oh my God

Through you forgiveness came

And so, I’ll praise your love O Lord

And glorify your name.

 

Refrain:

 

And so, I wait on you O Lord

For in you I know there’s hope

For your love has saved my soul

And given me help to cope.

 

Refrain:

 

Out of the depths of despair

I’m saved by God’s Sacrifice

For Jesus died on the cross

And paid for sins great cost.

 

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

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

PSALM 129 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY CAN GET DIFFICULT  

PSALM 129 TALK   TRAVELLING THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY CAN GET DIFFICULT

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

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

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 129

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Hostility to God and his law leads people to be hostile to those who uphold God and his law and this idea led Jesus to say this to his disciples before he left to go to the cross, rise from the dead and return to heaven in John 15: 18 – 20,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Ray Fowler applies these words to us today by saying,

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

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

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

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

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

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

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

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

The cessation from the battles of life is only promised in heaven when we move from this life to the next as Revelation 21: 1 – 4,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 So, when Psalm 129 verse 2 says,

“They have not gained the victory over me”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is the words that start this verse,

“But the Lord is righteous”

 Alan Harman explains this phrase this way,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Paul tells the Galatians that Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin so we must not let sin bind us again, Galatians 5: 1,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain:

  1. The Teaching of Jesus

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

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

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

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

  1. The nature of the Christian Gospel – message

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

 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain these two important things:

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

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

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

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

   1.   God’s dwelling place on earth

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

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

   2.   Another name for Jerusalem

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

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

Or Psalm 48: 2,

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

Zion, the city of the Great King”.

   3.  Another name for the people of God. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The second part of verse 5 simply says,

“Be turned back in shame”.

 Allan Harman explains this phrase this way,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain what I mean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him”.

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

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

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

“Turn back”

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

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

He writes,

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

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

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

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

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

Again, I think they say two things to us:

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

Let me explain:

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

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

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me tell you why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Thirdly and finally without the Grace of God or the undeserved love of God no – one can be saved as Paul makes very clear from Ephesians 2: 8,

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

 So, we are to pray for our enemies rather than not say God bless as verse 8 of Psalm 129 suggests. With Jesus command in mind then we should say to our enemies something like, “May God bless you with his grace so that you can see his love for you in Christ”.

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEACE IN MY HEART

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

 

We’ve been oppressed Lord since we were young

Sometimes we feel Lord no joy will come.

But we have found Lord peace in our hearts

For you are with us when the tear drops start.

 

We gain the victory through God’s dear Son

For through his death our salvation won.

Satan might drive us to despair

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

 

Refrain:

 

O down in the valley we looked to the Lord

For in the valley we need God’s word.

For as we face danger and troubles start

We look to the Lord for peace in our hearts.

 

May all who hate God turn from their shame

May they come to God and praise his name.

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

That withers and dies when the night time comes.

 

O bless Lord our enemies with now your grace

For all people are far from your glorious face.

May they like us Lord find peace in their hearts

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

 

 

Refrain:

 

O down in the valley we looked to the Lord

For in the valley we need God’s word

For as we face danger and troubles start

We look to the Lord for peace in our hearts.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 128

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

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

“Run along my path and find tomorrow

Do not stray or wander from my way.

Today the dry and dusty desert

Tomorrow the home of rest and play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Christians are more than happy, God blesses them”.

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

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

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No matter if the tear drops start”

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

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

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

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

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

In the still of a hot summer’s evening,

I stood upon its hot throbbing skin

And as the sunset fills the sky with colour

The road’s horizon beckons me to sing

Run along my path and find tomorrow

Do not stray or wander from my way.

Today the dry and dusty desert

Tomorrow the home of rest and play. 

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

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

“Who walk in obedience to him”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them (obeys them) is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love them and show myself to them”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Down we run towards a bustling city

Where many roads begin to cross the way,

There we stop for rest and recreation

But their confusion seems to hold the sway.

Run along my path and find tomorrow

The road is clear and points the way

And so we learn to run the straight and narrow

As we follow in its loving way. 

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

           Introduction to interpreting correctly the rest of this Psalm

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

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

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

  1. A work of wisdom literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We read these words in verse 2 of this Psalm,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain:

  1. Spiritual blessings in this life

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

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

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

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other”.

  1. Spiritual blessings in the life to come

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

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

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

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

 This is not a pie in the sky when you die type hope and blessing because in the next two verses Paul speaks of the Spirits help and work in our lives in this life in verses 26 – 27,

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

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

As I run I sense that I am climbing

Ascending from the plains I breathe the mountain air

And then the way grows dark, steep and narrow

And as I cry the road speaks with loving care,

Run along my path and find tomorrow

And Oh, the road again quells my fears,

Soon this mountain will be behind me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter presents this truth this way in 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon I see the brilliant sunrise

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

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

Joined my journey on the road to rest.

Run along my path and find tomorrow,

The road confirms its promise to us,

And so, we joyfully run together

Heading for the hope in which we trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This priestly blessing prayer then has two aspects to it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. God’s dwelling place on earth

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

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

2. Another name for Jerusalem

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

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

Or Psalm 48: 2,

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

Zion, the city of the Great King”. 

3. Another name for the people of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The writer to the Hebrews links the concept of Zion and Jerusalem to the new covenant telling us that we have come to The New Jerusalem, Zion and nation or people of God the church through the shed blood of the Jesus the means and symbol of the New Covenant in Hebrews 12: 22 – 24,

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”.

 So, in our pilgrim journey of faith to God in heaven we look to Zion or Jesus in heaven the place of the New Jerusalem that the book of Revelation says will come down from heaven and God will be finally united with his people so that God himself will dwell forever with his people, Revelation 21: 1 – 4,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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

Finally, the road gets straighter

And it’s turned through many a bend,

Stretching out towards the horizon

There we see a glimpse of the end.

Run along my path and find tomorrow,

The road has surely served us well,

Guiding us towards the sunset

Where all joy is said to dwell. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peace be on Israel”.

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

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

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

 “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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

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

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

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

 Note how Isaiah makes the faith connection in the words,

 “Because they trust in you”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the still of a hot summer’s evening,

I stood upon its hot throbbing skin

And as the sunset fills the sky with colour

The road’s horizon beckons me to sing

Run along my path and find tomorrow

Do not stray or wander from my way.

Today the dry and dusty desert

Tomorrow the home of rest and play.

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

GO GOD’S WAY

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

Blessed are they who fear the Lord

For they trust and obey God’s word

If they go God’s way they will prosper

And one day they will see the Lord.

 

Your family life God will bless

If you walk God’s way each day

Go God’s way and serve him faithfully

And your life will be blessed in every way.

 

May the Lord bless you from heaven

May God’s church on earth be strong

Go God’s way and serve his Children

And you will help God’s Kingdom to come.

 

Blessed are they who trust in the Lord

They all know great peace within.

If they go God’s way and serve him

Christ the Lord will surely go with them.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

PART 2.    PSALMS 125 – 129   PROGRESSING ON THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 127

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 7,

“For we live by faith, not by sight”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unless the Lord builds the house”.

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

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

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

“Unless the Lord builds the house”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The builders labour is in vain”.

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

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

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

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

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

Spurgeon writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       1.    Build your life’s security on God

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

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

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

“Unless the Lord watches over the city”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

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

           2.    If you don’t you have no security

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

“The guards stand in watch in vain”.

 Albert Barnes says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trust in God and keep your powder dry”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.

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

  1. Workaholics

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

In- fact I think the first part of this verse is a very good description of a workaholic as it says,

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat”.

I mentioned in my introduction of the area of my city, Sydney where very wealthy people live and how in that area often the Fathers of the families who live there are hardly ever home as their jobs or businesses demand long hours seven days a week away from their families at home. I found this concept of work very hard to understand but I did realise for me the aspect of committing to much time and energy into a job as I had to work very hard at different times in my full -time ministry days to make time at home for my wife and family.

Yes, even those who are working full time for the Lord can fall into the trap of becoming a Workaholic. Ray Deffinbaugh pinpoints the problem well with these words,

“The workaholic has lost his perspective on what is necessary evil and what is a gracious good. By working day and night men cannot give diligent attention to more important matters such as study and meditation in the Scriptures, worship and devotion to family”.

 Note how Solomon uses the word “vain” again and says that the life style of a workaholic is a “In Vain” lifestyle. H.C Leopold says,

“Long – continued and arduous effort without a thought of the need of divine blessing is the height of futility”.

 It would seem that verse 2 like verse 1 is addressed to the person who has excluded God from their thinking and acting in life.

Why then do people choose to work day and night?

Solomon’s answer to this is the simply phrase,

“Toiling for food to eat”.

 This I think is a poetic description for making money and the material things money brings with it. The Fathers in the wealthy areas of Sydney who have become workaholics if asked why they work so hard would probably say to provide for my family so we can live in a big house in a wealthy suburb, so my kids can go to the best schools, so that we can have the occasional overseas holiday or even so I can have a large amount of money to retire on.

Jesus had much to say to people with this kind of attitude and way of living and I really like Jesus parable of the rich fool in Luke 12: 16 – 21,

“And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

 Then Jesus said in Matthew 6: 19 – 21,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 

20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

 Finally, Jesus is not saying living this way for him will leave us financially high and dry for Jesus says again in Matthew 6: 33,

“But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

 Before I stop talking about workaholics I must say God is not saying we should not work hard as many verses in the bible speak of not being lazy but working hard like Proverbs 10: 4 – 6,

The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked”.

As Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 3: 11- 13,

“We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good”.

 So, I think there is a big difference between a workaholic and a hard worker and the difference is a godly hard worker seeks the balance between work and leisure and particularly giving time to his or her family a we will see in the last two verses of this Psalm.

  1. Working and resting in God

 So, what advice does Solomon give to the workaholic?

I believe in the final phrase of verse 2 answers this when it says,

“For he grants sleep to those he loves”

 I found this phrase a puzzle to understand unto I read these words by Allan Harman,

“While many look to gain from their own hard labours, believers can rest secure in the knowledge that as God gives them sleep he is working and blessing them”.

 This phrase is not speaking about believers being blessed with good sleep but rather they can work during the day and then stop and rest as God wants us to and we can know that God does not rest and is still working for us when we are resting as we read in Psalm 121: 3 – 4,

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.

Ray Fowler says,

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to work. And the wrong way to work is when you leave God out of it”.

A workaholic, even a believer is working the wrong way being totally committed to work alone, not putting God or Jesus first is a person who needs to come to their senses and let God have his way in their lives.

So, as we walk the way of God to heaven we need to make sure Jesus is Lord and not our desire to live for money or material wealth. Paul has this to say about living for money and riches in 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 10,

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. 

    4.   (3 – 5)   BUILD YOUR FAMILY ON GOD

    1.    (vs. 3)  Children and families are a gift from God

The last practical issue of life Solomon uses to make the point of building our lives on God or on faith in God is children and families.

He starts this practical image with the amazing statement that Children and I believe family life is a gift from God as verse 3 says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him”.

 Some might think this is a principle God is declaring for only believers but God, I believe gives all humanity the gift of children and families and the principle of God giving all humanity good things is expressed well in Jesus words in Matthew 5: 45,

“He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

 So, children and families are a good gift God gives all mankind which starts all the way back to Genesis 1: 28,

“God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it”.

 Even after the fall God’s gift of children continues except a women’s giving birth to children will bring her great pain, Genesis 3: 16,

To the woman he said,“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;with painful labour, you will give birth to children.Your desire will be for your husband,

and he will rule over you.”

 So, children and families is something believers and non-believers have as gift from God and even with modern IVF help the creation of life is still in the hands of God.

Alan Harman says,

“Children are a free gift of God, a token of his grace”,

However, children and families play a major part of God’s revelation of himself as we see from Cain and Abel through to Abraham and the children of God under the leadership of Moses and even through family stories like Joshua, king David and all the Kings of Israel and Judah that shows us how God works his purposes out through families.

This is what lies behind the words of verse three that says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord”.

 Alan Harman explains this very well with these words,

“Heritage from the Lord”, “Used in the Old Testament with reference to the land of promise which came to Israel as unearned as any inheritance”.

 Harman also points out that the next phrase, “offspring a reward from him”, is a parallel expression. So, in the Old Testament God created a family his family of faith as described to Abrahams son Isaac,

“Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

 In the New Testament, we are part of the outworking of God’s great family plan as Paul make clear in Galatians 3: 28,

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

 We then as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are members of God’s family or as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2: 19, God’s household,

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household”.

 Through faith in Christ we are then children of God which is God’s heritage or God’s reward and we see how ingrained this idea of being God’s children is in the minds of the early disciples from for instance the Apostle John’s words in 1 John 3: 1 – 2,

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.

 It was the Apostle John who made it clear that we become a child of God or we join the family of God through faith in God’s Son in John 1: 12,

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”.

 So, on our journey to God we must continually undertake it by faith not by sight. We must realise that through faith we are part of God’s family and because we are he promises to guide and protect us.

In the final two verses Solomon spells out in an Old Testament poetic image the practical reward or blessing of having children or a family. He uses twice the image of bows and particularly arrows and I call these images:

  1. (vs. 4)  Arrows in the hands of a warrior
  2. (vs. 5)  Arrows in a quiver or arrow carrier

Let’s then have a closer look at these final two verses:

  1. (vs. 4) Arrows in the hands of a warrior

We must remember that all of the Psalms were written in ancient times and so often the images they employ to convey the message they are seeking to convey are not so real to us today. In verse 4 we have an example of an image used we don’t easily understand, verse 4 says,

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth”.

 The image here is of arrows and or course in ancient times the bow and arrow was one of the main weapons people used to defend themselves and so having a supply of arrows meant you had a good chance of defending yourself when you were attacked. So, having children in ancient times was as crucial as having a good supply of arrows to fire off in your defence.

Tremper Longman 111 says,

“Children confer real advantage on a person in the battles of life”.

 I cannot imagine what my life would be like now without both my physical family and of course my spiritual family. My three children have so enriched my wife and I life so much and now we have the further blessing of two beautiful grandchildren.

In ancient times having children had even more value than today as without social security it was only through your children, in ancient times you had security and support in the later years of your life. Even today cultures like the Chinese and many others rely on the support of their children to help and support their parents in their old age.

Then as people of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we have the blessing and support of our spiritual family, the Church. Paul speaks often to the churches he wrote to in terms of the church being God’s Household or family or as a body where we all work together in the journey of faith and the battles of this life.

As Paul writes in Colossians 3: 15 – 17,

“ Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

 Paul in this third chapter of Colossians goes on from the words above to speak about earthly family responsibilities of wives, husbands and children. When Paul gives similar instructions in Ephesians he says this about the responsibility of Husbands in Ephesians 5: 25 – 28,

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansingher by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself”.

 Note how husbands are to seek to emulate The Lord Jesus Christ who loved the church, his family by the giving of his life for us. Later in the book of Revelation the church is viewed as Christ bride that one day will be fully united with him in his second coming, see Revelation 21: 1 – 4.

So, as we walk the journey of faith to God in heaven we are not alone for we are part of the great family of God, the church which has many children who like an ancient warrior had many arrows to help fight and defend himself and family we have many brothers and sisters who help us go the way of God and defend ourselves in the battles of life.

  1. (vs. 5) Arrows in a quiver or arrow carrier

The last verse of this Psalm also uses the bow and arrow image as well but this time it is the arrow carrier called a quiver that features in it as the verse says,

“Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”

 Albert Barnes explains the idea of a quiver of arrows and the blessing of many children this way,

 “The quiver is a case in which arrows are carried; and as a man – a hunter or warrior – feels secure when he has his quiver full of arrows, so a man is blessed in proportion to the number of his sons”.

 As I said before in ancient cultures the blessing of many children secured a person’s later years of life and so to not have a family in ancient times was a very sad and dangerous thing in many ways.

So, it is with us, spiritually if we don’t know Christ and his family that knowing him brings us into then it is both sad and dangerous for us spiritually. Yet so many today choose wilfully to reject God’s offer of his love and the hope of the eternal heavenly home that faith in him leads us to.

Jesus offers us these great words of hope and promise about the heavenly home he has for us in the next life in John 14: 1 – 4,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 Jesus goes on to tell poor old Thomas what that way is in verse 6,

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

 So, when we travel Jesus way or road to God we can have the security of having many arrows in our quiver or many fellow brothers and sisters travelling with us, helping us, encouraging us even in the judgment to come which I believe the end of verse 5 speaks about in Old Testament cultural terms with the words,

“They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court”.

The original term for court in Hebrew was the word for the city gate because in Old Testament times it was at the city gate most disputes were settled. So being part of God’s family means we have no fear in the great court or judgment to come as Jesus says in John 5: 24,

 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”.

 So those who journey to God as part of God’s family and are therefore God’s children will as verse 5 says, “Will not be put to shame” particularly in the coming judgment of God. In Old Testament terms having a big family particularly of sons was of great benefits and blessing when facing great opposition and in New Testament terms being part of God’s family has great benefits and blessings for us as members of the household of God.

Paul speaks of how we are brought into God’s family to become God’s sons and some of the benefits we have as members of God’s family in Galatians 4: 4 – 7,

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir”.

 CONCLUSION:  JOURNEY WITH GOD AS YOU BUILD YOUR LIFE ON HIM

 This Psalm like many of the proverbs falls into the wisdom style of writing in the bible and it is interesting that the Hebrew heading for this Psalm attributes it to the pen of Solomon who was known as the great composer of most of the Proverbs as we read in Proverbs 25: 1.

Wisdom literature offers usually practical teaching about God and life and so Psalm 127 the eighth song of ascent offers us teaching about looking to God and his help in all aspects of human endeavour and in this Psalm, we have seen four aspects of human endeavour:

  1. Building a house
  2. Guarding a city
  3. Working a job
  4. Raising a family

However, because this is more than a piece of wisdom literature for it is a Psalm also called “A Song of Ascent”. I have sought to look beyond the four practical aspects of life to a deeper spiritual meaning for the words of this Psalm.

If this Psalm was sung as the ancient Jews travelled their long journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there than that deeper meaning involves the idea of looking to God to build our lives upon as we journey to God in heaven.

Looking to God to build our lives upon as we journey to him is best summed up in the words of Matthew 6: 33,

“But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

So, as we seek to build anything in this life, a home, church or career we must acknowledge God as the foundation and helper in these endeavours and in so doing we put him first seeking his Kingdom first and in doing so receive the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 When we seek any kind of security in this life again we must look to God as our security and helper in the great battle we are involved in as his faithful followers. So, we must in the sense of our security seek God and his kingdom first and in doing so we will have the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 In our work either in general life or in service to the Lord we must seek to conduct it relying on God who grants us both success in work and rest to cope with the hard labour involved in it and in the sense of our work we must seek God and his kingdom first and in doing so we will have the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 Finally, in our building of a family either our earthly family or spiritual family which is our church we must realise God along gives us the heritage or reward of our family and so in building a family we must seek God and his kingdom first and in doing so we will have the blessing of “All these things will be given to you as well”.

 I close as usual with an original poem / song and a final word of prayer.:

TRUST NOW IN JESUS

(Based on Psalm 127 and the tune of “Hard Times”)

 

O unless the Lord builds the house we live in

Then the building we build is in vain.

O unless the Lord watches over our domain

Then our lives will know conflict and pain.

 

Chorus:

 

Many days do I labour to succeed

Hard work, Hard work, doesn’t guarantee

But if you trust now in Jesus and make him number one

Then God’s blessings surely then will come.

 

If we work every hour and never have a rest

Then your toil will cause you great pain.

For the Lord gives us rest so we can revive

So, our work without God is in vain.

 

Chorus:

 

God gives us children as a gift of grace

They’ll God’s blessing for all of our days.

So, build now your family trusting in the Lord

And they’ll help you in so many ways.

 

Chorus:

 

O blessed is the man who comes now to the Lord

He is part of God’s great family.

If you turn from the Lord and seek to go your way

Then God’s judgment will bring calamity.

 

Chorus:

 

Many days do I labour to succeed

Hard work, Hard work, doesn’t guarantee

But if you trust now in Jesus and make him number one

Then God’s blessings surely then will come.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven help us now to trust in you as we seek to build our lives not on anything else than your word. Help us to put Jesus first in our loves and not rely on our own efforts to save ourselves. May we walk your way Lord in our work, who we trust in for security and in how we seek to build our families. May we know your blessing and protection in our lives and may the work we seek to do be done in service to you and others, In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.

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.