As we come to the final 2 songs of this collection of Psalms of Ascents we are drawn into a crescendo to worship to Yahweh! Psalm 133 calls us to pay attention to the high value of unity among God's people. Unity creates a holy space where God can pour out His blessing. Psalm 134 is a call to 'praise' or 'bless' Yahweh. In response to us blessing Him, God 'blesses' (same exact word!) us! This short psalm describes a beautiful interchange of blessing - as we declare what is true about Him (He is Almighty, Holy, King of Kings, Creator, Redeemer, Saviour, etc), He declares what is true about us (we are His workmanship; we are created in His image; we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus; we have His Spirit living in us). May our hearts be truly drawn to worship Him in spirit and truth!
In the series of Psalms of Ascents, this song stands out as different from the rest both in physical structure (length) and in content. It is longer and points our attention to the faithfulness of King David. We note from David's life that he was not a perfect man by any means but he was one whose heart was soft toward God and in this instance, we see him passionately committed to bringing the worship of God back to the center of the People of God. In this beautifully structured psalm, we see God responding to David's faithfulness by promising to put 'one of his descendants on his throne' - a very specific picture of the One who would come as Messiah. This song invites 2 responses - 1) that we would also be people 'after God's own heart' as David is described here and in Acts 13:22 and 2) that we would celebrate God's faithfulness in sending Jesus as a descendant of David who brings redemption to the whole world!
This song seems to be designed for those times in life when we feel most vulnerable, at risk and insecure. In those times we need a safe place. The opening stanza of the psalm reminds us where we may turn to find such a place: "Those who trust in Yahweh are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever". The psalm seems to have been written at a time when all was not right in Israel. Verse 3 talks about 'the scepter of the wicked' which would seem to describe a foreign evil power ruling over Israel, even though they are the 'chosen people' living in the 'land of promise'. We may liken this scenario to our day when we live in this world as followers of Jesus who have been completely cleansed by the blood of Jesus and yet we live in a world where evil still dominates in so many ways. We find hope in the expression of this psalm that evil is temporary (verse 3 - 'the scepter will not remain over the land') and that evil will be ultimately judged by God completely (verses 4-5). Meanwhile there is great security in the fact that 'as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.' (verse 2). Even in times of uncertainty and fear, there is an absolutely safe place - we may put our trust completely in Yahweh! The result? 'Peace be on Israel' (verse 5b). This is the blessing of shalom that comes to us even when all is not right in our world! It only comes as we fully put our trust in Yahweh.
This song seems to be an invitation to the Israelite pilgrims - an invitation to remember a time in their history when everything looked bleak. In particular to reflect on a time when 'if the LORD were not on our side... they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us'. Probably there were a number of times in their collective history that could fit this description but the event of the exodus comes most readily to mind. This song is designed to provoke them to remember the feeling of helplessness when Pharaoh was bearing down upon them as they were encamped against the sea (Ex 13-14). In that moment Yahweh proved himself to be their Helper. This song seems to provoke 2 responses from the people: 1) a response to remember - this is a call to look back carefully in history and learn about how God had been a faithful helper; 2) a response of worship, praise and thanksgiving - how easy it is not to pay attention to the past and how easy to take God for granted in the present. This song is a reminder to us to look back over our own life history, but also to the whole story of redemption as told in the Bible and be reminded that God is a faithful and just 'Helper' for His people. May we know His helping presence every day!
The heart-cry of this song is "have mercy on us, LORD have mercy on us". Due to significant opposition, life has become unbearable; joy is gone. The song divide into 2 stanzas. The 2nd stanza contains the cry for help and the reason for the cry. In the first stanza (v 1-2) we find the strategy employed by the psalmist in his approach to God. Remarkably the word 'eyes' is mentioned 4 times in these 2 verses. I suggest we may observe 4 important 'looks' for those times when life seems unbearable: 1) Look Intentionally - the opening phrase of the psalm is a phrase of clear intention - 'I lift my eyes...'; 2) Look to the Enthroned One - this is a term used to describe God as not just all powerful, but also as a God who stoops down to care for those in need (see Ps 113:5-9); 3) Look to the Hand of the Master - this is the posture of a servant; a true servant has no opportunity to do life on his/her own; they are completely dependent on the hand of their master for everything in life; this should be our posture as we approach God in our time of need; 4) Look with Perseverance - this is a remarkable phrase - 'till he shows us his mercy'; this is a humble but confident and persistent belief that God is a good God who loves to show mercy and give good gifts to His children! May God give us grace to truly look to Him in these ways at all times, but especially when life is difficult and confusing! May it be for His glory!
NOTE: due to technical difficulties with the recording on this Sunday an audio version of this message is not available! Sorry!
The opening phrase of this psalm captures our attention - 'I was glad when they said, let us go to the house of the LORD'. Last week psalm 121 drew our attention upward to the LORD who made the mountains; this week psalm 122 draws our attention to the place of worship and to the people who are there. It is a love song in its tone, celebrating the privilege of corporate worship. May it bless you as you observe it and may it give all of us a greater appreciation for the opportunities that we have to worship together with God's people!
Listen below or download it here!
This psalm is a true 'song for the journey'! We imagine this song as it could have been a dialogue between a caring priest in the temple of Jerusalem and a pilgrim family about to head back down the road on their way home from worshiping at one of the great Feasts. The first stanza is in the first person and is considered to be the words of the pilgrim who lifts his eyes higher than the mountains to the Creator of all Life for his help! The kindly priest responds with a blessing that includes 'finding stability for the journey (3-4); feeling the protective shield of Yahweh in the times of intense struggle (5-6); and knowing the comprehensive Guardian of the whole of life (7-8)'. The covenant-making, covenant-keeping Yahweh who is the Creator of all of life is constantly and without interruption 'watching over' His children on whatever journey they may be traveling. Praise His Name!
Listen below or download the file here.
We have the privilege through the summer Sunday mornings to look at a cluster of 15 psalms known as the Psalms of Ascents - Psalm 120 - 134. They are sometimes called 'Songs for the Journey'. It is thought that they were most likely written to accompany the people of God as they did the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem to worship at the 3 great feasts of the calendar year. They are songs which speak of the real messiness of life in honest and frank language; they are songs which point to Yahweh as the only source of hope, peace and courage.
Psalm 120 is the first of these psalms. It is not a particularly happy song, but it is honest and real in its description of the place of distress in which the psalmist finds himself. Within the language of distress there are 2 hopeful responses we may identify and identify with: first is a response of prayer (I cried out to the LORD, and he answered me - verse 1); and second is a longing for peace, or shalom (I am for peace - verse 7). In our times of distress (perhaps even now!) may we too find a way to respond in honest prayer and an expression of longing for shalom!
Listen below or download the file.