Week 19

  1. I speak peace
    Psalm 120

This is a song of a collection of 15 that are called the Psalms of Ascent. They were given this name because it is thought they were sung as the people climbed up the hill toward Jerusalem. Neither the date nor the author of the Psalms is known for certain, but they may refer to the return of Israel form exile. They were probably sung whenever the Jews undertook their pilgrimages for festivals of worship. Whoever the author of this first of the collection is, it seems from the text that he was someone who had lived some distance from Jerusalem.


The writer recalls a time when he was in distress and he had called on God to deliver him, He had been rescued then and now he wanted to be relieved from those who were telling lies and spreading rumours about him. Apparently these tormentors had been supported in the past, maybe they had been given aid or even helped in battle and rather showing gratitude they had responded deceitfully. The psalmist asks what else could he do? Perhaps he should respond in force and fire arrows down on their head. This may have been meant metaphorically and pointed to judgment from God being brought against them rather than a physical attack.


Meshech is named a number of times in the bible (Genesis 10:2; Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 38:2–3; Ezekiel 39:1) and is thought to be between present day Russia and Ukraine on the Black Sea, while Kedar refers to a nomadic tribe in the Arabian desert. There is significant distance between the two and it is improbable that the psalm writer was a resident of both. The word ‘sojourn’ means to live as a resident alien of the place, not a citizen who is born there. Pairing the two places together probably intended to convey the idea of all the heathen nations outside of Israel where and the writer and his companions had been forced to live while in exile.


The psalmist was dismayed that he had been forced to live among people who agitated for war. One of the prophets of the period of exile was Jeremiah and he had warned the people not to try to overcome their captors or even seek freedom but instead to seek the welfare or peace of the cities in which they lived (Jeremiah 29:7). He may have been alluding to this when he said that he was for peace.


There are parallels between the period the Jews were in exile and our times. They were in captivity to Babylon and were told to wait for their release which would happen at God’s appointed time. In the meantime they were to live in the cities, to get involved in commerce and society by engaging in trade and agriculture, building houses and raising families. They were to be good citizens in a foreign land. All the while they were to pray for the welfare of the city, because as the city prospered, so would they. There was no point agitating for an earlier release, because God had determined when that would be and it was settled.


We too live in exile from our home, we are citizens of heaven simply sojourners and exiles on earth (1 Peter 2:11). We are captive here under the dominion of Satan until God sets us free and welcomes us into his kingdom. In the meantime we are to live as good citizens, engaged in life, participating in society and work; raising families and working hard for the good of the community. We are to pray diligently for the good of the community, because as it prospers, so will we. God has determined the time at which will come and dispose of our captors and he will not change the date. As we continue our pilgrimage, let us, so far as it depends on us, to live at peace with all men and women (Romans 12:18).

  1. Do you feel like a temporary resident on earth?
  2. How should that affect the way you live?
  3. In what way can you be a peace maker in your community?
  1. He will keep you
    Psalm 121

As the Jews embarked on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem they looked up at the mountainous journey before them and said, “We are going to need help, where will it come from?” This Psalm is overflowing with encouragement, six times the word shamar which means ‘preserve’ or ‘keep’ is used. The writer knew where his help would come from, it would come from the Lord.


On the trek up the hill God would not let the pilgrim’s foot be moved. Sometimes the way may seem uncertain, there may be the risk of falling rocks, or a sharp precipice to navigate but God would establish firm footing so that the traveller could take his stand. There were other risks, desert roads where places where thieves and robbers would take advantage of weary pilgrims, they would hide themselves looking for opportunities to assault and steal. As believers who are also on a pilgrimage we are reminded that we too have an enemy that seeks to take advantage of us, to kill and destroy, the Apostle Peter describes him as the devil who is like a roaring Lion (1 Peter 5:8). But the writer of the Psalm knows that he is safe because the one who keeps him safe never sleeps, he is never taken by surprise.


Another danger of travelling in a desert land in harsh terrain is from the sun. There is not much natural shade, an overhanging rock here or there, or a straggly tree, but it would be hot and dry. Physically tired from the climb, the pilgrims were now at risk of heat stroke, but God promises that they would not be struck by the sun. He would provide them with shade to shield them from the harmful sun’s rays, but what of the moon? There were some who held superstitious beliefs about the harmful effects of the moon, and it may be that the writer is seeking to dispel them. It is probable though, that he means that there was no danger in day time or at night that could overcome them because God kept watch and he never slept on duty! God was not going to stop the sun from shing or the moon appearing in the night sky, just as he will not prevent difficulties arising in our lives, but he will keep us and protect us from their effects.


The Lord will keep the pilgrim from evil, of course as the story of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan demonstrates, God will not prevent us from deliberately making wrong choices and putting ourselves at peril. He will though, preserve our life. On our journey of faith we will sometimes stumble, take wrong turnings and make wrong choices and sometimes those things will bring unfortunate consequences. God will not prevent them, but he promises to deliver us and preserve our lives. He sees the mis-step or the wrong turn and stands ever ready to redirect our steps. He doesn’t shout instructions from the side, but comes alongside and takes our hand and gently, but firmly leads us back to the right way. This is not a one off offer from God, there never comes a time when he says ‘that’s enough’ it is from now until forever.


God knows your journey is steep and dangerous, there are threats along the way and temptations to take short cuts. He knows too, that we are all prone to grow weary and fail, maybe even want to give up and return to the bottom of the hill. For this reason, six times he says he will keep you. In 2 Timothy 1:12 the apostle Paul encourages Timothy with these words: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” God has entrusted salvation to you and he will guard it and keep you safe.

  1. Does your pilgrimage seem hard?
  2. What are the dangers you face on the way?
  3. Do you ever worry that you are not strong enough to make it?
  1. Let’s go to the house of the Lord
    Psalm 122     

There is a sense of excitement as this psalm begins. It is festival time all the tribes of Israel were going to meet together in Jerusalem for a major feast. There would music and song, eating and drinking, catching up with family and friends and of course opportunities to worship God together. It was a big event, a break from normal work and an occasion to celebrate.


Holidays as we now know them started as Holy Days and were given to religious observance and pilgrimage. It wasn’t until the 1890’s that the weekend became common (at least in England) and everybody but the wealthy were expected to work six and a half days per week. The idea of annual leave was not adopted until the 1900’s and then usually only one week. It would have been beyond the wildest imagination of people in David’s day to be paid for at least four weeks absence from work every year! No wonder feasts and festivals were anticipated with much enthusiasm.


It is generally accepted that David wrote this Psalm although there was no Temple in his time. He looked forward to when Jerusalem would house the Temple and truly become the Holy City. The city would be the place where the people would meet God, and David is thinking of the time he will stand within its gates. This is the city David planned and built. It was properly designed, not just thrown together as more and more people were drawn to it. It was previously occupied by the Canaanites and did not belong to any tribe, so when it was captured it belonged to every tribe. All of Israel were able to go up the mountain to Jerusalem to give thanks to God.


We no longer look to a city as the dwelling of God and yet the idea of coming together as one people to worship is still valid. The people of Israel thought of themselves as one, even though they were of many tribes, and when they came together it was as one people. Today there are many denominations who meet separately, sometimes out of convenience and at others because of differences over beliefs or religious practices. We know that God is present everywhere and by his Spirit dwells within us, yet he insists that together we are being built into a holy temple, not a number of temples, but one.


David tells the people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, a nation that throughout its history has experienced much division and conflict. He hoped that the city would provide safety for Israel because God dwelt there. David would pray for this for the sake of his friends, but also for the sake of God’s house. There are many believers who believe that this request to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is intended for Christians today and that in doing so a blessing will come. It is more probable that as it is God’s dwelling we should be praying and working toward healing of division within his church. God no longer dwells in a temple made of stone, he lives in the hearts of men and women and children who, by faith have received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit upon their confession of faith. Together we ‘like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house’ (1 Peter 2:5), a house in which God is pleased to dwell.


We have the privilege of joining together every week to go up to the house of God – it should make us glad!

  1. Are you excited to go the house of God?
  2. How can you act for peace within the church?
  3. What do you think about denominations?
  1. If God was not on our side
    Psalm 124

As the travellers continued up the mountain path they reflected on their past and asked of themselves a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is one that doesn’t expect an answer, it is either so obvious that needs none or to even suggest an answer is absurd. The question asked is “what would have happened if God was not on our side?” Twice in the first two verses this is posed.


The idea of God being on the side of the opposition or deserting the people was beyond imagining but the writer decides to do so anyway. He is reflecting on a period when an opposing army had attacked them and what would have been the result of the battle if God was absent. They would be eaten alive! Swept away like debris in a raging flood, they would be overwhelmed by the torrent of water and would have been drowned. The psalmist mixes his metaphors a little but the idea is clear. The people would have been wiped out, they would have no hope and no future.


There is never a time when God is not on your side, he stands with you in the battle and holds you by his right hand. The people of Israel faced many battles, often against overwhelming odds but they always knew that God was with them. Zephaniah wrote: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (3:17). The people knew this, he was Immanuel – God is with us, but in the heat of the battle, when faith is shaky it is easy to doubt and become anxious. For this reason the writer tells the people: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—let Israel now say”. They needed to remind themselves of God’s help in the past and the guarantee of his help both in the present and in the future. Let the people say – God is on our side!


What was true for the people of Israel is certainly true for you and me. We face battles, sometimes they threaten to overwhelm us. The enemy seems too big, the challenge too difficult, the obstacles immovable, we may feel we are drowning in a sea of difficulties, but God is on our side. It has been said that one person and God is always a majority. God chose Elijah to stand alone against the prophets of Baal and King Ahab, Moses to stand alone against Pharoah. When Gideon was commanded to go and fight the Midianites he was told his army was too big and to get rid of most of them. When Jesus went the cross he went alone. Of course none of these were alone, God was on their side. You are never alone in your battle; God is on your side. He is with you, and he is for you.


The writer of the Psalm gave God the praise he deserves. He had not allowed victory to their enemy, he broke apart their snare and traps and like birds released from a cage they flew away. There may be circumstances in your life that make you feel trapped. There may be habits of life that hold you captive, there seems to be no way out, no way of escape. You may have a mindset that makes you act like you are defeated or are a victim – the cage has been opened, the snare broken, the way to freedom is open before you, like a bird open your wings and fly away!


The one who sets the captive free, who is your always present help in a time of trouble is the Lord, Immanuel -God who is with you. It is he that made the heaven and the earth, there is nothing too difficult for him, nothing beyond his authority or rule. The Lord God Almighty. He is with you, he is for you and he is on your side!

  1. Do you feel like God is on your side in your battles?
  2. Are you a victim of your past or have you left you cage behind?
  3. How do you strengthen you faith when your are feeling anxious?
  1. The Lord Surrounds His People
    Psalm 125

Those who trust in the Lord are compared to a mountain, not just any mountain, but Mount Zion. This was the dwelling of God and would never be moved. Mount Zion is referred to many times in the bible, it is used to identify: The City of David, the city of Jerusalem, the entire Jewish nation, Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom, and the eternal or Heavenly Jerusalem. In Hebrews 12:22 we read: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,” while in Revelation 14: “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.” It is also the physical feature on which Jerusalem was built and that is the primary reference here.


Mount Zion was one of a number of mountains, it was not the highest point but was surrounded by higher peaks, in a sense providing a defense against invaders. The word Zion means fortification and as the pilgrims ascended the hill the sight of Zion surrounded by those other mountains gave a great sense of security and stability. They were mountains, they couldn’t be moved. This is the picture the writer wanted to convey, not that what they trusted in would be like a mountain, but they would be like Mount Zion, protected on every side, safe from attackers and protected from harm. There the Lord surrounds those who trust him, always and forever.


It is not uncommon to be reminded to love God, to obey him and to worship him, but the emphasis here is on trust. Our trust is not on or own strength, intelligence, financial resources or religious observance, we are not even to trust in our own faith. It is God in who we trust. Some may say that prayers are not answered because we do not have enough faith, as if it is faith itself that answers, or heals or delivers. It is our faith that allows us to access the grace of God, but it is in him we trust. If God’s actions were limited by the size or strength of our faith, then our salvation is based on our own efforts, it is based entirely on his mercy and lovingkindness. Otherwise, there would some days when I am feeling strong in faith that I could expect God’s mercy, but at other times when my faith is weak and when I most need his mercy that I will not receive it. God surrounds in love those who trust in him.


God will do good to those who are good and who are upright, but if he only looked favourably on those who are 100% faithful and obedient none of us would be blessed. Righteousness depends not on our actions but on those of Jesus Christ, he has become our righteousness. While commenting on “I Corinthians 1:30, Watchman Nee writes: Christ became wisdom to us from God. What does this mean? …This means that wisdom includes the following three things: righteousness, sanctification, and redemption… Wisdom is the subject, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption are the explanation of how Christ becomes our wisdom.” We can claim to be upright and righteous because of God’s grace which draws us to himself through our faith In Jesus Christ. Trust in the Lord and he will surround you with his love and you will not be moved.

  1. Do you feel surrounded by God?
  2. Would you say you trust God more than anything else?
  3. Have you ever thought that God’s answers to you depend on the size of your faith?
  1. We thought we were dreaming
    Psalm 126

As the pilgrims continued their journey they reminisced about their battles, both the victories and also the defeats. One unidentified event came to their minds about when they had suffered a great loss and thought they were going to suffer for a long period. In some miraculous way God reversed their fortunes and they recovered what they had lost. They couldn’t quite believe it, they thought they were dreaming.


Then they realized it wasn’t a dream and they erupted in joy and laughter. The faced a dismal future, but God had changed things, what else could they do but tell everybody? The song was on their lips – “The Lord has done great things for us” everybody needed to know. This is perhaps a picture of how we should react when we realise what God has done for us in Christ. He has broken the chains, set us free, we have been moved from darkness to light. Surely we will be filled with joy and laughter and we too will want to tell the world. Jesus refers in Acts 1:8 just before he ascended to the father, he told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit came upon them that they would be filled with power and would tell everybody throughout the whole world.


It seems that Christians today are not quite so enthusiastic about telling people about what God has done, we are a little more restrained and orderly! Baptism is an occasion for a new believer to make a public declaration that they have been set free and given new life. There are other opportunities as well, but public confession and testimony should be normal for every believer.


The people had gone through hard times and were spiritually dry, so they recalled God’s mercy in earlier times and they now asked him to do the same for them. There had been tears, now they looked forward to joy. It is important to notice that going out weeping in self pity doesn’t guarantee a harvest of joy, it is the one who is weeping but is carrying seed that will come home with an abundant reward. This passage is sometimes used to refer to the task of taking the good news of Jesus to those who have not heard it. General William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army sent two young women to work in a rescue station, after labouring without success they wrote to Booth: “We’re so tired and disheartened. We’ve tried everything that we’ve been taught to do. Please move us to another location.” Booth’s now famous response was short and to the point: “Try tears”.


What is it that brings you to tears? Do you find yourself overcome at the thought of men and women, boys and girls going to a Christless eternity, or the sight of people caught up in famine or war or flood without hope? Do those tears lead you to pray, and do your prayers lead you to tears? These are the tears that will lead you to a bountiful harvest. There are times in our lives when we suffer personal loss that will also lead us to tears, and Jesus assured us that those who mourn will be blessed, indeed they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Jesus wept at the graveside of Lazarus, he also wept over Jerusalem. He felt the pain of those who suffered or who would suffer, and he was moved to tears. Too often though our tears are those of self pity and the harvest that comes from self pity is reduced mental and emotional strength, or as some might call it, resilience. What do you have in your bag of seed? Hope, faith, love, mercy, charity, good works, money, time? Let your tears soak the seed and make it pliable then cast it far and wide and look for a harvest!

  1. Can you remember a time when God reversed your fortunes?
  2. How comfortable are you telling people about what God has done?
  3. Have you tried tears when you pray for the lost?