Today: [Psalm 128-130] 15 Psalms of Ascent – Entering into God’s Rest. In this midst of the litany of the Psalms there are 15 Psalms grouped together and titled “Song of Degrees” or “Psalms of Ascent”. When we inquire into the spiritual meaning of the number 15 we find they represent for us the promise of rest, deliverance and ceasing from our own labors. The three psalms covered today are each found in this group of 15 and speak of ceasing from our own labors, trusting in God and finding cleansing when we fall short of His righteousness.
[Psa 128:1-6 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees.]] Blessed [is] every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. 2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy [shalt] thou [be], and [it shall be] well with thee. 3 Thy wife [shall be] as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. 4 Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. 5 The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. 6 Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, [and] peace upon Israel.
The 3 psalms we cover in this study are each number in the 15 “psalm of ascents” or “song of degrees” in the book of Psalms. They have also been called “Gradual Psalms”, “Psalms of the Pilgrim’s Steps”, or “Pilgrim Psalms”. Scholars believe they were sung by pilgrims as they approached on the road to Jerusalem. Others think they were sung by Levites ascending the 15 steps from the Court of Women to the Court of the Israelites – which given the coincidence of having the same number of steps as psalms would be plausible also as an explanation. Various histories also attempt to show that they were written in Nehemiah’s day after the walls of the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.
Whatever the reason for the writing of these Psalms or their authorship or dating – they have found their way into our canon and number exactly 15 psalms. What is the significance of the number 15? In Jewish festivals established in bible times the number 15 represents rest. The first day of the feast of unleavened bread and the first day of the feast of tabernacles are both days of rest for the people and fall on the 15th.
15 is also connected with reprieve and deliverance from death. King Hezekiah was given 15 additional years by the Lord after being healed of a deadly disease. The name that Joseph was given by Pharaoh was a 15 letter name. Joseph gave his people rest from famine when they came to live with him in Egypt. When we read the book of 1 Peter we find it quotes 15 Old Testament books. So we see that this number repeats in various ways throughout both the old and new testaments. It speaks of us of ascending to God in our walk with Him and entering into His rest and deliverance from death.
[Psa 129:1-8 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees.]] Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: 2 Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me. 3 The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows. 4 The LORD [is] righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked. 5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion. 6 Let them be as the grass [upon] the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up: 7 Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom. 8 Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD [be] upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD.
Psalm 129 speaks of the numerous afflictions of man throughout his lifetime. Afflictions come but the writer concludes that he is still alive and therefore none of the afflictions of life have prevailed against him. The writer of Psalms 34:19 agrees with this sentiment:
[Psa 34:19 KJV] 19 Many [are] the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
Have you been afflicted? As often is said “this too shall pass”. Who coined that term? It is a phrase commonly thought to be found in the bible but it is not. Some attribute it to a Persian poet. Others suggest Solomon himself said it. While it does not arise in holy writ nonetheless it is a truism. Nothing in terms of human experience, including suffering lasts forever. You may be going through something that you can see no end and no way out but God is sovereign. Put your trust in the Lord. Know that He is working in your life no matter what. There will come a day that the pressure and difficulty you are going through will simply be a footnote of God’s greater testimony in your life.
[Psa 130:1-8 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees.]] Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 But [there is] forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. 6 My soul [waiteth] for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: [I say, more than] they that watch for the morning. 7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD [there is] mercy, and with him [is] plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
In this psalm the writer cries out to God from the depths of His being. One of the great problems in modern life is that of dry, shallow experience. We are so caught up in the everyday that we seldom think deeply or feel things deeply in our soul. Here we see the writer reflecting on his own flawed human nature and in the depths of conviction and despair of life cries out to God for solace, comfort and deliverance.
In verse 3 the writer observes that if God kept a record of every offense that no one – not even those who think they are unimpeachably righteous would stand. In both the Old and New Testaments the universality of the sin condition is comfirmed:
[Psa 53:3 KJV] 3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; [there is] none that doeth good, no, not one.
[Rom 3:10 KJV] 10 There is none righteous, no, not one:
In the world we live in situation ethics and secular subjectivism are the rule of the day. The philosophical underpinning of secularism is that there are no absolute moral truths. What is right for you is right for you and every person lives according to his own individual truth. Against that backdrop we are denied those soul cleansing moments when we compare ourselves and our own moral ineptitude against the Holiness and Righteousness of an eternal God. When subjectivism rules our thinking we rob ourselves of the perception of the need of a Savior.
Verse 4 of our chapter says that there is forgiveness in God therefore we fear him. The closest modern thinking comes to the concept of sin and forgiveness see this as one who “sins against his truest self…” In other words (modern thinking suggests) we are our own “god” and answer to no higher ethic or being than our own appetites and desires. To this the writer of Psalms speaks to us from antiquity calling us back to the altar of obeisance and yieldeness to the God of the universe who sent His only son as the propitiation and solution for a sin sick world and our own fallen condition.
What about you? Do you need forgiveness? When is the last time you felt deep conviction and came to God as the psalmist – crying out for cleansing? Popular Christian teaching seldom mentions even the name of Jesus let alone pointing to the ravages of sin and our own need to be cleansed and forgiven in regard to who we are outside of Christ. Are you capable as a Christian of deep repentance and change? The God who never changes demands that we live our lives in a constant state of yielded submission. To that end He extends to us the efficacy of the cleansing fount of the shed blood of Calvary to redeem, cleanse and deliver us from every flaw, fault, sin and failure.
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