Today: [Psalm 120-124] Song of Ascents. Psalm 120 begins 15 psalms that are known as psalms of degrees or psalms of ascent. They were believed to have been sung by pilgrims making their way to the city of Jerusalem. When they came in sight of the city they were singing out their praise, their prayers and their trust in God. For us we pray for the peace of natural Jerusalem but we also bear in mind that the Church of the Living God is the true city of God of which we are all a part.
[Psa 120:1-7 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees.]] In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me. 2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, [and] from a deceitful tongue. 3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? 4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper. 5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, [that] I dwell in the tents of Kedar! 6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. 7 I [am for] peace: but when I speak, they [are] for war.
Psalm 120 is one of 15 psalms that begins with the words “Song of degrees” or “Psalm of Ascents” depending on which version you are reading. The reason for this designation is unclear. Some scholars believe it refers to a particular tune that was common to all 15 psalms. Others believe it was sung from a low pitch such as a bass voice and ended in a higher range such as soprano. Still others believed that these 15 psalms were sung by the faithful when they came to appear before the Lord 3 times in the year. Among the Jews and most authoritatively accepted by theologians is that it was sung by the Levites when ascending or descending the steps of the temple between the court of women and the court of the Israelites. David is accepted to be the author and the occasion of the song is when Doeg the Edomite massacred the priests at Shiloh at king Saul’s command.
In verse 2 the writer cries out to God to be delivered from lying lips. If you ever determine in your lifetime to seek first the kingdom and make a difference in the world around you – you will be lied on and misrepresented. Sometimes your enemies will lie on you and misrepresent your character. Other times your friends will lie to you misrepresenting just how far they are prepared to go in your defense. IN any case verse 7 gives us the ground to stand on that God will honor – though they are for war you are to seek peace and pursue it.
[Psa 121:1-8 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees.]] I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 2 My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. 3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. 4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD [is] thy keeper: the LORD [is] thy shade upon thy right hand. 6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. 8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
Psalm 121 is believed to originate with king David when he fled from before Absalom. It was used by ancient Jews when they were taken captive to Babylon. It is a military psalm and a prayer of soldiers going into battle.
The first verse of this psalm is often misapplied. There are many poems and songs that suggest that we are looking to the hills for expectation that God will answer us. In fact it is more accurately framed as a question “will I look to the hills (where the altars of the idols are hidden) whence comes my help?”. From David’s time throughout all the days of the kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms the people kept hidden altars to pagan deities. David is saying that his help was not in a hidden idol but in the Lord God of Israel who dwelled in His glory between the cherubims above the mercy seat in the temple.
[Psa 122:1-9 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees of David.]] I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. 2 Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. 3 Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together: 4 Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD. 5 For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. 7 Peace be within thy walls, [and] prosperity within thy palaces. 8 For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace [be] within thee. 9 Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.
Psalm 122 is also a psalm of ascents or degrees and in ancient histories this psalm was used to commemorate when Cyrus king of Persia commissioned the Jews to return from captivity and rebuild the temple and the city of God.
This psalm rejoices in the city of God. There are two understanding of just what the city of God is. We can look to natural Jerusalem and pray for peace in the Middle East. We also recognize as New Testament believers what the writer of Hebrews tells us regarding the Church of the Living God being the true city of which natural Jerusalem is only the shadow:
[Heb 12:22-23 KJV] 22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
It is important to keep this in mind so that we are ever reminded that the habitation of God is not made with hands but rather the human heart is His dwelling place. Jesus did not die for a plot of ground in the Middle East. He gave His life to take up residence in our hearts and to bring us together corporately as the city of God.
[Psa 123:1-4 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees.]] Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants [look] unto the hand of their masters, [and] as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes [wait] upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us. 3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, [and] with the contempt of the proud.
This psalm more so than any other psalm of the 15 psalms of degrees or ascents is not accepted or thought to be written by king David. One scholar makes the case that it was written in Isaiah’s time when the city was besieged in Hezekiah’s day. Others believe it was written when Antiochus Epiphanes was persecuting the Jews under his brutal campaigns.
This psalm expresses the sentiment of waiting on God whilst enduring the scorn of those who hate the things of the kingdom. The writer states that the eyes of all the people are upon the Lord. Where are your eyes looking for relief and respite? Politics cannot save us. The next political Messiah cannot solve the challenges that the church faces. For years the Christian community has looked the Republican Party in the US to bring back prayer in schools and repeal abortion laws. What they have failed to recognize is that it was a Republican dominated court in 1962 that took prayer out of schools. It was a Republican court in 1972 that made abortion legal. We overlook the fact that in the years since the Abortion Holocaust began we have had 14 Republican Supreme Court justices and only 6 Democratic ones. The Republican party is not the party of God and country and it never has been. Where are we looking for deliverance from? Our hope is not found in a voting booth but on our knees as a people putting our expectations upon God.
[Psa 124:1-8 KJV] 1 [[A Song of degrees of David.]] If [it had not been] the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say; 2 If [it had not been] the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us: 3 Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: 4 Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: 5 Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. 6 Blessed [be] the LORD, who hath not given us [as] a prey to their teeth. 7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. 8 Our help [is] in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
This psalm has been applied to many of the different times when David and other kings in Judah were under assault against impossible odds. It is a prayer of distress and confidence in the Lord to deliver.
Psalm 124 is a psalm of testimony. If God was not on our side we would have been taken away long ago. The overall theme is the observation and declaration that our help is in the Lord and not any other false resource. Can you imagine when the people were journeying to Jerusalem to appear before the Lord singing this psalm. They would have come in sight of the city and seeing the temple in the distance declared that their trust was in the Living God and none other. Let that be your testimony as well.
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