Song of ascents, Pilgrim Psalms, 120-134; numerous theories, some much more fanciful than others! Problem is, no sure evidence within group of psalms or elsewhere in Bible source of “title”. Four written by David (122, 124, 131, 133), one by Solomon (127); remainder, anonymous. About best we can do is say: since are grouped together within larger “volume”, have the same title, probably represent a separate collection merged into Psalter. Basic meaning of word translated “ascents” – go up, climb, ascend. Possible term refers to songs sung on one of three annual pilgrimages up to Jerusalem. Equally possible – title of mini-hymbook used by God’s people and kept intact in Psalter, referring to their praise going up to God as hymns were sung.
Whatever real story is, are now an integral part of God’s Word – there for our profit, comfort and encouragement. Are all generally short, to the point, 132 being the exception with regard to length. Themes are just as relevant today as in time of David and Solomon. If a single theme, would be that of “Zion, the house of the Lord”, referenced in 10 of 15. If they are Pilgrim Psalms, closely associated with annual pilgrimage to Zion / Jerusalem, are also applicable to 21st century Christians on pilgrimage through life to Heavenly Zion.
Google hits: war – 2 billion; battle – 814 mil.; fight – 800 mil.; conflict – 270 mil. How about terms pertinent to the church? Hits: religious war – 276 mil.; culture war – 127 mil.; worship war – 70 mil.; peace – 748 mil., in 4th place. I know, Google not the authority! However, does give insight into what people thinking / writing / talking about. Nearly 6:1 war:peace. Bible’s ratio – less than 1.5:1. Bible not silent about war and battles and conflict; however, in English-speaking world, make reference to conflict at 4x rate of Bible.
Solution not to “just think happy thoughts”, believe in “power of positive thinking”, take attitude “it’s mind over matter, if you don’t mind it don’t matter”. Is not a problem of our imagination, or perspective; is a real one, has existed since nearly beginning. What we must do is this: correctly identify the enemy, engage the enemy the right way, use the right weapons. God’s word is clear on all three. If we’re going to use the language of conflict – war, battle, and the like – be sure you’re clear on who the enemy is, and that you’re targeting the right one.
We think of Gen. 3:15 as Protoevangelion, First Gospel, and it is… the second part. But second part makes little sense, has no application without first part:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
The way God has defined it: Satan is mankind’s enemy; mankind is Christ’s enemy; Satan is Christ’s enemy; mankind is caught in crossfire of its own making and of Satan’s. Kinda depressing when you think about it! Don’t forget second part of the verse – yes, Satan is Christ’s enemy, but he LOSES in the end. Know that because last chapter has been written, we’ve read it. Meanwhile, Satan and his agents doing their best to stir up mayhem. Since God is out of reach, his people are substitute target; is easy to forget that
Eph. 6:11-12 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Psalmist has it exactly right: focus, priorities, worldview. He cries out for help, recognizes the appropriate response, understands the tension between already and not yet.
A. cry for help v.1-2
no question here about right focus: “to the Lord in my distress I cried” – to Yahweh, the God of the covenant; might think, well yeah, of course, in distress you cry out to God… but how often and how soon do we actually do that
says as much about God’s character as that of psalmist: a dependent cries out, the One who carries the other part of covenant obligation answers plea for help
first verse both testimony and example – this is what he did, how God responded; this is what we should do, how God will respond
instead of crying about our distress, should cry out to God; when stuff happens that is truly distressing (not annoying or inconvenient), matter of important principle, who is the one who can help: not neighbor, not even brother or sister, only God
especially true when subject is things that rightly classify as war / battle – are times when we must stand together… all in total dependence on God for all resources
not enough detail given in text to identify specific circumstances that led to his distress; makes psalm even more helpful
general idea given, had something to do with slanderous communication; broad enough that can apply to variety of situations
what are kinds of things we should get exercised about, and how should we respond? matters of biblical principle, not preference… and seeking God’s help first
and always remember who the one behind the curtain is – Satan and corrupting work of sin in fallen mankind
good way to start off on pilgrimage, or next leg of journey: was in need, cried to God, he heard me – cause for rejoicing, thanksgiving
details are important, is of greater importance to keep focus primarily on God, not get bogged down in circumstances
even though we can rightly assume God will hear prayer of his children, should in no way diminish our joy and thankfulness when he does respond
God then deserves thanksgiving and praise on two counts: he heard, and he acted in response to our request
primary issue here for psalmist – slander and deceit – this time, problem causing distress was assaults on his reputation
“It will need divine power to save a man from these deadly instruments. Lips are soft; but when they are lying lips they suck away the life of character and are as murderous as razors.” CHS
is this sort of thing that is practiced by enemies of Christ in other parts of world, will become more prevalent here
accuse a Christian of desecrating Qu’ran, insulting Muhammad, in Muslim country or where Shari’a law is followed
difficult to impossible to successfully defend against lies and accompanying deceit, specially when it’s what listener wants to hear – always want to hear dirt about someone, particularly when makes you or your position more favorable
good to be reminded of what Jesus said about his arch-enemy, Satan:
John 8:44“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
used falsehood and deception to take the spiritual life of Adam and Eve, promotes that kind of behavior in his agents
B. sharp response v.3-4
sharp words deserve sharp response – from earthly authority where appropriate, from God when his kids are involved
slight rabbit trail: are laws that come under civil authority dealing with slander and falsehood: libel and perjury both unlawful
is right and proper for civil remedies to be brought into play when circumstances dictate
God himself sure to get involved when those bent on doing harm have Christians or Christ’s church in their sights
attack on the church, individually or corporately, is attack on Christ; attempts to harm the church viewed by Christ as attempts to persecute him
Acts 9:1, 4-5Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest… he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Jesus so closely identifies with his body, the church, he takes it personally when evildoers slander his people
the response: a warrior, whose flaming arrows in return for arrows of poisonous speech deal forcefully with the problem
is this perhaps a hint of the Warrior on the white horse, “called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.”
God has no tolerance for those who have lying lips, use a deceitful tongue, who are deceptive talkers; in fact, he will not have them in his presence
Rev. 21:8 “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” Rev. 22:15 “outside is… everyone who loves and practices falsehood”
when we cry out for help, God may choose to deal enemies now, may deal with them later; either way, truth will prevail
C. the back story v.5-7
psalmist began by declaring how “to the Lord in my distress I cried” – why in distress? in part because of mistreatment by enemies
not the only source of distress / frustration: has eyes firmly focused on God and his sanctuary, place of refuge from turmoil and strife – what a contrast with his “culture”
describes his surroundings like living in Meshech or Kedar – foreigners, barbarians, enemies of God and covenant people
constantly in midst of people at war with each other – finding fault, criticizing, accusing, speaking ill of one another, even doing bodily harm or worse
doing his best to make peace, live at peace – an impossible task given determination of “neighbors” to be at war
most difficult – the insult, affront to God such disobedience represents; one who loves God desires peace, feels awkward and out of place in situations of conflict
believers today are in similar circumstances – rubbing shoulders with troublemakers of all sorts: those who are open enemies of God and his people, those who profess Christianity yet live like unbelievers
continual conflict makes nerves raw, respite we enjoy in sanctuary highlights wrongness of conflict, increases desire for peace
seeing and experiencing God is at top of list of desires; a close second – an end to conflict; not peace at all costs, rather peace because final battle has been fought and won
Don’t go too far with it but… Jesus could have said this! Spent all of his earthly life among slanderers and deceivers, the target of the arch-Deceiver. Could have prayed to his Father to make it stop; he did ask “if it be possible…” At same time knew His task was to be the one to overcome evil, to overcome the world, to defeat Satan. The end is certain, Jesus will have full and final victories over all his enemies and the enemies of his people.
Right now we are in between two earth-changing battles – Calvary and Armageddon. We must have similar perspective to psalmist: recognize and identify real enemy; cry out to God for his help; remain committed to Christ and peace. Satan is our enemy, our task is to “stand against the wiles of the devil”, “stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:11-13). Not our job to chase the devil down, take the fight to him, be the aggressors, but to stand.
Not expected to stand on our own, in our own strength. That comes first: Eph. 6:10 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” We stand, He fights; He wins because God is sovereign ruler of all things, committed to doing all necessary for us to persevere. So long as we depend on God for strength, wisdom, understanding, direction, we will lack nothing. And someday, at our journey’s end, He will make it stop!