Today we take leave of our extended visit with Psalm 119 and move on to Psalm 120 for our worship preparation meditations. Psalm 120 starts the “song of degree” psalms, also known as “songs of ascent”, called such because they were song by the people of Israel (pilgrims) as they made their way up to Jerusalem and the temple on Mt.Zion for worship. There are fifteen of these ascent psalms, extending from Psalm 120 to Psalm 134. Most are brief, but all are beautiful.
As such these Psalms are very fitting for our own worship readiness. For we NT believers and worshipers are also a pilgrim people, traveling through this present evil world on our way to the heavenly city (cf. Heb.12:18-29; 1 Pet.1:1-5). Along the way we stop for rest (Sunday) and worship. And we press on each day toward our perfect hope. As we make this journey to our eternal home, we sing our way home – sing of our trials and tribulations, sing of the Lord’s mercies, sing of the joys and blessings of God’s house, sing of our hope to come.
It would be good to read through all of these psalms in one sitting to get a feel for their meaning and significance. As you do, picture yourself first of all as an Israelite traveling to Jerusalem for worship. Then picture yourself as a NT Christian making your way to Zion above for everlasting worship. And then remember that every first day of the week is a foretaste of that everlasting day of rest.
Here is God’s Word in Psalm 120:
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.
At first glance Psalm 120 may not seem to be very appropriate for the pilgrims to sing as they journeyed to Zion. It seems to be a personal complaint against wicked enemies who have used their tongues to slander and hurt this child of God. He is weary of these “lying lips” and “sharp arrows”, and cries out to the Lord in his distress. He longs for peace in his life but these enemies are only for war.
Yet a little reflection on this first song of ascents points to a harsh reality in the life of God’s pilgrim people: they are a suffering and persecuted lot. It belongs to their life here in this present world to be surrounded by hateful, vicious, spiteful enemies who use them and abuse them. That was true in the OT age, and it is no less true in the NT age. All of Scripture points us to this reality in our lives as followers of Christ (Read all of 1 Peter for a reality check!). And, yes, we do get weary of the slander and the reproach. We do tire of the constant battle. We long for peace, for a place of rest, for a respite in this world of sin and suffering. And we cry out to God our sovereign Savior and Lord in this distress we experience day in and day out.
But don’t we see that this is one of the reasons why we need to make our way to Zion for worship? It is the great mercy of God to give His weary pilgrims a day of rest and worship, a quiet and peaceful place to lay our souls (and bodies) down in His mighty, comforting presence. The Lord’s Day is such a needed day on our calendars precisely because of the reality of suffering in this world! And as we make our way “up” to this day, we sing – yes, also in our distress of being sick and tired of all the lying lips and false tongues and taunts and jeers against us in this world! And we cry out to the One Who is able to help us, to comfort us, to preserve us, to strengthen us.
And then we enter our God’s presence on Sunday with our fellow pilgrims and we find rest for our weary souls. Pilgrim peace in a world of battle. Faithful love in a world of raging hate. What a gift! What a blessing! And so we sing some more – of God’s greatness and great goodness! Of His mercy and grace to us sinners who also have lying lips and false tongues, and who can also speak sharp arrows that hurt – even against one another! Of Christ and His cross! Of the Lamb slain for us and now victorious for us, also over all these foes.
And as blessed as these days of rest and worship are, we remember that we have a better day coming. We are traveling not merely to Faith PRC (my home congregation and to whatever yours is), but to the new Jerusalem! We have a great and sure hope before us! Everlasting rest! Perfect peace! And endless worship of the God Who saved us, is saving us, and will yet save us completely! In Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended, yet battling, still conquering King!
And for this reason too we sing as we go “up” today. For we are most certainly making pilgrim progress on this journey to the heavenly city. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. Sometimes I even feel that I am retrogressing (going backward). But I am not. According to Christ’s all-accomplishing work and by God’s all-powerful grace, I – and all my fellow pilgrims – are moving forward to Zion. Together we shall make it home. Today is another proof of that. And so we sing, “Deliver my soul, O LORD!”
If you wish to meditate on Psalm 120 through the music of the Psalter, I make this versification of it available to you. Below are the lyrics; piano accompaniment may also be found at the page for this number.
1. I cried to God in my distress,
And by the Lord my prayer was heard;
O save me, Lord, from lying lips
And from the false, deceitful word.
2. What woe for falsehood can atone,
Or punish the deceitful tongue,
The tongue whose speech consumes like fire,
Whose words like deadly shafts are flung?
3. Alas for me, whose lot is cast
With those who find their joy in strife!
With those who hate the paths of peace
I long have dwelt and spent my life.
4. In thought and act I am for peace,
Peace I pursue and ever seek;
But those about me are for strife,
Though I in love and kindness speak.