Psalms Readings – Week 17

Rev. Ben Lovell   -  

April 25 – Psalm 120

A song of ascents.

I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,  from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,  and what more besides,  you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,  with burning coals of the broom bush.

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,  that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived  among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;  but when I speak, they are for war.

Psalms 120-134 are commonly called the “songs of ascents” as they were sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals. According to the Old Testament, Jerusalem is always “up,” regardless of the actual elevation of the starting point. There is no certain route that is mentioned, rather the songs focus on the destination of Zion/Jerusalem. 

Psalm 120 speaks of a believer who is in exile. Verses 1-2 begin with a prayer for deliverance from those who attack with their words. Verses 3-4 describe the judgment for such persons, and verses 5-7 conclude with a lament stating his separation and desire for peace.  

The most common opponent we have found in Psalms is the tongue. In Psalm 5:9, David said, “Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies.”

Bearing false witness against someone was especially evil because there were few ways to vindicate one’s claims and reputation. Consequently, the Bible addresses this topic frequently and even does so in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:16, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

The wood from the broom brush created quality charcoal which made for lasting fires. It was a convenient source of fuel in the desert. We may remember that Elijah slept under a broom bush in the desert and ate a meal likely prepared over the coals from a broom bush (1 Kings 19:4–6).

The psalmist states the impossible. He says he lives in Meshek which is in modern Turkey, and Kedar which is in Arabia. Obviously, the psalmist cannot be in both places at the same time. He is poetically making the point that these faraway places in opposite direction of one another refer to the vast alienation that God’s worshiping community was experiencing being separated from Zion. 

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom which is part of the word for Jerusalem. For him, to be at home in Jerusalem in the presence of God was to be at peace. The same is true for us. When we are at home in Christ Jesus, we can be at peace within ourselves regardless of our circumstances.  

John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: When do you feel far away from the Lord? How will you welcome the peace of Jesus into your life? 

April 26 – Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

As the people of God made their pilgrimage to Zion to worship, this song reminded them the Lord was with them every step of the way. Regardless of the difficulties they experienced, the Lord was their helper. 

There are four scenarios of danger: Verses 1-2 speak of general danger where the Lord provides help. Verses 3-4 speak of their feet slipping, but God watches over them. In verses 5-6, the elements are unpredictable, symbolized by the sun and moon, but the Lord is greater. In verses 7-8, travelers feared bandits on their journeys, but the Lord provides protection from those who seek to harm them. 

The mountains are not the source of help, but the Lord who dwells in the most holy mountain of Zion is. The Lord is more than a local deity who exists on a single mountain for a small group of people. He is the Lord of all the earth who made the vast universe. He is great and good! 

The reason the traveler’s foot will not slip over a treacherous path is that the Lord watches over His people. The Lord’s care extends to the small details of even where we step. Because God never sleeps, He is always looking out for us.  

The sun and moon represent the heavenly bodies, and the elements of heat, cold, rain, snow, lightning, and wind. He is our shade which is a refuge in the midst of scorching heat. 

God protects His people during each day’s routine but also when evil actively seeks to bring us down and take us out. We can be confident that whether we are coming or going, whatever we do, the Lord is watching over us, even now, in this very moment.  

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: Where does your help come? When you are in trouble what do you do first? How does this psalm help you think about God’s watchful care over your life?  

April 27 – Psalm 122

A song of ascents. Of David.

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

David’s name appears in four of the songs of ascents. This is fitting because David, as king, is closely connected to Zion. There are three sections to the psalm with each one referring to “house.” 

Verses 1-2 speak of the entire pilgrimage from the declaration of “let us go” to the pilgrims standing at the gates of Jerusalem, ready to enter God’s holy city. Pilgrims “ascend” to Jerusalem because it is “above” every other location, if not in altitude, in holiness as being set apart for the glorious Lord.  

“According to the statute” speaks of three major festivals that were commanded for pilgrims to celebrate at Jerusalem each year: the Festival of Unleavened Bread (includes Passover), the Festival of Harvest (Weeks or Pentecost), and the Festival of Ingathering (Booths or Tabernacles)

Jerusalem is not only the home of the Lord; the house of King David is there also. There is a close relationship between the Lord’s presence in Jerusalem and the throne of His anointed leader.  The reign of the Lord and the reign of the king do not compete against one another; rather, they were to be a “hand in glove” as the king’s primary responsibility was to lead the nation spiritually according to God’s law. 

It was vital to pray for Jerusalem’s peace so it could live up to its name. He says the peace benefits his family and friends and the house of the Lord. The people of God thrive when the center of God’s earthly kingdom is secure and at peace so they can freely worship at the house of the Lord. May we pray for the peace of the earthly locations of power: Jerusalem, Washington DC, other major centers of power, including the heavenly presence of God on earth in the Body of Christ, the Church.  

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: Are you motivated to pray for peace in our world? What motivates you? 

April 28 – Psalm 123

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
  so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end  of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.

Psalm 124

A song of ascents. Of David.

If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side  when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive  when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,  the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters  would have swept us away.

Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird  from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,  the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 123 declares they look to heaven as they march to Zion because they know that is God’s highest throne. The earthly throne of God’s presence may be in Jerusalem, but the temple cannot contain the infinite presence of God. As others, who are subjected to their earthly masters, look to them for mercy so the people of God keep looking up in faith until God shows His mercy to them.  

These worshipers, not only look up, but ask for the Lord’s mercy because they have been ridiculed and shown dishonor over and over again from the unnamed proud and ungodly peoples who are attacking them. 

Psalm 124 celebrates the Lord’s delivering his people from an enemy that could have destroyed them. It corresponds well with Psalm 123 because it recounts the deliverance that it asked for. 

Verses 1-5 tell of the possible outcomes if the Lord had not defended his people. They would have been swallowed alive; the flood waters would have engulfed, swept over, and swept them away. Such flash floods are powerful and cannot be defended against on our own strength. 

Verses 6-8 give praise for the Lord’s work in delivering them. He offers different images of salvation: they were not torn to pieces by the teeth of a vicious animal, they have escaped as a bird from a broken snare. God has accomplished this. So, David offers a positive faith declaration that their help is the name of the Lord who powerfully created the heaven and earth. There is no greater power to call upon. If God created the massive universe, then surely God can help us in our troubles.   

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: Do you need God’s mercy? Can you declare faith in God’s ultimate power? Where are you seeking God’s mercy and help in your life today?  

April 29 – Psalm 125

A song of ascents.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people  both now and forevermore.

The scepter of the wicked will not remain
over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.

Lord, do good to those who are good,
to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways
the Lord will banish with the evildoers.Peace be on Israel.

Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
    will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 125 compares the faithful to Mount Zion. Just as other mountains surround the holy city, so the Lord encircles His people to protect them from the evil that presses in against them. The promise does not have an expiration date. It is now and forevermore. 

The influence of evil rulers will not always stand against God’s people. Ultimately, this is fulfilled in Jesus who leads us in righteousness until He banishes all evil from creation. In that day, good will be awarded to those made good by Jesus, but those who have failed to be redeemed will be eternally punished. As we saw yesterday, the prayer for peace upon Israel was always on their minds. 

Psalm 126 highlights the importance of remembering the past acts of the Lord. If the Lord was able to do it in the past, He can do it again. Just as Psalm 125 relates, God will make all things right again.

There are two results of God’s restoration: the people are filled with joy, and the testimony of the restoration reaches the nations. The ultimate goal for the people of God is to be a witness to the world of God’s wonder working power. In a world of trouble and pain, we may weep as we go about our faithful witness and service in the Lord, but we can be assured one day we will return with tremendous joy and a magnificent harvest. May we hold on to this hope in the midst of darkness. 

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: Do you practice remembering God’s faithfulness in the past to give you encouragement for today? Are you holding on to the promise that all things will be made right? 

April 30 – Psalm 127

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,  the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early  and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—

for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord,  offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man  whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame  when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 128

A song of ascents.

Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
  your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion;

  may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem  all the days of your life.
May you live to see your children’s children—peace be on Israel.

Psalm 127 speaks of the mysterious interaction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It focuses on the home and the city as an example. Obviously, there is an important part that we play in building a house, guarding a city, and having children, but the emphasis here lies with the Lord’s role in all three. Pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem were going in the right direction for blessing to be pronounced upon their family life. 

The psalm instructs us to recognize that in all of our work we should consider and ask for the Lord’s help. Plus, we should understand that children, as challenging as they might be, are a blessing! 

Psalm 127 and Psalm 128 both speak of the ways the Lord blesses and that such blessing is found in Zion, where God is worshiped. As mentioned several times before, blessing from God originates when we have a holy reverence for God and walk in obedience to His instructions. This is the foundation from which all blessing flows from God. 

The specific blessings mentioned include the ability to eat what you have produced and your family who sits with you at the table. The psalmist reiterates his point that those who fear the Lord receive the blessings of God. Again, this blessing comes from Zion, encouraging the pilgrims to finish their journey in wholehearted worship of the Lord. A final prayer of blessing is for the worshipers to experience the shalom of Jerusalem and to live long enough to enjoy their grandchildren. 

Having a healthy fear, a holy reverence for the Lord opens the way for God’s blessings to come to us.

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: Are you receptive to God’s blessing by having a holy reverence for the Lord? Does such a healthy fear motivate you to be obedient to the Lord and His word?

May 1 – Psalm 129

A song of ascents.

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”  let Israel say;
“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.
Plowmen have plowed my back  and made their furrows long.
But the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”

May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame.
May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow;
a reaper cannot fill his hands with it, nor one who gathers fill his arms.
May those who pass by not say to them, “The blessing of the Lord be on you;
we bless you in the name of the Lord.”

Psalm 130

A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

Psalm 129 is the opposite of Psalm 128 where blessing flows from Zion. Psalm 129 pronounces curses on those who hate Zion. This psalm reminded the pilgrims that the journey to Zion is not easy nor is it free from the many challenges along the way.  

As it was for this psalmist, youth should be taught that opposition will come in many forms as they follow Jesus. They should not be surprised that the road of discipleship is marked with trouble. However, we must tell them the rest of the story as found in the psalmist’s powerful statement of faith, “but they have not gained victory over me.” The Lord had cut him free from the cords of the ungodly. 

It sounds similar to the Apostle John who said in response to the spirits of the antichrist already in the world, 1 John 4:4, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Jesus is greater than whatever opposes us. 

The ancient church identified Psalm 130 as one of seven penitential psalms. It offers hope that the Lord will one day remove the chief barrier to serving him: sin. As pilgrims made their way to Zion, they remembered the greatest obstacle to true worship was not their enemies but sin, which actually hindered them from serving God. This psalm pleads for mercy and encourages God’s people to wait on that mercy for God Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. We know God ultimately answered this prayer in Jesus who came to rescue all who would trust in Him as Savior and Lord. 

Memory Verse: Psalm 121:1-2, I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Question(s) to Consider: Are you instructing youth about the road of discipleship, both the reality of difficulty and promise of victory? Have you received your redemption from all your sins in Jesus?