In our days of crisis, real and even perceived, we need many things but nothing more than God’s Word…in our hearts, homes, and lives. A section that the Lord is using in my personal and influence space right now is Psalms 120-134 that carries the superscription, A song of degrees, sometimes translated as, “A Song of Ascents,” or “A Song of Steps.” The title “song of ascents” identifies each of Psalms 120–134 as a pilgrim song to be sung when the Israelites “ascended” (went up) to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. I observe one of two extremes in our day: one is to brashly keep driving forward as if nothing is “really that wrong” or allowing fear to stop us in our tracks from all movement, growth, and progress. Both are wrong—we need to worship our way into the center of God’s will that is always moving UPWARD AND ONWARD to the New Jerusalem.
One of the bitter experiences of a believer’s life is to be the victim of lies and slander. He can easily become a twisted mass of humiliation and frustration. That was the kind of distress that sent the psalmist racing to the Lord in this first “Song of Ascents.” A primary distraction that gets us off God’s path for us, especially during tough times, is the tension that builds between us and others around us…all processing stress differently! In a world of internal unrest and external animosity, how do we walk more perfectly before the Lord?
Psalm 120 provides three steps for us to take as we face crisis:
Pray for deliverance from slander. (1-2)
The specific distress intended can only be guessed, but there is no distress so grievous as that occasioned by slander. The psalmist could retaliate; or he could retain that distress within himself…both options toward which the prayerless believer gravitates. But the wisest course he could follow is the one he chose when he simply cried unto the Lord.
Have you noticed that pain, anger demand of we made-of-flesh people what is called verbal processing? (Even those who “clam up” eventually “blow up!”). Notice that the Psalmist focuses less upon who is TALKING ABOUT HIM and more upon WHO WOULD HEAR HIM! The end of verse one indicates that he was sure that God would answer him. The world around us has no one to talk to other than those around them—hence their horizontal, frustrated expressions. We who God bends His ear to hear, should be on a different level of processing stress.
Remember there is judgment for the wicked. (3-4)
Then quickly, the Psalmist turns aside to one particular offender nearby and predicts severe punishment for him. What sentence shall be handed down to him? Sharp arrows shot from the bow of the Master Archer. And what will be done to that deceitful tongue? Will it be washed with soap? No, it will be cauterized with glowing coals of the broom tree! According to MacDonald, the root of this desert shrub is used to produce burning charcoal, noted for its intense heat. It is not without significance that later the divine record declares that all liars “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev 21:8).
The reason we feel the need to “shout it out” with our slanderers is that WE ACTUALLY ARE NOT SURE IF GOD WILL DEAL WITH THEM OR SILENCE THEM! In contrast with that feeble tendency in us, Christ exhibited a different response, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pe 2:21-23).
Remember the issue of the slanderer is ultimately not with you but with God—a God who will reconcile the spewing toward Him in Christ…either as their Savior or their Judge! Shut your mouth and let THE WORD OF GOD doing the talking both now and in eternity! Before you get too caught up in the “judgment of those heathens,” note the following words from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad.” We also, outside of the grace of God, are a deserving part of the wicked and their consequences. May we allow that jarring realization to tenderize our tone toward even our worst offender who is intrinsically no worse than our own bent-toward-sin soul.
Pursue peace, as much as possible, with all men. (5-7)
If we are not careful, peace-robbing threats around us get us into an extremely unproductive and reactionary mode!
I recently read the following rundown of those who were extremely productive during their respective crisis:
While under quarantine, Shakespeare wrote King Lear.
While in quarantine, Isaac Newton developed calculus.
While under house arrest, Paul wrote a significant part of the New Testament.
While in prison, John Bunyan wrote Pilgrims Progress.
Consider what kingdom work you could do while staying home.
Two things concern the psalmist at the present moment: “That I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!“ Mesech was the son of Japheth in Genesis 10:2; Kedar was a son of Ishmael in Genesis 25:13. Though of different origin, their descendants seem to have had much the same manner, habits, and dispositions, all of them being idolaters, fierce and cruel.” The psalmist was saying that these two names embodied the demeanor of the enemies that surrounded him.
In verse seven, the Psalmist declared that he, in contrast, was a man of peace. For that reason he knew the Lord would vindicate his cause. Christ reminds us, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Mt. 5:9). We are most like God and most aligned with God when we are pursuing peace in less-than-conducive circumstances.
Often it is our response to the initial, predictable slander and verbal attacks from others that escalates fleshly responses instead of redeeming that tension through a pursuit of conquering peace! Would you be willing to admit that flaw and change? May we following the instruction of Paul who had to navigate his fair share of crisis, “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Ro. 12:17-21). Stop trading blows. Give good for evil and become a God-honoring builder of peace.
Piper in his assessment of these Psalms writes, “The stage has been set for these two competing realities to go head to head. God promises greatness and blessing, but they’re surrounded by turmoil and captivity. God says one thing, but they are experiencing another. Eventually these two competing realities lead to one central question: Is God going to keep His promise and do what He said? These two realities, and this one question, form the background to that section of psalms known as “The Psalms of Ascent.” This section, beginning with Psalm 120 and stretching through Psalm 134, is joined under that idea reflected in its name — “to ascend.” It means to step up or come out, and in the wider context of the psalter, these psalms envision the day when Israel comes out of their foreign exile. The hope is focused on the deliverance the Messiah will bring, rescuing his people from their captivity and restoring Jerusalem to glory and peace. This section of psalms jumps right in the middle of the tension. It cuts through the competing realities and determines that God’s promise will take the day. If the Psalms at large are a record of the fight of faith, the Psalms of Ascent are an absolute brawl. We have so much to learn from them.”
We have to choose between what others/circumstances say about us OR WHAT GOD HAS FOREVER SAID TO US! A new little one named Chloe was just added to our church family earlier today. What a reminder of God’s intentions and activities. Babies are still being born. People are still being saved. God is at work as we are undeniably ascending into His ultimate and eternal presence! The real question is as follows: In a day of rising tensions and spreading of blame, will you choose to worshipfully travel in praying for deliverance, remembering God will judge the wicked, and pursuing every avenue that may lead to peace?