Have you heard the expression “short but sweet”? This Psalm is short not only in length but tone with God and not so sweet. There are two key words in this Song of Ascents, “eyes” and “mercy.” The scene is the land of captivity—an all-too-familiar setting for the oppressed people of Israel. They found themselves there in Egypt, in Babylon, in Nazi Germany, in the Warsaw ghetto and more recently in Siberian slave-labor camps. Though the name is not mentioned, the country here is probably Babylon.
The question for us currently navigating a world of HORIZONTAL reactions is how do we purposely move VERTICALLY toward the Lord with our struggles?
Psalm 123 provides two honest steps for us to take in the face of crisis.
Be intentional with your eyes.
Ps 123:1-2a “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. 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…”
Have you noticed how your steering wheel tends to drift toward whatever you are looking at? The same is true in our worry and/or worship. The word “Eyes”-used four times in this brief Psalm means “mental and spiritual faculties.”
The first evidence of intentional eyes is a high gaze (1). The statement here is much bolder than that of 121:1. There is no question here concerning whom the psalmist looks to for help; he looks to Jehovah, “thou that dwellest in the heavens.” The psalmist knows where his God is; Jehovah is not on a journey like Baal in 1 Kings 18, but dwells in the heavens. Hence, there is no time day or night in which our God may not be approached in prayer.
Many ancient writers called this psalm Oculus Sperans (the eye of hope). If you were to ask me, “What are you, as a pastor, most concerned about in regard to your church people right now?,” it has less to do with physical risks and even mental health. It has much more to do with how they are being tempted to distract their eyes and hearts from the stresses around them in a foolish, destructive manner. One writer recently posted, “Watching pornography during the Coronavirus is like a person sentenced to house arrest because of arson setting his own house on fire.” How foolish and reckless are those eyes amongst others!
The tendency when we feel overwhelmed or threatened by horizontal realities is to feel like lifting our eyes to God “makes us too vulnerable.” When, in reality, it gives a fresh, bigger-context vision that is ONLY POSSIBLE THROUGH WORSHIP OF OUR HIGH, HOLY GOD!
The second manifestation of focused eyes is a humble gaze (2a). A beautiful picture is used to indicate the psalmist’s watchfulness in prayer. Middle-eastern servants were accustomed to sit in the corner of a room with their hands folded in their laps, watching the eyes of their masters and waiting for the slightest indication that the master desired their services. The psalmist has cast his eyes upon God; and he is looking steadfastly into the heavens, seeking to do the directives and promptings of his heavenly Master.
We are very familiar with what we want God to do for us; what about the other way around! If we are not careful, during crisis, we focus only on WHAT GOD SHOULD DO instead of also what WE SHOULD DO in harmony with heaven’s activity! Would you join me in changing that narrative in our church and community.
Plead with God for His mercy.
Ps 123:2b-4 “…until that he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.”
If we can only muster a short prayer, we must never forget to ask for mercy-something we desperately need and God makes available every day (La. 3:21-22). The word “Mercy,” used three times in this brief Psalm, means “favor, pity, consideration.”
The first characteristic of mercy-generating prayer is repetition (2b-3a). The measure of their need is indicated by the reiteration of this cry for mercy. This is refrain is later taught by and affirmed by Jesus Himself in Luke 18. The ultimate answer for our desperate need for mercy will be the return of Jesus Christ—will that moment find us worshipfully praying? Too often our prayer life lacks endurance and persistence. Are you so desperate for mercy that you will pray for it UNTIL YOU RECEIVE IT!
The second mercy-inducing element of prayer included here is an honest rawness (3b-4). “To be exceedingly filled” means to have the appetite fully satisfied. The idea here is that there is so much contempt for the psalmist that he could experience no more. Day after day the Jewish people have had a diet of scorn and hatred, dished out by their Gentile overlords. Too long they have endured the cutting, snide remarks of those who are at ease. Too long they have suffered under the arrogance of their proud Babylonian captors…Enough is enough! They feel that the breaking time has come. And so they pour out this compelling prayer to the One who is their only refuge and security in a world of anti-Semitism and discrimination.
The psalmist has done the only thing a godly individual in his situation could do. When the eyes of the scornful are turned on him, the psalmist knew not to look back. He knew where his help originated, and thus he looked solely to the Lord God for mercy! See, our worship is not always intended to be “warm and fuzzy”; it allows us to be brutally honest with God! Something or someone is going to feel the brunt of your desperation; Psalm 123 reveals that the Lord wants it TO BE HIM! Are you willing to share/worship with your raw emotions and physical needs to the Lord WHO KNOWS AND CARES!
Before we personalize in a flippant or sloppy manner this Psalm, may I remind you of God’s perspective on this awkward-at-best conversation. According to Tim Keller, “Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” Look to God. Be grateful to God for His precious, costly-to-Him mercy, and worship!
Here is a video link to this study.
In world of horizontal threats and fears, will you choose to step towards the Lord with INTENTIONAL EYES and PLEAS FOR MERCY?