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Out Of Exile
Psalm 120 & 122
I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, O LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? He will punish you with a warrior's sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree. Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.
I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD." Our feet are standing in your gates, O 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 the thrones for judgment stand, 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 brothers 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.
Ancient Israel’s experiences as they are recorded in the Old Testament act as a metaphor for the rest of us. For instance, the story of Israel's experience in Egypt, as they languished in bondage, but were delivered and made the journey to the Promised Land is a grand metaphor for us today and our own experiences of spiritual and emotional bondage and our desire for deliverance. The metaphor of Israel’s experience provides us with stirring themes of God’s power to save, deliver and redeem those who trust in God.
Perhaps the most powerful metaphor for us today is Israel's restoration after their captivity. Nearly a third of the OT deals in some way with Israel's story of sin, conquest, captivity and restoration. We see this in the end of II Kings & II Chronicles, most of the books of the prophets, and many of the Psalms. This Hub begins a series that will look at what are called the Psalms of Ascent. Psalm 120 is the first in a series of fifteen pilgrimage psalms called the Psalms of Ascent. The psalms were used during the pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. They are called Psalms of Ascent because of the fact that the city of Jerusalem was uphill from any direction and one must travel up to get there. Additionally, the temple was located on a high point within the city, so to worship at the temple the worshiper again had to go up. Quite literally, one has to go up to Zion!
And here is another metaphor for us from Israel’s experience: The writer of Psalm 120 was a person living in another country. Verse 5 uses the curious names of Meshech & Kedar. These were names of nomadic tribes from northern Arabia as well as place names where these tribes are from. It is believed that the Psalm was written after the restoration – after the time when Israel had been conquered and taken into captivity, then was able to return back to their homeland. However, even though all of the people of Israel were legally allowed to return to the land of Israel, many were not physically able to do so. The person writing the psalm lived with people of different customs, habits, and outlooks on life. The writer’s neighbors were people who didn’t worship Almighty God. The writer’s deepest desire was to journey to the place of Zion, the city of Jerusalem, where the temple of the LORD was located. It was only there where a proper sacrifice could be made.
In your daily life, do you ever feel that way? At work, at school, your neighbors, even members of your own family do not know the Lord. You try to live your life in faithfulness to God’s ways, but people you are in constant contact with do not care about these things. They do not know the ways of God, and don’t really care to know. What’s more, they don’t understand why you try to live the way that you do; you may even get made fun of by your neighbors and co-workers because you want to serve the Lord. You feel tired, and you wish that you could live in an environment where serving God wasn’t such a trial. Like the psalmist, you cry out to God, saying: “Save me, O LORD from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.” What are we to do?
The psalm writer wrote from a foreign land and lived in exile from his homeland. This person lived as a captive and desperately desired to journey back to her own country. This image of captivity, exile, and journeying back makes for another metaphor for us in our lives as people of God.
Sometimes we find ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually – and even physically – cut off from the life we used to know. This can manifest itself in the form of an illness, a loss of a job, a change of a relationship or personal doubts and fears. In situations like these, we feel very much like we are living in a foreign country. Yet God doesn’t leave us in exile. God calls us back to Godself and continually seeks to re-establish the relationship between the Creator and the created. God calls us to make the journey to Zion.
In Psalm 120 and 122, there are three images that can be helpful to us in our walk with God as God’s faithful people.
1) From Exile to ascent/journeying to God
I can identify with this image of exile and return from a time when I went through an extreme trial due to a vocational burnout. Do any of you reading this Hub have a story of trial when you felt cut off and exiled from where you needed and desired to be? I suspect that with each person, the details are different; maybe your situation involved a death of someone dear to you, or maybe it was an illness, or an accident, or a mistake you made. Whatever the circumstances, you found yourself cut off and it seemed like you were cut off from God. We are all on a spiritual journey we generally call life. How well will we make this journey? As followers of God, we seek to know God better each day and to do what God calls us to do. As God's people, it is our daily quest to know God and God's grace, allowing God to transform us by God's grace and to transform how we live our daily lives. You see, we don’t have to remain in the pain and loneliness of our exile. We can embark on a journey to get closer to God. God is constantly calling us home. Will we answer in faith and journey to God? What can we do to help each other in our journey to God?
2) We travel together – a member of a tribe or clan
We travel together – as a faith family or “tribe.” Psalm 122:4 reads: “All the tribes of Israel – God’s people…” We are God’s people, aren’t we (all who trust in God and God's grace are God's people)? We are members of one of the tribes of God’s people because we are adopted into God’s family through the work of Jesus Christ. We are all children of God!
You are a member of a spiritual family unit – a tribe: the Tribe of [you faith group]. And just like any family or tribe, we have members who are a delight to know, and members who – well? – we’re not so sure about! Also, like a family/tribe, we have incredible potential: talents, abilities, gifts, ideas, goals, and dreams. I believe that God is calling us to work together, with all of our potential, to help each other in the journey of growing in the Lord.
3) God’s peace (shalom)/God’s (w)holiness
As we make the upward journey of getting to know God more and more, we discover that we have a purpose – a mission. Psalm 122:6-9 says: 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 brothers 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."
The peace that the psalm writer was referring to was in the form of God's "shalom." The Hebrew word shalom is so much more rich than the English word "peace." So much more than the absence of conflict, shalom calls for the healing and wholeness of the individual. Shalom invokes peace of mind and soul. Shalom works for the prosperity of the person and place where that person lives. When we read "Pray for the [shalom] of Jerusalem, I believe that we should substitute where we live.
We need to pray for the shalom of our home town. We need to pray for the shalom of the region where we live. We need to pray for the shalom for our nations' capitols. Let us as people of faith pray for the shalom of the world in which we live!
God constantly calls to us in our exile. When we find ourselves trapped in our sin, God seeks to save us and bring us back to a restored relationship with Godself. God is constantly working to bring about our restoration. When we respond to God in faith, we are taken out of our exile of sin and isolation and are restored into God’s presence as God’s people.
What is our mission as a community of God's people? This is our mission as God’s people: it is to proclaim, by our words and actions the love God has for the whole world. What is God’s vision for us together as we make our journey together to know God more and to see God revealed as more real in our lives? God’s vision is that we support each other in love, as we together seek to know God. We have a message to proclaim, do you know what it is? Our message is that there is forgiveness, peace and blessing – God’s shalom – when we come out of exile and into God’s presence.