Bible: What Does Psalms 120-134 Teach Us About Worship and Godliness?
Jerusalem: The Holy City
Psalms 120-134: The Songs of Ascents
Deliverance from Trouble
The first of the Songs of Ascents (through Psalm 134) begins with answered prayer. Bernhard Anderson, author of Out of the Depths, labels it an individual lament—“praise offered to God during the time of his absence” (56) [v. 1].
The psalmist requests that the LORD deliver him from people who dissemble about wanting peace, but in actuality want nothing but war (vv. 2-7).
[What are “coals of the broom tree”?
It seems to be part of the punishment for the “false tongue” of the psalmist’s enemy.]
He bemoans his miserable state in their midst (vv. 5-6).
[Who are Meshech and Kedar?
Meshech was one of the sons of Japheth; his people comprised one of the three countries that traded with Tyre in the prophet Ezekiel's era (Ezek. 27:13).
Kedar was one of the children of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13); his descendants also did business with Tyre in Ezekiel’s day (cf. 27:21)].
Seeking the LORD
Looking to the LORD of heaven and earth for salvation will preserve the seeker in Israel (vv. 1-2).
[Why does the psalmist refer to the “hills”?
He ascends to Jerusalem, a city of high elevation.]
He is forever vigilant on the latter's behalf (vv. 3-4).
Yahweh will keep him safe from evil in the present and preserve him forever (vv. 5-8).
[This psalm reviews the great comfort that God provides for those who truly know Him and "seek" His help].
Abraham and Isaac
Encouragement to Spiritual Leaders
The Sitz im Leben (situation in life), especially important in these psalms, depicts pilgrims ascending the mountain to worship in the temple at Jerusalem.
David, the psalmist, expresses joy over the people's desire for worship (vv. 1-2).
After briefly commenting about Jerusalem's primary purpose as Israel's worship center (vv. 3-5), he instructs the nation to join him in prayer for its peace and prosperity (vv. 6-9).
[To witness other people's interest in the things of the LORD is heartening to a spiritual leader; he or she will work to sustain it through prayer].
The LORD's Mercy
The psalmist likens prayer to looking toward the One whose dwelling is Heaven.
He offers examples from ordinary horizontal relationships—servant-master and maid-mistress—, and compares them to the vertical one between the LORD and Israel (vv. 1-2).
He requests that God grant him mercy away from “the contempt of the proud” (vv. 3-4).
[God will mercifully limit what the proud does to His servant].
Praise for Deliverance
David employs logical "if . . . then" statements to show Israel their absolute need to depend upon the LORD to survive overwhelming odds.
He likens defeat to the effects of a consuming fire or of the “flooding waters” of an enemy (vv. 1-5).
Acknowledging the LORD's help on behalf of His people, David praises Him for rescuing them from death (“not given us as prey to their teeth,” “escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers”) [vv. 6-8].
[If your Creator is your Advocate and Helper, you have good reason to bless Him].
Faithfulness Brings Security to Israel
The author favorably compares believers' eternal stability to that of Mount Zion (Jerusalem) [v. 1].
By using a similar mountain analogy, he asserts that Yahweh also ensures His people’s eternal protection (v. 2).
God will not allow unrighteous rulers to rule over the Land forever, for then the righteous would depend upon evildoers (v. 3).
Good treatment for the upright and judgment on the crooked—these outcomes are what the writer asks from God's hand.
The psalmist asks God to grant peace in Israel (vv. 4-5).
[As long as Israel remains faithful to God, she will prosper in peace].
Restoration to God's Favor
After recalling how incredulously (“we were like those who dream”), yet joyfully, Israel behaved when he returned to Zion from his Babylonian captivity (vv. 1-2a), and how wonderfully he witnessed to God's salvation among his Gentile neighbors (v. 2b), the psalmist wholeheartedly agrees with the people by repeating their words (v. 3).
Still, he hopes for a future return (v. 4).
Verses 5-6—frequently applied today in the context of evangelistic efforts—probably refer to Israel’s future heart attitude when the nation will again return to the land.
Tears of repentance produce joy over her restoration, even the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.
[Restoration to God’s favor is the LORD’s sovereign work; when He moves in this way, it affects the world in marvelous ways].
Children: Blessings from God
Attributed to Solomon, this psalm recognizes that the believer must include God in his daily affairs in order to succeed. If he fails to do so, all his efforts will ultimately fall flat.
What is this king’s advice?
Learn to leave the project in God's hands, and you will sleep securely (vv. 1-2).
Besides the gift of security, God also gives children to parents as blessings.
Parents should enjoy them, knowing that they will one day represent the family and take on important responsibilities (vv. 3-5).
[Discovering how Solomon intended these themes to work together is the key to interpretation].
The Blessed Man
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Wait Upon the LORD
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The "Good Life" of the Blessed Man
The psalmist pictures a blessed man as one who fears God and lives according to divine dictates (v. 1).
This particular “happy” man works hard, and has a good wife and growing children (vv. 2-4). For such a man and his grandchildren to benefit from the continued goodness of God is the writer's prayer (vv. 5-6).
[The good life is the obedient, godly life; give your life’s endeavors all the effort that you possess in order to bring glory to God, and He will cause you to be happy with wonderful relationships].
Wait Upon the LORD
Taking on a form similar to Psalm 124:1, this song's introduction calls for Israel to remember the many long afflictions that the nation had endured at the hands of enemies (vv. 1-2a).
However, it also recalls how these foes failed to prevail against God's people, because the LORD was faithful to deliver them (vv. 2b-4).
Finally, the psalmist issues some imprecatory prayers against Zion-haters, comparing the latter to hay (vv. 5-8).
[Reliance upon God to exact vengeance shows a strong sense of justice].
Hope Amidst Sufferings
Apparently suffering depression because of sin, the writer pleads for God to answer his cries for help (vv. 1-2).
Having waited eagerly for Yahweh's mercy and forgiveness, he is confident that these blessings will come because "with Him" are such things (vv. 3-7).
He exhorts Israel to join him in hoping in God's redemption, for he is certain that it will surely come (vv. 7-8).
[No despair exists in genuine hope, though times of painful testing persist while you wait].
Rest in God's Arms
In this prayer, David presents himself as an example to Israel of one who simply trusts in the LORD.
By humbling himself as a little child, he is content to rest quietly, as though he were nestled against his mother's bosom (vv. 1-3).
["At rest" is a cherished position for the saint. However, in order to experience it consistently, he must learn to relinquish control of his life to the One who will nourish him, protect him, and never let him go].
The High Priest
Be Faithful to the LORD
A prayer composed on David's behalf, it asks that God “remember” the king (v. 1), and recounts his vow to find a suitable location for Yahweh’s dwelling place (vv. 2-5)
Verses 6-10 read as though someone found David's "no-sleep" oath, and then exhorted Israel to assemble to pray for him (cf. the Song of the Ark in Num. 10:35-36).
Afterwards, the psalmist rehearses God's promise to David and his descendants that if they keep the covenant, they will reign in Jerusalem (vv. 11-12; cf. 2 Sam. 7:12).
Yahweh had already decided to bless Zion forever with His presence, provision and salvation (vv. 13-18).
[Although God's covenant with David was unconditional, blessings upon individual sons depended upon their faithfulness to the LORD].
The Refreshment of Spiritual Unity
David compares unity among brethren (v. 1) to two refreshing events:
(1) the time when anointing oil was poured upon the head of the high priest Aaron and flowed down his garments (v. 2), and
(2) the time when heavenly dew descends upon the mountains of Jerusalem where the LORD "commanded the blessing—life forevermore" (v. 3).
Blessings (represented by flowing oil and water) extend to all community members.
[When relationships among the brethren are right, the blessings in church life can almost resemble heaven].
Bless the LORD--No Matter What
This song functions either as a command or as an exhortation to the nightwatchmen to praise the LORD while they stand guard in the temple.
It is also a prayer that the LORD, the Creator, might bless them (vv. 1-3).
[Whatever you do and wherever you are, you should not neglect to bless the LORD: a fitting way to conclude the Songs of Ascents].
© 2013 glynch1