The LORD Surrounds His People | Psalm 125

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts!
But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel!

Psalm 125 ESV

 

As noted previously, the Songs of Ascents appear to fall into five groupings of three loosely-connected psalms. Psalms 120-122 serve as songs for beginning the journey as they focused on discontentment with present conditions, expressing trust in God’s safekeeping, and a longing to be in Jerusalem. Psalms 123-125 then revolve around the themes of God’s mercy, deliverance, and protection. The progression is natural: first, crying to God for mercy (123); second, rejoicing in God’s deliverance (124); and finally, expressing confidence in God’s continual protection of His people (125).

THE LORD SURROUNDS HIS PEOPLE

Within the first two verses, we are presented with the glorious promise of this psalm: God’s protection of His people. The psalmist expresses this truth through two comparisons to Jerusalem.

First, he states that those who place their trust in God are like Mount Zion, which is both immovable and eternal. While there is something to be noted of the physical steadfastness of a mountain, Zion is so much more than set location within space and time. Instead, Zion is also both a concept and a promise. As a concept, Jerusalem represents the collective gathering of God’s people for worship. As a promise, Jerusalem represents the gathering that will one day occur, when people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) worship together in God’s presence for all eternity. Therefore, the immovability and eternality of Zion are rooted in the faithfulness of God, not the presence of that physical hill. Indeed, for those reasons, I would argue that Revelation 21 reveals that we are not simply like Mount Zion but in Christ we are Mount Zion. I believe that the New Jerusalem being described is the glorified people of God, Christ’s church, Israel.

The second comparison made is to the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. Having recently visited Bogota, I was reminded again of why cities are often founded in valleys. The surrounding mountains make the city feel as though it is secured within a natural fortress.

Living within the United States today makes the importance of these features appear less significant. Of course, there are always wars and rumors of wars happening, but those threats are still about what another country might do. Pease still hangs by a delicate thread, but I have never worried whether the people of Sherman, TX (a city about 30 miles away) will decide to invade Durant. Yet other than in Solomon’s and the latter part of David’s reigns, the people of Jerusalem would have faced that very concern.

Mountains, however, only provide a certain degree of security. Yet the safety that they appear to give God actually provides for His people. He surrounds His people, forming an impenetrable wall. Perhaps Martin Luther summarizes it best by declaring, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

THE SCEPTER OF WICKEDNESS

The following verses then set their eyes upon how the LORD protects His people. Verse 3 expresses the confidence that the rule of the wicked will not rest upon the land of the righteous. Pay attention to the language used here. The scepter of wickedness implies the reign of evildoers. Therefore, the promise is not that the wicked will not dwell within the land of the righteous but that they will not rule it. Also, the psalmist does not promise that the scepter of wickedness will never fall upon the land of the righteous, only that it will not rest there.

These are crucial caveats to make. Throughout Israel’s time as God’s kingdom, the prophets repeatedly warned what Paul would later summarize: “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6). Even in the Old Testament, salvation never happened by proximity. Furthermore, many of the kings who ruled over the Israelites very much wielded the scepter of wickedness.

Unfortunately, these things are still true within the church age. Although through church membership we seek to affirm one another’s salvation, the sorrowful reality is that there will always be those who never truly followed Christ. They are “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-5), yet for all their immersion within the community of believers, ultimately came to show that they never truly believed at all. And this warning is not merely for church members. Just as Israel fell under the leadership of many wicked kings, so too churches will endure wicked leadership.

But even though these things must be present for now, the promise is that they will not ultimately endure. They will not last. The scepter of wickedness may pass over God’s people, but it will not rest upon them. The wicked may be mingled with the righteous, but it will not always be so. One day, God will permanently divide the wheat from the chaff, which is the promise of verse 5. All those who follow their own crooked ways will be led away by the LORD with the rest of the evildoers.

The concept of crooked ways seems much less harmful than the word evildoers. Perhaps this is intentional. Certainly, today there is a growing desire to separate the idea of evil from the Bible’s concept of sin. Let me try to explain. Within the Bible, sin bears the connotation of missing the mark, of failing to hit the bullseye or wandering off the proper path. Sin, therefore, is predicated upon not meeting a standard established by God. If something goes against God’s design, it is sin. Which means that sin can be both an action and inaction. We can commit sin by doing something against God’s pattern, or we can commit sin by refusing to obey a command given by God. This is the biblical definition of evil, to sin and turn away from God’s good and perfect pattern for creation.

But such a view of evil has never been gladly received. Sure, we will gladly call murderers and rapists evildoers, but refusing to care for the orphans and widows isn’t evil, right? It’s just little bit of negligence. Failing to rejoice and give thanks in every circumstance isn’t wickedness; it’s only having a bad day. Neglecting to meet together with God’s people isn’t sinful; it’s simply taking some time to rest or get caught up around the house. Sin delights in hiding its evil behind good intentions. The reality is that those who turn aside to their crooked ways will be led away with evildoers because they are themselves evildoers. Turning aside from God’s path and commands is an act of evil. As uncomfortable as that truth may be, I pray that you will meet it head on. I pray that you will see all failure to obey God (no matter how small) as an act of open rebellion against the Most High God.

Notice also the reason for God’s leading away of the wicked: lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong. The greatest threat upon the righteous is neither oppression nor persecution; it is that the righteous would imitate the wicked. Why is this the primary threat? For a righteous person to commit sin would negate their righteousness. Doing wrong is the characteristic of evildoers, while the righteous, on the other hand, do right. If the righteous become corrupt, then verse 4 becomes unnecessary. How can the LORD do good to those who are good if none exist?

Tragically, such a lamentable circumstance is not hypothetical but reality. As Paul quotes from Psalm 14: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Perhaps the bleakness of that passage would be easier to ignore if the refrain of not one didn’t continue to appear. Yet Paul fully leans into that dark reality by commenting a few verses later: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). We deserve not to receive the good from God’s hand but to be led away with fellow evildoers. Such is our lot, the grave that we have dug for ourselves.

From that place the mountains of God’s surrounding presence look more like a prison cell than they do a mighty fortress, an entrapment by one who would limit our freedom. Sin distorts reality, making guardrails look like arbitrary confinements and twisting the commandments of our loving Father into appearing to be the petty rules of a tyrant. Thus, we become alienated from God.

PEACE BE UPON ISRAEL

But that can’t be the end, right? After all, the psalmist is praying and singing this psalm while clearly imagining himself to be among God’s people. But if none are righteous or good, how then does God possess a righteous people who are good with upright hearts?

During the psalmist’s day, all he knew was that through the sacrifices within the temple God forgave sin. He would have known, of course, that the blood of bulls and goats was not sufficient to cover the penalty earned by sin, yet God commanded them. So he would have, by faith, trusted God to blot out his sins… somehow.

What he almost certainly didn’t understand was that God ordained the animal sacrifices to be a shadow of the sacrifice to come, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet even though he did not know God’s full plan, Christ was still his only means of salvation. Even in the Old Testament, sin could only be forgiven by the cross of Jesus. Through worshipfully making sacrifices, they placed their faith in God’s mercy and grace upon them, not yet knowing that it would come finally and ultimately through Christ. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that the psalmist would have considered himself truly good and righteous apart from God’s steadfast love upon him.

The peace and security of Israel in the Old Testament, therefore, was the same as the peace and security of the church today. God’s people become God’s people because of God’s steadfast love and mercy upon hellbent sinners. The great joy of this psalm is that through the death and resurrection of Christ we are able to boldly pray for God to do good to those who are good. Not that we ourselves are good or have upright hearts, but that Jesus has granted us His righteous, giving us new and clean hearts in His name.

Peace is, therefore, upon us. We have been redeemed, and the God of all creation is no longer against us. Instead, He now surrounds us like the mountains about Jerusalem, like a mighty fortress. No greater security exists. As Paul testifies in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If Christ (God incarnate) loved us enough to die for us, not even our own death can separate us from Him. He who died for His people will also secure His people.

Is this your hope?

Is this your security?

Do you have the peace of being counted among the people of God?

The mountains of the LORD will either be your judgment or your security.

Choose this day to repent of sin and lay hold of the righteous of Jesus Christ, that God’s peace may be upon you.

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Tested & Blameless

Having observed the ordination of the first seven deacons in our previous study, we constructed a biblical portrait of what deacons’ responsibilities are in the church, namely that they are servants, ministers, and guardians of church unity. As we did with elders, we now proceed to study what the qualifications are for being a deacon. We will begin by looking at five overall qualifications, then we will address the topic of women deacons, and we will end by viewing the reward for being a faithful deacon in the LORD.

OF GOOD REPUTE // ACTS 6:3

For our first two qualifications for the deaconate, we return to the text of our previous study, Acts 6. Here in verse 3, the apostles told the congregation of Jerusalem to choose seven men for the overseeing the duty of food distribution to the widows. But they did not say to choose any men; rather, they must be men of good repute and full of the Spirit and wisdom.

What does it mean to be of good repute? The Greek word used here is the same word from which martyr originates. Since a martyr is a witness or one who testifies, its most common translation in the New Testament is to bear witness or to testify, particularly of Christ. But that is not the meaning here. This usage means that they are men of good reputation, people can testify to their godly conduct and character. The largest implication is that these first deacons (and all deacons afterward) need to be known by their congregation to be men who bear witness to Christ with their lives. The object of recognizing a life of repute flows directly into our next qualification.

FULL OF THE SPIRIT & OF WISDOM // ACTS 6:3

For the Christian, possessing a life of good repute will only be possible if we are full of the Spirit and of wisdom. What does it mean to be full of the Spirit? Doesn’t every Christian have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? If so, how can someone be full of the Spirit? Yes, the Spirit indwells all followers of Christ. We pray to God as our Father only by the Spirit (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). Furthermore, the Spirit is our guarantee of our future glorification (Ephesian 1:14). We, therefore, need the Holy Spirit to simply be a Christian.

Nevertheless, we can also be more or less full of the Spirit, as evidenced by this passage. A greater literal portion of the Holy Spirit is not likely; instead, full is probably used to figuratively describe someone’s submission to the Spirit. Take Stephen for example. Because Stephen was a man who was full of the Spirit, he was a man who gave the Spirit control over himself. He was submissive to God’s will, desiring to be used as an instrument for God’s glory. In essence, John the Baptist’s prayer was coming true in his life: he was decreasing, while Christ was increasing (John 3:30).

Note also that being full of the Spirit is tied to being full of wisdom. Because wisdom is living according to God’s design, true wisdom can only come from the Holy Spirit. Solomon repeatedly urged in Proverbs to heed the instructions of wisdom found in God’s Word. But men of God wrote the wisdom found in God’s Word “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). We cannot, therefore, separate wisdom from the Spirit.

But how can we recognize someone who is full of the Spirit and of wisdom? Jesus said that we could recognize false teachers by the fruit their lives bear (Matthew 6:15-20). Likewise, the Spirit-filled are also known by their fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 fortunately puts these fruits into list-form: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Spirit-filled and wisdom-filled deacons are those who exemplify the fruits of the Spirit.

HAVE GODLY CHARACTER // VERSE 8

For the third qualification, we move over to our primary text for this study. Verse 8 picks up where we concluded studying the qualifications of elders, which is evidenced by the word likewise. Likewise connects this passage to the previous seven verses, but particularly it connects back to verse 1 in which Paul describes aspiring to the office of overseer as a noble task. The implication of likewise is that 1) deacon is also an office within the church, 2) the office of deacon is also a noble task, and 3) it is also noble to aspire to be a deacon. Elders and deacons obviously have different responsibilities within the church, but the qualifications for both offices are quite similar.

I have grouped the four statements of verse 8 under the umbrella term of having godly character because that is the overall aim. First, deacons must be dignified. This word will be repeated in verse 11 for deaconesses or deacon’s wives, and Philippians 4:8 translates it as honorable. To be dignified is to be worthy of respect.

Second, deacons must not be double-tongued. The word here is literally two-words. Our English idiom two-faced carries the same meaning: someone who says one thing to one person but another to someone else. Being double-tongued is cast as being the exact opposite of dignified.

Third, deacons must not be addicted to wine. As mentioned with elders, the overconsumption of alcohol is a breeding ground for ungodly behavior; however, Paul is not placing a blanket prohibition on alcohol for deacons. Rather, if deacons drink alcohol, they should model the Spirit’s fruit of self-control.

Fourth, deacons must not be greedy for dishonest gain. As with elders, greed has no place in the heart of a deacon. The threat of greedy preachers is all too real with the wide reach of prosperity theology, but few consider its ramifications within the deaconate. Because deacons are serving ministers of the church, they often come into contact with church members at their most needy and most vulnerable, such as the widows of Acts 6. Deacons, therefore, must guard themselves against any greed that might lead them to exploit their fellow church members.

BE FIRM IN THE FAITH // VERSE 9

Next, Paul tells us that deacons “must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” We should first note that Paul is using the word faith here to describe the entire Christian belief-system, not simply faith at an individual level. Generally, faith describes the act of placing our confidence in something, but here it describes the very idea that we are placing our confidence in. The mystery of our faith is described by Paul later in this chapter as being the work of Christ: “He [Jesus] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believe on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 16-17). The gospel of Jesus is a mystery in the sense of it being an eternal and secret plan that God has finally revealed to humanity. This mysterious nature of the gospel also makes it majestic and glorious, a truth too magnificent for mortal ears.

Deacons hold firm to the glories of the gospel. They must be individuals who are enraptured in, and molded by, the good news of Jesus Christ. The New Testament does not know a deacon who does not know the gospel. But deacons must not merely know the gospel cognitively; their lives must reflect the gospel. Strauch describes this well:

A Christian can’t hold to the faith with a pure conscience and live in sexual immorality, pilfer money, hate a brother, divorce a Christian spouse, or mix falsehood with the gospel. The New Testament never allows people to separate life and doctrine. Whenever we knowingly act in a way that is contrary to God’s Word and do not seek His forgiveness, we defile our conscience. Every time we violate our conscience, we weaken its convicting power and make sin and hypocrisy easier to commit. Therefore, a Christian whose inconsistent, hypocritical life belies biblical truth can’t be a deacon. (100)

BE TESTED & BLAMELESS // VERSE 10

The next qualification for being a deacon is a period of testing to see if they are blameless. The word blameless here is also translated as above reproach in Titus 1:6-7. As mentioned regarding elders, this means being above blame, criticism, or accusations. All Christians must strive for this degree of holiness, but deacons, like elders, should model growth in godliness. They must also be examples of godly repentance when in sin.

This blameless conduct is discovered through a period of testing. What exactly does Paul mean by testing deacons? Commentator George Knight III provides an insightful answer:

How this is to be done is not specified. The letter itself makes the requirements public and [1 Timothy] 5:22ff. indicates that time must be given to appraise a person’s life. From this we can conclude that the testing is to be a thoughtful and careful evaluation of a man’s life by a congregation aware of these needed qualifications. (170)

FAMILY SHEPHERDS // VERSE 12

Verse 12 provides us with our final qualification for deacons. Like elders, deacons must also be shepherds of their own families. The rationality of verse 5 is also implied here. Although deacons are not shepherds of the entire church, they are tasked with leading ministries that care for members of the church; therefore, they must also be able to properly care for their families.

The thoughts expressed of elders regarding being the husband of one wife and managing children well hold true here as well. Being a one-woman man means that the deacon is not a polygamist, an adulterer, or addicted to pornography. Single men, provided they are celibate, should not be prohibited, since Paul encouraged singleness for the purpose of having a less distracted devotion to the kingdom. Potential deacons who are divorced should be handled with much wisdom and prayer. Likewise, as those who hold firm the mystery of the faith, deacons must manage their children well, leading and guiding them in the truth of the gospel. Deacons are not given the same motive of being responsible for the care of the church, but as ministry leaders, they should also be leaders in their own homes.

DEACONSESSES? // VERSE 11

Having now covered the major qualifications of being a deacon, we now return to verse 11, which we passed over. This verse is less controversial than 1 Timothy 2:12, but there seems to be more interpretational disagreement within the evangelical camp over this verse than that one. Paul is obviously talking about women here and has sandwiched the discussion in between qualifications for the office of deacon, so that leaves us asking a few questions. Is Paul now giving qualifications for deacons’ wives? Or is Paul opening up the office of deacon to women as well as men? Let’s address the evidence.

First, the matter is complicated by the Greek text. The ESV translates their wives, but no possessive pronoun exists in the Greek. The word is simply wives, which in Greek is the same word for women. A more literal translation, therefore, would be either wives likewise or women likewise. In this, the NASB furthers its reputation for being the most literal English translation. The answer, then, is not as simple as the ESV makes it seem.

With the word their absent in the Greek, this verse is probably not referencing the wives of deacons, but rather female deacons, or deaconesses. First, it seems unlikely that Paul would provide qualifications for deacons’ wives, while not mentioning any for elders’ wives. Second, the use of the word likewise is used in the same manner as it was for male deacons in verse 8, designating similarity to a new group, which Paul also does twice in Titus (2:3, 6). If this is true then, Paul is asserting that deaconess is 1) an office of the church, 2) a noble task, and 3) a noble aspiration for women.

Of course, one of the main difficulties for this verse referencing deaconesses is why Paul would place qualifications for deaconesses in the middle of qualifications for deacons, especially when the very next verse states that a deacon must the husband of one wife. Allison answers this question as follows:

This could also explain why Paul “interrupts” the natural flow of his presentation at this point: he first covers the qualifications that apply generally for men deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-10), then switches to his discussion of women deacons (v. 11). He next addresses a specific qualification for men deacons: they must be “the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well” (v. 12). Obviously, this qualification would not apply to women deacons; thus, Paul places this specific qualification after his discussion of the general qualifications for both groups. (245 continue the quote on a more comfortable computer)

Next is the issue of title. Why would Paul say women instead of deaconess? Allison observes that a feminine version of deacon did not exist in Paul’s day (246). Therefore, Paul could only use the word women in order to distinguish deaconesses from their male counterparts. Strauch argues against deaconesses (favoring the wife interpretation) by asking why Paul includes this verse about women deacons if they are a part of the same office. “Why after listing five qualifications for “deacons” that could include males or females, does Paul in verse 11 repeat nearly the same qualifications for women deacons? That would be like saying that all nurses must attend four years of college and then singling out male nurse and repeating that male nurse must attend four years of college with a slightly different terminology” (117). I would argue, however, that Paul specifically points out women in contrast to their being excluded from the office of elder. Although women are biblical prohibited from being pastors, Paul is clarifying that they may serve as deacons.

Another argument for deaconesses is found in Romans 16:1, where Paul refers to “Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae.” Servant in this verse is the Greek word for deacon. Some argue that Paul was merely calling Phoebe a servant in general, but when deacon is used generally, it is typically attached to the phrase in the Lord or of Christ. Colossians 1:7 calls Epaphras a minister of Christ, and Colossians 4:7 calls Tychicus a minister in the Lord. Yet Paul does not use these general phrases of Phoebe; instead, he calls her a servant of a particular church, namely the church at Cenchreae. It is likely then that Phoebe was a deaconess of Cenchreae’s church.

For all of these reasons, Paul is likely referring to female deacons, or deaconesses, in verse 11. But does having deaconesses contradict 1 Timothy 2:12? Allison answers this concern by saying that “Like their male counterparts, deaconesses do not have responsibilities to teach, lead, pray for the sick, and shepherd the church; those are the primary responsibilities of the elders. Accordingly deaconesses do not violate the Pauline prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:12” (247). Of course, as we discussed in our last study, many churches have a board of deacons who function in many ways as lay elders in the church. Under that structure, it makes sense why deaconesses are not ordained within the church; they would be violating 1 Timothy 2:12. However, under the biblical responsibilities of deacons, there is reason why women should be withheld from the office of deacon.

If Paul is not referring to deaconesses here, the only other viable option seems to be an emphasis on the importance of deacon’s wives in their ministry. As said earlier, mentioning deacon’s wives but not elder’s wives is quite odd. However, if that interpretation is correct, deacon’s wives have a specially, and biblically, designated role in the ministry of their husbands that elder’s wives do not possess. Once again, I do not think this is the best interpretation, but other than deaconesses, this is the only interpretation that holds exegetical and hermeneutical water to me.

Whether this verse is referencing deaconesses or deacon’s wives, one clarity should stand: Paul is obviously giving these women an office of leadership within the church. That is the very purpose of this verse, even though it has often been ignored. That is why biblical organization is important. When we abandon the Scripture’s authority in one area, we will inevitably begin to forsake others as well. This verse gives us a glimpse of those two extremes. On one hand, many churches go beyond Scripture by ordaining women as pastors, while on the other hand, many churches forbid women from being deacons. Both are, I believe, unbiblical.

THE REWARD OF BEING A DEACON // VERSE 13

Paul concludes this section of Scripture with a promise of reward and blessing for those who serve as deacons. Just as Peter promises an unfading crown for elders (1 Peter 5:4) and Paul urges that elders who lead well are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17), so Paul assures there is much gain for deacons who serve well. What is the deacons’ reward? Paul lists two blessings.

First, deacons gain a good standing for themselves. This refers to having dignity, honor, and influence within the church. While deacons do not have church-wide authority like elders, they are still authoritative and influential leaders within the church. As model servants and ministry leaders, they are shapers of the church; therefore, as their heart for service is seen they will grow in standing before the congregation. For this reason, I believe elder-led churches should still have deacons’ meetings of some sort. If the churches’ deacons meet these biblical criteria, only wisdom can come from the elders seeking their thoughts and opinions.

Second, deacons gain a great confidence in the faith. Strauch suggests that confidence here might better be understood as boldness (150). As they serve as the hands and feet of Christ, ministering Jesus’ grace to those in need, deacons have a front row seat to witnessing God’s marvelous provision for His people.

Our Help Is in the Name of the LORD | Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone cover us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124 ESV

 

Thus far in the Songs of Ascents, we have pondered the necessity of leaving the lands of Mashech and Kedar (symbolic for worldliness) in order to journey toward Jerusalem (Psalm 120), our need for God to be our keeper along the pilgrimage (Psalm 121), and the hopeful longing to worship with God’s people in God’s city (Psalm 122). Together, those three psalms formed a kind of opening trilogy for beginning the God-fearer’s pilgrimage. Psalm 123 then began the second set of three psalms, this time with a predominant theme of God’s protection over His people. Where the previous psalm was a cry to God for mercy, Psalm 124 is a song of thanksgiving for having received God’s boundless mercy.

THE IMMINENT DANGER

As is true of all the psalms, Psalm 124 is aiming to strike our emotions. Such is the nature of both poetry and music. They engage both the head and the heart, our logic and our passions. John Donne’s poem, The Triple Fool, is an amusing meditation on how poetry is often used to bind the torrents of emotion, while setting a poem to music releases those very emotions out again. As both a song and poem, our psalm does both seeks to capture emotion, like a lightening bug in a jar, and at the same time provide us a means of releasing those same emotions.

What emotion then is our psalmist, David, both capturing and releasing? It is the exuberance of being delivered from death. David’s passion overflows with the kind of joyful ecstasy that comes from having narrowly avoided his undoing. Perhaps you’ve felt that feeling before. Hydroplaning while speeding down the highway will do the trick. Adrenaline spikes, and you don’t seem to breath. Pupils dilate, making you feel like you’re seeing everything all at once. Your body feels the danger far quicker than your mind understands it. When you pass through unscathed, your heart is still racing, an adrenaline rush. Through sky-diving, bungie-jumping, roller-coasters, horror movies, and various other means, we seek to experience that danger in a controlled setting. As we’ve said previously, God designed us to tackle the deadly and perilous road of life, filled to the brim with both love and loss. One of the basic foundations of a story’s plot is the conflict, and each story crafted is merely an imitation of the Story that God has been telling from the very beginning of creation. We (whether secretly or not-so-secretly) are fascinated with danger because life itself is dangerous. Deep down we want to slay to the dragon to rescue the damsel or transform the wild beast into a civilized and charming prince because that’s what Jesus did for us.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Notice that in the first verse, David pauses his thought in order to invite all of Israel into his jubilation. Remember that God made the nation of Israel into His chosen people by making a covenant with their ancestor Abraham. In Christ, the blessing of Abraham has now been extended to all nations. Therefore, as followers of Christ, we are God’s people, the church. David then is also inviting all Christians today to join in his song.

Verses 2-5 express the danger that both David and all of Israel were rescued from: a bloodthirsty mob and a raging flood. The imagery is intentionally poetic and ambiguous, but in our walk with Christ, we know the face of danger well. It comes through three general modes of temptation (Satan, the flesh, and the world), but the threat itself is singular: sin. John Piper concludes correctly that “nobody goes to hell because of Satan. The only reason we go to hell is sin” (Declare War on Sin). Ultimately, the demonic, worldly, and selfish temptations around and within us are only avenues toward sin. Sin is the danger.

The imagery of people rising up to attack is fitting, especially since God described Cain’s sin as crouching at his door like an animal stalking its prey (Genesis 4:7). God then declared that sin’s desire was contrary to Cain. Sin’s greatest lie is that it wants to make us happy. It promises to fulfill our deepest desires. We buy that lie every time we sin. We do not merely stumble into sin. We sin because we want to sin; we think that it will satisfy a need that God is not meeting. The LORD repeatedly exposes its falsehood to us, reminding us that sin’s desire is contrary to us, fundamentally against us.

Paul captures this notion profoundly with this simple truth: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The entire premise of wages is that they must be earned. A paycheck is the rightful fruition of a labor contract. Do a job; get paid. And sin is a work with death as the paycheck. Paul is exposing that truth precisely because we don’t often believe it. We lust because, for a moment at least, we think will be satisfied through him or her. We lie because we think it will put us in a better position. We gossip because we think it will keep us socially connected. Each sin presents a different promised end, but the wage is always the same: death. Like Levi and Simeon with the men of Shechem, sin offers false promises only to make us ready for slaughter.

Next, David describes his danger as a flood. Three times in verses 4-5 he claims that the torrent and raging waters would have drowned us. The significance of this imagery runs throughout Scripture. From Genesis 1, the waters (or deep) has a negative and chaotic connotation. As Creator, God brought light into darkness and order out of chaos. The global flood in Genesis 7-8 was, therefore, a symbolic undoing/reforming of creation. The sea is untamable to all but God, as any wise seaman knows.

Just as sin is as malevolent as an army of enemies, so sin is as destructive as a tsunami. The damage of sin is like a violent force of nature. However foolish it might be to underestimate the destructive capacity of raging waters; the foolishness of underestimating sin is far greater. Proverbs 6:27-29 uses the same logic (although with the element of fire) toward the sin of adultery:

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.

Are you aware of how immanent a danger sin is? Are you buying the lies that your sin only wants to make you happy? When was the last time you spent time truly thinking of the sin you’re wrestling with right now as enemy that wants you dead or as a torrent of raging waters that long for you to drown?

Or perhaps, you aren’t even wrestling with your sin. The greatest danger of all is the one that goes unnoticed. No army can be fought until their presence is scouted. No disease can be treated until it has been diagnosed. Ignorance does not cause danger to cease; it simply forfeits the opportunity of escape.

Brothers and sisters, sin’s utmost desire is our death. Are you aware of the danger?

OUR HELP IS IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

Yet despite the grave danger, our psalm is a song of thanksgiving, not lament, because David is exulting that God has not allowed these dangers to consume us. The key message proclaimed in verses 1, 6, and 8 is that the LORD Himself has saved us from certain death. In fact, as the psalmist begins, if God had not saved, we would have surely perished. Such was the hopelessness of our situation. In Ephesians 2, Paul went so far as to call us dead in sin and objects of God’s wrath.

Brothers and sisters, it is far too easy to forget what makes grace so amazing. We were as good as dead. We were without hope. Our sin is not just a problem for us. It was the problem. It wasn’t just one disease of many; it is a cancer that had infiltrated each organ system. Our plight against sin was the very definition of bleak. We blatantly defied the Author of life itself, the Almighty Creator. We attempted a coup against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We deserved the flood. We deserved to fall into the hands of our enemies. We deserved death as our just wages. We earned it.

And yet God did not give us as prey to the teeth of our sin. He came to our aid. He became our helper, standing beside us.

Notice that God is on our side. Regardless of how anyone responds to God’s offer of salvation, the truth remains that sin is contrary to us while God is for us. Even though the LORD’s plans often involve pain and suffering in moment, He assures us that everything He does is in love. All suffering (whether caused by our sin or not) is the discipline of the LORD upon His children. Like a loving father and mother, discipline their children, not just by correcting bad behavior, but also by establishing godly rhythms and routines, so God uses everything to mold and shape us for His glory and our good. We must hold this truth with a death grip to our chest if we are to have any hope of overcoming the sin’s lie of happiness. Our sin wants us to believe that it is on our side and that God is our enemy. We must fight, literally, for our very souls to cling to the opposite truth. God is good, and He desires our good as well. We must wrestle with all our might to believe that.

But how does God show is love for us?

How does He reveal that He is on our side and that He is our helper?

He does so by breaking the snare of sin. What a powerful image in verse 7! Sin is fowler’s snare, and we are the birds. Like witless birds, we are being hunted for our lives, yet we are often utterly oblivious of the danger until the trap springs upon us. Gloriously, our God has broken the snare! He has shattered the trap of sin.

How did He break sin’s snare? He did it “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:14-15). Upon the cross, Jesus nailed the debt of our sins, putting to shame and triumphing over the very demonic powers which seek to incite to sin.

For the Christian then, the cross of Jesus Christ is not merely an avenue by which we may be free from our sin. Jesus’ substitutional death crushes and annihilates our sin. It has been disarmed, a snare now broken. The cross is, therefore, not only the sole avenue of forgiveness for past sin; it is also the only instrument of victory over present sin and the only hope of future freedom from sin entirely.

But this victory over sin can only come from via the name of the LORD. Paul captures the significance of our help being in God’s name when he declares “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Salvation from sin can only come by crying out to the Savior.

But if the action is so simple, what prevents us from calling upon His name? Most often it is pride. Back when my wife and I first began dating, we were visiting my parents and needed to run some sort of errand. In a fit of nostalgia, we drove my car from high school, but after completing our task, we got back in the car only to find out that the key wouldn’t turn. Thinking that the steering wheel just needed some wiggling, I fiddled with it for a several minutes. Finally, after about thirty minutes of avoiding the inevitable, I called my father. His first suggestion was, of course, to ask whether I was using the right key. What an insult! That’s exactly why I avoided calling him in the first place! He was just going to assume the most basic problem… I quickly stopped using the wrong key, started the car, and headed home.

Unfortunately, most of us will waste far more than thirty minutes on unrepented sin, which is far more foolish. The prideful refusal to call upon God’s name for salvation is like remaining in a burning house because we can’t admit that we left the stove unattended. The sorrowful reality is that no one will be cast into hell who did not choose to be there. Many would simply rather face an eternity of torment rather than confess their helplessness. The cross, however, is predicated upon such helplessness. The glorious message of the gospel is that the LORD has rescued us from our sins through the death and resurrection of Christ because no other avenue of salvation existed.

The question, then, is not merely have you looked to the cross, but are you looking to it?

Do you see your sin as an immanent danger that only Jesus can save you from? Or do you view it as a pet that you have on a leash? The reality is that sin is more than happy to let you feel in control long enough to establish a good grip around your neck.

Have you cast yourself at the mercy of the LORD, and are you still doing so?

May each of us pray now and forever the words of Augustus Toplady:

Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace: foul, I to Thy fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die.

Blessings & Curses (a meditation on Deuteronomy 29)

A man stands on the street corner,
proclaiming despite the murmur,
“come and drink the living water
that the Most Holy Potter
blessedly offers
to sinners
bound for the slaughter!”
His message is one of good news,
of redemption if we so choose
to forsake all else for the Savior’s cause,
but often i fear that we forget to pause,
we fail to stop and consider
that good’s synonym isn’t chipper,
that the message of the cross is a bitter
pill to swallow for wretched sinners
like ourselves. We forget that
to proclaim Christ is to combat
all of the sin in their life.
we are cutting with a knife
the heart’s of those we love dearly
so shouldn’t our words be not merely
thrown to the wind so cavalierly
but rather be spoken clearly, sincerely,
and with great solemnity
because without Christ their very identity
is an enemy,
an enmity
of God’s great sovereignty.

You see, the Father, Most High,
when He spoke to the Israelites
through Moses, His instrument,
pleaded for them to be diligent
in following His Words with care
for if they decided to whore
after other gods and idols made
His wrath would not be stayed
it would not be swayed or delayed,
but it would come in a cascade
of fury and destruction
for such is the penalty for disobeying instruction.

The Son of God said it best
when to the hypocrites He professed
that it was their vision of the Light
that would leave them without respite
on the great Day of the LORD
for He will then recall each ignored
word that they had ever heard
but instead they preferred
to follow their own heart’s leanings
despite God’s own bleeding
on their behalf.

Thus, we must understand
that hearing the command
of the LORD invokes
both despairs and hopes,
blessings and curses
that its not just verses
of empty poetry
meant to be shared openly
instead, this is a oracle
that will become either
a great miracle
or a terrible
and unbearable
weight upon the soul
cause acceptance does console,
but rejecting drills a hole
further blackening the heart into coal
we must always realize
that the Gospel does not equalize
rather it draws closer those who are close
and further hardens those who are hard.

but now the question remains,
should we, then, refrain
from speaking such a difficult truth?
Brothers, we must NOT stop for it has never been smooth,
the Word has never been soothing to men’s ears
it has never been responded to with great cheers
and gladness, but rather with anger,
with broken mourning and sadness.
The human heart is prideful after all
and when the truth begins to maul
away after its very nature
calling out all sinful behavior,
the tendency is not to repent,
not to weep over their sin with great lament,
but to further harden or to retaliate.
To share the Gospel is to create
a moment when men must choose
either to accept or refuse
the message that they received,
and they will almost never be relieved
to have the Truth come into their mind
because most would rather remain blind
than to have the Light sear
through their heart and severe
all that they once thought
and all that they had ever been taught.
But still it remains that the Light
is still better than the night
even if it is too bright
and sends most to flight.
But Truth revealed
is better than Truth concealed
therefore, speak it in love,
not like it is some sort of
requirement that we must
complete each day just
to earn our stay in the Kingdom,
but we speak it with wisdom
knowing that we are
shattering with care
all that they once knew to be true,
showing that all of reality is only through
the risen and glorified Son of God,
before Whom we have awed,
in His name we share, not
flippantly, but as we ought:
with great care and weight
because our task is great.
Our Christ destroys the selfish
allowing them to fully relish
His absolute completeness
to have His joy that is never less
than the highest
good for our rebellious
hearts. Thus, we proclaim
despite how it might maim
the souls of those who hear
but we do it while being aware
of its burden that we bear
so that Christ and His grandeur
might be displayed now and forever.

Jesus Rejected in Nazareth | Luke 4:14-30

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:14-30 ESV

 

The Gospel of Luke was written by Paul’s companion, friend, and physician, who sought to compile “an orderly account” of Jesus Christ. Thus far in the book, Luke has been informing us of Jesus’ birth, the ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Within our present text, Luke begins to describe the earthly ministry of Jesus. Particularly he begins by describing how Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, received His claim of being the long-awaited Messiah.

JESUS BEGINS HIS MINISTRY // VERSES 14-15

Following the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. This power was evident to all who encountered Him since we are told also that a report of Him spread throughout the surrounding country. The ministry of Christ would be relatively brief, only about three years, and yet this man from Nazareth would irrevocably change the world. Significantly, that impact was felt from the very beginning of His ministry. Many leaders claimed to be the Messiah throughout the years, but Jesus alone had the power of God to reinforce His claim.

The focus of Jesus’ ministry is also important to note. We tend to think first of His many miracles and healings, yet Jesus will explicitly state those to be of secondary importance at the end of this chapter (4:43). As an itinerant minister, Jesus would travel from town to town, teaching the Scriptures within their synagogues. Teaching God’s Word was the primary focus of Christ earthly ministry, and as we will continue to see, people were just as amazed by His teaching as they were by His miracles. This is crucial for us to understand. The miracles and healings of Jesus were always intended to affirm His words and message; they were never an end unto themselves. They reinforced the gospel He preached and pointed toward our true healing from the disease of sin.

It is also worth noting, especially given the events that transpire in the following verses, that the working of the Spirit always causes a reaction. The initial reaction to Jesus’ teachings were positive: “being glorified by all.” But this will not always be the case (see verses 22-30 below). When the Spirit empowers the proclamation of the gospel, a reaction, even if a subtle one, is guaranteed. We will either respond in repentance, glorifying Christ, or we will scorn God’s message, rejecting His Son. But a reply must be made. No one can remain neutral to the Spirit’s movement.

SCRIPTURE FULFILLED // VERSES 16-21

I’ll be honest: this is one of my favorite passages in all the Gospels. Picture the scene with me. Jesus, being about thirty now (3:23), returns home from being publicly baptized by John the Baptist (the most divisive religious figure at the time) and from spending forty days fasting in the wilderness alone. Perhaps rumors had already spread about God’s voice breaking through the opened heavens after John immersed Jesus in the Jordan. Maybe the Nazarenes had also heard stories whispered of Jesus’ unusual birth, of shepherds and foreign kings worshiping an infant. But this was Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter. And Nazareth was nothing but a blip on the map. With a population of probably around 400 people, who would ever believe that the Messiah could come from Nazareth anyway?

So as Jesus sat in the Nazarene synagogue to teach, He saw faces that both grew up alongside Him and watched Him grow from a boy into a man. They were familiar in the utmost sense of the word. Jesus knew them, and they thought that they knew Him. As He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, maybe they were excited to hear what message this newly revealed prophet would bring to them. What new revelation would He teach them about God?

But Jesus simply reads Isaiah 62:1-2 (while also quoting Isaiah 58:6). Rolling up the scroll, He assumed the authoritative teaching position by sitting down. With glued eyes, they awaited His message, and He speaks: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is difficult for us to grasp just how audacious Jesus must have seemed to His fellow Nazarenes.

Joseph’s son, Jesus, is here in the synagogue, saying that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words!

How ludicrous!

Sure, Jesus may have possessed an uncanny understanding of the Scriptures, but to think that they prophesied about Him would be ridiculous! Right?

And yet this is what Jesus presents to His hometown, to the people who have known Him all of His life. In no uncertain terms, He claims to be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Son of David, the Prophet like Moses, the Seed of Abraham, the Serpent-Crusher whom God promised Adam and Eve to send into the world. He asserts to be the One at the center of God’s very Word.

Remember, this is the same Jesus who was most likely still doing regular contract jobs just a few months ago. Now, however, He is claiming to be the fulfillment of the ancient and sacred prophesies.

PHYSICIAN, HEAL YOURSELF // VERSES 22-30

What would you think of Jesus if you were one of the Nazarenes?

It is far too easy to stand in judgment upon biblical and historical figures from the high ground of hindsight. The hard reality is that most of us would have reacted exactly the same way as Jesus’ neighbors did in these verses.

Verse 22 is quite interesting because it reveals the internal conflict within the people’s minds. On one hand, they couldn’t keep from marveling at the Jesus’ words, but on the other hand, they simply couldn’t excuse the fact that Jesus was just as ordinary as any of them. After speaking one sentence, the words of Jesus have already created turmoil within His hearers’ hearts.

Jesus responds to their turmoil by addressing the biggest question in their minds: would He perform some miracles in Nazareth like He did in Capernaum? By citing the proverbial statement “physician, heal yourself”, Jesus is exposing what the people are actually hoping for. Already they are scheming about how Jesus’ status might be leveraged to benefit their town.

But Jesus refuses. To lend weight to His refusal, He reminds them of miracles from the ministries of Elijah and Elisha where Gentiles were blessed instead of God’s people, the Israelites. This, of course, only makes them murderously angry with Jesus. But even though they attempted to stone Him, Jesus escapes from their hands, which in verse 30 seems like a miraculous event.

But why did Jesus refuse to perform a miracle in His hometown?

Wouldn’t it have been easier to humor them for a bit in order to prove that He was the Messiah?

Jesus knows the hearts of all men. They did not have a holy fascination and amazement with Jesus as we often find throughout the Gospels. They were not, by faith, eagerly longing to learn by a sign or wonder whether Jesus was truly the Messiah; instead, they were demanding proof from Jesus. The difference may appear subtle, but in reality, it is vast. Countless times, Jesus comforted the brittle faith of those who hoped beyond hope that He was the Savior, but He refused to play the game of those who presumed to have the right to judge His messianic ministry. After all, the scribes and Pharisees likewise asked for a sign, but Jesus rejected their request as well (Matthew 12:38-39).

Perhaps authority is the key. Those of weak faith (like the man who cried, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”) cast their weakness upon the mighty feet of Christ. They received mercy because in their failings, they looked to the One who cannot fail. They acknowledged Jesus’ authority as the Messiah. The Nazarenes here (like the Pharisees elsewhere) presumed to have authority over Jesus. They were prepared to judge the authenticity of His ministry themselves. Jesus refused to indulge such prideful arrogance.

This mentality is still present today as many still view themselves to be the proper judge of Jesus’ credibility and authenticity. They refuse to acknowledge the lordship of Christ, claiming to need more proof in order to believe His assertions. Once again, I’m not talking about humble questioning, broken doubting, or genuine truth-seeking but instead a thinly-veiled refusal to see Jesus as lord until He meets one’s standard. Sadly, many heresies were born in attempt to assuage such lofty hearts. Often these heresies revolve around someone questioning or blatantly rejecting a portion of Scripture, to which the heretic responds by reinterpreting or wholesale dismissing the offending passage. The root heresy is the presumption of being Scripture’s arbiter. Like Jesus, we must always be ready to comfort and answer the doubting, broken, and confused, but, also like Jesus, we must never fall for the lie that Jesus or His Word must be subject to the scrutiny of unbelieving men.

Of course, the irony is that in their anger to stone Jesus to death He appears to miraculously escape by passing through the crowd. Thus, a sign was given to them after all. It was a sign of judgment upon their heads. A sign that they were neglecting the great salvation of God because they simply could not believe that Jesus was actually the Messiah.

All of this should make us marvel anew at Isaiah’s words about Christ: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). Such was Jesus’ humanity. Those among whom Jesus was raised could scarcely believe that someone as ordinary as Jesus could actually be the promised Messiah. Obviously, they sensed deeply that something was profoundly different; otherwise, they would not have been spellbound by Jesus’ teaching. Yet His plainness was so evident that it became a stumbling stone for His neighbors.

Living in the Bible Belt can kind of feel like Nazareth sometimes. Jesus is so cultural that it’s almost like living in His hometown. Everyone’s heard His name. Almost everyone thinks that they know Him. But also like the Nazarenes, most think He is a good guy with some wise and godly words to say, but He’s not their Lord. He’s not their Messiah. He’s not their Savior. As back then, so too today Jesus refuses to yield. He refuses to play the game of cultural Christianity. He refuses to be judged by arrogant eyes. He refuses to cure those who obstinately declare themselves to be well.

And He passes onto the next town.

May we face Jesus fully and truthfully, not according to our own terms, but as He presents Himself in the Scriptures. May we elevate Him as the Messiah who has and will fulfill every prophesy foretold. May we hear His words and respond by clinging to His cross for salvation. May we never be like Nazareth.

a day

24 hours.
1,440 minutes.
86,400 seconds.

the same for everyone
no more, no less

each a singular event
never repeated

a new sky
with its nebulous arrangements,
a new length and shade of grass,
a fresh combination
of temperature and humidity,
a slightly different
frame of mind,
an shifted temperament,
every cell a day older,
the traffic,
the challenges,
the desires,
the joys,
the hopes
(or lack thereof)

each one unique
and we alongside

how easy to miss such subtlety

how wondrous when caught

Psalm 121

Lift up mine eyes…
How?
They are so easily drawn
    to the things near by.
Created shapes and forms
    scream and cry
    for my attention,
    for my affection.
Zion is too distant
    to be real,
so I wrestle desperately
    to maintain zeal
    for that holy mount,
    for the blessed fount.
Lift up mine eyes, O LORD
for I cannot of my own accord.