Psalm 120

Oh Lord, deliver me
from mouths that promise salvation.
They offer balm for comforting,
but in their heart lies deception.

Exiled, I am stranded here
a castaway, lost at sea.
From Meshech far to Kedar near,
my soul yearns for Your reprieve.

Peaceable I ever am;
their longing is only war.
Rescue with Your mighty hand;
Draw me to Your blessed shore!

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Deliver Me, O LORD | Psalm 120

In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
Deliver me, O LORD,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.

 What shall be given to you,
and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!

Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!

Psalm 120 ESV

 

God rarely chooses to do what we expect or want. Fittingly, the Songs of Ascents do not begin with the easily remembered words of Psalm 121:1-2, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Instead, they begin with Psalm 120, a lament. Although lamentations are often abnormal for us today, we will discover by studying this psalm its important place as the first of the Pilgrim Songs.

LAMENTATION: A HOLY DISCONTENTMENT

Lamentations are songs of sorrow, prayers of anguish, to God. Such psalms comprise the largest genre within the Psalter. One out of every three psalms are laments. The Bible expects us to be familiar with laments because life is full of lamentable things. Psalm 120 is one such psalm, so the first question for us to ask should be: why is the psalmist lamenting?

He is crying for God to deliver him from the people around him. The description is twofold. They are deceitful and violent. The similar language of other psalms helps us understand what’s happening.

Psalm 109:1–3 | Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.

Psalm 140:1-3 | Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps.

The psalmist finds himself among people who are opposed to God and His truth and peace; instead, they delight in causing strife and spewing slander. The Slanderer and Accuser is their father, for they are like him in nature (John 8:44-45). They willfully reject the peace and truth of God.

And the psalmist is distressed. Regardless of how the actual events unfolded, he felt as though he was a sheep in the midst of wolves. That’s one great point of poetry, after all, to capture the emotions of the writer. He feels lost and abandoned by God, left to wander in the wilderness alone.

While the psalmist probably lived in Israel, he claims that he was dwelling and sojourning in two lands: Meshech and Kedar. The first was in present day Turkey, while the second was in Arabia. These locations must then be symbolic. Meshech might represent the liars, those who serve false gods rather than the LORD, and Kedar may be the violent since they were Ishmaelites who regularly came into conflict with the Hebrews. More broadly, however, they seem to represent the Gentile world as a whole, the lands of the godless. If he lived in Israel, this would become a forceful rebuke that many of God’s own people have rejected God’s ways. Biologically, they were Israelites, but they were Gentiles at heart. Alongside David, he cries: “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” (Psalm 12:1-2).

Such a lamentation is the perfect place to begin the Pilgrim Songs. At the heart of Christ’s followers must be a kind of holy discontentment. Don’t misunderstand me. Improper discontentment is the root of many sins. The discontentment of Adam and Eve (with pride) caused the first sin to be committed. It is proper, therefore, to pursue the contentment of God as Paul did (Philippians 4:11-13). We must learn to eat and drink and enjoy the life that God has graciously given to us (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

But another form of discontentment exists as well, a holy and godly discontentment. This psalm expresses it well. It is a discontentment with the world as it is, broken and marred by sin. It looks forward to something better. It longs for a renewed paradise, a world without evil, sin, and death. It hates the constant rebellion of God’s creatures against the Creator. It especially hates when that very rebellion is found in his own heart. Such discontentment yearns for peace and truth in the midst of a world of war and lies. It cries out for God’s final rescue.

This discontentment with current conditions is in the heart of all pilgrims. The Separatists aboard the Mayflower risked the cruel waves of the Atlantic and the brutal winters of the New World because such a journey was better than staying in England. The Israelites (despite their complaining) continued to wander the wilderness because the hope of Canaan was better than the slavery of Egypt.

The pilgrimage of the Christian life is same. We are in this world, but we are not of it (John 17:14-16). We hate the sin that both surrounds us and indwells us. Our hearts cry out for rescue, for deliverance from this life. Like the Israelites, we have been rescued from slavery but are not yet in the Promised Land. We are sojourners and exiles in the wilderness of this life. We have seen the eternal truth and can no longer be satisfied with the lies of this world. Eugene Peterson captures this discontentment perfectly:

Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we had assumed was the truth is in fact a lie. Prayer is immediate: ‘Deliver me from the liars, God! They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.” Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know that I need and what I desire, from the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy, from the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality, from the lies of psychologists who offer to shape my behavior and my morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully, from the lies of religionists who ‘heal the wounds  of this people lightly,’ from the lies of moralists who pretend to promote me to the office of captain of my fate, from the lies of pastors who ‘get rid of God’s command so you won’t have be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions!’ (Mk 7:8). Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us. (27-28)

Christian, do you feel such a discontentment with the world? Is Christ your ultimate treasure?

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the gifts of God in this life. By all means, we must! But even as we celebrate those gifts, our hearts must yearn for more, for the delights of which this life can only offer us the slightest taste.

If you are fully satisfied with this world, you will never complete the treacherous journey toward the next one. Do not allow “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word” (Mark 4:19) so that it proves unfruitful.

Do you possess a holy discontentment with this life? Do you cry out to God for an end to your sojourning in Meshech and Kedar? Do desire to be free from the empty lies of this world, to live forever in the truth of God?

AN UNFAILING HOPE

The greatness of sorrow and turmoil within lamentations can sometimes blind us to the hope that is almost always present within them as well. Such hope is evident twice in this psalm.

First, we must not fail to notice that the psalmist grounds his lamentation by remembering his history with God: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.” Before he cast his petition at God’s feet, he recalled God’s faithfulness to answer Him in the past. Such verses are why we need to let the Bible guide the complaints we lay before God’s throne! He felt abandoned by the LORD, but he gently reminded himself that God had yet to fail him.

Second, he surrendered the judgment of his enemies over to God. Verses 3-4 are essentially poetic ways of trusting God to enact vengeance on behalf of His people. As suggested, the broom tree was used in the same function as coals, which provides a vivid imagery of God’s fiery judgment against these violent liars.

Like the psalmist, we stand upon the promise that God will one day rescue us from our sojourning. He will pour His wrath and perfect justice upon everyone who rejects His Son, and He will gather His people to dwell with Him forever. Our hope in the wilderness is that God will bring us to our blessed rest in Him. He will preserve us through every trial along the way because He will be faithful to finish the work that He began (Philippians 1:6). In faith, both we and the psalmist sing the words of John Newton: “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

A PRAYER OF JESUS

While the words of this psalm must be the cry of every Christian, we must remember Bonhoeffer’s council that the Psalms are not primarily about us but about Jesus. With this thought in mind, we can safely claim that no one has more right to pray this psalm than Christ. The world itself was Meshech and Kedar for Him, and we are the violent and the deceitful. We rejected God’s commandments, serving our own passions and desires. We deserved the “warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree” because we actively chased after lies of the world.

With His birth, Jesus entered this fractured and corrupted place. The eternal God left His home and throne to become a pilgrim among us. Jesus “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus had more right to pray this prayer than any of us. He had the right to pray down God’s judgment upon us, and yet Jesus absorbed the arrow of God’s judgment in our place by His crucifixion. We can look by faith for God’s rescue because Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Are you a citizen of Meshech and Kedar, separated from the truth and peace of God? Then look to Christ, who has paid the penalty for your sins and now offers you life in His name.

Are you a follower of Christ, placing one foot in front of the other as you traverse the straight and narrow path? “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Brothers and sisters, “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).

May this song of Christ be an expression of our hope as we journey ever closer to our heavenly home. May we cry in our distress to the LORD, who has answered us by the blood of His Son.

Pray With All Prayer

With all prayer and supplication.
Ephesians 6:18 ESV

Paul’s next ALL statement is that we should pray with all prayer and supplication. Since supplication is a particular type of prayer, I believe that Paul means to use various kinds of prayer whenever we pray, with a special focus on supplication. Fortunately, throughout the Scripture, the authors display and model for us the multifaceted nature of prayer. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Psalms, which are themselves God-breathed song-prayers. Thus, I will briefly touch upon a few of the main types of prayer and then provide a list of Psalms that incorporate that type of prayer.

ADORATION

Adoration isn’t used much outside of saying that kittens are adorable, but biblically adoration is a great word to describe our worship of God. Adoration simply means to deeply love and respect someone or something in a worshipful way.

We worship and adore God by loving Him deeply, but in order to do this, we must first know who God is.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model for them to use. In this prayer, He taught His disciples to begin praying by focusing upon God.

Here are a few characteristics of God that can be seen within the Lord’s Prayer:

  • God is our Father, which means like a father, He loves us, wants what is best for us, and is willing to discipline us as needed.
  • God is heavenly, which means He is not physical nor living on earth.
  • God’s name is holy. Holiness means unique, set apart, distinct, or other. This means that God’s name is completely unlike any other name in all of creation.
  • God has a kingdom that is coming; therefore, God is also a king.
  • God’s will is done in heaven, and it will also be done on earth, which means that God is sovereign and in control.
  • We can ask God to provide for our needs, like having food to eat, which means that He loves us and cares for us.
  • We can ask God for forgiveness, which means that He is ready and willing to forgive us.
  • We can ask God to keep us from evil and temptation, which means that He is able to help us overcome our sins.

Notice that Jesus spends the first half of the Lord’s Prayer describing God and praying for His will to be done. Jesus worshiped God before He asked God for anything.

Jesus knew that prayer is not about our desires but about submitting ourselves to His will. God is not a genie, granting us our wishes. He is the Creator of everything who will do whatever He wills.

The best way to adore God in prayer and know His character is by reading the Bible, which is how God has revealed Himself to us. The Psalms in particular are filled with prayers of adoration, and there are dozens of small ones in the New Testament called doxologies.

Psalms of Adoration

Psalm 8, 19, 33, 34, 103, 109, 145

New Testament doxologies: Romans 8:38-39; 11:33, 36; 15:5-6; 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24-25; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:12-13; 7:12; 22:20-21

 CONFESSION

Because confession is the pleading guilty to our sins before God, confession cannot be properly understood without first knowing what sin is.

The Bible gives a clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Of course, John is not merely referring to city, state, or country laws; rather, he is talking about God’s laws, which are summed up nicely in the Ten Commandments.

But the problem does not end with simply being guilty of sin. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet describes how our sins separate us from God: “But your iniquities [sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Notice how frightening is that last part: our sin stops God from listening to us!

We broke God’s laws, so we rightfully deserve His punishment and to be cut off from any relationship we might have had with Him.

But by the grace of God, even though sin earns us eternal separation from God and left us incapable of doing enough good works to fix it, Jesus Christ came to offer eternal life with God as a free gift instead.

Of course, believing the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not mean that we stop sinning.

We continue to break God’s laws on a daily basis, and the gospel is not a get-out-of-hell-free card that we believe in once, continue to live in sin, and still go to heaven when we die.

The Bible calls us to continually kill the sin in our lives and to admit the sins we commit to God in prayer. This is called repentance.

When we repent, we confess our disobedience to God and strive to obey Him from now on.

Confessing our sins in repentance to God is so important that John uses it as a test to see if we are truly Christians: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

Followers of Christ confess and repent of their sins to God, knowing that He will graciously forgive them because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

Psalms of Confession

Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, & 143

THANKSGIVING

Most Christians probably agree that we should give thanks to God in our prayers, but why is that? By journeying through a few texts of Scripture, we should be able to get a brief look at what thanksgiving is and isn’t, and why it’s important.

The story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is one of the most popular in the Gospels because of its lesson on thanksgiving.

Of the ten, only one returned to thank Jesus, which Christ equates with giving praise to God. Because they did not give thanks, they failed to praise God for healing them.

Some people have wondered how the other nine lepers could be so ungrateful, but I imagine that they were indeed very grateful.

Because it is a highly contagious skin disease, people with leprosy were exiled from normal society and forced to live in groups with other lepers. They were completely cut off from their friends and family, forced to die a slow death alone.

How could they not be grateful for being cured!

But Jesus did not fault them for being ungrateful; He faulted them for not giving thanks.

Ultimately, gratitude is feeling and giving thanks is an action.

Jesus never questioned how grateful the other nine felt. He only remarked that they did not give praise to God through giving thanks.

We, therefore, must understand first of all that thanksgiving is not the feeling of gratitude. If thanksgiving is not spoken, then we have not truly given thanks.

If Jesus equated giving thanks to praising God, why should we give thanks to God?

James gives us a pretty great answer to this question: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17-18)

Notice James’ wording: EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from the Father.

All of the good things in this world come from God.

As the Creator, He has given us the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rain and sunshine, friends and family, meat and fruit, dogs and cats, everything comes from Him.

As our Savior, God declared His love for us by dying on a cross for our sins, allowing us to be called the sons and daughters of God.

This is why Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul views thanksgiving as so important that he calls it the will of God for us.

God’s will for your life is for you to give thanks in all circumstances.

Because God has given us countless good gifts, we ALWAYS have something to give thanks for. There is no circumstance in life where we cannot thank God for something He has done for us.

Psalms of Thanksgiving

Psalm 27, 37, 42, 56, 100, 117, 136, 139, 145

SUPPLICATION

Supplication isn’t exactly the kind of word that comes up in everyday conversation, but even though it’s an uncommon word, supplication is probably the most common type of prayers that we pray.

Supplication simply means to make a request or petition, so praying a prayer of supplication is asking God to meet our needs or wants.

It can be tempting to feel uneasy about making requests to God after having discussed confessing our sins to Him, adoring Him in worship, and thanking Him everything. We might wonder why we should bother God with our small needs.

Fortunately, bringing our requests to God isn’t only something we are invited to do, we are commanded to do it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Paul commanded the Philippians not to be anxious but to bring their request to God instead.

Let’s think through this verse together for a bit.

What does it mean to be anxious, and why does Paul command us to pray instead?

Anxiety is excessive worry about something.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to trust God by taking our needs to Him instead of being anxious.

What kind of requests does Paul urge us to bring to God?

The answer is all of them. Paul commands us to bring all of our needs to Him in prayer. God as our Father invites us to bring everything to Him, no matter how small.

Before you get too crazy about bringing God your requests, it is important to remember that God is not a genie. He does not exist to grant our wishes, and He makes no promises about giving us everything we want.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their needs, He told them to pray for God’s will to be done.

God’s will often doesn’t match our own, which can lead to God not answering our prayer (or really just telling us no).  This is ultimately for the best because God’s will is better than our will. God may deny our requests because what we want would actually be bad for us.

Can you think of anything that you wanted in the past but now know that it was best not to have?

We think we know what we need, but God actually knows what we need. It’s important for us to trust that He knows best when we bring our requests to God.

Psalms of Supplication

Psalm 4, 5, 25, 28, 54, 56, 77, 106, 130, 141

LAMENTATION

If you noticed, I just described a popular acronym for prayer, ACTS. While adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are certainly biblically mandated types of prayer, we must take care to understand that they do not encompass every form of prayer. In fact, there is one more type of prayer that often gets neglected, but it highly prevalent throughout the Scriptures: lamentations.

Praying a lamentation, or lamenting, is a form of bringing our trouble, sorrow, or suffering before the Lord. Too often, we feel uncomfortable about praying our sorrows or complaints to God for fear of being disrespectful. While fear of disrespecting God is healthy, God is also big enough to handle our questioning, and He is loving us to listen to our pain and confusion. As with all prayer, lamentations are best guided by Scripture, which help prevent us from praying unbiblical prayers.

Psalms of Lamentation

Psalm 12, 13, 44, 74, 85, 90, 137

Also, there is a book of the Bible called Lamentations that is composed of five prayers of lament.