A PERSON OF PEACE IN A LAND OF LIES
The first psalm in the collection of “Psalms of Ascent” is not about the journey, but about where the journey begins. In Psalm 120, the pilgrim going to Jerusalem describes where he lives and laments the spiritual conditions there.
The general situation is one of “trouble” (1) and “war” (7). Where he lives, the person of faith feels continually opposed and oppressed. Specifically, he lives in a community that promotes lies and deceit (2-4). He likens his situation to living in “Meshech” and “Kedar,” places known for continual warfare and hostility (5).
In the Book of Psalms, the "Songs of Ascent" are found in Book V, the book of hope for returned exiles from Babylon. Strategically placed in Book V, these psalms call them to look to Jerusalem, the place where God will provide shalom as he regathers his people and establishes his rule over all nations. Ps 120, with its emphasis on the difficult circumstances of the faithful in exile and return, sets the stage for the rest of the collection, which calls God's people to a pilgrimage of hope in Messiah's coming reign.
A third level of understanding comes when we read Ps 120 as “a prayer of the king." In this light we are reminded of the hostile environment to which Messiah Jesus came. “He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him” (Jn 1.12). Hebrews calls us to “consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself” (Heb 12.3). Jesus was the ultimate person of peace in a land of lies. Yet ironically, in the midst of continual opposition, and by laying down his own life under a sentence of unjust lies, he provided ultimate peace (Rom 5.1).
Peace, or shalom, plays an important part in these psalms, appearing at key points in the collection to describe what the pilgrim seeks in and for Jerusalem and God’s people. This is, indeed, what all people long for. Shalom means wholeness, health, freedom from all oppression and trouble, relational harmony and complete wellbeing.
The new creation will be God’s Peaceable Kingdom, a place of universal shalom under the Messiah’s rule. No more trouble, lies, deceit, injustice, hostility, conflict. The feasts in Jerusalem enjoyed by the First Testament pilgrims were foretastes of that shalom. As temporary reprieves from the daily disorientation of living in Meshech and Kedar they provided a great hope and hunger for ultimate peace.
The challenge of this psalm for Christ-followers in the NT era is to be shalom-makers in the midst of our troubled world as we continue to await the coming Kingdom of peace. At times we cry out to God and lament our circumstances, yes. However, our daily faith journey with Jesus also calls us to arise, walk out into our world and say, “I am for peace.”