Sunday, September 21, 2008

pSunday Psalms: PSALMS 123-125

The next three Psalms of Ascent, Pss 123-125, serve as counterparts to the first three songs in the collection—Pss 120-122.
  • Like Ps 120, Ps 123 looks to God for grace in a context of trouble and conflict. (Verse 1 also picks up the language of lifting up one's eyes—see 121.1.)
  • Like Ps 121, Ps 124 confesses "Our help is in the name of the Lord" (see Ps 121.2).
  • Like Ps 122, Ps 125 celebrates the security of Jerusalem and God's people. Note how this psalm also ends with "peace" (see 122.6-9).
However, the three psalms also advance the thoughts of the three previous pieces. Let's see how...

PSALM 123: From a World of Contempt to the Place of Grace
It has been suggested that this psalm represents the first prayer in the Temple after the arrival of the pilgrim at Jerusalem (see 122.2). For the first time in the collection, the psalmist addresses God directly. Whereas in Ps 121, he lifted up his eyes to the mountains, here he lifts up his eyes to God himself. Having come from the world of exile, a world of scoffing and contempt for the life of faith, he enters the King's presence and immediately appeals to the King for grace. This word expresses a request for assistance from a subordinate to one in authority. Such relationships are pictured in verses 1-2. This is why we come to the sanctuary—for a respite from the stifling atmosphere of contempt, and to receive gifts of grace from our King to help us stand.

PSALM 124: From Confession to Testimony
This is a direct counterpart to Ps 121. In the earlier psalm, the pilgrim confessed his faith in God as his helper, and the community affirmed his faith by invoking God's promises to keep him on his journey. Now, having arrived in Jerusalem, the psalmist calls all God's people to join him in praising the Lord for keeping his promises! In vivid language he describes how God has proven in their experience the truth, "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

PSALM 125: From Assurance to Prayer
In Ps 122, the pilgrim had arrived in Jerusalem (122.2) and was filled with awe at the meaning of this city for his people. Ps 125 is a further meditation on Jerusalem and how it represents the security of the righteous in God's care. The mountains, which the pilgrim had surveyed on the horizon at the start of his journey (121.1), now surround him in the King's City and assure him that God will never allow the wicked to triumph ultimately. He takes this assurance and goes to prayer in verses 4-5, asking God to accomplish his purposes. The goal, once more, is the final "shalom" (v.5).

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