Summary: Living a life dedicated to God can be a dangerous undertaking. There are physical, emotional and even spiritual battles that threaten to take us away from trusting God and being used by Him. These psalms offer hope in that journey.
Psalm 120 begins what are called the “songs of ascent.” The Jews sang these 15 songs as they made their way “up” or “ascending” to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. You can just picture groups joining up and singing together on the road. So much better than many of the walking songs our culture has come up with!
Originally these 15 psalms, which may have been sung on the 15 steps leading up to the altar, were a hymnbook of their own but were added later to Book V of the Psalms.
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Pilgrims would travel from as far south as Kedesh (near the Arabian desert) and from as far north as Meshech (on the shore of the Black Sea).
There they lived among people who did not know Yahweh. So you can imagine why they would want to sing songs about coming to the place where truth about God is declared.
I think for us we can use this same idea as we come to church or even approach our time of quietness with God. We all live as pilgrims and sojourners in this world, which has also rejected the truth about Jesus Christ.
At times we feel surrounded and in distress (“tightness”) because of the lies this age promulgates—lies that God doesn’t exist, that there is no such thing as sin and judgment, and that Jesus Christ is not THE way, truth and life.
This psalm declares that those who claim to speak truth—even truth from God—but are deceiving—will be judged.
Sharp arrows can suggest the piercing of the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), which can “judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” And it is a fiery judgment. The broom tree grows to be around 15 feet high and when burns it burns hot.
Finally, in verses 6 and 7, the psalmist declares that it is a frustrating life living among those who speak lies. He wants peace; they want war. So it is for us.
Eph. 6:12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
I’m especially troubled by the idea of deceit here. It’s not like the enemies are out and out trying to destroy the people of God. Their words sound good but are meant for evil. Today, we Christians must bear with the attitude that everyone just wants peace. “Can’t we all just get along?” It’s really code for “Can’t we all just do and be and believe anything we want?” When we dare to mention God’s character or the gospel—we are singled out and marked as hate mongering and intolerant. The truth is, the world hates the gospel and anyone who loves Jesus.
So when you feel tired and frustrated with all of the lies about God that the world tells, come into God’s presence in worship or His Word or come to the fellowship of believers and rejoice that in this place, the truth is told.
Walking to Jerusalem could be a dangerous affair. There were no roads, only well-worn paths up valleys and across rivers. Jerusalem is 2,700 feet above sea level. Along the way were thieves who would steal your possessions and kill your family. It was hot and dusty and tiring.
So this little psalm is one of crying out to God to help in the journey. We too are on a journey through this life; a journey that is sometimes dangerous and fraught with peril. For them, and for us, God is a shelter and a protection.
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The mountains would have been the mountains of Zion—Jerusalem, the place of the Temple. For us, Jesus IS the temple, and so we can say “I lift my eyes toward Jesus. Where will my help come from? My help comes from Jesus, the Maker of heaven and earth!” (John 1).
I’m sure the pilgrims were literally thinking of their feet slipping on the rocks as they climbed the paths up the mountain. For us metaphorically, slipping can mean tripping on the trials and temptations on our path of life in this age. Keep loving and looking to the Lord Jesus to fulfill and guide you and you will not “trip” in your trust in Him. He is always aware of what is going on in your life and is always ready to come to your aid.
I love verse 5—whenever we need a shelter from the temptations of this world, the Lord is right there with His Word and the presence of His Holy Spirit. The pilgrims worried literally about the dangers in the day and dangers in the night. Our dangers may be more internal (though not always). There are constant struggles during the day as the truth of Jesus is assailed from every side and at night as temptations and accusations from the devil plague us.