Saturday, 23 August 2014

(236) August 24: Psalm 120-123 & 1 Corinthians 6

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what is being asked for in each psalm.

To ponder:
The psalms “of ascents” span 120-134. They probably refer to the Jew ascending to the temple for a festival in Jerusalem (see 122v1-5); but some think they focus on the return from exile (see 120v5). There is a sense in which they can apply to both, for to return to the city from exile was to return to take one’s place in the worship of God at the rebuilt temple. They therefore look to the new believer coming to worship God through Christ in the church, and our eventual ascent to God’s presence in heaven.
            Psalm 120 begins far from Jerusalem: “Meshech” and “Kedar” (120v5) are far apart, and so denote the psalmist living away from Israel in the Gentile world. There he despairs in having lived so long amongst those who hate peace. Whereas this is the psalmist’s desire, they want war – perhaps with him, or with others, but in a way that will no doubt impact him (120v5-7). This is the tension of living in the world, where we are sometimes unable to restrain the evil decisions of others. The psalmist’s example at such times is to call on God for salvation from such people – he describes as deceitful, knowing God will ultimately punish them in this life or the next (120v104). This is therefore a psalm for the persecuted Christian.
            Psalm 121 develops this calling on God. He is one’s only help. And he is able to help as he made all things (121v1-2). In looking to the hills, the psalmist may be looking for God to be coming from heaven or Mount Zion to his rescue, just as Christ came from heaven to earth. Alternatively, he may be pondering fleeing to the safety of the hills, or longing to find his way to Mount Zion. His confidence, however, is that God will not sleep, but keep watch over him and all Israel – providing relief and protection as the shade does from the harmful rays of the sun, and from the light of the moon that might reveal one’s whereabouts to robbers (121v3-6). In context, the promise that the LORD will keep the worshipper from “all harm” forever (121v7-8), does not promise an absence of threat or difficulty, as the sun and moon will rise every day and the psalmist is clearly facing trouble. Rather it promises God’s “help” as the one who watches and cares. And the “evermore” hints that this help is ultimately found in our being freed from this world in death and resurrection. One considers Jesus’ words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16v33).
            In being “of David” Psalm 122 may be composed by him, but this title could simply reflect its focus on God’s promise of the everlasting dynasty for David, to be seen in three things: just rule from Jerusalem, the promotion of worship at the temple, and peace for a prosperous Israel (2 Sam 7v10-16). So the psalm reflects the joy of the tribes going to praise God at the tabernacle (later temple) according to the law, in a united Jerusalem, where the thrones of David’s house stand ready for judgement (122v1-5). It therefore celebrates the fulfilment of God’s promise. But here it is only partial. It seems those times of joy have been replaced by times of threat. The psalm therefore prays for peace and security for the city against its enemies (122v6-9). This is for the sake of the people, but also for the “house of the LORD” (the temple), as it would enable worship to continue there without the sort of devastating interruption experienced with the destruction of the temple by Babylon. In this psalm we see the sort of joy we should feel in joining our church family in the praise of Christ as our righteous king, who guarantees everlasting peace. Yet, we are also led in prayer for the church as it is attacked from without and within.
            Psalm 123 joins themes of previous psalms in looking up for help to God as the ultimate king, enthroned in heaven (123v1). It expresses an utter reliance on him for mercy and deliverance, like that of the slave or maid relying on their master or mistress to deal with their harsh treatment by others. It is therefore the reliance of one who serves and obeys God. We might consider the seriousness of ridicule and contempt by arrogant people small compared to the needs of others psalms. But in a sustained sense it can be deeply painful. Indeed, Jesus himself treated it as of the utmost seriousness (Matt 5v22), whilst reminding us that if God doesn’t act as Psalm 123 asks, we can nevertheless rejoice under such persecution, because we stand with the prophets and will be rewarded (Matt 5v11-12).
Praying it home:       
Praise God that he watches over our lives and is ready to help if we look to him. Pray these psalms home for persecuted Christians.

Thinking further:                             
None today.

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