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Psalm 120: In My Distress Print E-mail
Sunday, 05 July 2015

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My van broke down last Friday. Glenna, Isaiah, Jake, and I were headed to a Mexican restaurant for lunch and one of my belts came off. I was able to guide her into a parking spot so we went in and ate, while I called Andy and asked for some advice. After we finished, Andy brought me the tool I would need to get the belt back on and Jake and I started trying to get it on. At one point, when both my arms were covered in black oil and I was pouring sweat, I prayed and asked the Lord for help in removing a bolt that I thought needed removing (for the record, I later realized that I should not have even been trying to loosen it, but thatís another story). As I prayed, the bolt immediately began to turn in my hand. I thought for sure it was sign (apparently what I should have been praying for was the wisdom to know that the bolt did not need to be removed!) In my distress, I cried out to the Lord and he answered me.

Psalm 120 begins on that exact note. Look at verse 1 with me. So when we get frustrated at work or are hit with unexpected car-trouble (and stubborn bolts) we just cry out to the Lord and he hears us. He gives the immediate help that we need. To be sure, the Lord does answer immediately at times, but I donít think that it normally works that way and I donít think that the psalmist is concerned over something as inconsequential as car trouble. His distress is over persistent problems and so the solution involves persistence as well. And present and future persistence is always encouraged by past fulfillments. So the psalmist begins by remembering a critical truth about God: when I call, He hears me. Do you believe that this morning? Do you believe it even after you have prayed for years. Will you be persistent in crying out to Him? One of the great lessons of the entire psalter is that we can cry out to God in difficult times and know that He hears our cry!

What exactly is the psalmist crying out for in Psalm 120? He is asking the Lord for deliverance. Like we saw in the book of Judges, the psalmist is crying out for deliverance from his enemies. In particular, he longs for deliverance from people who lie and who hate peace. Letís consider these.

Deliver me from those who lie (v. 2-4)

I always want to believe that people are telling me the truth. Nobody likes being lied to. Like say, your mechanic (or your used car salesman or insurance agent or even worse your pastor), we all want to believe that they are always telling us the whole truth and nothing but the truth (and hopefully they are). Yet, unfortunately, all the evidence to the contrary leaves me regularly wondering whether or not I am being lied to. Humans are not always truthful and we all pay a price for that. Sometimes weíd rather pay for a cheap lie than a costly truth.

The psalmist was plagued by the same struggle. Look at verse 2. Like us, the psalmist just wanted the truth. He was tired of being lied to. He was tired of lying lips and a deceitful tongue. Yet, the truth is, no matter how long we live, we will always be surrounded by people who lie. In fact, we stare at one in the mirror every morning. At times, this can be a bit overwhelming and it can be easy to give in to anger and frustration. But the psalmist reminds himself of an important truth about liars: they will be found out. Look at verses 3-4.

Judgment will come for those who lie. Sharp words will be answered with sharp arrows. And not just sharp arrows, but sharp arrows on fire. The broom tree had a reputation of burning hot and slow. It was even used in the production of charcoal. When cities were attacked, the army often shot burning arrows over the walls to set the homes on fire and force the people out. This is the image that the psalmist paints for those who lie, they will receive justice. Psalm 120 is not so much teaching us not to lie (although obviously the Bible teaches that). Rather, it is teaching us to trust in the Lord to bring liars to justice. We can call to Him and know that He hears us. He will deliver us from lying lips and a deceitful tongue.

Deliver me from those who hate peace (v. 5-7)

Some men fall in love with war. It seems hard for us to image, but some become so accustomed to the thrill of battle and the glory of victory that they do not want peace. They want war. The psalmist was apparently surrounded by people who felt like this. Look what he writes in verses 5-7. Using the language of a funeral, the psalmist proclaims: Woe to me! He does not enjoy his present circumstances. What is so wrong? He writes: I sojourn in Meshech and I dwell among the tents of Kedar. What does this mean?

Meshech was a foreign city in the north and was a good distance from Jerusalem, where the psalmist perhaps dwells. Kedar was another foreign city, but in the south and closer to where the psalmist likely dwells. It seems as if he is using these cities to represent foreigners both near and far. It is also possible that he is saying that the people that he dwells with in Israel are like the men of these foreign cities. And what was so wrong with that? They hate peace and they love war. They love to fight against their enemies. They have made an idol of being in battle. They do not want peace

The psalmist does not agree with them. He does not want more war. He wants peace. But it seems that those around him, whether the actual men of Meshech and Kedar and other places or men of Israel who think and act like them, they want war. And the psalmist asks the Lord to deliver him from such men.

Notice that time is a factor as well.  He writes: Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. This struggle has been going on for too long. He has been surrounded by men who lust for war for too long. He has desired peace in their presence for too long. He wants to be delivered and he wants to be delivered soon. Even though he knows that judgment will come, waiting through present troubles is still difficult. ĎHow long, O Lordí is the most asked question in the psalter. Difficult times are hard. Persevering through difficult times is even harder. But the psalmist keeps crying out for deliverance. Why? Because he remembers the past: In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. As is often done, the psalmist is speaking to his own soul and reminding himself that the Lord will answer. He will judge. He will punish the liars and bring peace. He hears us when we cry out in our distress, so we keep crying out.

The psalmist prays for deliverance from those who lie and those who hate peace. He wants the truth and he wants peace. And he knows that they ultimately come from the Lord, so he persistently cries out for both.

But what about us? How does this prayer impact us? We too dwell among lying lips and haters of peace. People regularly lie to us to serve their own ends. People love to spin the truth in their favor (its kinda the point of social media). And some among us love war. Physically, there are people all over the planet who have no interest in peace. They have been fighting for so long that they donít know how to live any other way. Emotionally, we see this in those who seem to seek out conflict. They feel as if they need someone to be mad at as much as they three good meals. It gives them a reason for existence. And although the Lord has made us to fight the good fight all our days, these folks mistake any fight for the good fight.

The truth is, we long for deliverance from such existence. We want to be free from the lies of men and their lust for war and conflict. We want truth and peace. The psalmist reminds us that we can cry out to God for both, expecting Him to bring us both. We can pray in hope because we trust the faithful character of our God.

Yet, if we are honest, we have to admit a problem this morning. As much as I want justice for the liar, I cannot escape the fact that I am a liar too. As much as I want peace, I have to admit my own struggle with conflict and war. If peace means that I have to forgive my enemies, then Iíd just rather keep fighting. So then, how can I long for justice when I am part of the problem?

The absolutely, only answer to this problem is the cross of Christ! For it is there that justice and mercy meet. All my lies receive the burning arrows of Godís justice at Calvary. All my love for conflict is paid for by the wounds of Jesus. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The Lord is faithful and just to forgive a liar and a lover of war like me. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

The psalmist rested in the fact that God would deliver him from those who lie and those who hate peace. We can rest in the fact that God will do that through the person and work of Christ. All sins will be judged through Him. All wrongs will be righted. And He will bring perfect justice and perfect peace. With the psalmist we long for the Day, the great Day of our Saviorís return. Until then, we cry out because we know that He hears us. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 18 August 2015 )

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