Psalm 123: http://loveintruth.com/amf-docs/psalm123.htm
This is just an outline of the Psalm, the notes are not yet available online
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2. May he send you help from the
and give you support from Zion!
3. May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favour your burnt sacrifices! Selah!
4. May he grant you your heart's
and fulfil all your plans!
5. We will shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
Yahweh will fulfil all your petitions!
6. Now I know that Yahweh saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
O Yahweh, save the king!
he will answer us when we call.
We are going to look at one of the most surprising and mysterious psalms
· The psalm divides into five stanzas
· The first stanza (1-3) talks about the old stories of how God saved his people.
1O God, we have heard with our ears, To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah
our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:
2you with your own hand drove out the nations,
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free;
3for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them.
Most of us have probably heard stories of how God has done wonderful things in the past.
· The Psalmist is thinking of the great stories of the Exodus: Plagues/Red sea/Jericho/Conquest
· Maybe we have read stories from the past… [John Paton and the angels]
· Maybe we have Christian parents or relatives… [my parents very generous, God always supplied…]
Next he talks about what God has done in his own lifetime:
4You are my King, O God;
ordain salvation for Jacob!
5Through you we push down our foes;
through your name we tread down those who rise up against us.
6For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
7But you have saved us from our foes
and have put to shame those who hate us.
8In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah
You can probably think of great things God has done for you, or your friends, in the recent past...
· A few years ago when I was on a student visa, I was given wrong advice about my visa, and ended up being in a panic about my immigration.
· But I knew the Lord wanted me here in Canada, so I just cried out to him to help me.
· In the space of a day, every single problem was taken care of, by God’s amazing providence
· I called to him and he helped me!!
A couple of days ago I heard a missionary talking about her experiences.
· [London: Patrick, Jean] [Bandits in Mozambique, truck.]
· She cried out to God and he helped her
Have you ever been desperate, and cried out to
God, and he has helped you?
But now, in the third stanza, there is a huge change. We begin to learn what the psalm is all about:
9But you have rejected us and disgraced us
and have not gone out with our armies.
10You have made us turn back from the foe,
and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
11You have made us like sheep for slaughter
and have scattered us among the nations.
12You have sold your people for a trifle,
demanding no high price for them.
13You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
the derision and scorn of those around us.
14You have made us a byword among the nations,
a laughingstock among the peoples.
15All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face
16at the sound of the taunter and reviler,
at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
Everything is going wrong, and God seems to be nowhere to be seen.
We can’t be sure of the exact
and I think that is deliberate, because I think we are to identify with it
Do things ever go wrong in your life?
Yesterday I was awoken at 4:00am by a phone call. …from the police…
Bad things happen. Does anything bad ever happen to you?
The missionary I told you about with the angels, John Paton, spend years traveling & raising money…
The missionaries in Mozambique built up a big orphanage, 100’s of children. Marxist government…
My brother’s wife died of cancer. She was only in her 30’s and she left three young daughters motherless.
· Bad things happen to us.
· Do they happen because we have done wrong and God is punishing us?
Hear how the psalm continues: [4th]
17All this has come upon us,
though we have not forgotten you,
and we have not been false to your covenant.
18Our heart has not turned back,
nor have our steps departed from your way;
19yet you have broken us in the place of jackals
and covered us with the shadow of death.
20If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
This reminds me of the book of Job.
Everything went wrong for Job…
His friends said…
This brings us to the final stanza:
23Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
24Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
26Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
The psalmist is really upset!!!
He pleads with God and just cries out for pity and mercy.
· It seems that God is not being fair!!!
· He has made promises and is not being faithful to them.
· His actions, his works, do not match up with his words.
· Have you ever felt like that? …. I confess that I have!!!
· I have pleaded with God and it seems to make no difference.
· God does not seem to be interested in my problems at all.
· Where are his promises of faithfulness, like “I will never leave you nor forsake you” ??
The ending of this psalm seems abrupt. We expect it to have another stanza:
I called unto the Lord and he answered me
I cried to him and he heard my voice
He brought my feet up out of the pit
He set them on a high rock
The Lord is my strength and my high tower
I will praise his name for evermore.
But it doesn’t!!!!!
Why does it end like this?
I struggled long and hard with this psalm.
I pleaded with God to know how to interpret it.
Finally I believe God gave me some understanding of it.
The psalm ends like this so that we can identify
with it, while we are in our problems.
[else we would say “it’s ok for the psalmist, God answered him…”]
2. There is deliberately no answer within the psalm. We have to look outside of it
God has given us a key, and the key is that the
Apostle Paul quotes the psalm and explains to us it’s meaning.
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36As it is written,
"For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through
him who loved us.
38For I am sure that neither death nor life,
nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come,
39nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Psalmist is talking about a situation
outward circumstances have gone bad, and God is not making them good again.
Paul’s answer is one that we don’t expect…
Its ok for outward circumstances to be bad, if inward circumstances are wonderful.
Paul’s point is that the external problems cannot shake us because
1. there is a victorious king
2. loves us intensely
What is really exciting is that if we look at the following Psalm, Psalm 45, we see that this is exactly the point of the Psalm. The first half pictures the conquering king (whom we know to be Jesus Christ from the Psalms use by N.T. authors). The second half pictures his bride and the wedding. The language is unmistakably similar to that of Song of Solomon, yet we know without a doubt that the bridegroom-king is Jesus Christ.
Psalm 45 provides the answer to Psalm 44. It is the answer that Paul gives us. The external situation looks bad, and contains no answers. The only answer is found in God’s covenant promise that his anointed one will ultimately rule the nations, and his bride will forget all the hardship of former times as she rejoices in her exalted and secure state with her new lover.
This provides further evidence of the unity of the book of Psalms and the deliberated ordering of the Psalms. Indeed, the previous two Psalms, 42 & 43 are well known to be a pair as they share a common chorus line.
1. A song of ascents
To you I raise my eyes, you who sit enthroned in heaven.
2. Even as the eyes of slaves, on the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid, on the hand of her mistress,
so are our eyes on Yahweh our God
until he has mercy on us.
3. Have mercy on us, Yahweh, have mercy on us,
because we are choked full with contempt
4. our soul is choked full
with the derision of those who are at ease,
with the contempt of the proud.
Subject: The covenant people of Yahweh
Complement: look to him alone to help them in their dire need,
and wait patiently for him.
A. The Psalmist lifts his eyes out of his present circumstances,
and looks for his hope to the one who has his throne in heaven.
B. The Psalmist waits passively and patiently for Yahweh,
convinced that he is his only hope.
C. An urgent and desperate call to Yahweh for help
because of the extreme anguish of the situation.
The Psalm is tightly structured, and may be divided into two strophes: v.1,2 and v.3,4. Both strophes exhibit staircase parallelism, and both use repetition of key words to tie the lines together and enhance the urgency of the request. The climax of the first strophe is used as the launching point for the second.
Strophe 1 is characterized by a fourfold repetition of the words ‘eyes’ and ‘to’. Allen suggests an A B B’ A’ structure as follows:
The final words of v.2 form the climax of the staircase "until he has mercy on us". This idea is the starting point for the second strophe.
Here the staircase formation is readily evident. Allen points out that three pairs of terms are doubled: The A. doubling increases the urgency of the plea. The B. doubling ties together the end of the line in v.3 with the start of v.4 which is necessary to allow the staircase structure to be carried forward to a new idea. Doubling C. elegantly rounds off the Psalm by linking back to the end of v.3.
Several commentators (e.g. Perowne) point out that the Psalm is remarkable for number of rhymes, but these are probably not significant poetically.
Perowne suggests that the Psalm is either the sigh of the exile, towards the close of the Captivity, or the sigh of those who have returned and are scorned.
An interesting feature of the Psalm is the way that the singular voice of v.1 becomes plural in the rest of the Psalm. Anderson and Allen suggest that the first line might have been sung by a precentor, and the rest sung antiphonally by the congregation. This is a possible explanation, but it does not seem necessary. It would be quite possible for either an individual or a group to sing the whole song without worrying about the change in number. The first verse reflects more the individual response of faith, and the other verses emphasize that the whole company is suffering and crying out. The Psalm is generally taken to be a community lament.
The title "A Song of Ascents" occurs in Psalms 120 through to 134. The meaning is uncertain, but it is often been explained as a "Pilgrim Song" which would have been sung by pilgrims as they travelled upwards to Jerusalem for the feasts (Dahood). Another suggestion is that the Levites sang these Psalms as they ascended the Temple steps. Dahood makes a further suggestion, that discoveries at Qumran make possible the translation "song of extolments" (Dahood, Ps. 120)
The Psalmist lifts his eyes out of his present circumstances,
and looks for his hope to the one who has his throne in heaven.
Perowne describes the Psalm with the following quotation:
"the Psalm needs no singular or exceptional charm. It is perfect as it stands. It is a little gem, gut with the most exquisite art. Few poems, inspired or uninspired, have been more admired or beloved. It has the charm of unity. It limits itself to one thought, or rather it expresses a single mood of the soul--the upward glance of a patient and hopeful faith."--Rev. S. Cox, The Pilgrim Psalms, p. 69.
The Psalmist is in trouble. The question is: where should he turn? He needs to turn to a higher power than the one which is oppressing him. The song begins with in the emphatic position. The addressee is not immediately revealed, but we are told that he is the one who sits in the position of power in the heavens. Immediately the two poles of the Psalm are marked out: the struggling Psalmist, filled with contempt, and the almighty ruler in the heavens. The remainder of the Psalm refines the relationship between these two entities.
Kidner writes: "If the traveller in Psalm 121 had to learn to look higher than the hills, this sufferer, even more hemmed in, has won the same victory. His words, soaring above his circumstances, set his troubles in a context large enough to contain them."
According to GKC §90m, the Hireq compaginis is on the end of as an ornamental device of poetic style. It serves the purpose of giving the participle more dignity.
The Psalmist waits passively and patiently for Yahweh,
convinced that he is his only hope.
This section contains the most vivid imagery of the Psalm set in an equally vivid structure. The Psalmist could have made just one comparison, but he makes two, delaying the resolution and heightening the tension before revealing to whom the Psalm is addressed. The almost exact repetition of the image of servant and master emphasizes the simile and burns it into the imagination.
One might have expected that the final line would have said that it was to the hand of Yahweh that we look, but this would have been redundant information, and would have held up the flow of the Psalm, which rushing forwards to a cry for mercy. The Psalmist still uses two words to preserve the balance with the previous lines, but says instead of . This possessive emphasizes the covenant relationship that exists. As Allen has put it:
The community acknowledges, and pleads, that the covenant relationship ("our God") places them in the position of slaves before their divine master. They are utterly reliant upon him. The corollary of this relationship is that he has committed himself to support them as his protégés. For his help they have been waiting and will wait on expectantly, conscious that they have no other help save his.
An important question that needs to be asked is: for what reason are the slaves looking to the hand of the master? Possibilities are a) that they are looking to him to end their punishment, b) that they are watching for a command in the form of a hand signal, or c) that they are waiting for food to be given. The last suggestion is generally preferred by the commentators. In support of this, consider Ps. 104:27:
These all wait for you, that you may give them their food in due season.
What you give them they gather in; you open your hand and they are filled with good.
Even more relevant is Ps. 145:15,16
The eyes of all look expectantly to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The structure of v.2 carries forward the song to a climax:
|eyes of slave||hand||master|
|eyes of slave||hand||master|
|eyes of us||master|
|till he has mercy on us|
This climax forms the launching point for the second strophe
An urgent and desperate call to Yahweh for help
because of the extreme anguish of the situation.
The first line picks up the plea from the end of the last strophe, and desperately echoes it. The remainder provides the reason, by painting a picture of their plight. Use of the verb is striking. There is a hypokatastasis, with the contempt pictured as food with which they are satiated. The unusual and striking aspect is that food is usually good, and the verb is almost always used in a good sense--of being satisfied. Here, however, the ‘food’ is rammed down their throats until they can take no more. They cannot stomach any more, to use an English idiom. It is repulsive to think of a person so full that they are in pain, yet this unusual juxtaposition of ideas provokes just such a revulsion. The verb is emphasized with . There is an urgency in the situation. They just cannot take any more and something will have to happen soon. It is remarkable, however, is that although they are in a severe trial, there is a "entire absence of anything like impatience in the Psalm" (Perowne).
The Psalm ends with an oblique reference to their adversary. "Their disaster has been aggravated by the brutal jeering of other whose own lives are untrammeled by affliction." (Allen). Those who are at ease, or arrogant, are laughing at them cruelly. The proud are contemptuous of them. Kidner says:
It is illuminating that contempt is singled out for mention. Other things can bruise, but this is cold steel. It goes deeper into the spirit than any other form of rejection; in the Sermon on the Mount it ranks as more murderous than anger (Mt. 5:22). it is particularly wounding when it is casual or unconscious; but if it is deserved and irreversible it is one of the pains of hell (Dn. 12:2)
There is a Q reading in v.4 which would read one word as two. The Masora reckons this word is one of fifteen which are written as one and read as two. Delitzsch rejects the Q reading saying: "this genitival construction appears to be far-fetched, and, inasmuch as it makes a distinction among the oppressors, inappropriate."
We are sometimes in situations where it seems there is nothing we can do but pray to God. We are entirely dependent on God, and yet at the same time our problems seem urgent and increasingly intolerable. This Psalm provides a beautiful picture to calm our raging and focus our faith. The servants stand with their eyes fixed on the master. They know there is nowhere else to look, and there is nothing they can do themselves. Yet they are not impatiently hopping from one foot to another, because they belong to their master--he will take care of them, has always taken care of them.
We need to remind ourselves of our covenant relationship, which works both ways. God will care for and preserve us, but we must look only to him for our help. If the Psalm were to be summed up in one phrase, it would be "utter dependence on the Lord".
Allen, L. C., Psalms 101-150, Word Biblical Commentaries vol. 21, Waco: Word Books, 1983.
Anderson, A. A. The Book of Psalms, New Century Bible, London: Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1972.
(references in the text are to A. A. Anderson)
Anderson, B. W., Out of the Depths, The Psalms Speak for Us Today, Philadelphia: Wesminster Press, 1983
Dahood, M., The Anchor Bible, Psalms vol. III, New York: Doubleday, 1970.
Delitzsch, F., Psalms, vol. 3, repr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960.
Kidner, D., Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms, Tyndale O.T. Commentaries, Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1975.
Perowne, J.J.S. The Book of Psalms, repr. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966