The Lord Surrounds His People — Psalm 125
Over the last month or two, our community at The Parish has been immersed in a section of the Psalms called the Songs of Ascents. Along the way, life has happened to this community and people have felt the bombardment of emotions that come from the reality of evil hitting them hard. I didn’t expect it, but as we experienced life as it really is in close knit community… these Psalms became much more precious to me. They have become precious because of their ability to speak directly to broken and hurting people. When I could only stand by silent and unsure of what to say or do, these Psalms have been imparting truth and comfort in the way only God’s powerful word can.
First, let us remember the backdrop that has been painted on our minds about how these Psalms were ingested by God’s people. They were something that the Israelites sang and prayed in community as they and their families made the journey up to Jerusalem, where God dwelt in His temple. No doubt as they went along, they encountered valleys, mountains, dry desert, and evil people that would only want to them harm as they sojourned. I can’t help but think that as they encountered the harsh realities of their journey together, they must have been reminded of the precious truths and realities of these Psalms that they sang and were uplifted by them. I believe that in God’s sovereignty, people who trust God and cling to the greater realities of who He is, what he’s accomplished for us, and who we are in light of that…. cease to be merely victims of life’s rough circumstances, and become who we already truly are: the new humanity, the people of God. As Mt. 16:18 says about the Church, “…the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
But what do you do when someone’s selfish actions threaten your livelihood? How do you react when you or loved ones around you are treated harshly? What do you think when the world around you is in a state of chaos because of evil people that seem to prevail? And what if those people are the same people you thought were supposed to be leaders? Maybe some of them even professed to be Christians! If so, they were supposed to be looking out for the people under their care. The natural state of being for any of us in these situations might be to feel anger, despair, and doubt God’s goodness or protection for us. With this posture, our future security feels uncertain and we wonder if God is just or even cares that we are hurting. I know, because I have thought these things myself! Surely, the author of this psalm was living in a world parallel to ours and God’s people throughout the generations have faced the terror of those around them. A story from 2 Kings 6 shows one such event (v.15) - “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’” Indeed… what shall we do when our circumstances look bleak? The Psalmist writes “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore” (Ps. 125: 1-2). And we see Elisha was one of those who trusted in the Lord… (v.16-17) “He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see. So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” It’s apparent in this story that trust in God is much more than what we hear people say it is today. It’s not the simple belief that God exists, or furthermore that He is the Creator of all things. The servant in this story likely believed both, and it neither does anything to help him in this situation nor separates him even from the demons (see James 2:19). It seems that he saw the army surrounding them and he turned to despair because of His reliance on the strength and numbers of his men, which was miniscule when compared to his enemies. The reality was that the Lord was surrounding his people the whole time, just as Elisha trusted. Trusting in the Lord involves confidence in His strength and good character, that He is willing and able to ultimately act on our behalf! The ones who trust in this way are unshakeable, and prove to be those who abide forever, even when reality presses in on us.
The Psalmist continues to remind us of God’s plan of ultimate action, and gives us the promise that, (v.3) “…the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous.” The “scepter” here means a rod of authority for punishing and ruling, or a tribe of the same sort. Either way, it’s a person or people group here that wields an oppressive authority or rules in a wicked way over God’s people. Yet, as we endure and suffer at the hands of the wicked, we have the hope that it shall not last. God will not allow it to go on, (v.3) “…lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.” The second part of v.3 serves as a warning to us, that when people and leaders in our world act and rule unjustly, “the righteous” can be tempted to “do wrong.” Sometimes the temptation can be to take justice into our own hands because we fail to trust that our Lord will have ultimate justice, but v.5 reassures us that those who practice “crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers!” And sometimes we can be led astray by influential people in culture or governments who speak loudly about “truth and justice,” because we trust them over and above God and His spoken word. Maybe some of these people even claim to Christians, and so we are more inclined to listen to them. It is important that we as Christians be diligent to search the scriptures and discover who God says he is, and listen to how He defines truth and justice. It’s only then that we can have the clearest picture and the fullest perspective of our reality. The culture we live in today is jam-packed with divisive information and sinful ideologies that can easily creep into the church and muddy the waters. If God’s word is not the loudest word in our minds and hearts, we will easily be swept away with every wind of doctrine. Instead of trusting God and what He says about gender, sexuality, race, justice and love… we will trust the loudest voices in our culture to be the authority of truth, and we will stretch out our hands to do wrong.
Which voices are you trusting today?
Along that same vein, it is so easy to be tempted by the patterns and culture of our world, which promise us satisfaction, security, and a sense of purpose. It’s even easier to be consumed by its delights, which promise us pleasure and comfort. And again, the ideas and idols propagated by its people promise us peace and power. There are two types of people which verses 4 and 5 speak about: those who struggle with and fight against idolatry (trusting in other gods), they live a life of repentance and are ultimately conformed to the image of Christ. These are the “upright;” and there are those that cease to fight the idolatry and end up being conformed to the patterns of our world. These are the “crooked.” (v.4-5) “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers!” Both are known by how they move about through life, and by where their trust and allegiances prove to be. Furthermore, both types of people experience the conclusions of what their trust ultimately rests on. Do not be mistaken though, the Psalmist here is not calling upon God to do good to us because we’ve been good. Being “upright” or “righteous” is a gift that was given to us because of God’s great love for us, accomplished fully by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. This is a state of righteousness that we see long ago was given to Abraham, not because he was good but because “he believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed the Lord, he trusted Him when he said that he would provide him with offspring that would be as numerous as the stars. Do we trust God’s provision for us? Are we living out the truth that we are his sons and daughters through faith and that His path is right for us? Or do we turn aside to our own ways and idols like the “crooked,” who value autonomy and separate themselves from our Lord? We can’t be perfect in this, but we don’t stop fighting, and when we cease to trust God, let us not stay there. For we have a God who is willing to take us back at any moment. He can then again sit on the throne of our hearts.
The last hoorah of Psalm 125, “Peace be upon Israel!” may feel out of place, but it is the result that God’s people (and that includes us, the Church) experience when we live out our new identities in Christ through faith and trust. The evil and evildoers of this world will never be able to ultimately snuff out God’s kingdom or His kingdom people because sin, death, and evil have been defeated by Christ and we have a promise from the Creator of the universe that one day we will reign with Him in the new creation, and His enemies will have become his footstool. That Kingdom, Mount Zion, will never be moved but will abide forever…. Just as is said about us who trust in the Lord