Psalm 123

While very short, this Psalm of Ascents is far more intense than any English translation can convey. It echoes of someone in deep distress from oppression, implying a persecution for one’s faith in Jehovah.

The first word in the Hebrew here points to God as the obvious focus; there is no other. We are bowed down under the pressure of a world that dehumanizes and tries to own us, but we recognize no Sovereign but Jehovah. He is the One who dwells in the Heavens as His natural home, built by His hand.

In a related figure of speech, the psalmist cites a protocol whereby the servant watches the right hand of his master, or her mistress. Many Ancient Near Eastern potentates would establish subtle hand signals, training their servants to respond immediately. Just the slightest twitch from Your finger, O Lord, and we are ready to jump. We are watchful and eager. What is not easily translated to our culture today is how such a servant was utterly convinced that the whims of their lord were always in their own best interest. In this case, it’s all the more so true when we seek His mercy and favor for deliverance.

And what favor do we seek? The psalmist includes everyone, emphasizing it by repeating it. We burdened by the hideous moral distress of contempt we face from those bearing worldly authority over us. The obvious implication is that God is not like that; we are His family and His treasure. Who compares to the greatness of God? Yet men with piddling authority over a few others so quickly forget humility before God, and oppress His people.

This prayer doesn’t seek revenge, only deliverance.

119: Teth 65-72

We celebrate here the Path of Discipline. The key line in this octet refers to going astray and receiving correction.

However, observing proper feudal protocol, the psalmist begins by affirming that God has treated him quite well, and consistent with revelation. This is a strong statement that God’s purpose and intentions are inherently in his own best interest. Further, it was always consistent with God’s promises. The second verse starts literally: “Goad me into having good taste and clear perception.” He sees how God has fostered a sense of trust and dependence in him.

Without some sense of sorrow and the experience of God’s wrath, it’s hard to drag our fallen nature into faithfulness. As a master, God defines what it means to be good, so keep goading us, Lord.

The wicked are always trying to stick some nasty label on us because we reject their imaginary morals. But it won’t stick because we serve God from the heart, not some human reason. By comparison, their hearts are loaded up with moral junk that only looks good, but their conscience is insensitive. By contrast, we gorge our hearts on the Law of God.

So it’s all good to walk through some affliction, because that’s how we discipline the flesh to obey the spirit. Even in His most challenging demands of us, the demands of God are more precious than all the wealth in the world.

Psalm 119: Cheth 57-64

This octet of verses is the Song of Loyalty. The psalmist is fully committed, wholly owned by his Sovereign, a loyal servant who shares in the inheritance as a son. That’s the meaning of the first line, and he as offered the ritual of covenant binding, giving his word to live by the Law of his Lord. He held back nothing in secret, but cast his whole being on the favor of Jehovah. He knows there is no master among men who would be so merciful because the Lord for His part gave His word on it.

Upon this commitment, he gave long consideration to his own ways and determined to bend his path to following the ancient markers of God’s eternal road of truth. There was no hesitation at all.

The wicked pay no attention to revelation as they devise a system that favors their comfort, and they have tried to hold the psalmist accountable to their man-made laws. But he simply cannot absorb their false ways as the truth of God echoes down from Heaven into his heart.

It was considered normal in ancient times for adults to awaken at least once in the night and stay up for a while, often doing things that are difficult to do in daytime. It’s a quiet time of private matters, and our psalmist finds his first impulse is to give thanks to God. This is not something you can fake. He finds his mind drawn back to all the amazing things God has revealed in His judgments of what is morally good and bad.

His loyalty is overwhelming, so wherever he encounters someone who lives by a heart-led commitment to Jehovah, the psalmist is that person’s friend and ally without question. When he witnesses someone acting consistent with God’s Laws, he wants to share in their burden of work. Everywhere he turns, there is a vision or song marking God’s mercy; the earth itself trembles and hums to the divine glory. He asks that God use those echoes of mercy to goad him into a life that God outlined long ago.

Psalm 91

This is easily one of the best-loved psalms in almost any translation. We are told the Hebrew is quite lyrical in its own right. (Hint: Ephesians 6 echoes some of the thinking here.) So popular was this song that Satan threw it at Jesus, attempting to sucker the Lord into a legalistic literal application. Jesus wasn’t drawn into a petty dispute, but pointed out how the suggested miracle would violate the fundamental nature of faith itself. Instead, Jesus performed better, sometimes more spectacular miracles that served His Father’s divine purpose. This is not about a stack of miracles, but a genuine trust in God to do whatever it takes to make the mission of His glory happen.

This entire psalm rests on the image of Ancient Near Eastern feudalism. It matters not what service the servant renders, only that he remain utterly faithful in the business of his lord.

It’s not a question of where you belong, but to whom. In Ancient Hebrew culture, entering the service of some noble or king meant hanging out in his court until given a mission. However, when the mission is complete, to this court the servant returns as his home base. It’s hard to imagine a safer place, because to attack the servant requires attacking the ruler and his entire bodyguard.

And once upon a mission, who would dare to interfere? Your master’s reputation makes a huge difference. This is Jehovah, so we should hardly be surprised when Satan attempts to sucker us and draw us off the mission into any number of diversions that bring us into his slavery. That’s his job. It’s not so much the enslavement as the tempting diversion from which we are delivered if we are faithful at heart. Our Lord provides whatever it takes to remain healthy and covers us with His warmth against harsh weather. He is utterly trustworthy, so our confidence is better than any battle shield.

Night terrors and arrows are both threats that you don’t see coming. Night or day matters not, for God never sleeps. Death and destruction could come up next to you, but never touch you, sparing you rather like the Passover in the Exodus. It’s not that you won’t see mass destruction, but that it won’t have your name on it. So long as you are faithful in your Master’s business, it won’t matter where you go or what you do, He will insure that your shalom is undisturbed.

A part of that shalom is God keeping natural threats at bay. His Creation is no danger to those who serve the divine moral character that is woven into that Creation. Your feet will be shod with His sense of peace about things the other people fear.

God Himself offers the most extravagant promises. While this is written much like the standard protocol promises of any master taking on a new servant, we know that God can actually perform as Maker of all things. How long does it take for you to bring Him glory? Your life here won’t expire until He is finished, at which time you’ll be quite happy to go to your well-earned rest.