Psalm 120 A song of ascents. (1) I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me. (2) Save me, LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. (3) What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue? (4) He will punish you with a warrior's sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom bush. (5) Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar! (6) Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. (7) I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war. (NIV)
Psalm 120 through 134 are called the Song of Ascents, Song of Degrees, Song of Steps, Gradual Psalms, or Pilgrim Songs. Four of these psalms are attributed to David, one to Solomon, but the remaining are unsigned. And really not much is known with certainty.
Throughout history, as required by God in the Old Testament, the Jewish people have made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem for three annual festivals:
"Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you. Deuteronomy 16:16-17 NKJV
And while the pilgrims climbed or “ascended” the uphill road into the city, they would sing these songs. Bible scholars believe that ancient Jewish priests would also sing these songs as they climbed the fifteen steps into the temple. But scholars cannot say with certainty what the original purpose of these psalms were nor why they were given the title that remains.
The 17th century English minister, Matthew Henry, made an interesting comment in his day:
That they [the song of ascents] are all short psalms, all but one very short (three of them have but three verses apiece), and that they are placed next to Psalm 119, which is by much the longest of all. Now as that was one psalm divided into many parts, so these were many psalms, which, being short, were sometimes sung all together, and made, as it were, one psalm, observing only a pause in between each; as many steps make one pair of stairs.Matthew Henry, English minister, 1662-1714
Psalm 120 has titles in some Bible translations: Deliver Me, O LORD. A Song of Ascents (ESV), Plea for Relief from Bitter Foes. A Song of Ascents (NKJV), A Prayer of Someone Far from Home. A song for going up to worship (ICB), and the New Living Translation says simply, A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.
In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.
Psalm 120:1-2 ESV
I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried to him, and he answered my prayer. Rescue me, O LORD, from liars and from deceitful people.
Psalm 120:1-2 NLT
Who do we go to in the tough times? When those around us spew lies and try to deceive us? The world we live in now is filled with deceit, and it is hard to find anything that is trustworthy- not unlike how this ancient psalmist felt. When everything around us is confusing and we are bombarded with messages that go against the Bible and the Lord, who do we turn to for the Truth? When we feel attacked for what we believe, where do we go? When we feel alone and lost and confused, what do we do? When the lies start to take hold and we start ourselves and maybe even God, what do we do?
We must take these worries and fears and anxieties to God. We must hold everything up against the Truth within the Bible. God is the only One who truly listens and understands. He already knows what plagues us, what fills our hearts and minds. He already knows, but there is healing in speaking it, in crying out to Him for help. God hears us, and He listens to us. His ear is always turned toward the cries of His children.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. 1 Peter 3:12 ESV The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. Psalm 34:15 ESV
God was faithful. He is faithful. He will be faithful. The righteous must hold this Truth close their hearts. It is God’s promise, and God is faithful.
The lies our souls need deliverance from are not only the lies said about us, but also the lies said to us- lies about God, lies about man, lies about ourselves, lies about life, identity, purpose, and happiness. From these lies, deliver my soul, O LORD.Pastor David Guzik, http://www.enduringword.com
This little song is a good reminder of God’s faithfulness.
What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? A warrior's sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree! Psalm 120:3-4 ESV O deceptive tongue, what will God do to you? How will he increase your punishment? You will be pierced with sharp arrows and burned with glowing coals. Psalm 120:3-4 NLT
Here, the author turns his attention to the lying and deceitful tongue with a warning. In ancient days, an attack or a siege would include flaming arrows. To kill a man with an arrow, the archer had to be precise, well taught, and have the eyes of an eagle. But a burning arrow did not need to be precise; fire would do the work. And fire was major worry when your homes were possibly made of stone, but roofs were constructed with wood planks and thatch or branches. Fire distracted and made defending secondary.
The author of this psalm trusted that God would have the final say. The Lord provides us with this sweet Truth. Through faith, we believe that the Lord will avenge and through that belief, we can “extinguish” the lies of Satan.
In addition to all of this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Ephesians 6:16 NIV above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Ephesians 6:16 NKJV
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul teaches us to put on the Armor of God: the belt of Truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes prepared to share the Good News, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
When the world attacks the children of God, it is Satan, it is evil intent upon destroying all that the Lord loves. Which he cannot do. He still tries, doesn’t he? Thankfully God prepares us, He provides for us, He watches over us, and He never ever leaves us. Brother or sister, put on the armor of God!
Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war! Psalm 120:5-7 ESV How I suffer in far-off Meschech. It pains me to live in distant Kedar. I am tired of living among people who hate peace. I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war! Psalm 120:5-7 NLT
Pastor David Guzik titles this section of verses, “the weariness of living with those who hate God’s shalom.” Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. The author of Psalm 120 craves the peace amongst God’s people in His holy city. Beginning the Song of Ascents with Psalm 120 and these three verses makes sense. The pilgrim travels from home longing for God’s community and releasing the worry and stress of living amongst the ungodly. And as he or she finally crests the hill with Jerusalem in sight, he or she sings this song.
Our poet felt himself to be as ill at ease among lying neighbours as if he had lived among savages and cannibals. The traitors around him were as bad as the unspeakable Turk. He cries “Woe is me!” Their sin appalled him, their enmity galled him. He had some hope from the fact that he was only a sojourner in Mesech; but as years rolled on the time dragged heavily, and he feared that he might call himself a dweller in Kedar. The wandering tribes to whom he refers were constantly at war with one another; it was their habit to travel armed to the teeth; they were a kind of plundering gypsies, with their hand against every man and every man’s hand against them; and to these he compared the false-hearted ones who had assailed his character.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Bible scholars point out that these two tribes (Meshek and Kedar) lived so far apart that the psalmist could not be saying that he lived amongst them both. He is merely painting a picture of what it was like for him to live away from God’s people and God’s community.
And the pilgrim sings this as he or she walks up the hill into Jerusalem to celebrate.
We are sojourners, travelers, passing through a land filled with evil and deceit and lying tongues and flaming arrows, all aimed at our destruction because of Who we belong to. This is not our home. This is not what God intended if sin had not entered the world.
Therefore, Psalm 120 can also be our song.
Psalm 120 is our song of hope in the faithfulness of the Lord.
But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 NIV
Father in heaven, you are faithful. You have been faithful throughout time; you were faithful during the time this psalm was written, and you will be faithful to us now. Your promises are trustworthy and all that we need. We are travelers in a dark and dangerous world, yet you give us hope and peace every day. You promise that your eyes and ears are upon your children. We rest in this promise. We put on the armor that you offer. Give us strength to face the day. Amen.