Songs of Degrees – Psalm 120

Truth and Peace – Rare Commodities

As the psalmist stands on the bottom step he laments his position. As one who loves truth and seeks peace, he feels that he is alone, surrounded by those who have ‘lying lips’ (v2) and ‘are for war‘ (v7). This causes the psalmist much ‘distress’ and he says ‘woe is me’ (v5).

Mesech & Kedar

‘Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!’

(v5)

In this verse we have a clue to the historical reality that gave rise to this psalm of lament, and the mention of both Mesech and Kedar fit will with the days of Hezekiah. Some commentators have puzzled over how the psalmist could say he is dwelling amongst two disparate groups at the same time, but I believe the answer comes by seeing these nations as two extreme reference points encompassing the whole the Assyrian empire.

Mesech is widely identified with the Mushki in Assyrian records, which links them to the Phrygians of central Turkey, on the northern extremity of the Assyrian empire. Meshech and neighbouring Tubal were natural enemies of Assyria, but after Tubal was subjugated in 713BC, we find King Mita, under whom Mesech reached the peak of their power, betraying an allied king to Sargon of Assyria who is then found calling Mita (known to the Greeks as Midas) a friend in 709BC. Some years later, Mesech once again joins an alliance against Assyria.

From this we learn that in the world around us power, wealth or glory supersede truth and peace. If we take our modern day work environment, let alone the political sphere, we know that colleagues will battle for position one week and form an alliance the next. Truth is subservient to the goal, and if deceit or lies helps one get ahead, the ungodly will not think twice.

Like the psalmist, the godly believer often says ‘woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech’. Being reminded that to ‘sojourn’ is to tarry for a limited time, brings some encouragement, nevertheless, the distress that such deceitfulness causes often lead us to cry out to the Lord: ‘deliver my soul’ (v2).

We turn now from Assyria’s northern border to its southern, and consider Kedar, an ethnic grouping of nomadic tribes centred around Dummah in northern Arabia. Kedar at this time was an unwilling vassal nation of Assyria, ruled by a number of successive queens, who from time to time rose up in rebellion. In 703BC, Queen Yatie sent her forces, under the command of her brother to join up with Merodach-Baladan of Babylon.

We mentioned in a previous post the visit of the Babylonian delegation to Hezekiah following his recovery from illness in 701BC, detailed in Isaiah 39. We don’t know all that they talked about, but I’m sure that one item on the agenda was whether Hezekiah would also join this alliance. Was it as part of these discussions that Hezekiah shows the delegation all his wealth? What we do know is that although Hezekiah doesn’t join any alliance, the damage has already been done.

Isaiah makes clear that the question Hezekiah should have asked was: ‘can I trust the ungodly?’ This psalm, if it is from Hezekiah, shows that he has learnt his lesson. He recognises the deceit of the Babylonian delegation and their desire ‘for war’ (v7).

Hezekiah however has no desire for any further war, and wants nothing to do with the rebellious and violent ways of the world. He understands their end, and will speak of ‘sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper’ (v4), referring to divine judgment. Rather, he says to Isaiah, ‘there shall be peace and truth in my days’ (Isa 39:8, 2Kings 20:19). This is the last thing we read of Hezekiah is Scripture, but extra-Biblical accounts show that following this, Hezekiah made peace with Assyria and accepted their demands for tribute.

A modern day example

We live in similar days of social unrest and chafing against authority, but as the people of God we must be wise in our associations. The world will come calling upon the church to stand in solidarity with them, and will present a seemingly worthy cause, such as Black Lives Matter. But remember, the ungodly are not motivated by truth, and current thinking around identity politics and intersectionality is a good example of this – power is the driving force.

While we would whole-heartedly agree with the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’, let us not be too hasty in allying ourselves with this movement as Christians. If we take the time to read their manifesto, we find they stand against God on issues of gender, marriage and the life of the unborn. It’s not surprising that religious bodies are on board with this, but it is sad when churches of the Living God ally themselves with Babylon.

How should we respond?

We must stand for truth! We must be separate! We must seek peace! We must trust the Lord!

In this case, we must live out the truth that our God ‘is no respecter of persons’ (Acts 10:34) and speak up for the Biblical truth that all are equal: essentially because of creation; morally because of sin; and gloriously because of grace.

However, we never see New Testament believers involved in protests. We are not to be a part of the mob. Scripture would tell us to ‘come out from among them and be ye separate’ (2 Cor 6:17). Mob protests usually contain anti-authoritarian feeling, and Scripture is clear ‘honour the king’ (1 Peter 2:17). Remember, these words were written to those being persecuted by the king.

Rather than protest, as Christians we are to pray, ‘for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Tim 2:2-4)

But most of all, we must look to the Lord, and that is where these Songs of Ascent beautifully turn our attention. As we move ‘further in and further up’, to quote CS.Lewis in ‘The Last Battle’, we find the psalmist’s gaze is fixed ever upwards, up the steps of Ahaz, towards the sanctuary and the presence of the LORD. As he cries ‘unto the LORD’, he is greatly encouraged that he is not alone, and he can say: ‘he heard me’ (v1). How comforting for the distressed soul today to know there is ever an open ear in the heavenly sanctuary. It is the ear of One who is able to deliver us!

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