Daybreak: Psalms 120:1 through 123:4
“In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.” (Psalm 120:1)
Occasionally a pleasant event is interrupted by bad news, and in just a matter of minutes we find ourselves feeling burdened and distressed instead of happy and excited. At such times, our instinct as Christians is to turn to God in prayer.
I had that experience a couple of years ago when a friend and I were about to leave Florida on a Gospel cruise to the Bahamas — a longtime dream that had become a reality for me. After boarding our ship and having a wonderful lunch on the deck, I called my family one last time before our ship sailed from port. Expecting good wishes, what I heard instead was that a serious problem had arisen in my family on the West Coast. I was on the other side of the country, our cruise ship was pulling out momentarily, and even if I had been home, I would not have been able to change the situation. All I could do was tell them I would pray.
As our ship left Jacksonville, my friend and I went up to one of the decks to listen to the music being performed, but my joy and excitement about the cruise was gone. I hardly heard the songs because of my distress about the situation at home. Throughout the evening, the excellent music continued, but my heart was focused on pouring out my concerns to God.
The next morning, still feeling burdened, I went to breakfast and then to hear another of the quartets on board perform. The lyrics of the first song that group sang were, “Calvary wins again, hallelujah! Calvary wins again, praise His Name.” As I listened, my burden began to melt away and peace flooded through me. The Lord had heard me in my distress! An assurance slowly arose in my heart that He was on the scene and would be watching over the situation I could do nothing about. The rest of my cruise was amazing and left me feeling refreshed and renewed. Later I learned that at the same time I felt the burden lift that morning, Calvary had won again at home and the situation started to improve.
In Psalm 120, the writer was greatly distressed because others were telling lies about him. He knew God had heard his cries in the past, and he had confidence God would hear him again. The psalmist did not need to fight against these dishonest people because God was going to fight for him.
Distress can come to us in many forms — family situations, opposition, financial problems, illness, grief, or various other difficulties. When it does, like the psalmist, we can cry out to the Lord. God is the same as He was when these Scriptures were written. He is listening when we pray. Often in the past He has answered for us, and we can remember how He has helped others. God will help with our distressing situations when we trust and wait on Him.
The fifteen psalms from 120 to 134 are each classified as “A Song of Degrees.” The word degrees means “goings-up, steps, and ascents.” While the reason for this classification is unknown, several possible explanations have been suggested. One is that the title indicated the style in which these psalms were written, with one thought building upon another, or a musical style that is now unknown. Another possibility is that these psalms were sung by the Israelites as they ascended the hill of Jerusalem or climbed the steps of the Temple to worship God during national feasts. Whatever the reason for the superscription, these psalms are concise and descriptive.
In Psalm 120, the writer lamented that he lived among people who deceived and slandered, and he requested God’s deliverance. Juniper wood (“coals of juniper”) put off intense heat and burned for a long time, so weapons made with its charcoal were fierce. When the psalmist said he lived among Mesech and Kedar, he may have been speaking figuratively of being a wanderer, for people of Kedar were Arabic nomads. He may also have meant that those around him were warlike and cruel.
The key thought of Psalm 121 is the concept of being kept by God. “From whence cometh my help” could be considered a question, which is answered by the next phrase, “from the Lord.” The psalmist knew that God, who made all things, would watch over His people, and that He is vigilant and faithful in His care. The words keepeth, keeper, and preserve all come from the same Hebrew root word, shâmar, which means to “guard” or “protect.” The promises in this psalm are well known and have been loved by many generations.
Psalm 122 is credited to David. It expresses the anticipation of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the opportunity to worship God in His house. These words have been quoted by people through the ages as they have come together to honor and praise the Lord. The hills and valleys about Jerusalem cause it to be “compact together,” so its homes and walls were joined or unbroken. Not only was Jerusalem the center of Israel’s worship, but it was also the seat of government. The psalmist exhorted people to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The original word translated as peace is shalom, which means “welfare, health, and prosperity.” David longed for the safety and blessing of the city, its inhabitants, and all who loved it.
The writer of Psalm 123 knew the importance of looking to God for mercy. In this psalm, he looked to God because he felt those about him displayed such contempt for others that he could no longer bear it.
In ancient times, servants and slaves attentively watched for any gesture or look indicating the desire of their master, so they could instantly perform it. In the same way, the psalmist waited to discern God’s will.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines – Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. Book I (1:1 — 41:13)
II. Book II (42:1 — 72:20)
III. Book III (73:1 — 89:52)
IV. Book IV (90:1 — 106:48)
V. Book V (107:1 — 150:6)
A Closer Look
- What are two of the promises given to those who turn to God for help? (Psalm 121)
- Why should we be glad when we go into the House of the Lord? (Psalm 122:1)
- What might be some benefits of looking to God as ancient servants looked to their masters? (Psalm 123:2)
God hears our cries and comes to our aid with grace and mercy for each situation as we trust in Him.