Plea, punishment and peace
1 A song of ascents.
I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me. 2 Save me, O LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.
3 What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? 4 He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree.
5 Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! 6 Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. 7 I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.
Psalm 120 – Plea, punishment and peace
(Verses 1-2) This is the first psalm of fifteen, from Psalm 120 to Psalm 134, to be called ‘A song of ascents.’ The Jewish pilgrims sang these songs each year as they ascended Mount Zion in Jerusalem to the temple. The songs marked three Feasts of the Old Testament: those of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (also called Weeks or Harvest), and Ingathering (also called Booths or Tabernacles.) They prepared the pilgrims to worship God in the temple. They carry spiritual messages for all whose heart is open to God. We do not know who this psalmist is, but he seems to be Jewish and has lived outside Israel amongst enemies of Judaism. (We see this in verse 5). He is distressed because of the opposition of people who tell lies and are deceitful. That still can happen today, wherever we may live. In that distress he calls on God in prayer. That is always the best and the right thing to do. He shares his distress with God. Even though God knows about our griefs, sorrows, and worries, He always asks us to lay them before Him. 1 Peter 5:7 urges us to, ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.’ If you have put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your living Saviour, you can readily grasp that He carries your worries and cares too. He who has already borne all your sins and the punishment for them that you deserve, can easily carry your concerns as well—and He will. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). The psalmist asks for deliverance from those lies and from that deceit. We can pray that in two good ways. One way is to ask God to deliver us from others who lie and act deceitfully. The other way is to ask God to keep us from doing that ourselves, and to speak, think and act as Jesus would like.
(Verses 3-4) The psalmist is also very much aware that God will judge and punish those who distort the truth and live a lie. God’s judgment always hits its target as a sharp arrow. His arrow never misses. God will punish all unrepentant sinners. If any sinner has turned to Jesus to forgive him, he is saved. On the cross Jesus bore eternal punishment for sinners to save those who repent and trust Him. The ‘coals of the broom tree’ indicate the fire which burns the wood of a broom tree and so produces red hot glowing charcoal. In the Bible, fire often speaks of judgment. Hell is eternal. It is pictured as a fire that never goes out. Some say that is ‘only a picture’. But pictures are usually less real than the reality pictured. If fire is only a picture of Hell, the greater reality of everlasting and conscious punishment on sins is far worse. That is why Christ was punished for us.
(Verses 5-7) Meshech is in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and Kedar is in Arabia. The psalmist has obviously lived in both places, and still does at times. He has experienced great opposition, probably to him personally as a foreigner worshipping the Almighty God revealed in the Bible. Today, that happens worldwide and in our own country. The psalmist wants peace. They want war. Christians often still meet that situation. Some suffer greatly because of it. Jesus is the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6). He makes peace for sinners through the blood of His cross (Galatians 1:20). May we know His peace and blessing as we seek to make peace in a troubled world (Matthew 5:9).