Text: Psalm 124
Verses 1-5: The psalmist calls the congregation to join in to give thanks, indicating the liturgical nature of the psalm. We observe that God’s presence was critical in defeating the attack of the enemies. If not for God, the enemy would have “swallowed” Israel alive, which provides a mythological allusion to a Canaanite god.
Verses 6-8: In these verses, we witness an understanding that they escaped the ravages of their enemies because of God’s presence. This great act of divine deliverance leads to the confident proclamation that God, the Creator of all, is Israel’s helper.
INTERPRET: The psalmist leads Israel in thanksgiving towards God for delivering them from an enemy that wanted to hurt them. Considering the brevity of the psalm, it is remarkable how many vivid metaphors of potential destruction the psalmist uses to communicate the danger faced by the community. Thus, heightening the greatness of God who saved them.
The psalmist leads the community as they give thanks to God for rescuing them from the hands of an enemy intent on destroying them. God was on their side and the implication is that he was on their side as a Warrior, who fought and defeated their enemies. While no specific event is mentioned here, scripture contains many stories of God saving his people in this way, most notably from the Egyptians at the Red Sea.
APPLICATION: All Christians are engaged in a spiritual battle, which is beyond our resources to fight on our own. Thus’ we need God’s help, and this psalm is a model prayer directing us to give thanks to the One who supplies us with the spiritual weapons and armour needed to escape the attacks of our enemy. The Apostle Paul summed it up best when he wrote “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31).
The spiritual realm is very real, and Christians must learn how to approach the battle taking place there. The good news is that God gives you every resource you need to engage in spiritual warfare. He wants you to have hope, because He has already won the ultimate battle through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He gives us His strength by giving us his Holy Spirit.
Psalm 124 teaches us a few truths that we can help us for the spiritual battle that we face. These truths include:
PRAYER: Thank You, Lord. Very often I have been caught in a trap, feeling like I could never overcome the difficulties I faced at the time. But that was a lie, and you provided a way of escape — over and over. You are Creator of heaven and earth, and You know exactly what I need each time I let myself get in a bind. I praise your Holy name Jesus. Amen.
SONG: Michael W. Smith (Surrounded)
October 28th – Les Kovacs Psalm 123
Observe: Psalm 123 is the fourth of the Songs of Ascent. It is a short prayer for God’s mercy towards His servant. In the first and second verses, the psalmist lifts their eyes to Him who is enthroned in heaven as would a servant who looks to their master to provide all the things needed for their life and livelihood. In the third and fourth verses, the servant asks the Lord for mercy as they endure continual mocking from arrogant and contemptuous people.
Interpret: The psalms referred to as the Songs of Ascent are generally accepted as songs sung by pilgrims going up the hill to Jerusalem for the three required annual festivals. Psalm 123 is only four verses long, but it is profoundly deep, and expresses a marvelous truth for the believer. It confirms that we are servants of the Lord Most High, and therefore, we confidently rely on God for all our provision, including mercy from our daily trials. When the psalmist describes the contempt they experience from the mockers along the way, they are describing the scorn that their contemporaries held for the believers, and how their faith in the one true God sets them apart from the pagan world. This difference in worldviews is the foundation of the animosity of the pagans and causes the psalmist to seek shelter and relief in the mercy of the Lord.
Application: Being a follower of Christ in any age has always caused us to be different from the world around us. We rely on the provision, guidance, mercy and ultimate salvation of the Lord, but the world relies on its own wisdom and might to navigate life. When we imitate Christ with the attitude of a servant who places the needs of others before ourselves, it is seen as being weak and beneath the dignity of an independent person who follows their own path. Being a servant is seen as an insult to a person of the world. Often times, very wealthy people or celebrities, with their inflated egos, can be seen treating their own personal staff, or the waitstaff when they are out and about, with disdain for doing whatever humble or mundane tasks they themselves would never stoop to doing. When they endorse a charity, they will often call attention to themselves to show their generosity and so make it all about themselves, and less about those in actual need. So, when we speak the truth of the Gospel and live our lives to the glorification of God, we often gain the scorn and derision of our fellow man. These people, Jesus says, have already gained their reward.
When we see the worldly successes of others, we might be tempted to follow in their footsteps and increase our worldly possessions or influence or fame, but these are fleeting pleasures, hollow prizes that are easily lost, stolen or tarnished.
Following Christ, on the other hand, means that we store up our treasures in heaven. This is an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled and will not fade away (1 Peter 1:4). Imitating Jesus, our Servant King, means that we understand our reliance on God for our “daily bread”. We bend our knee to Him and acknowledge Him as our master. Everything that we have and are is because of His blessings poured out on us every day. Our hope for today, tomorrow, and for all eternity is based firmly on God's unchanging love and unfailing mercy. Every morning His love and mercy toward us are refreshed, revitalized, like a brilliant new sunrise. The one reward that Christians prize above all else is to one day hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. (Matthew 25:23)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, you placed us on this earth with a purpose to serve you. Yet we sometimes stray from your path and do things that do not please you. We seek your mercy upon us that we may find favor in you and be delivered from the wrong path. Set us on the right path and equip us with the courage to act as your instruments in this world. May all that we do glorify and exalt your name forever. Amen.
Song: Mercies (New Every Morning) – Matt Redman
Observe Let us go to the house of the Lord (1), sings Israel on their way to the Temple, rejoicing at God’s invitation as they climb the steep path. The image in verse two is potent: once their pilgrim feet touch the ground inside the gates of Jerusalem, the fortified city, God protects them from enemies.
In the Lord’s sanctuary all people “give thanks to the name of the LORD” (3-4). God’s judgment is established, for thanksgiving and judgment are inseparable. Judgment belongs to the God of all creation and of all people. The proper response of all people is to give thanks for God’s righteous rule and judgment.
Their prayers for peace in Jerusalem renew their strength as they continue uphill in joy.
Interpret The third Psalm of Ascent, sung as Israel climbs to the Temple for worship. For them, Jerusalem is a place of refuge, safety, and sanctuary.
Here is peace that only God provides for all His people. All longing for this peace is distilled in the benediction: “Peace be within you” (8). In a world of bloodshed and war, swords and spears become plowshares and pruning hooks; peace that surpasses human understanding will, by His grace and power, prevail. Whatever Israel had done or not done in its checkered history, joy marks their worship together.
Apply Here’s an attitude to cultivate as we approach Sunday worship. We can be glad for this wonderful privilege of gathering with His Body, His church, after 2+ years of isolation from one another. It’s almost a high for us after such a long separation, being able to meet together. But even if we’re down. faith and obedience draw us together in worship – God’s commandment heeded brings great blessing, personally and corporately. Worship, praise, the Word, confession, thanksgiving, Communion, blessing, fellowship – the liturgical sequence lifts us out of the bog.
It foreshadows our utter joy when we’ll finally meet God, not in a building at a set time, but forever in His Real Presence – quite overwhelming to think about! We’ll see our Father face to face in the Presence of Jesus, the Spirit whispering His praises with us. We’ll see the true oneness of Trinity, for we will be truly one with God.
We’re practicing for that time while here, so if we can become excited about worship together (a year of Psalms and teaching sermons should have helped us along), we’ll have come a long way, especially uphill!
Ask What do I, small part of this gathered community, need to hear from this Psalm? How can God’s good news lodge in my heart to make more room for Jesus, and my neighbour? How can I align my longings for the new creation while in the middle of the old?
Pray Lord, let my thoughts be centred in You; let my heart be fixed on You; let my joy be contagious in You. With my brothers and sisters, I offer thanks as our worship and prayers ascend to You, in Jesus’ name.
Sing Ps 122
I rejoiced when I heard them say - John Michael Talbot
Let Us Go Rejoicing - Michael Joncas
I was glad - King’s College Choir
This is the second of the series of psalms which are titled A Song of Ascents. As a song sung by travelers, this is particularly relevant for the trust placed in God through the journey.
Observation, Interpretation and Application:
I love this psalm. It was one of my favourites since childhood. I often imagined that God was right beside me no matter what the circumstances (verse 1 and 2). He will keep me and help me. He will never let me stumble, no matter what (verses 3 and 4). The standing of the believer in Jesus is impressive. He won’t let us slip and He never sleeps. I often have a hard time with sleeping. Lots of time I wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. It is during these times that I pray fervently for those the Lord has brought to mind and then…miracles of miracles! I go back to sleep. God never sleeps! To know that God watches over us in all the minute details in life should be cause for praising Him! He protects us and watches over us all the days of our lives, no matter how long or short that should be.
This past week David and I experienced a sudden “taking” of life in our brother-in-law, Roger. Although sad, we rejoice that Roger is in the presence of our King who granted him a much longer life than expected. He preserved Roger’s “going out and coming in” for all the days of his life.
To know that the Lord watches intently over our lives (verses 5 and 6) and keeps us from harm should be reason to rejoice!
Heavenly Father, thank you that You never sleep! Even when we “forget” about You, You are always there for us. Help us to be grateful for Your unending love and care. Amen.
I composed this song for my choir before I came to St. Aidan’s: Psalm 121 song.mp3
The words are directly from Scripture. May you be blessed!
Psalm 120 is the first of 15 psalms (Psalm 120-134) categorized as Song of Ascents. They are named this because of the phrase appearing before each of the psalms – the Hebrew term ma’a lot which means “going up.” Another reason they are called Psalms of Ascent is because these are psalms that were sung by Jews traveling to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts – the Feast Passover, the feast of Pentecost and the feast of Tabernacles. However, they are also called Psalms of Ascent because they have an upward motion…the believer crying out to God in trouble far away from Jerusalem, but ending by offering up praise to God in His temple courts.
The psalmist talks of distress and destiny…distress and deliverance from deceitful tongues in verses 1 and 2, and the destiny of those deceitful tongues in verses 3 and 4. He cries out with weariness of living with those who hate God’s shalom (peace) in verses 5 and 6, and states the contrast between himself and the community where he lives in verse 7.
Interpretation and Application:
The psalm begins with prayer. We are to call on the Lord in times of trouble. He hears us and answers us! (verse 1) He protects us from those who would try to lead us astray and turn us from the truth. (verse 2) Those who do so will be judged. (verses 3-4). As Christians we do not belong to the world. Just as Meshek and Kedar were places far away from the land of Israel (verse 5) and the psalmist felt he had lived too long among these people who did not care for God and His ways, so we as Christians often feel a little uncomfortable living in this world. We don’t often fit or feel at home as the hymn puts it: “This world is not my home. I’m just a passin’ through.” Sometimes we just get tired of living in the world and long for peace (verses 6 and 7). Only in Christ can we have peace. Jesus said it Himself: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace,” (John 16:33). We must also remember that we were never promised an easy life once we take Christ as Saviour, but don’t let that discourage you. Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Let’s remember the beginning of this psalm where it encourages us to call on the Lord in times of trouble.
Thank you Lord, that you are with us in times of trouble. Even though You have not promised us an easy life, You have given us Christ to hold us fast and see us through. Amen.
This World is Not My Home
“I call with all my heart; answer me O Lord, and I will obey your decrees. I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes.”
Psalm 119: 145-176
Psalm 119: 145-176
We reach the last four stanzas of this amazing Psalm:
The key theme of this Psalm is God’s Word – His Law, precepts, statutes and commands. It is a relational Psalm that demonstrates the beauty of the closeness that is possible between God, the creator, and humans, the created. It is a Psalm that builds in intensity as the author recognizes his need of God, His Word and Salvation. Humble commitment, service and obedience is required, in faith, for this relationship to fully grow, develop and blossom.
In these last stanzas the Psalm grows to a crescendo. Prayer and God’s Word are the key themes. We see how the psalmist prayed, what he prayed for, when and how. We see the contents of his petitions, the period of waiting that occurred and how faith and obedience remained during this time. In all of this we see God’s supremacy, the truth of His Word and His salvation.
The Psalm is almost like a testimony, paying witness to God’s love and truth. It demonstrates the beauty and closeness of a relationship with the Almighty. As the Psalm closes we can almost imagine the writer falling on his knees in humility, recognizing his lost state and casting himself upon God’s loving grace in abject servanthood; the only possible response when God is truly ‘seen.’
In recent services we have considered how we ‘honour,’ God. We have looked at how we are to ‘enjoy’ God and glorify Him in this life. In a sense, and in real detail, this Psalm is a blueprint answer for us to these issues. It details the need to know God in and through His Holy Spirit inspired Word, that the latter makes alive in us. The Psalm demonstrates many forms of prayer and is a testimony of faith. It shows the beauty, joy, agony and wonder of a close relationship with God – it is an inspiration for us to mirror and emulate.
The real 'keys' it displays for us to unlock our relationship in God with, are those of prayer, faith, Word and obedience. Turning these keys in practice truly bless us, glorifies God and gives us joy; we will know and see God. The final piece though is the admission and recognition of our utter need of God as demonstrated in today’s opening verses (recorded above) and closing verse. These link very much to our baptismal vows that we make where we say, we pray, “I will, with the help of God.”
The Question of Application
What ‘key’ will you use today, with the help of God, to grow in your relationship with Him?
Lord, you are just and your commandments are eternal. Teach us to love you with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Through Jesus Christ, your only Son, You reveal that You work in your creation, so through Him, your living Word, enable us to know Your love and to share it with others. Teach and enable us in prayer and faith through Jesus Christ and Your written Word. We ask this in his name. Amen
I Will – Citizen Way
Take my Life and Let it be – Chris Tomlin
Ayin: This stanza prays that God would vindicate His own justice in the face of His law broken by His own people, who seem to get away with their rebellion.
Pe: The poet expresses longing and wonder for God’s word that gives light and understanding. He weeps because people rebel against His law (136)
Tsadeh: The poet humbly recognizes that God and His law are righteous because God is faithful. Despite suffering, he delights in God’s law.
In the first of these three stanzas, God’s laws are ignored, and His people are oppressed. The poet asks God to act for him; he is His servant and can only ask, but with boldness: It is time for the Lord to act, for Your law has been broken. (126)
The stanza marked “Pe” sees the poet’s amazement at God’s law, calling it ‘wonderful’ not in the flabby sense that this word has become, but ‘full of wonder’, ‘supernatural’. Only in trust that God will direct his steps in obedience will the riches of His Word be revealed.
The last stanza reveals God’s righteousness – He is completely just and will never exploit or abuse, and He keeps His promises. The poet humbly trusts God, remembering to keep His law despite trouble within and without.
To our ‘authority-averse culture’ (Keller), the law of God seems so arbitrary, unfair. ‘Righteousness’ is equated with ‘self-righteousness’ and misses the point completely of who God is. The oppressive nature of the world around us, unpunished corruption, war and rumours of war, disease, ‘alternative’ just about everything, is enough to make anyone not get up in the morning.
Yes, we have a God of righteousness and justice – and relentless love. To turn always to Him, asking for the Spirit to align our wills and hearts with His in prayer and earnest seeking, is what we do. But it requires change, daily, away from old habits of not attending worship, skimming the Word (or ignoring it altogether), skipping prayer and the means provided by our church – services, small groups, prayer teams for example. In the face of our careless spiritual laziness, we have His constant Presence, His supreme sacrifice to free us from what keeps us in a state of spiritual mediocrity, His abundant life to revitalize flagging faith. So we ask for His grace, listen for His instructions, then do His work to honour and bring Him joy. Best we do it together. No lone wolves, please.
Have I tried to get away with disobeying Your Word, hoping no one finds out, and without consequences? Do I weep over those I know and love (and who You know and love) who do not follow Your way? In tough times, do I turn to You and find that You are a delight, that makes it possible for me to praise?
Lord, I confess I take time only for the most superficial Bible study. I confess, also, that too often my heart has little desire to truly learn and love Your Word. I ask that by Your grace and Spirit, this entire Psalm will break my heart’s indifference. (Adapted from Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus. 320)
Ayin (121-128) : Crown and Covenant - I’ve Judged Rightly
Pe (129-136): Crown and Covenant - Your Testimonies I Have Kept
Tsadhe (137-144): Crown and covenant - O Lord, You Are the Righteous One
TEXT: PSALM 119: 97-120
Verses 97-104: The psalmist begins the stanza with a strong affirmation of his affection for the law which leads to his constant meditation on it.
Verses 105-112: The psalmist again expresses his deep commitment to follow God’s law and indeed wants to continually learn more about the law.
Verses 113-120: This stanza focuses on the threat that evil people are to the psalmist. These are people who do not love the law as the psalmist does.
INTERPRET: We can see that the Lord’s commands make the psalmist wise because they reveal God’s will. They also keep the psalmist from evil. Honey may be sweet, but God’s words are even sweeter as he speaks to them. It is also notable that the psalmist claims to be smarter than his teachers (v. 99), which may indicate that he is a relatively young person.
The psalmist’s life has been characterized by suffering, and he calls on God to help him, according to his Word. The law lights up a path of life, revealing to us God’s will for how we are to live. We thus can avoid many pitfalls and snares that may present troubles to our lives.
The psalmist knows that he does not have the resources to rebuff the attacks of evil people, so he puts his trust in God and his protection, knowing that God will not tolerate plots of the wicked. Double-minded people are those who appear to be following God, but really, they aren’t. They don’t truly love God’s law as the psalmist does.
APPLICATION: God’s Word is consistent with God’s character and expresses his will for how we should lead our lives. It illumines the way we are to live as God’s children and seeking to obey confers a blessing on the obedient. However, despite loving God’s Word, we will still suffer in this life and will be under attack from those who do not love God. To prepare for this, we need to be aware of our own failures and to seek God’s help every step of the way.
A few questions can be posed to all Christians in reflection of these verses:
SONG: Amy Grant – Thy Word
October 12th – Les Kovacs Psalm 119:73-96
Observe: Psalm 119 is King David’s ultimate ode to the Word of God. Nearly every verse in every stanza refers to God’s commands, word, laws, promises, statutes, precepts, or decrees. On the surface, there seems to be little or no apparent connection or common theme between the verses. It is not like a golden chain where all the links join together to form one beautiful whole, but rather, it is like a priceless collection of individual gems, with each one being equal to and complimenting all the others. It is a treasure chest conserving a careful collection of David's innermost thoughts and devotions towards the Lord and His Holy Word. David’s daily supplications, requests, confessions, praises, and adorations that spilled out over the course of his lifetime are finally gathered together into this one magnificent offering to the Word of God. His intent is to magnify the law and affirm it as the most excellent way to live, simply because it is given to us by the Lord God Almighty Himself.
Application: For David, the Word of the Lord was everything. It was his teacher, his guide, his refuge, his strength, his source of courage and comfort. Even when he found himself in difficult circumstances and his patience was being tested, he still declared his faith and hope in the promises of God. They gave him wisdom and they gave him hope.
God’s Word is no less impactful to us today. When we meditate on scripture, we realize that they are righteous, faithful, and trustworthy. They are enduring, delightful, and preserving of life. They are comforting, eternal, and boundless. These are all valuable, positive, even noble attributes of God’s eternal word given to us. These are exactly the kinds of things that Paul urged the believers in Philippians 4:8 to focus upon because they are true, and lovely, and pure, and so much more that is good.
Contrast these noble things with the offerings of the world. Movies, TV Shows, novels, and other entertainment forms that glorify grotesque and violent body horror or nightmarish monsters slashing innocent people. Public celebration of casual sex in all forms of media, often portrayed in violent ways, with love, tenderness, and fidelity not even a consideration. The tendencies of the world are anything but noble or lovely or worthy. The contrast that exists between the life affirming Word of God and the soul-damaging ideals of this world is jarring.
As we read the psalm in its entirety, and in particular these verses, we feel a euphoric flow and rhythmic repetition of the greatness of God’s word, laws, precepts, commandments, and decrees. As we continue to read and meditate on them, we are comforted by their soothing familiarity and their singular righteousness. We instinctively know that they are words to rely upon. They are words to build your life upon. They are words to return to again and again when the world presses in. They are words that build a bridge from our hearts to the throne room of heaven.
When we read His holy word and compare it to our actions in real life, can we in the stillness of our hearts affirm that we actually live according to His Word? In view of God’s mercy in giving us these Words of Life, our attitude towards His unfathomable love should be to follow them wholeheartedly.
Prayer: Father God, we pray that in all the circumstances of our life, your Holy Spirit working in us would help us to meditate upon your holy word, and to rejoice with gladness that you care enough to share them with us out of your great mercy. In the Holy name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Song: Thy Word – Amy Grant
Observe: Psalm 119 is a long meditation on God’s Law. It uses eight different synonyms for “Law,” meaning Torah or instruction. Every verse (all 176 of them) praises God’s Torah in some way. The psalm is constructed to follow the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so it is about God’s law from “A to Z.” The psalm is addressed to God throughout, creating a bond between psalmist and the Lord.
Although the psalm is about God’s Law, the Torah, it contains no reference to Moses, or the minutiae of temple ritual, or the Temple as God’s main domain on earth. Rather, Psalm 119 is from a period in Israel’s life when God is often found in reading and obeying Scripture. Israel is becoming the “people of the book,” in scattered synagogues around the ancient world. An ordered religious life centers on knowing and obeying the Scriptures.
So, this psalm’s praise is not for the glories of the temple and Mt. Zion, or even the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Rather thanks and praise are for the good life that comes from righteous obedience in everyday life. Here, priests and prophets and kings are not at the center of Israel’s life, but the reading and doing of God’s word in Scripture.
The word “good” is repeated often in this psalm: God is good, his law is good. Verse 68 says to God, “You are good and do good, teach me your statutes.”
The word “heart” occurs 15 times in Ps 119. The Psalmist “feels” rather than merely thinks about God’s commands and statutes and testimonies and precepts.
The three stanzas in verses 49-72 focus on how remembering God’s laws give comfort in the midst of troubles. Verse 50 is typical: This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise (i.e. law) gives me life.”
Interpret: Psalm 119:49-72 contains not just praise for God and his Law, but also thanks for how the Law protects the righteous from dangers and afflictions, or guides them through trouble. Thinking about God’s Law gives comfort and order and direction and even joy, especially in distress and setbacks, as in verses 61-62.
The Psalmist is blessed by knowing and obeying Torah. There is an intimacy in verses like 57: “The Lord is my portion, I promise to keep your words.” The focus is not on the self, but on God.
The psalmist sees God’s Law at work everywhere: in affliction, when being insulted, wherever one is staying, midnight and noontime, in the whole earth, in being humbled or humiliated; really, anytime and anywhere. This is about the God who is encountered and present everywhere. How important was this to Jews living far from Israel and the Temple?
Application: Are we people of the book? Do we delight in our good and righteous God and his word in Scripture each and every day?
In the Book of Common Prayer, page 78, as the Prayer of consecration includes this: “We should all times and in all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God, Creator and Preserver of all things.” All times and places: this echoes Psalm 119. Similarly, in Ephesians 5:20, we are asked to “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In reading Psalm 119, what would happen if we took the word “law,” and all of its synonyms (statutes, rules, etc.), and replaced it with the word gospel? Would that drive the lesson home? Would we live by God’s word/gospel “at all times and in all places”?
If we are in distress, has reading the Bible helped? Has Bible reading brought a sense of God’s goodness back to us? Do we actually enjoy and even love God’s word? And, finally, have we found the holy order God’s word gives to our lives? Reading the very well ordered and long Psalm 119 suggests that we can have holy order in our long lives as well.
Prayer: “O Lord, you have given us your word for a light to shine upon our path. Grant us so to meditate on that word, and to follow its teaching, that we may find in it the light that shines more and more until the perfect day, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Common Worship, Daily Prayer, Church of England, p.404 )
Song: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet” (Twila Paris)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.