Psalm 120 is first among 15 consecutive psalms titled, A Song of Ascents. Psalm 127 is in the middle of these psalms and is attributed to Solomon. There are seven psalms on either side of Psalm 127. The first side consists of Psalm 120 – Psalm 126. Five of these are written by unknown authors. Two are written by David. The second side consists of Psalm 128 – Psalm 134. Five of these are also written by unknown authors. Again, two are written by David. This is interesting and doesn’t appear to be a random organization, but the meaning behind the organization is elusive to me.
Most believe that the psalms were written for pilgrims who attended annual feasts in Jerusalem. The pilgrims recited these psalms as they went up to Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem is higher than anything surrounding it, it didn’t matter what direction you traveled. You always went up to Jerusalem.
Plea for Relief from Bitter Foes
A Song of Ascents.
In my distress I cried to the Lord,
And He heard me.
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips
And from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you,
Or what shall be done to you,
You false tongue?
Sharp arrows of the warrior,
With coals of the broom tree!
Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech,
That I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
My soul has dwelt too long
With one who hates peace.
I am for peace;
But when I speak, they are for war.
The word distress means a circumstance so unfavorable that it causes great emotional pain. All of us have distress which comes into our lives at some point. If you live a consistent Christian testimony, distress seems to be a constant companion. Sometimes we respond to our distress by crying out to garner sympathy or pity from others. Other times, we cry out to authority to give us justice or help us overcome the cause of the distress. The psalmist cried out to the LORD, and the LORD heard him.
The psalmist cried out to the LORD for deliverance. The cause for all the distress is the deceit of another person. Someone was lying concerning him; therefore, the LORD heard him. The psalmist wonders, “What will be done to such a dishonest person, LORD?” He suggests that the LORD will rain down fiery arrows upon the deceitful person.
It seems that the psalmist struggled with the deceit because of where he was. He dwelt among people who didn’t believe. This is what distresses me about the upheaval in our world over the weekend.
Meshech and Kedar are not the places where he actually lived. Meshech is located well to the northeast of Israel, the far northern mountains. Kedar is located well to the southeast of Israel, the deep Arabian deserts. The psalmist lived among unbelieving people who hated peace, a peace with which he supported and with which he was well-acquainted. They speak of war; he speaks of peace. All true believers dwell in the tents of Meshech and Kedar.
It is interesting that this follows on the heels of Psalm 119, a psalm regarding the powerful words of God. This forms a stark contrast with the deceptive words of the world.
The Discomfort of Our Distressful Lives
We face an unavoidable fact: Distress will be a constant companion in the life of a believer. This leads to an unavoidable feeling: Pressure and pain are the result of prolonged distress. However, we need not to be enslaved to distress. It is also a goad toward hope.
Not all people seek the LORD in their distress. Here are six common ways people handle distress:
- They get bitter against God. They have a deep, seething resentment toward God and His people.
- They stop trusting in God. They simply think that if God has allowed this to happen, then He must not care or even exist.
- They grow hardened toward God. This same thing happened to the Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Distressful, multiplied plagues only serving to harden his heart.
- They seek counterfeit life in sin. Distress often serves as a catalyst to find some sort of escape from a sense of misery. Addictions to alcohol, food, entertainment, sexual immorality, and many other vices serve as such an escape. People handle distress by distracting themselves with sinful experiences such as looting and rioting and fighting.
- They look for people to provide that which only God is able to provide. This is certainly idolatry. This is also the problem with our desire for justice. We seek it from the wrong source. If I look for deliverance from my children, my wife, or a friend, I put them in an impossible situation. If I look for deliverance from racism and leave God out of the equation, I seek for my solutions in vain. Only God is able to deliver me from my distress.
- They seek to overcome distress in their own strength. Many people have that optimistic, can-do spirit. Youthful idealism vented its rage over the weekend. They were able to put distress out of mind and overcome it with the power of positive thinking. Change is possible. Distress for them serves as a vehicle to an inward, narrow life not a life with eternal quality to it. Distress cannot be overcome by any power which resides in me or comes out of me. Power for change and a meaningful life comes from relying upon the Holy Spirit.
As believers, we must do what the psalmist does. We must cry out to the LORD in prayer. We must look to Him for help.
Why does God allow distress in life? He allows it to remind us that there is a great conflict in the world in which we live. Meshech and Kedar want war; we want peace. We are pilgrims passing through and this world is not our home. We don’t ascend to Jerusalem; our ascent is toward the presence of God. Distress in the present ought to cause us to seek for God’s presence and power to reconcile people to Himself.
But don’t forget how the psalmist prays while in distress. He cried out to the LORD. There is a sense of sorrow, humility, and desperation behind that verb. He doesn’t trust in himself or anyone else. He trusts only in the LORD. This type of prayer perseveres with God. God hears us when we cry out in our distress!
Notice that the psalmist begins with the resolution to distress. He cried and the LORD heard him. The LORD will hear us too. We know it. The outward circumstances of my life don’t change all that much. I still struggle, but I expect struggle in Meshech and Kedar. However, inside me I find a light that generates hope. That light is from the LORD.
So, distress is necessary for pilgrims here. It is uncomfortable. But there is consolation and hope when I cry out to God. Are we not also pilgrims, even as the psalmist was?
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2.11-12