Psalm 120: Call to Him Who Hears

1 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.[1]

This first Song of Ascent sets the stage for our journey (be it a brief physical one, or our pilgrimage of life with Jesus). It presents an important principle, and a universal problem. Whereas the author’s personal situation and his words about the problem are harsh, we gain from this psalm a healthy direction for our own spiritual sojourn. Let’s first consider the problem, and then the principle.

A UNIVERSAL PROBLEM: Lying Hurts

As we read this psalm we should consider how painful and extreme the author’s situation was:

  • Far from home—He was in Meshech and Kedar which are traditionally understood as [Saudi] Arabia;
  • Lived among pagans—At this time in history, Arabia was a pagan land filled with idolatry, witchcraft and abuse;
  • Victimized by the speech of his neighbors—described as deceitful and warlike

Within this context, it is easy to understand the harsh declarations the psalmist makes. We, too, have had to deal with warring words at times (not to such an extent as this psalmist, hopefully). If we were to consider how we respond to lies spoken around us, we might see that we do one or all of the following:

  • Repeat over and over in our minds what our opponent has done to us;
  • Rehearse in our minds how we wish we could address our enemy if given the chance (and with sufficient courage);
  • Reason with ourselves and others that our negative feelings are justifiable;
  • Revenge—retaliation against on our rival (either in word or deed, actively or passively aggressive).

In many ways, we often sharpen our own tongues in our defense against lies. The psalmist, however, takes no revenge, but describes the punishment that God metes out for lying. Rather than pronouncing judgment, he announces it. As we read this, we, too, should be careful, and heed it’s warning. Lying is unrighteous, and we who have been declared “righteous” by Jesus ought to act righteously.

No matter what the situation, lying inflicts pain on people victimized by it. Whether the pain comes from broken trust or from misguided hope, lying universally harms everyone. Of the Ten Commandments, it was the ninth that prohibited false witness;[2] thus, equating it with murder, adultery, stealing, etc.[3] The Psalmist’s adversaries were not merely dishonest, they inflicted pain through their statements. As pagans, they had no regard for the one God of the psalmist. Not only would they have ridiculed his monotheism, they, most likely, held the writer responsible to follow the directives of their superstitions. Thus, this Hebrew man probably suffered from political incorrectness in a non-pluralistic society where his own religious views were neither treasured nor tolerated.

And the “lying tongue” not only burned with deceit, but it incited conflict. The writer was a “man of peace,” and we, too, need to be people of peace. But can we remain such when surrounded by those who are for war. Psychologists state that there are two contributing factors affecting a person’s mental state: heredity; and environment. While we cannot undo our ancestry, often we can change our surroundings. Yet, whether or not we can physically move, we must learn to spiritually move. And this leads us to the important principle that psalm 120 presents.

AN IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE: God Hears Us When We Call

It was essential that the psalmist remember that God hears us when we call on Him. No matter what the anguish, the psalmist trusted in God and in His ability to hear him. This true principle continues to be the antidote against falsehood. While we don’t live in a foreign land surrounded by the enemy, we do feel at times like we are outnumbered or outwitted in the following situations:

  • We watch the news and hear only the bad;
  • Someone unjustly accuses us of wrong doing before they have fully understood a situation;
  • We are ignored when we wish we could be acknowledged;
  • We are passed over for a promotion, and it is given to someone with less experience than we;
  • We suddenly realize that everyone around us thinks differently on a position that we had taken for granted as being the standard position for the Christian;
  • Someone’s attempt at humor has crossed the line of discomfort and we feel distressed.

When times like these (and worse) happen, we need to follow the psalmist’s example. We need to remember that we are not outnumbered since God is on our side. The psalmist declared:

I call on the LORD in my distress,
and he answers me.[4]

Psalm 120:1

The Scriptures show that since the time that sin entered humanity, God has called to man:

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”[5]

Genesis 3:8, 9

And since the time of Seth, man has called to God:

25 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.  At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.[6]

Genesis 4:25, 26

The theme “to call upon the Lord” continues throughout the Bible, but we must understand that the result of this may not be that we obtain all that we desire, but simply that God hears us and gives us peace through the situation. As Paul wrote, when we present our requests to God without anxiety but in thanksgiving we CAN receive the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding:”

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[7]

Philippians 4:6, 7

As we continue on our trek of transformation, let us remember at the outset that God does hear us, and He does answer us. So let us never hesitate to call on Him.

Circumstance makes no difference for this important principle to work. If anything, circumstance is God’s tool to heighten our hearing and distinguish our discernment. Through the lens of Jesus’ sacrificial love for the world, we can see over (and through) circumstance if we choose to do so. But if we choose to allow the shifting shadows of politics, calamities, misunderstandings, etc. to rule our moods and minds, then we will be unable to stand firm in the midst of distress. When all around is sinking sand, “…on Christ the solid rock I stand!”[8] And we can only stand when we realize that the One on whom we are standing truly hears and answers us when we call!near 57th street in VA Beach

The Principle and the Problem

The psalmist was clearly in trouble. He was distressed and bothered by what he called, “lying tongues.”  He doesn’t tell us what the enemy is lying about, but it may have been regarding God and faith. While we may complain of the pluralist nature of today’s global society, and chafe under the yoke of political correctness, this author was clearly in a worse situation than we are in. In fact, he may have been at the point of bitterness when he cried out about how long his anguish had been:

Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.[9]

Psalm 120:6

It is important to not become bitter. This can happen without us realizing it, and people around us can smell the bitterness on our breath long before we can. This is another reason why we are not called to live in isolation, but among the fellowship of believers who can help us towards growth and healing.

In his distress, the psalmist called on the Lord for help. Consider the last time you were afflicted by someone’s tongue. Was it from a true enemy, or did it come from someone close to you: a friend, or a relative? Now consider the last time your tongue was used to harm someone? As we continue in our spiritual pilgrimage, we ought to make it a point to call on the Lord to help us forgive those who have harmed us, and to forgive us for harming others.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You for Your Word! Let It make a difference in my life. Help me remember to call on You, as often as I need to, so that I will not be destroyed by the tongues of others nor by my own tongue.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.


[1] 1(119-1) ^^Песнь восхождения.^^ К Господу воззвал я в скорби моей, и Он услышал меня.  2(119-2) Господи! избавь душу мою от уст лживых, от языка лукавого.  3(119-3) Что даст тебе и что прибавит тебе язык лукавый?                4(119-4) Изощренные стрелы сильного, с горящими углями дроковыми.                            5(119-5) Горе мне, что я пребываю у Мосоха, живу у шатров Кидарских.                          6(119-6) Долго жила душа моя с ненавидящими мир.                                                              7(119-7) Я мирен: но только заговорю, они–к войне.

[2]You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor [(Не произноси ложного свидетельства на ближнего твоего) Exodus 20:16].

[3] The apostle Paul equated liars with more in 1 Timothy 1:9, 10. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,  for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. à Мы знаем также, что закон существует не для праведных, а для нарушителей закона и для непокорных, для нечестивых и грешных, для непризнающих ничего святого и безбожных, для тех, кто поднимает руку на своего отца или мать, для убийц,  для развратников, гомосексуалистов, работорговцев, лжецов, лжесвидетелей и всех, кто занимается тем, что противоречит здравому учению

[4] Господу воззвал я в скорби моей, и Он услышал меня.

[5] И услышали голос Господа Бога, ходящего в раю во время прохлады дня; и скрылся Адам и жена его от лица Господа Бога между деревьями рая.  И воззвал Господь Бог к Адаму и сказал ему: где ты?

[6] И познал Адам еще жену свою, и она родила сына, и нарекла ему имя: Сиф, потому что, [говорила она], Бог положил мне другое семя, вместо Авеля, которого убил Каин.  У Сифа также родился сын, и он нарек ему имя: Енос; тогда начали призывать имя Господа.

[7] Не заботьтесь ни о чем, но во всем, через молитву и прошение, с благодарностью сообщайте ваши просьбы Богу.Тогда мир Божий, превосходящий всякое понимание, будет хранить ваши сердца и умы в Христе Иисусе.

[8] “О Христе твердой скале я стою!                                                                                                Все остальные земли тонет песка

[9] (119-6) Долго жила душа моя с ненавидящими мир.

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