Songs of Degrees: Part 2

Psalm 123‑127  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Recovery, or The Return Journey As typified by the "Songs of Degrees," Psalm 120-134
Part 2
Psalm 123. Having set the end of the journey before us, there is a going back to other aspects of the journey. I believe in this series of Psalms we have the end set before us three times, and a going back and making a new start twice to prepare the heart for the journey. It reminds us of what is said to Elijah-"The journey is too great for thee"-and so it would be for us if we attempted it in our own strength. This 123rd Psalm reminds us of the pause in the journey of the returned captives under Ezra (Ezra 8:15-3115And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days: and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi. 16Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, chief men; also for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, men of understanding. 17And I sent them with commandment unto Iddo the chief at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say unto Iddo, and to his brethren the Nethinims, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God. 18And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel; and Sherebiah, with his sons and his brethren, eighteen; 19And Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brethren and their sons, twenty; 20Also of the Nethinims, whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinims: all of them were expressed by name. 21Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 22For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. 23So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us. 24Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, 25And weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered: 26I even weighed unto their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels an hundred talents, and of gold an hundred talents; 27Also twenty basons of gold, of a thousand drams; and two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold. 28And I said unto them, Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. 29Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord. 30So took the priests and the Levites the weight of the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem unto the house of our God. 31Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. (Ezra 8:15‑31)). He proclaimed a fast by the river Ahava, "That we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance."
When Ezra's company journeyed back across the deserts, they had no Shechinah cloud to guide them, and no manna by the way; but they had guidance and watchful care. The heavens were not closed to them now (Lev. 26:1919And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: (Leviticus 26:19); Deut. 28:2323And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. (Deuteronomy 28:23)). Years before, Solomon in his prayers had besought the Lord for those who would be in this very circumstance (1 Kings 8:3333When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee, and shall turn again to thee, and confess thy name, and pray, and make supplication unto thee in this house: (1 Kings 8:33)). So they have guidance from the One who "dwellest in the heavens."
"Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes, 0 Thou that dwellest in the heavens." (Is it not the guidance by the eye spoken of in Psalm 32:88I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. (Psalm 32:8), "I will guide thee with Mine eye"?)
They will abide His time. Nevertheless, they feel the contempt of those that are at ease in Babylon, or satisfied to remain where they were.
"Have mercy upon us, 0 LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt." v. 3. "Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud." v. 4.
They are characterized as "proud"-those who scorn the path of faith-and is it not ever thus? "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God." Psalm 10:44The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. (Psalm 10:4). The "pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." 1 John 2:1616For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16). Undetected and unjudged pride has wrought havoc among the people of God.
In Psalm 124 there is an answer to the faith mentioned in the previous Psalm. The dangers that have been passed bring the realization of the deliverance of the Lord-that He is on the side of His people.
"If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say;
"If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
"Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us." vv. 1-3.
They had escaped the overflowing scourge of waters sent out by their enemies which the Lord held back (vv. 4, 5). This should bring before us the Lord Jesus Christ whom the waters overflowed for our sakes. There were two different sources from which the waters came that overflowed Him. "All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over Me" (Psalm 42:77Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. (Psalm 42:7))-the wrath of God's judgment as to the sins He bore that we might never come into or under them. In Psalm 69 it is the waters of hatred against Him from the heart of man as led on by Satan (Rev. 12:15, 1615And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. 16And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. (Revelation 12:15‑16)). We can feel something of the latter in fellowship with His sufferings, or it may be in His government He may allow us to taste of this hatred on account of our ways in order to bring us back to the point of our departure.
"Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped." v. 7. How came they to be in this snare? We learn elsewhere that it was on account of their failure to heed the Word of God, and their disobedience; He allowed them to go into captivity. In 1 Timothy we read of those who fall into snares; one is a religious snare, and the other is a worldly snare. In 2 Tim. 2:24-2624And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (2 Timothy 2:24‑26) we have instructions for recovery out of the snare of the devil-those who are taken captive by him at his will; when out of communion a path is pursued in self-will, and we come under the power of the enemy.
"Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 124:88Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8).
There is no looking for worldly help now. The world has its organizations of various kinds for the help of its own. The more simple and dependent we are, the less we know of these. But we taste of that grace and mercy ministered to us from on high, and we also learn of the practical side of those bonds of Christ which unite us together in Him.
Psalm 125. "They that trust in the LORD shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever." v. 1. Their confidence in the Lord's care over His own is based upon the position that Zion has in His thoughts and purposes.
He chose mount Zion when all had failed. "And He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He had founded forever." Psalm 78:6969And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever. (Psalm 78:69); J.N.D. Trans. His care over them is based on His purposes concerning them collectively. It seems that the tendency of the heart is to give up collective testimony when discouraged, and to feel that the promises concerning the individual path alone abides. But the Scriptures do mark out a collective path for faith (2 Tim. 2:2222Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)).
"For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous." v. 3.
"As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the LORD shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity." v. 5.
The "crooked ways" are really apostasy. In the future it will mean following the antichrist.
"But peace shall be upon Israel." v. 5.
Oh, how the collective portion is here emphasized! They realize that Jehovah will restore and bless them as a nation. From the very beginning, after bringing them through the Red Sea, the desire of Jehovah was expressed to plant them in the mountain of His inheritance, "in the place, 0 LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in" (Exod. 15:1717Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. (Exodus 15:17)). In this present dispensation, it is not a geographical center; but
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20).
"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." John 4:2121Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. (John 4:21). "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." vv. 23, 24.
Psalm 126.
"When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream." v. 1.
Jehovah turning again the captivity was like a dream; humanly speaking, there was no hope; but now that their feet were turned in the right direction, there was rejoicing and singing.
"Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." v. 2.
When they were in Babylon, they had no song; they could not sing Zion's songs of victory while they were captives of their enemies. Is it not ever so? When in the wrong path, the joy is gone; there is no rejoicing or singing. When such is the case, the tendency of the heart is to blame circumstances or persons for the lack of joy. The joy can only return when the heart is poured out to the Lord in self-judgment and not in self-vindication. We miss the path first in spirit; later the feet carry us in a wrong course.
In this Psalm the joy is such that even the heathen discern it and say, "The LORD hath done great things for them." v. 2. "The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad." v. 3.
"Turn again our captivity, 0 LORD, as the streams in the south." v. 4.
There seems to be a realization in these last two verses of the Lord's care over them when it was not appreciated. In Isa. 63:99In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9) it is said, "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old." There is the assuring comfort to the mourning ones in their trials and persecutions, as is brought out in the following verse:
"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." v. 5.
The last verse of this Psalm is very beautiful in that it describes what the Lord passed through as He went about endeavoring to reach their hearts and consciences. It is very -noticeable how it changes from the plural "they," of the previous verse, 5, to the singular in verse 6:
"He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
He was here as the Sower and wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:4141And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, (Luke 19:41)); but He is coming again, bringing His sheaves with Him. The Psalmist no doubt was thinking of His gathering back all Israel. But Isa. 49:55And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. (Isaiah 49:5) shows that there would be a time in which Israel would not be gathered, due to their rejection of Him; and the light would go forth to the Gentiles, and His salvation to the end of the earth. So when He comes to Israel in the coming day of the Lord, He will have the heavenly sheaves with Him-those He has previously caught up to be with Himself (1 Thess. 4:13-1813But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13‑18)). Then, later, He will be revealed from heaven, and will come to be glorified in His saints (2 Thess. 1:7-107And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. (2 Thessalonians 1:7‑10)); after that, Israel shall be gathered back (Isa. 49:5-235And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. 6And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. 7Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee. 8Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; 9That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. 10They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. 11And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. 12Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim. 13Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. 14But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. 15Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. 16Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. 17Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee. 18Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth. 19For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away. 20The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell. 21Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been? 22Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. 23And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me. (Isaiah 49:5‑23)).
Psalm 127. The instruction given in this Psalm, entitled, "A Song of Degrees of or for Solomon," are most striking. "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." v. 1.
"The LORD made me understand in writing by His hand upon me." It reminds us of what was said to Moses as to the tabernacle, "See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount."
Do not we learn from this that the pattern and all the material were prepared under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that though Solomon was a chosen vessel to build the house, yet it was possible for self to enter in and the building not be acceptable to the Lord? In the chapter mentioned in 1 Chronicles, he is told to serve the God of his father with a perfect heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searched all the hearts and understood all thoughts. This should be a warning for those who would attempt to overturn existing companies and make them over. All such attempts will be in vain if there is no subjection to His Word as a whole-not merely taking up some part of it. It is well to bear in mind the Lord's answer to Satan in Matt. 4:77Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matthew 4:7), "It is written again." What bearing does some other portion of His Word have on the proposition which has been broached? "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand." Pro. 19:2121There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. (Proverbs 19:21).
Solomon in his later years departed from the Lord, as we learn in 1 Kings 11, and had to learn from the Lord that the kingdom was to be divided; his wives turned his heart away after other gods. He introduced afresh into Israel that which ended in the judgment of God in the removing of Israel from the land of promise and scattering them among the nations. This brought about the destruction of this very house. In prayer at its dedication, Solomon referred to Deuteronomy 12, and claimed the promise, "My name shall be there." We learn from 2 Chron. 36:1919And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. (2 Chronicles 36:19) that the Chaldeans "burnt the house of God" to fulfill the word of the Lord at the mouth of Jeremiah, which was the sad result of departure from the Lord.
One can understand how important it would be to have this Psalm inserted here for the returning captives with visions and thoughts of the house and the city that should be built for the Lord.
"It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so He giveth His beloved sleep." v. 2.
"For so He giveth His beloved sleep" is in contrast to the worry of man over his projects when things are not going to suit him.
Doubtless, too, this Psalm will have its place with the awakened remnant in a future day when they realize that the house that was built by the nation in unbelief was not of Him and was destroyed (Psalm 74:5-8). The temple which Psalm 74 mentions as being destroyed, seems to have been accomplished by the treachery of some of those within working with the enemy from without. There is a temple yet to be built which will be in accordance with the instruction of His Word (Eze. 40:4444And without the inner gate were the chambers of the singers in the inner court, which was at the side of the north gate; and their prospect was toward the south: one at the side of the east gate having the prospect toward the north. (Ezekiel 40:44)).
If the principles of Psalm 127 had been heeded by the builders in Christendom, both great and small, there would not be the confusion that exists today. Has there not been much use of the "untempered mortar" (Eze. 13:10-1610Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar: 11Say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it. 12Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it? 13Therefore thus saith the Lord God; I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury; and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to consume it. 14So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the Lord. 15Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered mortar, and will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it; 16To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 13:10‑16))?
The Apostle Paul in Acts 20:29, 3029For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29‑30) says, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." There are two characters of builders here. The "wolves" have just a mere profession; they really have no part or lot in the matter. Then there are those who are really children of God, but the Lord is not their true Object-they are not true shepherds. Their own interests come first, and their desire is to build up a following. Jude 1212These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; (Jude 12) and 13 tells us something of some of these builders.
In 1 Corinthians 3 we learn of the material that some of these builders introduced into the house; material which, while it makes a great showing here, would not stand the test of that day when all is reviewed by the Lord.