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 8:15-31). 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. 26:19; Deut. 28:23). Years before, Solomon in his prayers had besought the Lord for those who would be in this very circumstance (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 32:8, "I will guide thee with Mine eye"?)
"Our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that He have mercy upon us." Psalm 123:1, 2.
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 10:4. 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 42:7)-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, 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. 2:24-26 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 124:8.
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 78:69; 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. 2:22).
"For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous." v. 3.
This is encouraging; as another has said, "It is of measured duration as well as measured severity." And those days are to be shortened for the sake of the elect of Israel in the future (Matt. 24:22). Those of this dispensation have similar promises (1 Cor. 10:13).
"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. 15:17). 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. 18:20.
"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 4:21. "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. 63:9 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 19:41); but He is coming again, bringing His sheaves with Him. The Psalmist no doubt was thinking of His gathering back all Israel. But Isa. 49:5 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. 4:13-18). Then, later, He will be revealed from heaven, and will come to be glorified in His saints (2 Thess. 1:7-10); after that, Israel shall be gathered back (Isa. 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.
What house had more divine instructions as to it, and more preparations for its building, than the temple which Solomon built? We read of David's plan which he had received by the Spirit (1 Chron. 28:11, 12), which he gave to Solomon, and of the material which he had prepared for it, of which he says,
"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. 4:7, "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. 19:21.
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. 36:19 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. 40:44).
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. 13:10-16)?
The Apostle Paul in 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 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.