A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.
I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).
People are never far from trouble. We thank the Lord God for every reason to rejoice and to celebrate. We ought to do both. However, even when we experience lawful pleasures (like the delight of a skillfully prepared meal or the beauty of a spectacular sunset), we may feel our happiness interrupted by a sad phone call, an unexpected repair bill, a difference of opinion with friends, or in our time, the ongoing reality of the pandemic and civil unrest.
With this in mind, we might be able to be sensitive to the angst of the old covenant people on their way to Jerusalem to keep the Lord’s appointed festivals. After the time of Solomon, there were few happy times. The histories of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were marred by civil conflict, oppression from Assyria and Babylon, struggles with lesser nations, and religious decline. Godly people always consider departure from the true God and the accompanying moral evil to be serious trouble. So those on the journey to Jerusalem had reason to sing, “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”
Afflicted people need mercy. When we seek mercy in this sense, we ask God to show compassion toward us in our misery and to rescue us from it. When we seek mercy in regard to our relationship with God, we ask God for forgiveness and restoration to fellowship with him. Probably both senses are in view in this song. As already noted, old covenant Israel was usually an oppressed people. The reason suffering came to them was because of their unfaithfulness to the law covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68; etc.) So then, as the people journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate before the Lord, their hearts would also be filled with sorrow for their sins and sorrows. Each time this song would be sung, it was an opportunity to cry out again for deliverance. “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”
So then, this song is for believers in the true and living God, in the midst of their experience of trouble. When it is sung, it ought to be sung with a sensitivity to trouble. The Spirit of God wants us to see our misery and to cry out to God for its relief! Thus this song is far from a glib “Praise the Lord anyhow” view of our troubles. The Spirit teaches us that we can sing during affliction. We can join the art of music with our troubled emotions. Beauty can arise from the ashes of persistent sorrow, broken dreams, and that gnawing sense that things ought not to be as they are. We can sing, because “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”
This is part of the walk of faith. We know that we need mercy, and we also know that we can look to the Lord God for such mercy. So, as the travelers made their way up to Jerusalem, they could walk in hope, hope in God. Do you walk in this hope?
Grace and peace,