Bible Study Series

Psalms of Ascents

Part 4: Psalms of Ascents

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Psalms 129-131

The consolation of the community of Part 3 was a welcome respite before our final ascent. We are in happy anticipation 1 of our goal, but we also must stay vigilant in our watch. Our Lord Jesus’ exhortation, “Watch and pray,” remains valid for all lives at all times. The hours before daybreak can seem the longest. The good end is close, but Zion’s eternal glory only springs forth when the last trouble is past.

 

The Psalms of Ascent in Five Movements

Part Psalms Theme Primary Tone
I 120-122 The Ascent to Zion Discord then Harmony
II 123-125 Affliction and Deliverance Discord
III 126-128 The Consolation of Community Harmony
IV 129-131 The Last Watch Anticipation
V 132-134 Eternal Blessings in Christ Peace!

 

Part IV—The Last Watch—Psalms 129-131

Perseverance in affliction, heartfelt anticipation and quiet confidence in the LORD comprise our last watch.

  • Psalm 129: The LORD delivers—on Him we wait.
  • Psalm 130: The LORD is merciful—on Him we wait.
  • Psalm 131: The LORD comforts—on Him we wait.

Psalm 129—The Unrighteous Plowmen

This psalm pictures grievous oppression in this psalm with a sad and painful illustration:

“The plowers plowed upon my back; they lengthened their furrows.” A great deliverance is also remembered. “The LORD is righteous; He has cut in two the cords of the wicked! 2

We are reminded of Psalm 124:

Had it not been the LORD who was on our side when men rose against us, they would have swallowed us alive! Blessed be the LORD, Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper; The snare is broken and we have escaped.

It’s the last watch! By definition, it is dark before dawn! Let us not despair in affliction. The LORD has provided in our youth; He has cared for us in adolescence, And He will carry us to the end!

A Song of Ascents.


“Many times they have persecuted me from my youth up,”
Let Israel now say,
 “Many times they have persecuted me from my youth up;
Yet they have not prevailed against me.
The plowers plowed upon my back;
They lengthened their furrows.”
The LORD is righteous;
He has cut in two the cords of the wicked.
May all who hate Zion
Be put to shame and turned backward;
Let them be like grass upon the housetops,
Which withers before it grows up;
With which the reaper does not fill his hand,
Or the binder of sheaves his bosom;
Nor do those who pass by say,
“The blessing of the LORD be upon you;
We bless you in the name of the LORD.”

The Physical Journey


Israel’s history includes  many burdensome persecutions— their Egyptian bondage and the repeated sin-suffering-supplication-salvation cycles in the times of the Judges. The emphasis of this psalm, however, is not affliction. Rather, it is our Heavenly Father’s continual deliverance.  He has always cut the wicked’s cords in all oppressions, setting Israel free. Hallelujah!

Those who hate Zion have chosen to hate God’s righteous and merciful plan of salvation. Their mindset is to oppress actively those who are for peace. The people of Meshech from whom we fled (Psa 120) hated peace and loved war! The destiny of those who choose this identity is clearly and loudly articulated. No one will harvest sheaves from them!

What aboutthis second part of this psalm, the cursing of oppressors? Do we really seek their demise? Our Lord Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). What should our attitude be in these last anticipatory hours? Many books have been written on the subject. My understanding is that we are topetition and pray for oppressors and all men (I Tim 2:1-4) while at the same time urging for sin’s demise. Our Heavenly Father has appointed our Lord Jesus as the righteous Judge. He is the one for whom we are watching and waiting.  We should be continuously aware of his coming righteous and merciful judgments and not our own.

Our Spiritual Journey
We too have experienced oppression in some form or another. And sadly, we  may have oppressed others. Are we to be likedelivered Israel or of the roof top grasses whose end is ever near? (v. 6) I do believe we have an allusion to Christ in this psalm. It is in him we have hope. Christ himself suffered the unrighteous plowmen for our well-being and for our example. By his stripes we are healed.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;

Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
to fall on Him.

(Isa 53: 4-6, see also Is. 50:4-9).

Let us sing together with Israel, “The LORD is righteous; He has cut in two the cords of the wicked.” The plowmen have not prevailed!

Psalm 130—The Last Watch
While the Hebrew word chesed, translated mercy or lovingkindness, appears only once in verse seven, it seems to be the foundation of this psalm. Why do we wait for the LORD with anticipation more heartfelt than even the watchmen for the morning? Because there is chesed with the LORD, leading to abundant redemption!

A Song of Ascents


Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.
LORD, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O LORD, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the LORD,
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is mercy
(Heb. chesed),
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

The Physical Journey

Have you ever actually waited for the morning? The initial glow on the horizon is greatly appreciated, but the actual sunrise is still an unendurable hour away. The last watch is when we are the most tired. After all, it is the last one! After a long day, a good meal and much exhortation (John 13-17), the disciples did not stay awake for Christ’s last Gethsemane hour. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Christ’s encouragement is to lift up our heads for our redemption draws nigh!

Zion’s peak is not too far distant. We caught a glimpse of it yesterday and we anticipate arrivingat dawn. You weary travelers do not sleep—we are only a few psalms from Zion’s bright reign!

Our Spiritual Journey

I have found Psalm 130 a great encouragement, especiallyverses 3 and 4.

If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.

To me the psalmist is saying here, “Think about it. If God doesn’t have mercy in mind, the whole exercise would be futile. As futility is not feasible, God’s mercy must be real (and great)!”  This would be like a video game where players only get one “life”—no restarts, game over in perpetuity. You would not have eager customers showing up at your door! God is not like that either; there is forgiveness with Him and He can be feared (revered). Our hope is in the LORD, for with Him is chesed and abundant redemption!

Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
(Psa 30:4-5).

Psalm 131—Composed Peace

We know this is a psalm of David, but we don’t know the specific circumstance. David’s life contained times of both  self-will and composure. It seems he was more settled at the end of his life. There was no further acquiescence to his ambitions or desires; he was at peace in the arms of God. One example:

Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel,
Who alone works wonders.
And blessed be His glorious name forever;
And may the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen, and Amen.

The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.
(Psa 72:18-20)._

A Song of Ascents, of David

O LORD, my heart is not proud,
nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.

The Physical Journey

We are near the end of our sometimes-anxious journey. The oppressors, the scoffers and the tempters are behind us. The LORD has faithfully kept our going out, and we are confident  He will keep our “coming in.” (Psa 121). We are at peace.

We did not appoint Nebuchadnezzar’s cleansing exile; the LORD did.

He [the LORD] does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What hast Thou done.” ([Nebuchadnezzar], Dan 4:35).

We did not anoint Cyrus to allow our return; the LORD did.

It is I (the LORD) who says of Cyrus, ” He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.”
And he declares of Jerusalem, “She will be built,” And of the temple, “Your foundation will be laid.”
(Isa 44:28).

Such things are too difficult for us. We do not involve ourselves in, nor have influence over such matters. Our directive was to leave Meshech and ascend to Zion repentantly. To meddle in greater matters would have only resulted in unwanted tears.

God has promised to keep the way. We must confidently trust in Him, the Creator of heaven and earth. We put one foot in front of the other and walk in quiet, confident composure in the Hope He has provided.

Our Spiritual Journey

Let’s take the  time to re-readPsalm 131 and breath in the peace offered there. This last psalm  displays perfect peace. It is a good memory exercise! When we have composed and quietened our soul and come to our Father through Christ, we find true rest for our souls.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30).

May we quiet our souls in the LORD, receive the comforts of Christ and let them carry us our last few steps in peace.

Behold, the LORD God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
(Isa 40:10-11).

The last watch is over. At daybreak, we will be entering Zion’s gates in the LORD’s peace and praise, confident in our Father’s grace in Christ Jesus, our Lord!

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need. (Heb 4:14-16).

Even so, return soon Lord Jesus!

Summary

 

O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and v’ad olam (forever and ever).

 

Philip Sweeney, Atlanta North Ecclesia, GA

 

1 In previous articles in this series, the primary tone of Part IV was listed as discord; However, upon further consideration, anticipation seems to be a better descriptor here. As with all of our Bible studies, this one is a work in progress, with more to be revealed by God’s grace as we read and reread!

2 All Scriptural citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.

 

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