Theme: Our Security in the Lord
In this week’s lessons, we see the results that trusting in the Lord brings.
Scripture: Psalm 125:1-5
There have not been many epochs in history when people believed their lives and fortunes were secure. Life has always been uncertain. Still ours seem like particularly insecure times. There is a reason for it. Our culture is in a state of decline, so that things we used to take for granted are disappearing—things like honesty, courage, concern for other people, self-discipline, responsibility and hard work—and in their place we are producing a generation of cultural barbarians whose only thought is for their own immediate self-gratification. These are the new dark ages.1
Thomas Cahill, the director of religious publishing at Doubleday in New York, has written a book about the role of the Irish in preserving classical learning in the Middle Ages, and early in that book he has a chapter on the breakdown of Roman civilization. The elements of that breakdown are almost exactly what we are dealing with today. Cahill lists:
The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of its service by established families, while its offices present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were; the increasing concentration of the populace into richer and poorer by way of a corrupt tax system, and the desperation that inevitably follows; the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature; ineffectual legislation promulgated with great show; the moral vocation of the man at the top to maintain order at all costs, while growing blind to the cruel dilemmas of ordinary life.2
These problems are all very familiar, and they unsettle us, just as they unsettled the Romans before the collapse of their civilization in the early 400s. No wonder we feel unsettled in these times. We should be unsettled. We have much to be unsettled about. Even Christians should be worried.3
But this is where Psalm 125 comes in. It is the sixth of the Songs of Ascents, and it is speaking of the security believers have in God, even in bad times. It compares them to Mount Zion on which Jerusalem is built. It is bedrock, high and secure. Moreover, it is surrounded by other mountains, which the writer compares to God who likewise surrounds his people. The civilization of these people had collapsed. They were trying to rebuild it. But as they did, they were to know that God was: 1) beneath them as their firm foundation; and 2) about them as their defense against danger: “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore” (vv. 1-2).
There is a false trust in Zion which does not go beyond the mere city or which presumes on the commitment of God to preserve it. The people presumed this way in the decades before the fall of the city to the Babylonians and were warned about it by the prophets. But this is not what the psalmist is doing here. Jerusalem is important as a symbol. But the writer is actually looking beyond Jerusalem to the Lord, who alone truly endures forever. He is teaching that our security can never be in ourselves or in circumstances. It must always be in God.
1One person who develops this point carefully is Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn, in Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1989).
2Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp. 29, 30.
3Eugene Peterson says, “People of faith have the same needs for protection and security as anyone else. We are no better than others in that regard. What is different is that we find that we don’t have to build our own: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), p. 81).
What does Dr. Boice call the “new dark ages”? Why?
List parallels between Roman civilization in the 400s and our society today.
How can the security of the believers be compared to Mt. Zion? What is a false trust in Zion?
Reflection: How settled are you with the times you are in? Contrast the character of our culture with the image of Zion.
Key Point: Our security can never be in ourselves or in circumstances. It must always be in God.
Songs of Ascents: psalms devout Israelites sung as they made their way to the highlands of Judah, where Jerusalem was located, for the annual feasts.
For Further Study: If you would like to have James Boice’s published series on the Psalms, order your copy of the three-volume paperback set, and take 25% off the regular price.