Theme: Lifting Our Eyes to the Lord
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to lift our eyes to the Lord, remembering his mercy, and striving to please him in all things.
Scripture: Psalm 123:1-4
Psalm 121 began with the same words as this psalm: “I will lift up my eyes to …” But while the former poet lifted up his eyes to “the hills,” asking as a secondary thought, “Where does my help come from?” this psalm gets to the point directly: “I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.”
This is a good reminder that the goal of the pilgrim is not Jerusalem, as important as that city was, or even the temple in Jerusalem, as important as it was, but God himself, whose true throne is not anywhere on earth but in heaven. In the pilgrimage of this life it is always to God and to God alone we go, and to whom we look for help and guidance here.
This is a beautiful psalm, and one way of getting into it is to observe that it is a psalm for the eyes. The word “eyes” occurs four times (in vv. 1, 2). Then, in reference to eyes, “lift up” occurs once (v. 1) and “look to” occurs three times more (v. 2).
If we want a New Testament equivalent, we can think of Hebrews 12:2, 3, which says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
This is what the psalmist is doing here. As we read the psalm we discover that the people are in circumstances in which they could lose heart. But they are not cast down or defeated by their circumstances, because they are looking beyond them to God.
What beautiful images the psalmist employs. He begins the psalm in the first person, saying, “I lift up my eyes….” But immediately after this he draws in those who are about him, noting that they are together like slaves who stand in eager expectation of the least sign from their master. He thinks of male slaves first. Then he adds the image of a female slave who likewise looks to the hand of her mistress. Since there were many slaves in the ancient world, everyone would understand this picture immediately: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” This is not an endorsement of slavery, of course. It is a way of saying that the disciple’s dependence upon God and submission to God should be no less total than the most obedient servant of an earthly master.
How should God’s servants look to their heavenly Master? Alexander Maclaren says, “They should stand where they can see him; they should have their gaze fixed upon him; they should look with patient trust, as well as with eager willingness to start into activity when he indicates his commands.”1
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 308.
Compare and contrast the beginning of this psalm with Psalm 121.
Why is this a psalm for the eyes?
What circumstances are the psalmist’s people in?
In what context does the psalmist mention slavery?
Reflection: Are your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ? Or are there areas in your life that are distracting you from wholehearted devotion to the Lord?
Prayer: Pray that you would learn better what it means to be a servant of God.
Key Point: In the pilgrimage of this life it is always to God and to God alone we go, and to whom we look for help and guidance here.
For Further Study: The book of Psalms has much to teach us about God’s character. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering James Boice’s three-volume series on all 150 psalms at 25% off the regular price.