Theme: Surrounded by Hostile People
In this week’s lessons we look at what it means to be a pilgrim, whose true home is not in this world, but in heaven.
Scripture: Psalm 120:1-7
I find Peterson wonderfully helpful, for he writes at some length about the lies the world tells us. The world says that “human beings are basically nice and good,” that “everyone is born equal and innocent and self-sufficient,” that “we are born free” and that “if we are in chains now, it is someone’s fault, and we can correct it with just a little more intelligence or effort or time.”1 When we find that the world is not actually like that and does not work that way, most people get angry and fret like spoiled children, rather than recognizing that it is a lie and turning from the lie to God’s truth.
If we want to be Christians, we need to ask God to deliver us from these lies, like the psalmist does in verse 2: “Save me, O LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.”
Peterson elaborates upon what this should mean in our culture:
Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know what I need and what I desire, from the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy, from the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality, from the lies of psychologists who offer to shape my behavior and my morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully, from the lies of religionists who “heal the wounds of this people lightly,” from the lips of moralists who pretend to promote me to the office of captain of my fate, from the lies of pastors who “leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men” (Mark. 7:8). Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.2
Peterson admits that many of these lies are factual. They contain right data. But they are lies all the same because they leave out God. They do not tell us that we come from God and have our destiny in God and that we are here to know and serve God. “They tell us about the world without telling us that God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.”3
2. Hostile neighbors (vv. 5-7). The second problem the author of Psalm 120 and those who would have sung it on their way to Jerusalem had was that they lived among warlike, hostile people:
Too long have I lived among those who hate peace.
I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war (vv. 6, 7).
Most people today want to think of themselves as peaceful and peace loving. But they are not. None of us is. On the contrary, we are warlike people, and the proof of it is seen in our fierce competition and fights with other people, and in our anger and grief when others are more successful than we are or are preferred before us.
As far as history is concerned, nothing has more characterized the human race than war. One scholar observed that war is “man’s chief legacy,” meaning that it is the chief thing one generation passes to the next. Each of the treaties of history has been hailed by someone at some time as the road to a just and lasting disarmament—politicians are doing it today—but the ink had scarcely dried on most of these treaties when the guns begin to sound for the next encounter. Gunpowder, tanks, airplanes, missiles and nuclear weapons have been said to make war far too horrible to contemplate. But there is never a horror so great that someone will not use it to try to impose his will on other people.
One of the earliest of all historical records, a Sumerian bas-relief sculpture from Babylon (c. 3000 BC), shows soldiers fighting in close order, wearing helmets and carrying shields. Wars fill the history of every ancient culture—Babylon, Syria, Assyria, Egypt, Phoenicia. The twenty-seven-year-long Peloponnesian War destroyed Greece even at the height of the great civilization she had created as the fruit of Athens’ Golden Age. Rome made war a way of life, but even she was eventually defeated and overrun by the barbarians.
1Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), p. 22.
2Ibid., p. 23.
What are the lies the world tells? Why do Christians sometimes believe them to their harm?
Why is it a lie to leave out God? How do we see the world doing that today?
Reflection: How does the world demonstrate hostility toward Christians? Are you experiencing any of this now? What does the Lord want you to do in response?
Application: Do you know someone who has believed the lies of the world and who suffers disillusionment? How can you reach him or her with the truth?
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Richard Phillips’ message, “Isaiah’s Vision of the Sovereignty of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)