Theme: God’s Surrounding Presence
In this week’s lessons, we see the results that trusting in the Lord brings.
Scripture: Psalm 125:1-5
It is not only that God has become the foundation for his people’s faith, which is what the mountain location of Jerusalem suggested to the author of Psalm 125. It is also the case that God surrounds his people, as the mountains surround Jerusalem.
There is a story in the Old Testament that teaches this truth clearly. In the days of Elisha the prophet, Ben Hadad, the king of Syria, had been fighting the king of Israel. But every time he made plans to attack Israel, God revealed his plans to Elisha, Elisha told the king of Israel, and the Jewish armies escaped. Ben Hadad thought there was a traitor among his officers. But someone told him the truth, and he decided that the thing to do was to capture Elisha. Elisha was at Dothan with a young man who was his servant. So Ben Hadad marched his armies to Dothan by night and placed them around the city. At daybreak, when the young man went out from the gates of the city to draw water, he saw the soldiers and was terrified.
“Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” he asked Elisha.
“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha told him. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Then Elisha prayed, asking God to open the eyes of the servant, and when God did, the young man saw that the hills were “full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). It was probably in reference to this story that David wrote in Psalm 27, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (v. 7).
Indeed he does! In the sequel to the story God afflicted the enemy soldiers with blindness so that Elisha was able to lead them into Israel’s own capital city of Samaria, where they were captured but then treated kindly and sent home. The narrative ends by saying that after this the Syrian bands stopped raiding Israel’s territory.
“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Do you believe that? It is not that Christians have no enemies. We do. Nor that we have no reasons to feel insecure. There are many things to make us feel insecure. But God is for us—under us as a sure foundation and about us to defend us from our enemies and all other causes for anxiety.
There is more to the psalm. The person who wrote it knew that it is not under perfect conditions that we have to trust God, but in an evil and wicked world. Therefore the next two stanzas acknowledge the presence of the wicked in Israel and their threat to righteous persons.
What is the situation here? H. C. Leupold and J. J. Stewart Perowne think it fits the age of Ezra and Nehemiah best,1 and perhaps it does. It reflects a time when the Jews were in their land but the land was ruled by or at least dominated by a foreign power, called “the scepter of the wicked” (v. 3). This could refer to Persia, the dominant world power at that time, or to the small surrounding kingdoms of Samaria, Ammon, Arabia or Philistia, which did everything they could think of to hinder Nehemiah’s work.
This is very like the condition of God’s people at any time in history. We live in the world by God’s decree. We are to be an influence for good. But we do not rule the world. The world is ruled by largely secular people operating through secular governments. This is by God’s decree, for God has given secular power to the state, not to the church. Our duties to the state are to submit to it and pray for our rulers (see Rom. 13:1-7).
The state does not always perform well, of course. The psalmist knows this and is concerned about something that should concern us too, namely, the influence for evil that the surrounding secular environment can have on God’s people. He sees two dangers: 1) the use of secular power to do evil, even by God’s people who can be deceived by it; and 2) the corruption of God’s people by the secular powers. This leads him to four significant responses: a promise, a prayer, a warning and a blessing, with which the psalm ends.
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 884, and J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, p. 388.
How did God surround his people in the story of Elisha?
What is the setting of Psalm 125?
How are we to respond to wicked rulers? What is our duty?
What is the danger to righteous persons of a surrounding secular environment?
Reflection: Think of things that make you insecure. Picture the same situation with God around you as a sure foundation. Ask the Lord to increase your trust and take away your insecurity.
Prayer: Take time to pray for those in authority.
Key Point: God is for us—under us as a sure foundation and about us to defend us from our enemies and all other causes for anxiety.