Theme: Living among Liars
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
4. The “goings up” of pilgrims at the annual feasts. All the considerations mentioned in yesterday’s study have led most writers today to think of these psalms as songs sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals—Passover, Pentecost and the Day of Atonement—and to think of the “Songs of Ascents” as “Pilgrim Songs.” Support for this view comes from the fact that “going up” is often used for going up to Jerusalem (see 1 Sam. 1:3) and that a number of these psalms reflect the experiences of such pilgrims. For example, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD” (Ps. 122:1); “Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:2); “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool” (Ps. 132:7).1
It has been said that these psalms do not reflect the high level of faith and spirituality found in other psalms. “They are marked by a kind of plaintive note, by a mild sadness.”2 If so, it is appropriate for those who were only on their way to God’s city but who had not reached it yet. It is this that makes these songs so descriptive of the Christian’s similarly hard and upward pilgrimage through this dark world toward heaven.
At first glance, Psalm 120 seems a strange psalm with which to begin this series, or even have in it, since it does not mention Jerusalem or even contain the thought of going there. Still, it is not inappropriate in this context, for it begins with the feelings of homesick people settled in a strange land and thus sets the tone for the joyful upward journey reflected in the psalms that follow. Derek Kidner says, “It appropriately begins the series in a distant land, so that we join the pilgrims as they set out on a journey which, in broad outline, will bring us to Jerusalem in Psalm 122, and, in the last psalms of the group, to the ark, the priests and the Temple servants who minister, by turns, day and night at the house of the Lord.”3
There are two things that seem to have bothered the author of this psalm and those who would have sung it on their travels. First, that they lived among people whose lives were characterized by telling lies, and second, that their neighbors were warlike, belligerent people.
1. Lying neighbors (vv. 1-4). In verse 3 the singers of this psalm seem to be speaking of a single individual, since they use singular terms: “you” and “O deceitful tongue.” But the circumstances have to be understood more broadly since the prayer of verse 2 is that God would save the singers from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues” (plural). It is a reminder to us that this is what the world we live in is like. It is a world filled with lies. Thus, the starting place for our spiritual pilgrimage is seeing that this is so, that we may turn from it.
For that is what a pilgrim is. He is one who has grown dissatisfied with where he or she has been and who is now on the way to something better. Peterson says that a Christian pilgrim is one who repented of the lies that surrounds him (and are in him) and who is now going to God, and whose path for getting there is Jesus Christ.
1In my opinion the best discussion of these options is in H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 862, 863. I have already referred to the very thoughtful discussion in Delitzsch.
2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, p. 863.
3Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 430.
What is the fourth explanation of the term shir hama’aloth?
Describe the tone of Psalm 120. How is it different from other psalms?
What is the neighbor of the psalmist like and why is that important?
Identify a Christian pilgrim.
Observation: Note that the tone of words helps us to understand the circumstances of the author, which enables us to apply the teaching to our lives.
Prayer: Ask God to make your life one that reflects truth. Ask that he will strengthen you against the lies of the world.