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Worship Message - Songs of Ascent #3- Psalms 124-126

Songs of Ascent
Psalms 124-126

Songs of Ascent. Songs that extend from Psalm 120 through Psalm 134. Psalms sung by God’s people in Old Testament times as they walked to Jerusalem and then climbed steps leading to the Temple. Psalms sung by people so their hearts and their minds would be properly prepared for worship.

It is the Songs of Ascent we are discussing this early fall so we can make sure our hearts and our minds are ready to worship. To make sure our hearts and our minds will stay ready to worship.

So far, we have considered Psalms 12o and 121, in which we are challenged to cry to the LORD in times of distress, always lifting our eyes to the only one who can help us, that being the LORD, who never sleeps or even slumbers.

We have also considered Psalms 122 and 123, in which we are challenged to be glad when we have opportunities to worship God together, and that our worship is to include obedience to God. An obedience seen in our willingness to immediately obey whatever He gives us to do, the result of that being His mercy.

Today, three more Songs of Ascent. Psalms 124, 125, and 126. As has been stated in the earlier messages, I hope we are already ready to worship whenever we gather on Sunday mornings, or Wednesday evenings, and whenever we have opportunities to worship any of the other days of the week. But as the Old Testament people of God did, so do we need reminders of who God is. How great God is.

Reminders will help us to continue being ready to worship. So today, Psalms 124 through 126.

We will begin with Psalm 124, which proclaims a very important message. The message that if it had not been for the LORD - “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side” - the Old Testament people of God would never have survived to the time the Psalms were written.

Listen to how threats against the people of God are described. How serious they were .

Verses 2 and 3. “Men rose up against” them. As in great numbers of men. As in armies. If it had not been the LORD who was on their side, they would have been “swallowed [up] alive.” Completely gone, with no remains for anyone to ever even know they had ever even existed.

Verses 4 and 5. Sometimes it was as if a “flood” threatened to sweep them away. Like a “torrent” would have gone over them. That they would have been swept away by “raging waters.” The point being they were, over and over again in their history, nearly inundated by their enemies.

That is some serious stuff. What are some specific examples of the problems referred to?

Well, what about the time the people of God found themselves slaves in Egypt? It was a very cruel slavery. Conditions caused all the people of God to suffer greatly.

It took a while, but after praying for deliverance, God eventually answered their prayers. God, through a series of miracles, finally convinced the leader of Egypt to let the people of God go free.

Shortly after that, the people faced a significant obstacle. They arrived at the Red Sea, which was too wide to swim across. They had no boats to sail across the Sea. To make it worse, the Egyptian army - the entire army - had been sent by Egypt’s leader to capture the people of God and return them to their slavery. It seems the leader had changed his mind after letting God’s people go.

The people of God were in a very serious circumstance. Remember what God did? He parted the Red Sea. He did that just long enough for all His people to cross. After which He caused the waters to come back together, which swept away the Egyptian army - the entire army - which had entered the Sea in hot pursuit of God’s people.

Another time, God caused the Jordan River to part, which helped His people. But there were two other serious problems after their release from slavery. The people of God, in a wilderness, experienced shortages of both food and water.

Facing those shortages, there was actually more whining and complaining than praying, but guess who helped? God helped. He did that by providing both water and food.

Mostly it was bread that was provided for food, but food was given to the people. It was given by God. That happened for 40 years, during which time there was another miracle. The people’s clothes, including their shoes, never wore out. How amazing is that.

Then, when the people of God were eventually allowed to enter the land promised to them by God - a promise given right after their release from slavery - it was God who led them to victory over the people who occupied that land. There were many great victories in the Promised Land. Victories given by God, which continued as long as the people of God obeyed Him.

And it was not just historical things - things that happened before the writing of Psalm 124 - that are referred to. At the time David wrote this Psalm, there had been and there were threats from foreign nations around Israel. Each of those dangers, God’s people survived.

As expressed in verses 6 and 7, over and over again, God had not given His people as “prey to the teeth” of their enemies. What a frightening description that is - the thought of being torn apart.

Over and over again, God’s people had escaped as “a bird from the snare of the fowlers.”

Think how scary it must be for a bird caught in a snare. Think how helpless such a bird is. There is no way it can escape. Not trying to do so on its own.

How scary it can be for us since there are lots of snares around us. Though we can try to avoid them - we should try to avoid them - we might get caught up in them.

Might I suggest that even the news can cause that? How easy it is to get so scared we get depressed by all that is going on around the world. How easy it is to concentrate on the problems around us rather than on God, who is the only one who can cause us to survive them.

It is easy to get caught in snares. There are people even today who rise up against us, God’s present-day people. Have you ever had someone angry at you. Someone who has chased you, at least emotionally. There are plenty of problems that, in the wording of Psalm 124, threaten to swallow us or rage over us or bite us or sweep us away. Has it ever seemed that your problems come in floods?

All of that can be responded to in either of two ways.

As a devotional on this Psalm puts it, we can get in a funk, saying, “My life just stinks. No one likes me. Everyone hates me. Nothing goes right for me. Everything is just so hard. My roof always leaks. The traffic is always slow. The chores never get done. Bah, humbug.”

With that kind of attitude, instead of having a skip in your step, there is a slouch in your back. Your head hangs down rather then your chin being lifted. That is how problems can be responded to.

Or your response - my response - can be what is in Psalm 124. Problems? Yes, of course. But think. God has helped us before. In fact, as it is worded, if He had not been on our side before, we never would have survived any past problems to get to where we are now.

So - verse 6 - “Blessed be God,” who has helped us in the past. Blessed be God who - verse 8 - is our “help.” As in, He is our help right now.

Remember the purpose of the Songs of Ascent.” The purpose of reciting the 15 Psalms that make up the Songs of Ascent? It was to get people ready to worship God.

As Psalm 124 was sung - as it is sung by us, maybe over and over again - we will be prepared to worship God. The preparation is the reminder that even though we do have problems, we can survive.

If it had not been for the LORD, we would not have survived in the past. Since He helped in the past, He can be trusted to help now. And in the future. So bless Him. May you and I remember that. And proclaim it. What a wonderful way to prepare to worship Him.

What a wonderful way to build our faith in Him, which leads us to Psalm 125, where those with faith - with a trust in God - are described this way. “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”

Mount Zion is where the Temple was at that time. It is to where people traveled to worship. The place people climbed steps to get to the Temple.

Mount Zion had some unique qualities. For instance, it was - and is - made of solid rock, which means it was and is very solid. There will be no landslides there. No mudslides there. It is rock.

But it was unique, not just physically, but spiritually as well. For instance, Mount Zion was established by God as the place for prayer. And because it is where God directed the Temple to be, it was thought to be the place God was present. And yes, God is everywhere. We know that. But the Temple was the center of the representation of His presence.

Those who trust in the LORD - those who trust in God - what a promise this is - will be as solid as Mount Zion, which will be the case at least spiritually. I add that last part because even Mount Zion sees storms. Likewise, even those who trust in God will see some difficult days.

If nothing else, that is just part of life. But there is also this. Those who do not trust in the LORD are very often offended by those of us who do, the result being anger and sometimes at least some form of persecution.

But those who trust in God can survive. That is because God - the one we trust - is so strong. Solid-rock strong. A strength with which He promises to surround us. Verse 2. “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is around His people.”

I wonder if that means we are to be encouragers of others.

Interestingly, a similar thought was presented in one of the Psalms discussed last week.

Psalm 122, verse 3, refers to Jerusalem having been built as a city which is bound firmly together, the point being that in Jerusalem, buildings, including houses, were built close together. one of the purposes of building that way was that each building gained strength and support from the buildings beside it.

The point was made that that is also to be true as we worship together. As in how good it is to worship and pray with others, the advantage being that, as we are close together, we can strengthen and support one another.

Concerning Psalm 125, we are not Mount Zion ourselves. It is God who is solid rock in His very essence. But we can be like the other mountains. We can be used by God to surround others to encourage them as we remind them of God’s presence. We ourselves can benefit from being reminded by others of God’s strength as together we worship and pray. Directly from God and through the encouragement of others, those who trust in God can be strong.

Notice that promise is not for everyone. It is only for those who trust in God rather than their own strength and skills.

But what a promise. A promise that made Old Testament people increasingly anxious to get to Jerusalem to climb the steps to the Temple so they could worship God who was and is so strong.

What a promise. Those who trust in the LORD will be like Mount Zion. Those who trust in God will be strengthened by Him so their trust - their faith - will be able to stay strong, no matter what.

That is the promise. A promise that should be easy to remember and respond to. However, troubled times can be difficult. So David added a prayer. A prayer that God would remind His people of the promise. The wording? “LORD, do good to those who are good and to those who are upright in their hearts.” The prayer is that those who trust in God would - and will - receive God’s blessings. What wonderful reminders those blessings will be of God’s strength.

Verse 5 is a bit negative. “But those who turn aside upon their crooked ways [those who choose to sin rather than trust in God], the LORD will lead them away,” as He does evildoers. That is a nicer way of saying they will spend eternity in Hell, which is pretty negative.

But the gist of the last words of the verse - “peace be in Israel” - and the gist of the rest of the Psalm is that trusting in God is a good thing. A beneficial thing. A spiritually-strengthening thing.

Listen. For those traveling to Jerusalem and for those climbing the steps to the Temple - for those preparing their hearts and minds to worship God - Psalm 125 was very important to recite. By reciting it, by the time they arrived at the Temple, they were reminded of the benefits of trust - of faith in God. Benefits that, according to the Psalm before it, were a continuation of what God had done before.

For us, may we make trusting in God a priority, knowing the benefits of it. Including the realization that as He has helped in the past, so He, who never changes, will help us now. And in the future. In fact, as we gather to worship and to pray each Sunday, may we, together, encourage one another in faith.

All the while - as we get to Psalm 126 - dreaming of good times with the LORD. Times of - verse 2 - “laughter” and “joy.” Verse 3. Times of “great things” from the LORD. Times of gladness. Verse 4. Times of “restored fortunes.” Verse 6. Times of joy.”

Apparently there was something that had gone terribly bad right before Psalm 126 was written. Otherwise restoration would not have been needed.

And there is reference in verse 5 of sowing in tears.

Or maybe the reference is to ancient problems of captivity.

But the point, in applying this Psalm to us, is that yes, there are problems we all face. Remember the comment a bit ago that Mount Zion, despite it consisting of solid rock, still had storms hit it?

Things will go wrong. But God is capable of restoring hope. And faith, which is trust. Restoring those things to the point - this is suggested by verse 4 - it will be like water - refreshing water - in the midst of the desert.

That is how wonderful God’s blessings are. Including the blessing of His strength. Including the blessing that His presence has been with us to help us survive in the past. A presence that will remain with His people.

* * * * *

Occasionally in these messages I have and will continue to refer to some devotionals written about the Songs of Ascent. Devotionals by a woman named Michelle Georgiana.

Here is some of what she wrote about today’s Psalms. As you listen, maybe think of difficult times you have had and how you responded. Also think about how you should respond to future problems - future storms - doing so with trust.

Michelle writes she has been without a driver’s license since July of last year. It seems she has had a health condition most of her life. A condition apparently misdiagnosed until, a bit over a year ago, she collapsed, was unconscious for seven minutes, and unresponsive for thirty more minutes. With that, Michelle’s license was taken away.

Not driving was difficult enough. The difficulty increased when her brother was badly burned and she wanted to be at the hospital to help him.

Michelle writes, “Had I not trusted in God when all this happened, I would have been shaken.” To be honest, she added, “I trust in God with every fiber of my being, and still I was rattled. But I was not shaken to the point of doubting who God is, what He is capable of doing, and that He has our best interest at heart.”

That is what Michelle wrote. As that relates to Psalm 125, which has been one of today’s songs of Ascent, when our world is rocked and the tough stuff happens, we need to remember who God is and trust Him, knowing that God cannot be moved. That He is who He is, no matter how bad we feel.

The devotional adds, “It is in moments when it feels like waves are crashing over our heads and we do not know if we are going to be able to stand up before the next one comes, that we stand anyway and say, ‘I, with God, will survive.’ ‘I, like Him, will not be moved.’ ‘I know who my God is. I trust in Him and Him alone.’”

And this, as Michelle ends one of her devotionals. “I cannot tell you how hard it was to face each day not knowing what bad news might come from my doctor or my brother’s doctor, but I trusted God, knowing He was in control and I was not. I just kept repeating what I knew to be true and refused to believe the lies and cave in to the what ifs.”

Have you been through difficult times? Has the LORD helped you? Do you realize that without Him, you likely would not have survived? That you would not survive now?

Are you accepting - and hey, I am asking myself these same questions - are we accepting the fact God is still as solid as Mount Zion? Do we know that when we trust in God, we have that strength available to us?

Are we looking forward to being restored? At least spiritually? No matter what we experience in life?

May we know those things. May we act accordingly. If need be, let’s keep reciting them. Just as the Old Testament people who were preparing to worship did, may we recite Psalms 124, 125, and 126. That way our hearts and minds will be ready to worship God every Sunday, every Wednesday, every other day of the week.

The closing song is the chorus God Is So Good.

God is so good, God is so good,
God is so good, He’s so good to me!

He answers prayer, He answers prayer,
He answers prayer, He’s so good to me!

He cares for me, He cares for me,
He cares for me, He’s so good to me!

I love Him so, I love Him so,
I love Him so, He’s so good to me!

As we have the past two Sundays, let’s close today’s service with a responsive reading that highlights much of what today’s Psalms teach us. I will say my part, which is the first line of each section. Please respond with your part, which is the second line of each section.

If it had not been the LORD on our side, we would have been swallowed up.
Blessed be the LORD.

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion.
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about His people.

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
to those who are upright in their hearts.

The LORD restored the fortunes of Zion.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

May those words, as they are recited - as they are repeated over and over again - prepare our hearts and our minds to worship God. Today and always. Amen.

 

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