Psalm 120 is the first of fifteen so-called “Psalms of Ascent.” This collection or book of the Psalms were apparently songs sung by pilgrims as they journeyed up to the temple in Jerusalem. Not every Psalm in this group was specifically written for that purpose. For example, the Psalm being preached this morning is quite personal and does not seem at first glance to be designed for a congregational profession. However Psalm 120 clearly reflects the theme of sojourning which is a central concern of the Psalms of Ascent. It also sets a tone for the difficulty of worshipping the Lord while undergoing violent opposition.
The writer of Psalm 120 knew the pain of slander and violence. The enemies of God had arrayed themselves against him. Though his desire was for peace he was surrounded by those who breathed out violence. He understood himself to be a hated minority in the world. The presence of these enemies was not due to anything unjust on his part. Rather he had become a target because of his association with the Lord.
The Psalm highlights the necessity of prayer. Indeed, the Psalm is a prayer. “Deliver me, O Lord” is the opening petition. This cry for deliverance arises from a condition of deep despair and anguish. When met with slander, lies, and violence the Psalmist understands that his only recourse, ultimately, is to turn to the Lord for deliverance.
Up to the present day God’s people have always faced opposition. The Hebrews were enslaved for centuries in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and it cost him his freedom. Jezebel sought to kill Elijah. The Apostle Paul was nearly assassinated after being accused of inciting rebellion against Temple regulations. James the leader of the church of Jerusalem was executed as were most of the apostles.
But who has been a greater victim of slander and violence than the Son of God? However many enemies we may have in this life, Jesus had more. So, when we go to God in prayer crying out for deliverance we can have confidence that he knows the pilgrim path. He has walked alone as a castaway. And through it all he offered forgiveness to his tormentors. May we look to Christ in order to learn how to live in the presence of our enemies.