Psalm 123 – Looking down and Looking up.
I write this article at the beginning of 2023, a brand new year. So what lies ahead for you this year? You may have some plans, or no plans. Maybe you’ve got some road trips lined up. Heading to the shack? Visiting friends? As we look ahead at the plans, and challenges that face us over the next 12 months, what better way to start the new year than by looking at a Psalm for spiritual pilgrimage, Psalm 123.
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
Psalm 123 is part of a collection of Psalms called the Songs of Ascents. They are journey Psalms. The pilgrim people of God, Israel, are on a journey from far away toward the city of Jerusalem. They are going there to worship God at the Temple. This collection of Psalms are something like a mixtape/spotify playlist to help the travellers direct their hearts toward the LORD. And this Psalm is as much for us today as it was for Israel. We, as Christians, are likewise pilgrims headed toward our destination in the new heavens and earth, toward glory with Christ.
Psalm 123 is quite realistic about the challenges that we face along the journey. While we, in many ways, are ‘home’.. In the sense that we’ve come to know Jesus as Christians. We’ve come into the family of God, we have fellowship with God through the blood of Christ, in another sense, we’re not home yet. We’re not yet in the new creation with Jesus. There are challenges that we face on the journey, and this is what this Psalm highlights for us. These Israelites are in Jerusalem. They’ve arrived at the city of God at this point. And yet, they get the sense, that not all is right with the world. There are distressing things going on within their own hearts, and in the society around them.
We see in the last part of the Psalm that there are many who look down. The proud, the scoffers and arrogant have contempt for God’s people. They look down upon God’s people. And this is wearying and wearing for the Psalmist. Not all is right with the world. He’s home but he’s not home yet, and he’s tired of it all. But there is good news in this Psalm for pilgrims under duress. This good news is found in the first part of the Psalm.
The Psalm writer urges us to look up to the God ‘enthroned in the heavens’. There’s no doubt in the Psalm writers mind that mercy will come. He believes it will come, because he’s looking up toward the God over all things. The one on the highest throne above every other throne and authority. The one on the judgment seat of the universe. And he knows this God, that his Father who is in heaven will hear his prayer. So, the Psalm writer waits for mercy, like a servant looks to their master.
In this analogy, in verse 2, the Psalm writer likens the believers dependence on God, as like that of a slave, or a servant or maidservant, who has their eyes fixed on the ‘hands’ of their master and mistress. Back in those days, servants were more like part of the extended family. What the servant needs would come from the hand of their master. The master would provide for them. Food, accommodation, the whole lot.
So unlike the arrogant and proud, who are disrespectful toward the faithful pilgrims. The servant shows utter respect and deference toward their master. They wait for their master to show them some act of kindness. So, just like a good master or mistress would provide for them, and treat them well, the Psalm writer is saying, in this analogy, that God’s people look and wait for God to provide. And God will treat his people well.
Mercy will come from the LORD.
So as we look ahead to the year, the plans that we make, as well as the challenges that we will inevitably face, where will we look? To whom do we turn? Will we look upward to the LORD enthroned in the heavens? Are we trusting that he will show us mercy?
If you’re a christian, then you can be confident that mercy will come. We know that this is the God we serve, a God of mercy and grace. Mercy will come to us from the hand of Christ. For, he bore contempt, our shame, and the wounds of the proud for us. We receive mercy at the price that the Son paid. By his wounds, we are healed.