Reading: Psalm 137
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy (NIV)
It’s difficult to pinpoint the time in history when many of the Psalms were written. Many scholars believe that the Old Testament was compiled over a period of about 900 to 1,000 years. As for the Book of Psalms, there is considerable evidence to suggest that psalms were collected from three distinct periods: the reign of King David (1 Chronicles 23:5), the rule of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:30), and during the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 12:24).
Psalm 137 is distinct, because we can tell from its content that this psalm was written early during the period of the Babylonian exile. Memories of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC were still fresh—etched with bitterness and pain in the mind of the author.
There are two great pivot points in the history of Old Testament Israel. The first is the liberation of Israel from Egypt and the conquest of the holy land. The second is the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the subsequent seventy-year exile in Babylon. The mercy and power of God brought about the first pivotal event. The disobedience and idolatry of man set in motion the catastrophe of the second event.
From its inception the Jewish nation flirted with idolatry. While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, the people were reveling before a golden calf. King Solomon set up idols in Jerusalem so his foreign wives could worship their gods. See 1 Kings 11:1-8. This duplicity continued generation after generation until the Babylonians swept in and destroyed Jerusalem. Judgment brought change.
Response: Father God, I don’t want to learn things the hard way. I want to be quick to obey you. Help me to learn from the lessons of history. You are the one, true God. I worship you. Amen.
Your Turn: How faithful are you to the LORD? Do other interests draw you away?
 K.R. “Dick” Iverson, Spirit Filled Life Bible, New King James Version, Jack W. Hayford, General Editor, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1991, p. 750.
I will praise Him!
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
(Psalm 47:1, 5-7, NIV)
I will praise Him!
Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(Psalm 46:8-11, NIV)
Greetings to the regular readers of my daily devotionals on the Psalms. For a number of reasons I have decided to take a short break from my daily postings. This is largely due to looming deadlines on two writing projects and a rapidly approaching appointment for eye surgery.
As every juggler knows, if you have too many balls in the air, you have to let one of them drop. Reluctantly, I have decided to drop my daily devotional posts. In their place you will find a photo and a short reading from the Psalms. I typically do these short posts on the weekend, but for the next few days they will appear on regular week days as well.
One of my writing deadlines involves the final edit of my full-length Passion of Christ novel entitled, The Soldier who Killed a King.
Please click on the link to view the book cover. Kregel Publishing will be releasing this book later this year. Yes, I’m pleased about that!
Finally, on a personal note, today is my sixty-fifth birthday. My how time flies when you are having fun!
I have so much to be thankful for including good health, a great wife and a loving family. But Jesus and spiritual rebirth is the greatest gift of all. There’s a great expression from the Psalms about how that makes me feel.
Here it is: “Hallelujah!”
Reading: Psalm 121
A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore (NIV).
Psalm 121 is the second Song of Ascents, and as such it was a psalm, which was intended for use by pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem. This particular psalm was most often sung or chanted as the pilgrims set out from Jericho. As they lifted up their eyes, the sharply rising hill country of Judah stretched off into the distance. Hill after hill rose up before them. Jesus often made this journey.
This final portion of the pilgrimage was truly an ascent. From the Dead Sea plain the road to Jerusalem climbs nearly five thousand feet—1600 meters. This is truly an ascent—an ascent from the Dead Sea plain, the lowest point on earth’s surface, to the heights of Mount Zion.
For the bone-weary pilgrims, who had already walked more than one hundred kilometers (60 miles) from Galilee, the sight of those distant hills must have brought a measure of aching discouragement. Here was a looming challenge. Could they make this final ascent? The opening question of this psalm was not a matter of poetic whimsy. It was spoken in earnest. I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
The weary pilgrim may well be asking, “Having come this far, can I complete this journey? Do I have enough energy—enough stamina to climb those hills? Will I be able to reach Zion? I am exhausted now—before I even start the ascent. I can’t do this on my own. Where does my help come from?”
The psalmist’s answer resounds off those ancient hills. Even today, it echoes down through the ages and reverberates through the chambers of the heart. My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Response: Father God, I am on a lifelong journey—a pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. When I become weary, give me strength. I know my strength comes from you, LORD. Amen.
Your Turn: Do you need strength? Have you become weary at times in serving the Lord?
Reading: Psalm 120
A song of ascents.
I call on the LORD in my distress,
and he answers me.
Save me, LORD, from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.
What will he do to you,
and what more besides,
you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom bush.
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
but when I speak, they are for war (NIV).
Psalm 120 is the first in a series of fourteen psalms that are called Songs of Ascent. Each psalm begins with this statement or title: A Song of Ascents. Some of the psalms also add this phrase: Of David.
Of course, this title begs the question, what are the Songs of Ascent? And furthermore, to what are we ascending? This compilation of fourteen psalms was composed for the use of pilgrims who were making their way to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. These are psalms of pilgrimage. They are called Songs of Ascent, or Psalms of Ascent, because Jerusalem is built on a high point in the land of Israel. Specifically, the temple compound was constructed at the summit of Mount Zion, so pilgrims were literally and figuratively ascending to worship at the House of God.
This first psalm in the series is really a lament. The psalmist is living in a distant place—a place far from God. All of us begin our pilgrimage—our journey to God—from a distant place. Just like the prodigal we find ourselves in a distant land, a land where there is no peace. Sin has its fleeting pleasures, but it brings no lasting peace, no deep contentment. We have wandered far from the Father’s warm embrace. The psalmist laments, “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!”
The Songs of Ascent are all about drawing near to God. They are about going to the heart of worship and finding peace—true peace in the arms of God. But first we must recognize where we are. We are dwelling in Meshek—in a world far from the LORD. We need to acknowledge our true condition. Change happens when we recognize the truth about ourselves and our need for a Savior. Only then can we begin our journey toward peace.
Have faith in this promise. I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me.
Response: Father God, today I am continuing my journey toward you. Lord Jesus, I need you as my Savior. Help me set aside those things that hinder my journey to intimacy with you. Amen.
Your Turn: Are you living in Meshek? Have you begun your pilgrimage to arms of the Father?
Reading: Psalm 119
Do good to your servant
according to your word, LORD.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold (NIV).
This past Christmas my wife gave me a 99.99% pure silver coin. The coin commemorates the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. It’s a beautiful coin that honors in precious metal the history of a beautiful country. Unlike many other gifts, this piece of pure silver will appreciate in value with the passage of time.
In today’s reading from Psalm 119, we are challenged to consider what we truly value. The psalmist writes, “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”
What do you value in this life? What is precious to you? We need to continually assess what is dear to us because from that assessment we determine the course of our actions and the outcome of our life. An accurate assessment depends on sound judgment, so earlier in this psalm the author makes this request: Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.
We live in a world that chases after wealth and material goods. Apparently, that’s where the value is. But the psalmist reaches a far different conclusion. He values God and His word above all else.
Such thinking is heresy according to the wizards of Wall Street. But silver and gold can’t keep you warm at night. It might buy you sex, but it can’t buy you love. You see real value isn’t found in the gift; it’s found in the giver. My wife is much more valuable to me than thousands of gold coins. As for God, He’s the ultimate Giver—the Giver of all things. We receive true value when we receive Him.
Response: LORD God, I want right values. That starts with loving you with all my heart, soul and strength. Let my actions reflect your values. You value people. That’s why your Son bled and died. Amen.
Your Turn: What do you value in life? Do your actions reflect your values?
Reading: Psalm 119
Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
but I do not turn from your law.
I remember, LORD, your ancient laws,
and I find comfort in them.
Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
In the night, LORD, I remember your name,
that I may keep your law.
This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts (NIV).
Raise your hand if you want a dose of suffering. There aren’t many volunteers when that question is asked. But in all seriousness, we do volunteer for suffering, if we believe there is a benefit.
As a youngster growing up on a farm, I remember getting a sliver in my finger. It took some convincing from my mother to allow her to dig it out with a needle. Once that sliver was gone, the suffering stopped almost immediately. A small dose of short term pain brought long-lasting relief.
There’s a similar principle at work in a statement from today’s reading. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
It’s the promise of a better future that helps us endure suffering in the present. I’ll endure the suffering of surgery, if it comes with the promise of a pain-free future. But the LORD’s promises are on a grand scale. He doesn’t just preserve my life for the present; He promises to preserve it for eternity. That’s an enormous promise, but our God is far beyond enormous. How do you measure infinity?
Now let’s return to that sliver. You can’t walk through this life without picking up mental slivers—foreign objects that lodge in your mind. It could be an erotic picture, an emotional scar, or an errant thought that grows into a bad habit. Brain slivers aren’t easily removed. And yes, they fester and become infected. It isn’t long and they may begin to take over your whole thought pattern. You can try to remove them yourself, but Jesus is the best brain-sliver remover that I know. Go to him. A little repentant pain can bring eternal relief.
Response: Father God, remove my brain slivers. Forgive me for allowing wrong thoughts and habits to fester. I remember, LORD, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them. Preserve my life. Amen.
Your Turn: Are there brain slivers that have invaded your mind? Set your mind on God’s promise.