If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 123 as we continue through the fifth book of the Psalms together. And specifically right now, since we came to Psalm 120, we are in those Psalms of Ascent which were used by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for festival. As we look at Psalm 123, I want you to notice two or three things and then bear in mind one more.
First of all, notice in verses 1 and 2 how the psalmist begins in the singular, “I lift up my eyes,” and he ends up in the plural. Look at the end of verse 2. “So our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He has mercy upon us.” So this is clearly a psalm, and it will become exclusively plural when you get to verses 3 and 4, this is clearly a psalm for the community. The community is collectively lifting up a petition before the Lord and it's indicated by the plural.
Secondly, notice the parallel between this psalm and the one removed previously. You’ll remember in Psalm 121 the psalmist saying, “I lift my eyes to the hills,” whereas this psalmist lifts his eyes to the heavens. His eyes immediately are focused a little higher than the hills. The psalmist in 121 gets there, he starts looking at the hills and then he lifts his eyes higher, but this psalmist begins looking right to God who is enthroned in the heavens.
But you have to understand the context of this psalm from verses 3 and 4. You don't pick that up in verses 1 and 2. You have to move to verses 3 and 4. And that's the third thing I want you to see. The context of this psalm is one of contempt. The psalmist, the community of God's people, is experiencing scorn and contempt. We’re not told anymore than that. We’re not told when it happened or where it happened. This could be faithful believers in the northern kingdom being scorned by fellow countrymen who were in fact pagan idol worshippers. Or, it could be the people of God in Babylon being scorned by their captives. Or, it could be the faithful people of God in Judah being scorned by the wealthy, practical atheists that were in control of the county that really didn't love the Lord God, spoken of constantly in the Minor Prophets, for instance, by Amos. We don't know exactly the circumstance but the circumstance is one of contempt. So be on the lookout for those three things — the movement from “I” to “our,” singular to plural; the reference of lifting up the eyes to God who is enthroned above; and this context of contempt.
And that leads me to one last thing that I want to say. Surely this psalm again reminds us that this world is not our home and this age is not our goal. Our home and our goal is not a place where we bear contempt and scorn, but while we are in this world that is a standing reality and that's why we need this psalm. Let's pray before we read it.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Psalms. They are an anatomy of all parts of the soul. They are a guide to the Christian life and they are an encouragement to every believer under duress, under burdens, in almost insufferable situations, and even in persecution. Speak to our own hearts in our own circumstances by Your Word tonight, and grant that we would have the same confidence as this psalmist who speaks to us and leads our worship under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it from Psalm 123:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS.
To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 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.
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The people of God often know the contempt of this world and when they do, when we do, what should we do? This psalm tells us and I'd like you to see that in four parts.
THE PEOPLE OF GOD UNDER THE CONTEMPT OF THE WORLD
First, and if I could get you to look all the way to the end of the psalm because you won't appreciate the predicament of the psalmist and perhaps not identify with the predicament of the psalmist until you look at the end of the psalm first, if you look in verses 3 and 4 we are reminded explicitly that the people of God often are under the contempt of the world. Twice it is said that they have had more than enough of contempt, more than enough of scorn. It's very interesting here that it is the language of contempt that is used. Perhaps persecution is indicated.
You remember how Ishmael's mocking of Isaac recorded in Genesis is called by Paul in the book of Galatians persecution, that Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Here, contempt may well stand for persecution but it is interesting that contempt is the language that is used. There are many things that can bruise. There are few things that go deeper than feeling the scorn and contempt of another. Isn't it interesting that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks of contempt as more dangerous than anger which He compares to murder. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:22, He indeed indicates that those who wrongfully scorn and have contempt for their neighbor are in danger of hellfire. So searing is the effect of undeserved contempt on another person. And so it is interesting that the psalmist speaks of this kind of contempt and scorn here.
And of course the people of God know well what it is to experience that kind of contempt and scorn, and they certainly knew it in the Old Testament. If you have your Bibles close by, turn with me to Lamentations and look at what Jeremiah says about it. Jeremiah knew a time when the people of God were scorned. He saw the end of the line, or so he thought, of the Davidic kings. He saw Israel carried off into captivity and he saw, point blank, the scorn of God's enemies for God's people. And then he wrote this prayer in Lamentations chapter 3. Look at it beginning in verse 25. “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” So just like in this passage, where the psalmist pictures the people of God waiting for the sign from master and mistress as to whether they are going to respond to the request, here Jeremiah speaks of the people of God waiting on the Lord. “It is good,” verse 26, “that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” Isn't it interesting that Jeremiah can even see sanctifying purposes of God for His people in bearing the yoke of scorn and contempt from their enemies? So just as the Lord Jesus bore contempt, so also the people of God bear contempt in this life, and even in the Old Testament, the prophets can see redemptive purposes, sanctifying purposes of the people of God bearing up under that contempt and scorn. It's good for the man to bear the yoke in his youth.
But Jeremiah doesn't stop. He goes on. Verse 28, “Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.” By the way, do you hear the language there that finds its way into the libretto of Handel's Messiah if you've listened to the whole thing? “He gave his back to the smiters,” the libretto goes, using the language of the old King James. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” So Jeremiah understands that sometimes God puts His people in a circumstance in which they are the objects of scorn and contempt, and when they are in that circumstance they are experiencing like sufferings with their Savior and God, even in those things, has purposes for their good and does not take delight in their grief but purposes to use that grief for His glory and their good. But the people of God do bear up under contempt in this world and that's why the psalmist is crying out in this psalm.
THE PEOPLE OF GOD LIFT THEIR EYES TO THE GOD ENTHRONED IN HEAVEN
And that leads us to the second thing. When the people of God are under the contempt of the world, what do they do? Well, you see the first answer to that question in this psalm in verse 1. When the people of God are under the contempt of the world they lift their eyes to God, who is enthroned in heaven. Listen to the language of verse 1. “To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens.” Now there are several things that I want you to see. First of all, three things about the one to whom the psalmist lifts up his eyes. Who does he lift up his eyes to? To the Lord. “You who are enthroned in the heavens.” So his eyes are focused immediately on God. In searching for relief from his scorn, he does not look to circumstances; he does not look to earthly aid. That's not where his help is going to come. His help is from the Lord.
He immediately lifts his eyes to You, the Lord God, who is, secondly, enthroned. He is reigning. It may look like the enemies of the people of God are reigning because we are under their contempt but they are not. It is God who is reigning. He is enthroned and He is enthroned to do what? To administer justice. He's the right one to appeal to when you are under the injustice of undeserved contempt and He's not just enthroned on earth; He's enthroned in the heavens. It's the highest throne there is. There's no higher court of appeal. The psalmist looks to God who is enthroned in the heavens. Now, is there another prayer you know that begins with an echo of that same truth? “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Jesus isn't giving you a little throw away phrase to begin your prayer with. When you begin that prayer, you, like the psalmist, are to remember that your Father is enthroned as God, King, and Judge in the heavens. You are making the highest appeal that a human being can make. It's designed to bolster the confidence of the flagging spirits of God's people under duress and contempt. We are appealing to the one who is our God who is enthroned in the heavens.
But notice specifically the psalmist here says, and I believe this is the reason for the singular, “I will lift up my eyes; to You I lift my eyes.” It is a personal appropriation and declaration about the psalmist's faith in the God who is enthroned. And even when we say together the Apostle's Creed, it is a collective statement of our community, what do we say? “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” The whole of our community is saying together in faith what we believe but we appropriate it individually. It's not just, “We believe in God the Father Almighty,” it's “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” and this is where the psalmist starts us out. We, individually, lift up our eyes. “I lift up my eyes to You who are enthroned in the heavens.”
So what do the people of God do when they’re under the contempt of the world? They lift their eyes to the God who is enthroned in heaven. Just as the traveler in Psalm 121 first lifted his eyes to the hills and then asked the question, “Where does his help come from?” and then declared that his help came from a higher source than the hills, the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, so this psalmist, under duress and contempt and persecution, looks to the highest source of authority there is, soaring above his circumstance to the God who is enthroned in heaven who does whatever He pleases. That's why those words of ascription that we use in prayer are so important. You need to say them until you believe them. “Our Father which art in heaven; O Lord, immortal, invisible, God only wise, the King eternal.” You need to pray them until you believe them because that's where the psalmist says we find help when we're under the contempt of the world.
THE PEOPLE OF GOD LOOK TO A KIND MASTER AS HUMBLE SERVANTS
But he goes on to say something else in verse 2. He gives us an analogy. And he tells us that the people of God look to a kind master as humble servants look to master and mistress. The people of God look to a kind master as humble servants look to a master or mistress. “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, so as the eyes of a maidservant looks to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He has mercy upon us.” Now the eyes that were lifted up to the one who is enthroned in the heavens are now focused directly on the hand of God as master waiting for the slightest sign that He has heard our prayers and will answer with mercy.
I've been trying to think of Biblical illustrations of this. One that comes to mind is Esther showing up in the king's court. She had an errand; she had a request of mercy to make to the great king. She went at risk of her life, uninvited, into the king's court. As she entered in, the king, with one sign, could indicate her immediate sentence of death or he could welcome her into his presence so that she could then ask her request. Can you imagine how intently she looked at the king waiting to see whether he would be merciful in his answer? Brave Esther waited and watched to see whether she would be spared and she was. And here's the picture. We’re God's servants; we're under contempt. We need His mercy so we go to Him to ask for mercy and we look to Him with all the intentness of the gaze of a servant.
Perhaps you can picture this. In a household in Israel in the first millennium before Christ, a servant comes to his master. “Master, my father is dying. I need to go to attend to him. He lives in a village seven miles away. It would require that I not be able to fulfill my duties in the time that I attend to my father in his death. Would you grant me permission to go and tend to my father?” And the servant waits to see if his master is gracious. And the psalmist's picture here is of a kind, compassionate master. “Of course, my friend, you have served me so well for so many years. You must honor your father and go tend to him. We will make do until that time. When you are done, return to us.” But the servant is looking to see how his master will respond. And the psalmist says, “We looked up to God for mercy in the same way. We’re under duress; we're under the scorn and contempt of God's enemies and ours and we look to God's hands waiting for His sign of mercy.”
THE PEOPLE OF GOD LOOK TO THE LORD FOR MERCY
And specifically we look for what? Well, we look for God's graciousness, for His mercy. And look how often it's repeated. End of verse 2 — “Our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us.” The psalmist is saying this — all we need in the hardest of circumstances is God's mercy. That's what we need. “Lord, have mercy” is a good prayer that ought to be regularly deployed because all we need in the hardest of situations for remedy is God's mercy. But here's what I want to leave you with. I want you to remember that when that mercy comes, and it comes in many forms, sometimes that mercy comes in a relieving of the contempt and the scorn that we are bearing. Sometimes that mercy comes in the strength to bear up under the duress that we're experiencing. Sometimes that mercy comes in a glorious change of heart for those who are our enemies. Sometimes that mercy comes in a glorious change in our heart towards our enemies.
But whenever that mercy comes we must remember that it comes as the expense of the contempt and shame that Jesus Christ bore for us. When you lift up that prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” because you have been justified and adopted, the Father's answer to you, even when you do not perceive it, is always, “Yes, child, I will give you mercy.” But the words you to not often hear your Father speak to you are these, “Yes child, I will give you mercy and I will give you mercy at the price that has been paid by My Son, your Savior and Lord. By His stripes you will be healed. By the contempt and the shame that He bore, you will either be spared contempt and shame or you will be given the strength to bear up under contempt and shame but it will be by His vicariously enduring contempt and shame for you, by His bearing contempt and shame as your substitute, by His bearing contempt and shame as your mediator, by His bearing contempt and shame redemptively for you.” Every time He answers, “Yes, child, I will show you mercy,” it is at the expense of, on the account of, Jesus Christ. So we sing, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood; sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
Now those words are not meant to make you less apt to ask God for mercy, for He is more ready to give you mercy than you are to ask it, but when you ask, and when He answers, it is always appropriate to remember the cost that He bore to say, “Yes,” to you. And this psalm, too, reminds us of that. For when the psalmist asks three times, “Have mercy on me, Lord,” God is gracious to answer in the affirmative but He does that because as the one enthroned in heaven to judge He gave His Son what you deserved to hear when you cried out for mercy and He gave you what His Son deserved to hear when He cried out in mercy from the cross on your behalf so that you will never hear what He heard from His Father because He heard that for you. And what He heard was no answer. And you never hear no answer. You always hear, “Yes child, because of what your Savior did for you, bearing shame and scoffing rude, My answer to your plea for mercy is yes, yes, and yes again.”
Lord, there are perhaps trusting children of Yours here tonight who have sometimes wondered if their pleas for mercy have gone unanswered. If that fear, if that suspicion, dare I say it, if that resentment haunts the heart of any child of God in this room tonight, Lord, engrave the gracious words of Psalm 123 and the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on her or his heart and let no circumstance wash it away. Teach us all to turn to You, to look to You, to wait for You until You are gracious, to find our hope in the scorn and the contempt of this world and surely we will bear it more in the days to come, only in Your mercy, and to know that Your mercy is enough. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.