Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 120 – Onward and Upward

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Note:  If you happen to stumble upon this, I have decided to recap my Psalms of Ascent homework here.  You remember more if you write things down instead of just reading them.  ;)  Italics signify quotes straight from the study guide.

Background: 

  1. The Psalms of Ascent are a compilation of 15 Psalms extending from Psalm 120 to 134.
  2. The Hebrew transliteration for “ascent” is “ma’aloth” meaning “to go up.”  Ma’aloth technically means “ascents.”
  3. The Psalms of Ascent have been associated with the Three Great Feasts, or Pilgrimage Feasts:  the Feast of Unleaved Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
  4. The Psalms of Ascent have been associated with the 15 steps of the temple at the Nicanor Gate, which connected the Court of Women to the Court of Israelites.
  5. The Psalms of Ascent were also sung by the exiles returning to Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity.

 

I blogged earlier about my response to Beth’s request that we begin each day, or at least each study time, face down on the floor in prayer.  Though I struggled with that at first, I have consistently done it, and (shocker) it doesn’t feel weird.  lol  In the first day of our study guide, Beth explained why she thought this was important.  The point is to practice a facedown posture of reverence and surrender.  In God’s economy, the way up is down.

She had us read I Peter 5:6 and asked us what it said to us.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time . . .

To me, this verse says “get over yourself.”  lol  Stop being prideful and trying to do things under your own strength.  That is hard for me.  I am a planner and, as friends who have been subject to it will tell you, a fixer.  I want things to be right, and buddy, I will make sure they are.  I am a control freak.  I have to let that go.

Humbling ourselves before God is not the same thing as self-hatred.  Humility is the natural posture of anyone who grasps the greatness of God.  I think this statement sums up why I initially responded the way I did.  I have seen many Christians while growing up that practiced self-hatred.  Now they wouldn’t admit to that, but they believed, and taught, that there was nothing good at all about people.  While I know that we are all sinners and in need of the grace of God, I have since learned that we still have worth and value because GOD LOVES US and HE MADE US in the first place.  We have value to Him.  We don’t have to hate ourselves.  In fact, Jesus said to love others AS YOURSELF.  God never meant for us to hate ourselves.  We need to have a healthy view of where we were and where He has brought us, but we can’t love others, or show the love of Christ to others, if we don’t like ourselves and think we are worthless.  WE HAVE WORTH BECAUSE JESUS DIED FOR US.  

Sometimes we don’t know why we’re on a certain road with God until miles have made their way to the soles of our feet.  I have also blogged about how I wasn’t really that excited about this study before it started.  I wanted something with a little more meat (at least in my very wrong initial opinion) than Psalms, but a friend was taking it and suggested I take it with her.  I quickly learned that this was exactly the study I needed to be in. 

If we could only see beyond the veil of the natural world, look upon our true surroundings, see the kingdom in the distance, and behold the face of Jesus Christ, we’d realized the tragedy of ever settling into a stagnant, mediocre relationship with God.  That was where I was.  I have been a Christian for over 20 years.  I grew up in church and accepted Jesus as a child.  But I had never really moved any closer to Him.  I loved studying the Word, and have taken many Bible studies, and I had a lot of Biblical knowledge, but I didn’t get any closer in relationship to my Jesus.  I never had any real tests of faith.  Anything to really challenge what I said I believed.  All that changed in 2005 when my dad was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer.

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement.  lol  I saved this blog right after I typed the last paragraph and headed to church.  Before getting ready this morning, I had my facedown time with God and, again, prayed that He would show me more depth in His Word.  I am reading Nehemiah right now in my journey through the Bible.  It has been exciting to read this story about Nehemiah rebuilding the city walls amidst great oppositiong after studying Psalm 122, which talks about Jerusalem being a well-built city, and Psalm 123, which speaks about how the Israelites are treated with scorn by their enemies. 

Our service today was different from normal.  This week is the one-year anniversary of our pastor being called Home.  We met together to give thanks for the year God has brought us through and to look ahead as we continue our search for our next senior pastor.  Last night I had just finished reading Nehemiah chapter 1 through chapter 10.  Our text today?  Nehemiah 4:6-16 and 6:15-16.

“So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.  Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.  Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night. 

Then Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” 

And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.”

So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, “From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.”

Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.  And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”

And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.  So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. (4:6-16)

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.  And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations aournd us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God. (6:15-16)

 

Bob Landham, our executive pastor, said that this passage can teach us three things.  First, life includes loss.  How fitting that I stopped typing this blog when I began to write about the loss of my dad, only to be reminded of that in the remembrance service for our church and pastor, and to hear words from the man of God that would say what I wanted to say so much better.  My dad had always professed to be a Christian, and I believe that was true, but he had strayed tremendously from the path of God in the years before his death.  He told me shortly after he got sick that he had rededicated his life to God several months before, and that no matter what happened to him, he knew he would be okay.  He knew what was going to happen to him, and he never, ever questioned why or got mad or felt sorry for himself.  If you asked how he was feeling, he would always say he was doing fine and feeling okay, even when you could tell he was in tremendous pain.  My dad’s illness did not determine his future, and his death did not determine mine.  Jesus was, and is, greater than the cancer that claimed my dad, and He was, and is, greater than my loss.  My father’s illness did not destroy his faith, it made it stronger.  And the loss of my dad did the same for me.  His faith increased mine.  I KNOW where my dad is.  I KNOW he is okay.  I KNOW I will see him again.

We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

The psalms as a whole have much to teach us, not the least of which is that honesty is not inconsistent with worship.  I am now in a place in my life where I finally want to know my God – really know Him – on a deeper and more intimate level and not just worship from afar.  I am no longer afraid of the things He may ask of me.  I am ready to let go of my fears and worries and control issues and really trust Him completely.  I want to bare my soul to Him and be open and transparent and not hide behind “piety” or “self-righteousness.”

Sometimes the best motivation we’ll ever have for going someplace new is distress over someplace old.  The first Psalm of Ascent (120) beings with a distress call.  God gives us permission to get things off of our chests with Him.  We can vent to God.  The psalmists did it time and time again.  I love the Message paraphrase of this Psalm.  This person is frustrated!  He isn’t concerned with saying the right words or sugar-coating the problem.  He is upset, and he cries out to God.

I’m in trouble.  I cry to God, desperate for an answer:  “Deliver me from the liars, God!  They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”

Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming, all you barefaced liars?  Pointed arrows and burning coals will be your reward.

I’m doomed to live in Meshech, cursed with a home in Kedar, my whole life lived camping among quarreling neighbors.  I’m all for peace, but the minute I tell them so, they go to war!

 

Bringing our complaint before God is much more effective than dumping it on other people.  We don’t always have to be as calm and careful when we pour out our complaints to God.  He hears all of our thoughts anyway, we might as well tell them to Him directly.  lol

Our last exercise on each Psalm is to write our own version of it as it applies to our life.  Here is mine for 120:

In my distress and trouble I called to the Lord, my Keeper, desperate for an answer.  “My Keeper, rescue me from liars and two-faced people who say one thing, but do another.” 

Do you know what will happen as a result of your deception and lies?  Discomfort and anxiety will be your reward.

I am miserable staying in the park, unhappy among the many campers.  I have stayed too long among people who create drama and are never satisfied.  I want calm and less responsibility, but when I ask for that, they get angry.

 

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11 thoughts on “Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 120 – Onward and Upward

  1. Pingback: Psalms of Ascent - Psalm 123 - My Worth Comes From God (Part II) « Pilgrim Wanderings

  2. Pingback: Handpicked By God For a Purpose « Pilgrim Wanderings

  3. God is awesome and amazing. All the things blogged from what I can tell in 2008 are what I am using and studying right now. The trials and joys I face right now are similar to what you faced then. My father is living with me due to illness (not critical at this time), I am reading in Nehemiah for my personal study, and starting Stepping Up next week (Sept. 13th). I stumbled on your blog because I wanted to study things a little more in depth and see if I could fill in the blanks before we started the study.
    Thanks for sharing from your heart.

    • Thanks for visiting! It’s amazing how we think we are the only ones experiencing something, but when we talk to others, we find out we aren’t alone. :) Stepping Up is awesome. You’re really going to like it.

      • I was thrilled God led me to your blog. I just got Stepping Up and doing it by myself. Thank you and God bless

  4. Came upon your blog while starting the Bible study “Stepping Up” by Beth Moore. Was already looking for the answer to the second question in the study guide!!! The Hebrew transliteration of ascent is ma’alot meaning… TO GO UP! That I found From your blog! And began to read feature. It encouraged me so much. I to, have been a christian that has become stagnic in my walk. I want more in my life. I have let fear hold me back for so long. I am excited for this journey through Psalms and where it will take me!! God Bless!

  5. I just started the Beth Moore study, Stepping Up; A journey through the Psalms of Ascent. Since I am only doing the study on my own, without dvd, cd or group I too was seeking an answer for question #2 in the Introductory Session. So, a google search brought me here to find the meaning of “the Hebrew transliteration for ascent of ma’aloth.” Thank you so much for your help! You and Google. I am looking forward to the study, but not really wanting to spend an additional $50 for the cd or dvd set. I just ordered five or six books from Amazon which Beth Moore suggests for building a Bible Study Library. Hopefully, between those books and the study guide I can find answers to the questions without purchasing the cd or dvd. So clever how God helped me through your faithful step of writing things down and not just reading them. God bless. I may be stopping by again for assistance. Thanks!

    • Thanks for letting me know! I’m still amazed by how many people stumble onto my blog because of that study. :) Glad you found what you were looking for!

  6. Pingback: Coffee with God – August 21, 2013 | Pilgrim Wanderings

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