Psalm 127

mother feeding baby boy. isolated on white

Psalm 127

     1 A Song of degrees for Solomon. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh [but] in vain. We make our plans to house and clothe our own. Collectively we go about providing for the congregation. If we do either work without God, we labor in vain. So much is said about how we are vigilant and are protecting the flock from the invader, and yet in the battle we use methods Yahweh would not approve. They wake but in vain. How can anyone be so shallow?

2 [It is] vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: [for] so he giveth his beloved sleep. We make out we are so busy defending against error, and if we were not doing it all would collapse. Do we think it depends on what we do? We must be vigilant, we are commanded to watch. The point is: unless Yahweh is with us, it is all for naught. How then can we expect to succeed while we weave our spider’s web of deceit to defeat the foe? We may trap him, but we expose our flank to the swift sharp thrust of the enemies spear.

3 Lo, children [are] an heritage of the LORD: [and] the fruit of the womb [is his] reward. We see this as a change of subject. But it is the reason we are not tempted to engage in battle. It is because of the risk to the children over which we have charge from God. The last thing we want is for our children to see us lying and cheating on our way to a win. They are a blessing from God, and no one will risk their welfare in defense of some doubtful cause. To provide for the family we need peace not war.

4 As arrows [are] in the hand of a mighty man; so [are] children of the youth. If our children grow up to be worthy citizens of Zion, it is because they are following their father or mother, who always do what is right. If we want to win the battle, let our children show what they believe. They are like arrows in the hand of the mighty. We say we must fight the enemy. We do it by growing children who believe the truth just as we do. It is an issue of focus.

5 Happy [is] the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. He will not risk his children. He will talk with the enemy in the gate, and while he can, he will negotiate the terms of settlement. His responsibilities have made him a man of peace. The terms may be harsh, but we are forced to negotiate skillfully, and settle. The tragedy is the old fighters never leave the truth, they just lose their kids in the battle. One whose disposition is of peace will prosper in this life, and he will enjoy untold benefits now, and will be eventually numbered among the Israel of God, together with his children.

Our lives are about our children and our grand children. We want them to love the truth because this is all there is.

Psalm 126

Jerusalem destruction AD70

Psalm 126

     1 A Song of degrees. When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. It was so unbelievable. We were like a little bird ensnared in the net of the fowler with no power to escape, but the trap was miraculously sprung. We were almost in despair and suddenly it was over without any effort on our part. Such would have been the impressions of those who were with Hezekiah inside Jerusalem. The figure is also used to describe what we can do to defend ourselves against the violent ones. Hezekiah is a parable of deliverance and the four leprous men who discovered the slaughter of the enemy brought back the news they knew would mean so much to the people.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. We laughed with sheer delight and disbelief. Who would imagine a deliverance like this? He goes from total despair to relief. We began to laugh a nervous incredulous laugh, which quickly turns to songs of joy. We described to all who would listen, the wonder of our deliverance, and even the heathen recognize what great things Yahweh has done for us.

3 The LORD hath done great things for us; [whereof] we are glad. The marvelous thing was that it was all his work. There was nothing we could do, but he did it for his names sake, and for Jerusalem.

4 Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south. The streams in the south have traveled too far to be saved from being lost in the Dead Sea. So the doubt that comes from knowing we have gone a long way down the path of sin, and have done nothing to deserve this victory, leads us to ask deliverance even from there.

5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. It is tempting to stop as soon as opposition is experienced, and many have excused themselves from the work and feel exempt. We have to keep on sowing the seed. Paul’s figure of himself planting and Apollo’s watering but God giving the increase would spring from here, for it is the point. Can we imagine a farmer persevering with the sowing when he knows he is powerless to ensure a harvest? He sows in tears with what he thinks is a vain hope. It may not seem it is working, but just keep doing it.

6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves [with him]. It does not depend on us and it is just as well that it does not, but as long as the precious seed is sown even though we weep for our feebleness, the fruit will come inevitably because God will produce it. And then, as if to warn us, we are told, if we want to build it we can try, but the result will be in vain. It is not uncommon for the devout to feel that by grim determination they will do all that is required, but they do not know the enemy. And yet how often do we hear the call to arms. Notice next time, and we will find it comes most strongly from those who have nothing to lose. They do not hesitate or think twice.

Come, say they, here is an assault on our position, let us go out and be brave for God and show him how willing we are. They love it, and care not for the outcome, because in victory they boast, and in defeat they suffer little. What about the brother who has family and friends out there, trying to defend by whatever means they can. They are at great risk and they know it, so he wants peace and not war. The man who resists the temptation to fight and does all in his power to solve the dispute has the right spirit.

You will notice each step on the ascent involves a decision we make about how we behave.

Psalm 125

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Psalm 125

     1 A Song of degrees. They that trust in the LORD [shall be] as mount Zion, [which] cannot be removed, [but] abideth for ever. There were many sieges. The city was overwhelmed many times, but Zion was not altered in any way. It remained unaffected by the conflicts of men, and is an apt symbol of all who survive in the city.

2 As the mountains [are] round about Jerusalem, so the LORD [is] round about his people from henceforth even for ever. There is no reason to believe any of them will prevail, for Yahweh is like a wall around his people, even in the open field. Elisha saw the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof. Zechariah saw the rustling in the willows. It is something we believe.

3 For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity. The rod or scepter was what gave the right to rule. What a tragedy it would be if this right were given to the righteous. The terrible danger is they will use the power in the same way as the wicked. The Psalm suggests that Yahweh will ensure the scepter does not belong to them. And yet we clamor for the right to rule as if we do not see the danger.

4 Do good, O LORD, unto [those that be] good, and [to them that are] upright in their hearts. Those who resist the temptation to use the methods of the wicked should be blessed according to their attitude, and we trust that God will look after this for us.

5 As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the LORD shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity: [but] peace [shall be] upon Israel. These ones turned aside, from walking after God to the crooked paths of the violent. Those who abuse their power, who excite rebellion, who falsely accuse, who refuse to listen, who rely on force, let them join the wicked in their judgment, but on the Israel of God there will be peace. Relief will come eventually if we are patient. It will come by the power of God, and all the tears of despair will turn into joy, as we see that all we hoped for is ours.

That Psalm was like a plateau. It was relief from tension that was building. We catch our breath for we have more steps to go.

 

Psalm 124

Four Teen Girls

Psalm 124

     1 A Song of degrees of David. If [it had not been] the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say. The fortification is all very well, but if Yahweh had not been on our side, we would have been overwhelmed. Keeping God on side involves behaving in a godly way. He will not support us if we act against what is true. And this is step number five.

2 If [it had not been] the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us. Let me make the point so there is no confusion. History plays a secondary role in these Psalms. We may draw lessons from David and Hezekiah’s experiences with the enemy, but the primary theme is strife in the brotherhood, and how we deal with it in our time. The idea we must be right in the way we act is enforced. We need to do it God’s way.

3 Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us. It would have been a short war, for these vicious men fight with weapons we would not use. Their victory would be swift, because we have no defense against them, except it be in God. So get used to the idea we must adjust the way things are done because we control nothing, and everyone else dictates to us.

4 Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul. The waters are a fitting image for the time when everyone is at sea in the middle of a dispute. But this dispute can be isolated to some extent. It is not so large the issues cannot be defined, so the image changes to a stream, and this is where the danger is. This involved more than being beaten in the battle. This threatened their standing before the judge. Had God not been with us, we would have committed an offense for which there would be no forgiveness. We will not allow people to do that to us. We found the truth, and the truth is what we are going to do.

5 Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Had we fought in the way they fought against us, we would have betrayed the things for which we stand. The victory would be their’s as soon as we begin to fight, because the proud waters would drown us. If the waters are likened to the words going back and forth with all the misgiving, then the proud waters that take away our hope are the harsh words we force on them in our own pride and confidence. And who has not been confident in a debate?

6 Blessed [be] the LORD, who hath not given us [as] a prey to their teeth. Yahweh prevented them, because we were defenseless and innocent. There was nothing we could do to defeat them, and we did not prevail, we simply survived.

7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. The image of the tiny bird caught in the net of the powerful and resourceful fowler is fitting. The most unexpected happened and we were free. Only Yahweh could affect this escape, for it was not by our cleverness, but good fortune provided by God. And we did not do anything. It just happened.

8 Our help [is] in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. There is no reason to believe he cannot destroy the fowlers snare, after all he made heaven and earth. What we must do to survive is remain firm and fixed like Mt Zion and just as it has survived, so will we. Just as it will be exalted so will we. One thing will not occur. We will not be given the power to rule, because as surely as we begin to exercise this power we will begin to offend. Be satisfied with our station and “be not many masters,” for if we offend we will be condemned with the wicked.

We have only climbed five of these steps and we are already exhausted. But many things are clear. We know what to do, and we know what we must not do.

Psalm 123

Shady man

Psalm 123

     1 A Song of degrees. Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. A man cannot guarantee peace, for there are many reasons that decide it, and most of them are outside his control. The Psalmist admits this, and lifts his eyes in pleading to God. Where can we go? There is nowhere else to go. This is the reason. We cannot cover all the issues. We need God to be with us.

2 Behold, as the eyes of servants [look] unto the hand of their masters, [and] as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes [wait] upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us. The subject is still peace, and the question is how does it come? If we are as bondslaves our control is limited. The bond slave’s’s eyes are on the master and mistress because they need permission to do everything. Any peace a bond slave may enjoy is granted as a blessing from his master, this is especially true of a maiden, who answers to the mistress of the house. Their lives can be turmoil, unless the master and mistress are kindly disposed toward them.

3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. What creates the turmoil is bitterness caused by the enemy’s contentious attitude. Peace is the first casualty in the conflict. Everyone is struggling to work out who is right and who is wrong in the matter, and to ensure it is resolved properly in the end. And all you hear is the carping of the law-keepers, repeating what they have learned by rote. And what can the servant do? If God is not merciful to us then this is our lot, and we can do nothing about it.

4 Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, [and] with the contempt of the proud. It is bitterness bought on by those who seem so sure of themselves. Any measures you suggest which is designed to clarify and negotiate is interpreted as soft and deserving of contempt. Pressure is bought to bear for a resolution in a time that is decisive. Speed and firmness are essential ingredients. One thing is clear, and that is there is nothing we can do to fight these people without offending in exactly the manner of their crime, so if we do not have God on our side, we will be destroyed forever. We cannot even contribute to our own defense without becoming like the tyrant. We are like a little bird before the fowler.

We do not place ourselves in a position where we do not have the power to do what we must, and yet this is where we are. That is perverse, and insists we adjust the way we see it, or join the other side.

Psalm 122

Brilliant web

Psalm 122

     1 A Song of degrees of David. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Hezekiah chose four of the Psalms of David to include in this Oratorio. Only David could write with such passion about uniting Israel in worship at Jerusalem. He changed the law when he bought the Ark into the tent at Jerusalem. Yahweh reminded him of this when he first suggested it. It was contrary to all Moses had been told. He was glad when the people accepted that Jerusalem was the place for the God of Israel to dwell.

2 Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Could they stir up trouble over that? David was so relieved that this was not to become an issue. It is clear when you read between the lines of the events of the bringing up of the Ark that David did this with great reservation. At first there was the breach of Uzza where David was angry. Why did not Yahweh overlook this minor infringement given the delicate situation? The Ark stayed in the house of a Gentile whom Yahweh blessed for three months after the breach of Uzza, before David was bold enough to try again. It was the blessing on Obed-edom the Gittite that convinced David and gave him the opening to say, God has visited the Gentiles.

There were those who were against it, and David clearly had to negotiate long and hard to make it happen. To suggest David made a mistake in forgetting what a Sunday school scholar would remember is to miss the point. David knew well who was appointed to carry the Ark and he would have consulted before he started. No one was sure what to do, for many things had changed and the old arrangements had already been altered. That he had not included the Levites initially highlights the view they were withholding their advice, refusing to get involved. It was agreed the test of Yahweh’s approval was that they go six paces and stop. If nothing happened they would take that as a sign the move had divine approval. When it finally arrived at Jerusalem David joined with the people in a show of delight that some thought was unseemly. His wife expressed what many thought.

3 Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together. It is the ideal place. It was a fortress, and people run into it and are saved. How appropriate for it to become the place for the name of the God of peace. And yet it has never been peaceful.

4 Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD. The repetition gives us a clue to the emphasis. The nation was united in their going up. They were the tribes of Yahweh when they went up three times a year to give thanks to the name of their God. Do we suppose the twelve tribes enjoyed harmony? We can be assured they did not. There was great bitterness in the family groups, as seen on many occasions, and yet the tribes found unity and peace in the going up.

5 For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David. The “thrones, the thrones,” answers to “the tribes, the tribes” and marks the point to be made. That there were thrones is strange. Had it said there was one throne of David we would not have questioned it, but thrones, what could this mean? Each tribe would have equal representation there. This is twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes.

Everyone agreed this would be necessary or there would be such jealous strife that the place would explode with contention. Absalom took advantage of this to undermine the power of his father.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. It is not inviting us to pray that Jerusalem might one day become peaceful. We are being instructed to pray the peace that belongs to Jerusalem might be ours now. Pray that we might have it. Those who love what Jerusalem is will prosper in the end, because Yahweh will give them what they want most, the peace. In a real sense that peace can be ours now, but how many want it?

7 Peace be within thy walls, [and] prosperity within thy palaces. This peace is only found in the fortification, the strong tower of God, whose power is round about Jerusalem. It is not only a fortress it has palaces or places of great delight and rejoicing. It is not merely a place of harsh battlements.

8 For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace [be] within thee. David recognized the importance in the meeting of this peace. If it does not exist then the brethren and companions are at risk. An environment of friction will destroy them. The companions appear to be interested friends so far uncommitted to the teachings, perhaps under instruction, those who would suffer most from conflict. What is it that will inspire cooperation and prevent strife?

9 Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good. It is because we are all part of the one body that we go out of our way to ensure we enjoy the peace of Jerusalem. Those who were in the fortress city are all brethren and deserve the peace the place promises. This is all very interesting, but is the theme continued? Is it coming down hard on the argumentative people in the community? Peace is the theme, but there are some interesting facets to explore. David realized we are often the victim, and struggle to work out what is going on, so peace may not belong to us because of those who hold the power.

These steps are a challenge. It is not as if we go through an induction where these matters are discussed at the start. But they are important to know and we are only at step number three.

Psalm 121

USMC Harriers line the deck of HMS Illustrious

     1 A Song of degrees. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. We move up the first of the steps. How can an honest lover of truth deal with these people? They cannot. These people are too clever to be caught, and they have lies on their side. They deal in half-truths, fear and doubt, anything that will keep an issue on the boil. We cannot deal with them because they will change their position to suit the state of play. So skillful are they that any victory we have over them will be quickly countered with an attack from another direction. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish who the combatants are, for the generals rarely fight up front. It is not the final victory they are fighting for, but the war itself. They love the fighting and they hate peace. You do not get your own way in an environment of peace. You cannot manipulate people to suit yourself. God is the only one who can deal with them. Shallow people take their side, because they cannot work out the argument. The shallow ones are not the enemy because they are victims as well.

2 My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. There should be no doubt that God can handle them for he made heaven and earth. We cannot do anything about them. This seems foreign to most of us who are used to fighting our own battles, but there are no rules in this war, even defeat is a victory, because all they want is to disrupt the peace.

3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. The Hebrew negative is here subjective, that is, “I trust he will not suffer thy foot to be moved and that he that keeps thee will not slumber.” They will have their success, and many will suffer despair, but they will not cause the faithful to budge, because God will prevent them. The number of times they have the ascendancy suggests God does not care, but this is far from the truth. The question is, will the faithful wait, or take matters into their own hands and offend themselves. My help cometh from Yahweh, says the Psalmist.

4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Hebrew negative here is different. It is objective and asserting as a fact, “He that keepeth Israel shall never slumber nor sleep.” It is a question of whether we believe that Yahweh keeps the Israel of God. The way many react it appears we do not.

5 The LORD [is] thy keeper: the LORD [is] thy shade upon thy right hand. If we insist on the victory now then we ask more than has been promised. The important thing is they will not take anything away from us while ever we trust. It is often argued that in contending earnestly we are required to face the foe with equal force. This advice comes from those who do not mind the loss of peace. In fact it inspires them like nothing else, and they feel virtuous for going out and taking risks. The faithful will always fight error, but will regret deeply the disruption to peace, because it is peace they love. These people are always labeled soft, and are openly ridiculed by the other. Mark the man who criticizes them, for he is the problem, and not the solution.

6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. This figure suggests the paranoia with which we try to shield ourselves from danger, as if all forces are against us. Any challenge is met with an over-reaction that betrays the confidence we should have in God. Whoever has been afraid the sun might smite them if they venture out? Who would stay home at night for fear of becoming lunatic? We find the most-feeble reasons for banding together for defense. These are hysterical, superstitious reasons, and those who do it are shallow.

7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The “evil” is given as the reason we should be most concerned. Fear is an important element in undermining peace. Convince people they are under threat and you have them defending against their own shadow. He shall preserve our life and that is all that should matter. The expression “preserve thy soul” has an echo in Matthew chapter 10:28 where the Lord advises “fear not them which kill the body, but cannot kill the soul:” It has in mind the final victory, they cannot threaten that. Evil might threaten the tranquillity now, but in the end, provided we do not retaliate in kind, our hope is sure.

8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. What more should we require than this? He will not only prevent the immediate danger from overwhelming us, but will preserve our going out and coming in. Some will say we are at greatest risk when we do this, and others will say, no it is when we do that, and everyone will be terrified of what happens next. It speaks of our going out and our coming in for evermore, so what are we afraid about?

Whence then is all this anxiety. We spend much of our time defending the faith against Phantoms. There were many examples in the life of David of conflict among brethren, but none so threatening as the bringing up of the Ark to Jerusalem. He was to change the customs that Moses delivered them, and the most hostile forces were at work to prevent him. He knew it was the mind of God to choose Jerusalem.

It was the city ruled over by the King of Righteousness and the King of Peace, the Priest of the Most High God, Melchizedek. It was the place of Mt. Moriah where Abraham offered his son Isaac. It was on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebuzite that the plague was stayed and life granted to the people by the mercy of God. It was where he had himself impaled the head of Goliath, even though the city was in the hands of his enemies, the Jebuzites. He knew it was the city of peace, and accepted the need in the community of peace for the truth to survive.

In Psalm 121 if we cannot feel the ascending we are not listening to the words. This is a step in the right direction. We are now moving forward to something great.

Psalm 120

Very angry woman clenching fists

     1 A Song of degrees. In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me. The beginning of Psalm 120 is similar to many, but it is wrong to assume the reason the Psalmists is distressed is the same each time. He asked to be delivered from a particular class of people, as he goes on to describe, and Yahweh grants his request. Again it is wrong to assume that Yahweh grants all requests, for there is evidence he does not, but this one is different.

We deliberately use the name of God which is “Yahweh,” not to offend anyone, but to register that the word “Yah” as it is used in such musical expressions as the Hebrew word “Hallelujah” is a name we must praise. He is the deliverer, and the word “LORD” in the English Language obscures this. We want to restore that part of the music at least.

2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, [and] from a deceitful tongue. These were not just deceivers who lead you into trouble if you believe them; they are liars and deceivers of a special sort. If Yahweh does not deliver you from these people then you are in deep trouble.

3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Their tongue was used in a malicious way against those who did not deserve this treatment. It was used with great skill and force against people who did not know how to fight in this battle. What would be a fitting measure to take against these people? Once a person is discovered using a false tongue, the best thing to do is avoid him and that will ensure you are not one of his victims. This is not enough in this case because David who wrote this Psalm was the king, and he could not get away from these people. Only the most severe measures will do against them, and there is only one who can deal with them.

4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper. These are weapons of war, and war it is. Give them in kind. The mighty have sharp arrows that are in the hands of men of experience, fearless men who will press forward against these people. Coals of Juniper were the best fuel, because these coals burned thoroughly and could not be easily quenched. We have the image of an attacking army of mighty men using force against defenders in the walled city. They harass the defenders with their arrows and keep them busy putting out fires from the coals lobbed over the wall.

So well coordinated is the attack, the defenders being distracted are soon faced with an army coming over the wall. A breach is made, and the gates opened, and the battle over, with those of false lips defeated. The image does not need the righteous to be in the battle for as we will see they are not involved, but it returns in kind the sort of force these people use.

5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, [that] I dwell in the tents of Kedah! I have dwelt as a stranger in Mesech. We should recognize the place. These are the Moschi, who occupied the region of Iberia and Armenia. He dwelt among the Bolsheviks with whom we can identify today. These are the ones described as the Northerner, a bitter and hasty nation. The tents of Kedah belonged to Arabs, descendants of Ishmael whose hand is against every man and every man’s hand against him. These people love to fight. Neither David nor Hezekiah dwelt among the Russians or the Arabs for they were surrounded by their own people. What you find is, some of their own people were like Bolsheviks, men of force, bitter and jealous men, who could disguise their hostility in a veneer of piety, and who were not compelled to be true, especially under battle conditions.

6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. 7 I [am for] peace: but when I speak, they [are] for war. He claims to have dwelt too long with those who hate peace. He was a man of peace, but all they want to do is destroy you and overrun you. It is clearly not the sort of war that confronted David during his reign, where he fought the Philistines or Moab and Ammon. This is war within the community where he lived. Neither David nor Hezekiah would risk the lives of the people of Israel to teach Philistines not to lie. We are dealing with conflict among brethren. They are people in the community who are men of war that love to fight. It disappoints them to have everyone at peace, so they invent reasons to go to war and fight. And they fight with a viciousness that would surprise the most violent men.

David found that one of the most difficult things to deal with were the angry men, who are involved with him in the truth. He was a strong religious leader who attracted devout men, but found the struggle for power was often bitter, and he learned a great deal about his brethren that disappointed him. All was well until the stress began to show and the peace was fractured by envy and bitterness. One thing he did learn was that you cannot fight against these men, and whatever it is they impose on you, then you must bear it. Even though it appears you will be taken away in the conflict you must not resist but accept what comes. Yahweh is your only hope. If you oppose them you become one of them.

This we say is step number one. If we do not get this we are going to be greatly disadvantaged. We will either become their victim and not know why, or we will join them, and think this behavior is true.

The Songs of the Degrees

Groupe d'étudiants révisant ensemble 04

Hezekiah’s life appears three times in scripture. It is reported once in Isaiah, and in 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles. This is because of the importance of the story. It presents a prophetic parable of the most crucial issue facing us. In the first of the four chapters of the Isaiah record it presents Rabshakeh the Assyrian envoy who was railing against Hezekiah trapped like a caged bird in the walls of Jerusalem.

He invites those under threat of death inside the city to come out and accept transfer to a land of milk and honey. This is a clear reference to the promise of God to Israel. It is interesting that Rabshakeh challenges these people to supply two thousand riders and he will provide two thousand horses to help them in the battle. We connect the two thousand horses with the two thousand years we have been fighting this war, from delivering Messiah to today.

The people with Hezekiah did not answer him a word, for they made their choice just as we have chosen the truth over the world. The next chapter of the Isaiah account of Hezekiah records a further tirade, with God’s answer to Hezekiah and encouragement to hold fast. Included in that chapter is the remarkable victory when the angel of God slew one hundred and eighty thousand of the Assyrian army. The battle was won and the believers did nothing to affect their release. Here was God providing a way of escape. We skip over the next Isaiah chapter because we want to come back to that, and we find that Hezekiah invites representatives of Babylon to see all the treasures in God’s house, including the wealth of the kingdom. God through the prophet tells him that all those treasures will be taken by the Babylonians and Hezekiah’s sons and daughters will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

Now we know that happened when Paul taught the truth in Rome. Eventually Christianity belonged to Rome, and it became the great Celibate Apostasy, all their teachers were eunuchs. When we go back to the chapter we missed, we discover that Hezekiah is sick unto death and is required to put his house in order immediately. He needed time to have a son and heir, so he pleads to God for grace, and the prophet tells him, he has fifteen years extension on his life.

As proof to Hezekiah that he would be cured of the leprosy and be accepted in temple worship again, the sun went back ten degrees on the sun dial of Ahaz. If we need further proof of God’s goodwill toward the believers than that, then we are hard of heart. The leprosy was cured when a lump of figs was laid on the boil. We can see there is information of other things in this story. It is a parable of our deliverance, for we are with Hezekiah inside the walls of the city with no hope. God affects our deliverance through Messiah even though we were not even in the battle, but we still have leprosy, and need time to show our faith. The figs speak of our involvement in the believer community bearing fruit. The fruit we are talking about has its seed in itself.

Hezekiah understood all of this, and he gathered Psalms he called “The Songs of the Degrees” to commemorate the fifteen years of life he needed. These are found in Psalms 120 to 134 and represent the fifteen steps that we must go up if we are to gain the kingdom. These are not things we must do as if we are on a quest, they are things we come to realize, if we are to cope with life and godliness.

The expression “A Song of the Degrees” is literally a song of the ascending, for the word degrees means elevation, a step, a grade mark, and carries the idea of a climactic progression.

To gather a measure of the climax we arrive at, we need to read Psalm 134 first:

     1 A Song of degrees. Behold, bless ye the LORD, all [ye] servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD. 2 Lift up your hands [in] the sanctuary, and bless the LORD. 3 The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion. This Psalm has no subject. It is only three verses long. It is akin to the Hallelujah chorus in the Oratorio “The Messiah,” the final song of praise. To liken it to the well-known work of Fredrick Handle is not improper, for his music took inspired thoughts and set them to music after the pattern here, where the fifteen Psalms would be listened to at one event. They would be sung in strict order, all rising one above the other in thought and intent, until the final praise which would be sung with such force by many voices that it would be the highlight.

We must mention that in our world every year at the time of year when people celebrate the birth of Jesus “The Messiah” as it was composed by Fredrick Handle is sung in many major cities around the world to commemorate the first advent of the Messiah and to testify of his story. All the words come straight from the Psalms or scripture verses and tell us exactly what God wanted to say about this momentous event. It is the greatest witness the world has ever known, and it tells the world of Jesus the son of God.

What then is the subject of the fifteen steps, and how does it climb to such heights?

The subject is obvious because of the weight of reference to it, but the challenge is to identify the way each verse of each Psalm bears on it, and to show the way each Psalm rises. I am sure it would be much easier if it were set to the original music, for much of the mood and drama is lost. This does not make it impossible to see, just more difficult. I trust you will agree with the conclusions we draw from the record.

Galatians

The cover image shows people joining in force for one goal.
This is about togetherness.

The books are available from www.Amazon.com, enter “the 66 books by barry bowen” and they will appear.

12. What if we embrased it only to find we have it upside down? What if our view is exactly opposite to the way we were taught? And here we are with all the zeal and enthusiasm of a new convert teaching something that is not only wrong, but diametrically opposed to the truth. That seems unlikely. But this is what happened to the Galatians. How did it happen? How could it happen? And if it happens that easily, perhaps it accounts for the variations in religious responses we get.

Everyone will tell you Galatians is about Law and Grace, and it argues on this subject, but the real issue is: who are the ones with whom we enjoy fellowship. The believer community is a place of joy and gladness, the slaying of oxen and killing of sheep. If we do not understand what this means, then we have never been to an Australian barbecue where everyone gathers to have a pleasant time with friends. Who are the people with whom we are in harmony and do not have belief issues? These are the ones with whom we enjoy fellowship.

Can two walk together unless they are agreed? The answer to this is; no they cannot. And if they are at opposite ends of the argument, then there is likely to be hostile feelings. And that really makes the feasting fall flat. It is like a rain storm in the midst of the cooking effort. Everyone wants to go home. How does it get so far, to borrow an expression from the movies? We are going to find the answer.