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Psalm 120

Sermon Transcript

If you had to select a spiritual song to set the tone for your journey to worship today, what would it be?

Ten Thousand Reasons
Everlasting God
Blessed Assurance
Is He Worthy?

It is an interesting thought, but an important one.

For ancient saints living in Israel, they did not just have one song to prepares them for worship on special worship for the annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Booths/Tabernacles (Ex. 23:14-17).  They had fifteen, and they are recorded in the Psalter in chapters 120 through 134.  The header of each Psalm reads “A Song of Ascents,” and since the Hebrew for “ascents” speaks of walking up steps, it is probably a denotation of how worshippers journeyed up to Jerusalem.  It can also address how the Israelites approached the Temple for worship.  Looking here eastward at the southern wall, you will notice two gates, which were called the Huldah Gates.  Huldah, in Hebrew means “mole” or “mouse,” and it is possible this word describes how worshippers walked up onto the Temple platform by ascending up darkened tunnels.  The gates are also possibly named after the prophetess Huldah, who held her court in this prime location during the period of the kings (2 Kings 22;14-20; 2 Chron. 34:22-28).

Hence, as worshippers headed up the steps toward the Huldah Gates, it is quite possible they also sang these songs of ascent.  The steps were specifically designed to slow worship traffic down by alternating between short and long steps.  This way, worshippers couldn’t just flood the temple platform, and it also gave them ample time to pause and reflect (and sing) as they anticipated approaching God’s presence.  Here is a picture I took several years ago of those stone stairs.  Once they reached the top of the stairs, those who looked to the right, or eastward, caught a glimpse of the Mount of Olives.  Stunning, isn’t it?  Turning and heading up through the “mouse” tunnels, they moved from the darkness into the brilliant light of the temple platform with the majestic and glistening white Temple looming above and in front of them.  Seeing this, while also listening to saints singing the Psalms of Ascent outside the southern temple wall, must have been a moving and memorable worship experience, one where the Spirit’s presence could not be missed.

The way the Psalms of Ascent are structured they are like steps.  Psalms 120 through 121 paint the picture of the worshipper heading to Jerusalem and the Temple for worship, while Psalms 122 through 134 are written with the worshipper actually on the holy mount (Psalm 132 verse 13, talks specifically about the important of Mount Zion where the Temple rested, and Psalm 134:2, speaks of a worshipper lifting up their hands in the sanctuary).

With all of this background information in mind, I find it most interesting that the Psalms of Ascent start with Psalm 120.  Why? Let’s read it and I think you will see what I mean.

1 A Song of Ascents . In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me. 2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. 3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? 4 Sharp arrows of the warrior, with the burning coals of the broom tree. 5 Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, for I dwell among the tents of Kedar! 6 Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. 7 I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war (Ps. 120).

To employ 60s terminology, this ancient song sounds like a downer, doesn’t it?  Instead of painting a happy, highly positive picture of his life as he headed to the Temple, the Psalmist writes about how hostile the culture is to him and his faith.  People were not saying great or nice things about him. No, it was quite the opposite.  The people, by and large, had it out for him and lied to and about him constantly in order to hurt, harm him, and silence him.  Wow.  Jaw dropping, wouldn’t you agree?

Why in the world did the divinely inspired Psalmist call for Israelites to get raw and real as they headed to worship?  By being authentic and honest, they showed just how much they needed, really craved, worship of the living God.  Living in a world influenced by the Adversary and sinners tainted by his penchant for lying about anything and everything, any worshipper would feel the drain on their spiritual batteries (John 8:44; 1 John 2:16).  Hence, the need for the saint in question to look forward to getting recharged by being in God’s holy presence with other like-minded saints. Further, by being completely candid about what he, as a godly, truthful person, faced in a compromised, selfish, and sinful culture built on a plethora of lies at all levels (political/educational/social/familial), the Psalmist educated believers how to live an effective and potentially culture transforming life among the liars.

So, forgive me, but as I move methodically and expositionally through a Bible book like the Psalms, I cannot by-pass what the Spirit teaches.  In order to properly prepare ourselves for worship, we, too, must come to grips with the reality that we, like the Psalmist, live in a hostile environment which typically uses cunning and crafty lies to attack, besmirch, sideline, and potentially sideline the voice of saints who speak for truth, morality, and logic.  No, I’m not saying the entire culture is hostile to the faith.  Many sectors, from politics to education, from business to home life, have fine folks who either love God, or, at least, embrace moral law and desire order and peace in society.  I thank God for them.  Unfortunately, from what I see, hostility to the faith is increasing, and one of its main tools for advancement is the dark art of lying and deception.

All of this, as we see from the Psalmist, is nothing new.  Hostility to holiness has been a reality since man fell in the Garden of Eden.  What is highly important for saints to come to terms with is the question answered by this first Psalm of Ascent:

How Do You, As A Saint, Live Effectively Among Liars (Psalm 120)?

Four helpful concepts emerge from a cursory analysis of this short Psalm.

Be Prayerful (Psalm 120:1)

Like the ropes the fictional and physically small Lilliputians used to eventually subdue the ‘giant’ Gulliver in Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels, an increasing number of lies leveled against you can cause you to feel caught, hopeless, and quite powerless.  That is the intention of some lies directed your way for it is the method the unscrupulous person uses to wear you down and gain power and control over you (or others).  To switch metaphors, as it were, this is exactly what gaslighting is all about.  The term originates in the 1944 film Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton. In the movie, Cotton uses false statements to convince/dupe his unsuspecting wife into believing she is insane so he can steal from her.  Gaslighting now represents “someone who persistently puts forth a false narrative which leads another person (or a group of people) to doubt their own perceptions to the extent that they become disoriented and distressed.”[1] You see this method used all the time by those who have ungodly, lawless, power-driven positions: an illegal alien is an immigrant, a patriot is a terrorist, a baby in the womb is not really a person, and so on.  Politicians use it, as do educators, friends, and, yes, husbands, wives, and even children. For instance, a husband who is having an affair can set up a false narrative about his wife so that she begins to think she’s the reason and she is at fault for his promiscuous ways. Not so, really, because it is all a lie meant to cover his treacherous tracks.

If you can sense the ropes of lies tying you down, if it feels like there are so many of them you just don’t know what do to, the Psalmist gives you some sound advice.

1 A Song of Ascents . In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me.

The Hebrew text here reads like this: “To the LORD in my distress I cried.”  Grammatically it is structured in this fashion to place emphasis upon who you should turn to when lies come at from every area imaginable in your life. For starters, don’t run to your mother, don’t dial up your psychiatrist, don’t start emailing your Life Group, but do get before God.  God should be your first stop, not your last stop. No, I’m not saying you should not seek godly counsel when lies are leveled against you.  Godly counsel is a wise, prudent, and helpful move . . . eventually (Prov. 12:15; 13:10; 15:22; 19:20).  Yet if you are wise, you will go to the source of all wisdom and insight first, and that source is the LORD.

Interestingly enough, the word for “trouble” in Hebrew, sa’rah (צָרָה) describes a tight, restrictive situation. It is the word employed to describe the pit Joseph’s brothers threw him in to get rid of him (Gen. 42:21). It’s the word Jonah used to talk about what it was like to be in the belly of a fish (Jonah 2:2).Think of being placed in a straight-jacket and you have the meaning intended. When trouble mounts in your life, when the non-Christian world gangs up on you because of your faith, it is time to have a little talk with Jesus and tell Him about your troubles.  Why?  Because He is your Lord, He loves you, and knows exactly what you are facing (Psalm 31:7), and He is equipped to help you.  As the Psalmist notes, “I cried to the LORD, and He answered me.” This how God rolls (Psalm 50:15; 138:70). The Psalmist had gone to the Lord before in tough, troublesome times, and he had lived to see God powerfully answer his prayers.  Now, he is facing another complex situation, so what does he do? What any maturing believer should do, he gets before God by means of prayer.

I have no idea what or who you are up against right now, but I know what you need to do.  You don’t need to worry. You don’t need to complain about your lot. You most certainly don’t need to lose hope. Why?  You have the God of all hope at your disposal, so get before His throne and expect Him to give you an answer.

A second bit of sagacious advice is found in the next verse.  I’ve titled this . . .

Be Bold (Psalm 120:2)

Listen to the boldness of the Psalmist:

2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.

Here the imperative verb is used of a lesser (you) to a greater (God).  What his stressful, tight situation is concerns people telling him lies and passing along lies about him.  The Hebrew for “deliver,” nasal (נצל), literally means to snatch something out of a blazing fire (Amos 4:11).  Everywhere he turned, lies abounded.  His times sound like those of Isaiah,

11 All of us growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none, for salvation, but it is far from us. 12 For our transgressions are multiplied before Thee, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: 13 Transgressing and denying the LORD, and turning away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words. 14 And justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness cannot enter. 15 Yes, truth is lacking; and he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey. Now the LORD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. (Isa. 59).

Ever felt like this?  You want to live to see justice, but all you see, all you hear are lies from every sector of life. A nation is near the judgment of God when lies replace truth, as in ancient Israel.  When there is no truth because lies are masquerading as truth, then there is, ipso facto, no justice for justice is founded and grounded upon truth. Our nation, like that of the Psalmist, is awash in deception and falsehood in order push false agendas and ideologies.   There are lies about the national budget, what happened in Afghanistan, Covid and vaccines, what constitutes racism, what constitutes life in the womb, what constitutes a man or a woman, what constitutes tolerance, what constitutes real news, what happens on arrests, and so on and so forth.

This is not to mention all the lies you face on a daily basis on a personal level from the mechanic who is working on your car, from the shady roofer who gives you a “viable” bid on a new roof, and from the addicted son who can never seem to get his story straight about where he has been and what he has been doing.  Lies are like those Lilliputian cords. They bind you up so it’s hard, if not almost impossible, to function. People tell lies to silence the moral/spiritual voice to advance the immoral voice and stay in, or gain, power.  People tell them to keep others from knowing what they are really up to because they are so busy looking at you and what has been said about you.

Jeremiah could have easily written this Psalm:

2 O that I had in the desert a wayfarers' lodging place; that I might leave my people, and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.

3 And they bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me," declares the LORD.

4 Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor, and do not trust any brother; because every brother deals craftily, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.

5 And everyone deceives his neighbor, and does not speak the truth, they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity (Jer. 9).

From the top down, the culture was riddled with lies because at his core man is a sinner, and sinners will say and do what they have to in order to enjoy their sin for a season.  How did Jeremiah respond to the litany of outright lies?  Look at what he does in chapter 14:

13 But, "Ah, Lord God!" I said, "Look, the prophets are telling them, 'You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.'"

False teachers told the people because the Lord’s temple resided in Jerusalem, there was no way the nation could fall as Jeremiah prophesied (Jer. 7:4). It was a bold, insidious lie and the people bought it . . . along with many other lies.  Jeremiah didn’t buy it.  He blasted it, and he brought his complaint before the Lord and the Lord answered:

14 Then the LORD said to me, "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them-- yet they keep saying, 'There shall be no sword or famine in this land '-- by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end (Jer. 14).

God knew what was going on with great specificity, it grieved Him, and He informed Jeremiah that the sordid, twisted, fraudulent situation would move Him to divine action.

In your current troubled situation, you can, and should do no less.  Be prayerful and be bold in your prayer.  Ask God to do the seemingly impossible and deliver you and He will in due time.

Third, when facing a deceptive world, you, above all people, must . . .

Be Expectant (Psalm 120:3-4)

Of what?  Of the fact that God will, as He told Jeremiah in the above mentioned quote, be moved to act definitively and decisively at the right and sovereignly planned time:

3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?

In verse 3, the Psalmist’s question is basically this:  “What should be done to a person who lives for lies and disinformation?”  Verse 4 gives us the answer.

4 Sharp arrows of the warrior, with the burning coals of the broom tree.

“Sharp arrows” and “burning coals” are metaphorical description of how the words of liars work. They pierce an unsuspecting person like a sharp arrow, doing great damage.  Just have someone pass around untruths about your character, and you will see what I mean. When you hear what they have said, you will feel like a sharp arrow just found its mark in your heart.  “Burning coals” are likened unto lies insofar as they can look like they are cold and just sitting there in the bottom on your Weber grill, and then without must effort they can be fanned into a raging flame.  The words which the false teachers among Israel passed around about Jeremiah became sharp arrows and a raging flame in Jeremiah 20.  Jeremiah has, once again, warned the nation of impending judgment for her wicked ways (Jer. 19:15), and Pashur, a priest, didn’t like what he heard because he and his people were pushing the fake news as true news.  How did he respond to Jeremiah? Read on:

When Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, 2 Pashhur had Jeremiah the prophet beaten, and put him in the stocks that were at the upper Benjamin Gate, which was by the house of the LORD. 3 Then it came about on the next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, that Jeremiah said to him, "Pashhur is not the name the LORD has called you, but rather Magor-missabib. 4 "For thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I am going to make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; and while your eyes look on, they will fall by the sword of their enemies. So I shall give over all Judah to the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will carry them away as exiles to Babylon and will slay them with the sword. 5 'I shall also give over all the wealth of this city, all its produce, and all its costly things; even all the treasures of the kings of Judah I shall give over to the hand of their enemies, and they will plunder them, take them away, and bring them to Babylon. 6 'And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die, and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied'" (Jer. 20).

The verbal arrows and fraudulent fire was designed to silence Jeremiah, but they didn’t.  God merely stepped into the equation and informed Pashhur that, well, what goes around certainly does come around.  This is basically what the Psalmist is praying for here.  He is saying, “Lord, may the arrows meant for me come back on them. May the fire they kindled to consume me, consume them.  Yes, Lord, you take action and deal with these people in a just fashion.” His prayer, at this juncture, could have easily been reflective of the truth written upon the parchment of Proverbs 12:

13 An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous will escape from trouble (Prov. 12).

Do you believe in this divine promise?  Do you believe that regardless of how many good, skilled liars you are up against that the Lord will eventually address them?  I do.  So don’t lose hope in justice, and do be expectant.  And if you are a liar, I think you had better wake up because your gig is just about up.


Be Real (Psalm 120:5-7)

You don’t get any more authentic and transparent than this:

5 Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, for I dwell among the tents of Kedar! 6 Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace.

Here the Psalmist gets highly honest and emotional as he thinks about his complex, frustrating, and fearsome life situation.  He feels like he is an alien in his own country.  Yes, he feels like he lives in Meshech or in Kedar.  The former place was located in the north eastern part of what is now modern day Turkey.  Historically, they were the enemies of Assyria and later Israel, and they were known for being highly aggressive and ruthless.  The latter place was located southeast of Israel, in what can now be classified as Saudi Arabia. The people of Kedar never had a city, per se, because they were a nomadic tribe, and they typically were known to be barbaric and armed to the teeth.

No Israelites would EVER want to live here among his enemies, but this is exactly how he feels about where he lives in Israel.  It is as if his own people are from Meshech and Kedar.  Boy, is this not the truth.  With so many attacking the Constitution and those who are for the protection of the unborn, opposing good professors who actually teach students to use reason and logic (and facts), watering down what constitutes felonies, calling for the defunding of police, prosecuting police for actually doing their jobs, and so on I, like the Psalmist can’t help but feel like a foreigner in a foreign land.  In a sense you are a foreigner, as a saint, for you are an ambassador for Christ from heaven (Eph. 6:20; Heb. 11:13-14).  But despite this truth, you do catch the drift of the Psalmist, I’m sure, because you have felt it too.  I’m sure you’ve had a moment where you sighed, “I think I’ve lived in this evil environment for far too long.”  That’s a raw reality you need to share with the Lord who knows your heart and your situation.

But on the positive side, what should you be about? Better yet, how should you function when everyone else is for lies, deception, and the twisting of truth for their own personal net gain? The Psalmist doesn’t let you down.

7 I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war (Ps. 120).

In Hebrew there is no copula, or main verb.  It merely reads: “I peace.”  You can’t get any more emphatic.  As the worshipper heads to worship from his hostile home environment, he lays out on the table what he is all about.  He is a man of peace, not for war.  He’s not about using lies as weapons to win battles, but he’s about using truth to establish real, lasting peace.

What is a peacemaker like when the rest of the world is bent on war which is perpetuated by  lies?

A peacemaker doesn’t distort or mis-represent facts (9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, (Col. 3).
A peacemaker doesn’t spread lies. Spread anything lately you shouldn’t have?
A peacemaker, like Jesus, exposes lies and liars (Matt. 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). Will you? Do you?
A peacemaker is known for being a person of their word. This is what God said He wanted from His chosen people when they returned to the Promised Land after their captivity: “16 These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates (Zech. 8).”

God is looking for peacemakers who speak truth, not troublemakers who speak untruths.  Who is ready to say, “Lord, I commit, today, to being a peacemaker”?  Who is ready to say, “Lord, forgive me for being a troublemaker.  Cleanse and restore me as only you can”?

Who is ready to commit to peacemaking? Any husbands? Any wives? Any sons? Any daughters? Any educators? Any politicians? Any officers in the military? Any police? Any students? Any reporters? Any writers? Any scientists? Any doctoral students? Any bankers?

When Jesus returns, Zechariah 8, verse 3 tells us that Jerusalem will be known as the city of truth, along with the rest of the world.  This is the future, but it does not mean that truth can’t be known or enjoyed, again, in our day.  Let truth which leads to peace start with each of us.

[1] “Gaslighting,” Wikipedia, accessed September 9, 2021,