Psalms 120-134
(Songs of Ascent)
June 26th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Summary of Chapters

This big group of brief Psalms is called the Songs of Ascent, presumably because they were sung by Israelites as they journeyed from their homes to the temple in Jerusalem for worship. The first of these Psalms begins with a call to the LORD for relief from distress and describes the author’s discontent at being so far from Jerusalem (an appropriate beginning for this verbal pilgrimage): “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshach, that I live among the tents of Kedor (120:5-NIV)”

In the next Psalm (121) the author notes that as he looks up to the hills he asks rhetorically about the source of his strength (or help in some versions), and then describes how God protects Israel 24/7:

    I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?
    No, my strength comes from God,
        who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

    He won't let you stumble,
        your Guardian God won't fall asleep.
    Not on your life! Israel's
        Guardian will never doze or sleep.

    - Psalm 121:1-4 (MSG)

In Psalm 122 the author says that he and his travelling companions now stand at the gate of Jerusalem where the tribes of Israel go to praise God and ask for peace. The 123rd and 124th Psalms reveal the author asking for mercy for himself and his people as he recounts how the LORD has rescued them in the past.

In 125 and 126 the psalmist emphasizes the benefit of trusting God and recalls the unrestrained joy experienced when the captives were brought back to Mt. Zion.

    When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.

    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.

    The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

    Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south.

    They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

    He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

    - Psalm 126 (KJV)

The 127th and 128th Psalms stress the importance of having God at the center of our lives and the subsequent blessings for those who fear the LORD.

    Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
        who walk in obedience to him.
    You will eat the fruit of your labor;
        blessings and prosperity will be yours.

    - Psalm 128:1-2 (NIV)

In 129 and 130 the psalmist recalls how Israel had been oppressed until the LORD rescued them and then asks for redemption for sins the nation has committed.

In Psalms 132 and 133 the psalmist recalls the oath that David made to bring the ark to Jerusalem, a place chosen by God where the pilgrims will congregate in unity. The 134th Psalm concludes the Songs of Ascent with a call for praise and a command to “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD (134:2-NIV).” The Psalm ends with a request that the people be blessed by the LORD, from Zion.

Reflection and Application

How can we apply this group of Psalms to our lives? What routines do we follow as we prepare ourselves for church each week? The pilgrims in this Psalm may have needed days or weeks to journey to Jerusalem. Their trip may have involved a physical and spiritual ascent as they approached the high point of Jerusalem. Consequently, they had ample time to spiritual prepare and may also have prayed for strength and safety for the journey itself.

Our typical journey to church might be shorter or easier thanks to innovations in travel since the days of the Psalms. Perhaps we have less time to prepare and reflect, but we can make use of that time by following the model here: Remember where our help has come from, reflect on how joyful we have been in previous times of praise and consider to what extent God has been the foundation of our homes.

During our approach to church we can consider the topic of the fear of the LORD that is noted in Psalm 128. In a sermon based on this Psalm, the Rev. Gregory Doll noted that this theme persists throughout the whole Bible, but is not talked about a lot these days. Somehow, in late 20th century America it seemed to have faded away from the pulpit and public discussion. We have heard it from Moses, for example, in Deuteronomy:

    And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

    - Deuteronomy 10:12 (NIV).

We are hearing this theme in Psalms, and will see it in Proverbs, in the books of the Prophets, and in the New Testament, yet it doesn't get much attention anymore. Doll surmised that many of us would rather avoid the topic. He has observed many of us react in opposite ways: Some people are so terrified of God that they avoid church altogether, but others are so terrified that they come every week. He noted that both reactions are a misinterpretation of how to fear God and emphasized that our current connotation of the word may be misleading. The Hebrew word for fear used in Psalm 128 is more along the lines of being awestruck - and is distinct from a separate word for fear that means terror or punishment (1). Apparently, ancient Hebrew is a much richer language than our modern English!

In conclusion, Doll noted three reasons why it's important to fear the LORD:

  1. When you fear God, you fear nothing else
  2. When you fear God, there is a blessing that leads to obedience and obedience leads to a moral life because we don't want to let God down.
  3. When we fear God it gives us a perspective, like finding shelter so we can observe the power of a raging storm

Perhaps we can reflect on the words and themes of this set of Psalms to create our own personal song to sing to ourselves or share with others as we travel to church. When we arrive we will then be more spiritually prepared to praise God and receive his blessings.

If you are interested, you can click the play button below to hear audio versions of Reverend Doll's sermon on several of these Psalms:

"OMG (Psalm 120)," Rev. Greg Doll

delivered at Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, August 24th, 2014

"Gut Check (Psalm 128:1)," Rev. Greg Doll

delivered at Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, January 22nd, 2012

"Dead in the Water (Psalm 130)," Rev. Greg Doll

delivered at Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, November 27th, 2011

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is the highest hill or mountain that you have ever ascended? What was your mode of transportation?
    2. How has God protected you?
    3. What song or prayer or phrases would you like to repeat the next time you are on your way to worship?
    Recommended Prayer
    God, we are worthy of our fear and respect. Please lead us to obedience and a moral life .

    Suggested Prayer Concerns


    (1) Doll, The Rev. Greg, "Gut Check (Psalm 128:1)", delivered at Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, January 22nd, 2012

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Psalms 135-140 (His Love Endures Forever)

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