Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Outsider - Psalm 120


This is the first of fifteen Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). They were evidently songs used by pilgrims on their way up to the Temple at Jerusalem for the feasts. The present psalm seems sharply personal, although in a pilgrim context it voices very well the homesickness of those who have settled among strangers and enemies. It appropriately begins the series in a distant land, so that we join the pilgrims as they set out on a journey which, in broad outline, will bring us to Jerusalem in Psalm 122, and, in the last psalms of the group, to the ark, the priests and the Temple servants who minister, by turns, day and night at the House of the Lord” (Psalms 73-150, Derek Kidner, pp. 429-430). Support for this view is seen in the fact that a number of the songs in this section reflect the experiences of pilgrims going up to Jerusalem at one of the three major feasts, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (122:1); “Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem” (122:2); “Let us go to His dwelling place; let us worship at His footstool” (132:7). Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have recited or sung such passages when they visited Jerusalem (Luke 2:41).


Lying Neighbors: 120:2


Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue”.


This certainly would include the fervent desire to be delivered from the deceit in one’s own heart, but in the context, it appears that this man was surrounded by a lying neighbor. “The prayer reminds us what the world we live in is like. It is a world filled with lies. Thus, the startling place for our spiritual pilgrimage is seeing the world for what it is in order to turn from it. A pilgrim is a person who has grown dissatisfied with where he or she has been and is on the way to something better. Peterson says that a Christian pilgrim is one who repented of the lies that surround him (and are in him). Peterson writes at some length about the lies the world tells us” (Psalms 107-150, James Montgomery Boice, p. 1071).


  • Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know what I need and what I desire.

  • From the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy.

  • From the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality.

  • From the lies of psychologists who offer to shape my behavior and my morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully.

  • Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ.

  • Rescue me from those who try to convince me that my problems are always the fault of someone else.

  • Rescue me from the easy way out and the superficial and quick fix.

  • Rescue me from the lie that I must be happy right now and every minute of the day.

  • Rescue me from the myth that I will always have another chance and another day.


Rescue Me from the Instant Society


Boice notes that we also might call the psalms in this selection “discipleship songs” or the feelings and desires of the true believer and follower. “We live in an ‘instant society’, and one way that has impacted the way we think is the nearly universal assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired quickly. Peterson wrote, ‘It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christian called holiness” (p. 1068). Along this line passages to contemplate are Hebrews 5:11-14 and 2 Peter 1:5-11. What God expects is long obedience in the same direction.


The Wise Response: 120:3-4


What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you. You deceitful tongue? Sharp arrows of the warrior, with the burning coals of the broom tree”


The roots of the broom tree burn well and yield excellent charcoal. “The distress (120:1) or straits into which human words can drive a man, contrasts cruelly with the liberty or ‘breadth’ which Psalm 119 found in the words of God (1119:45,96). Instead of answering back, this man has looked in a better direction and received a more resounding answer, as he now recalls. In short, the answer is that the liar, wounding though his weapons are, will be destroyed with far more potent shafts than lies: God’s arrows of truth and coals of judgment” (Kidner p. 430). There are times that we complain that error or lies about God spread like wild-fire compared to the truth that seems to slowly plod along. Yet we need to remember that this is our limited human perspective. Truth is far more powerful than error (Romans 1:16). There have been many errors that have come and gone in the religious world yet the gospel message still remains.


Strangers in this World: 120: 5


Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, for I dwell among the tents of Kedar!”


Meshech and Kedar, which the psalmist mentions in verse 5, are names of peoples. Meshech is mentioned by the historian Herodotus, who says that in his day the people of this name lived in the province of Pontus in northern Turkey. Later they pushed north and east of the Black Sea into the Caucasus, Kasakastan, and the Ukraine. Kedar was a son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13) and refers to the wild Arab tribe of the desert. These two peoples were located so far apart geographically that they can only be taken here as ‘a general term for the heathen’. No one person could have lived among both. They are examples of warlike tribes among whom the singers of Psalm 120 had no true home” (Boice p. 1072).


Too Long”: 120:6


Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace”.


I am impressed that this man who was living among unbelievers understood the danger he was in, “woe is me”. It wasn’t merely physical danger; rather it was equally a danger that was affecting his “soul” or spiritual livelihood. One wonders why he had been living so long among such people.




  • Had he justified this situation in the past?

  • Did he feel that he could not move because of economic reasons? That is, either the pay was too good here or he felt that he could not afford to live somewhere else?

  • Had he been like Lot for a while and simply become desensitized?

  • For me this is a liberating verse. There are things that we have been doing for “too long” and nothing requires that we continue. We do have power over the circumstances, we can resist temptation, and we can break with the past.


The Realization”: 120:7


I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war”.


Here is where the believer finally realizes that even at the most basic level they had nothing in common with those who are determined to resist or ignore God. “This little passage is a classic comment on the ‘unequal yoke’, the incompatibility of light and darkness which no amount of goodwill, short of capitulation or conversion, can resolve” (Kidner p. 430). For men like Lot, who seemed to think that the unbelieving community had accepted him or could be appeased and reasoned with if a disagreement arose (Genesis 19:1ff), this lesson comes too late, especially for the souls of his family.


  • Here is the realization that those who preach “tolerance” for various sins are very intolerant of the truth.

  • There is no middle ground or point of common ground between belief and unbelief, righteousness and sin, and discipleship and apathy.

  • We are truly in a war. We want peace, yet the world refuses to accept God’s terms of surrender.

  • The more that we talk about the message of peace and the Prince of peace the more some people are enraged.

  • It is a mistake to naively believe that unbelievers can be appeased by altering the message, terms of commitment to the gospel, or moral demands of the New Testament.