Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – Psalm 123 – As slaves look to their master

Our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

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This is another of the songs that were sung by those travelling up from their homes to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the annual festivals. It is a very short psalm but one which is full of the knowledge that when we face troubles, difficulties and conflict, the best remedy is to turn to God in prayer.

Many of those who had set their hearts on travelling to Jerusalem to celebrate what God had done for them would have been living among neighbours who did not share their passion. Some were Jews with a nominal faith who just wanted to go about their daily business and not be troubled by the commitment of time, resources and disruption to family life involved in pilgrimage. Others might be devotees of other gods to whom they gave their devotion through idols kept in their home or by visits to local high places. These neighbours may have mocked those preparing for pilgrimage and made fun of their "fanaticism". Whatever the case, the pilgrims "have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud" (v. 4).

Their remedy is to look for help and mercy from the Lord, conscious that he sits enthroned in heaven (v. 1): he sees everything and has sovereign power to help those who look to him. As servants look to their master for instruction and for help, so the psalmist looks to God. The psalmist looks to God for mercy (the word occurs three times in two verses of this psalm). Mercy is God's undeserved favour and kindness – his grace shown to his children. The psalmist looks expectantly and with patience for God to help him. He (or she) wants help for the journey, particularly as the taunts of neighbours remain ringing in his ears. It is God's mercy, his undeserved kindness – his grace – that they will celebrate when they meet together for festival in Jerusalem.

We also are a pilgrim people and our pilgrimage may often seam a weary one as we travel "through the wilderness of this world", as John Bunyan put it in Pilgrim's Progress. We often face derision or scornful indifference for our devotion to God. We are often thought fanatics for our faith. We also need to lift our eyes to see our exalted Saviour before us and know that he is not only the goal of our journey but also the one whose grace, goodness and mercy will bring us safely home.

Through the night of doubt and sorrow
onward goes the pilgrim band,
singing songs of expectation,
marching to the promised land…

One the object of our journey,
one the faith that never tires,
one the urgent looking forward,
one the hope our God inspires:

Courage, therefore, Christian pilgrims;
with the cross before your eyes,
bear its shame, and fight its battle
die with Christ, with Christ arise!

Soon shall come the great awakening,
soon the bursting of the tomb;
then the scattering of all shadows
and the end of tears and gloom.

Almighty God, you have given us much cause to praise you. Lord Jesus, we thank you that our sins have been forgiven through your shed blood and that your resurrection and ascension has given us a sure and certain hope of glory. Holy Spirit, we thank you that you have brought us into the fellowship of God's people and set our hearts on pilgrimage. Help us always to look to him who is the author and finisher of our faith and so be armed with strength for the journey.

Peter Misselbrook