The Songs of Ascent, Text: Psalm 120, Title: Flee from Idolatry


In Psalm 120 the writer recognizes his need. Psalm 121 shows the greatness of God, and 122 the recognition that submission to the true God is the only way of peace. In this Psalm, therefore, we see the sad condition of the world. This should remind us not to take public worship lightly. We cannot worship when we are self satisfied, smug, and think we have arrived in life. We are escaping a world of falsehood, folly and misery and entering the sanctuary of truth where we can be strengthened and prepared for the battle. The psalmist testifies that he is leaving a place of lying, savagery, and war.

I A Place of Lying

Verses 1 and 2 make a statement about the world, I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, O LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. False witnesses are not limited to courtrooms. Gossip and slander are the most common forms of injury from a lying tongue. In fact, one may break the ninth commandment prohibiting the bearing of false testimony by speaking the truth,  as the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, “unseasonably.” In other words speaking the truth at a time and place when it is calculated to hurt or demean another. It is not surprising that this is very common. I John 5:19 tells us, We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:44, You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. The world is full of lies. I like Alka-seltzer, but when I was young they had an add that said it contained a secret ingredient, sodium acetyl salicylate. When I took organic chemistry in college I learned that that was the formula for aspirin. Advertisers besiege us with half truths. Scientists lie to support their theories, politicians lie to get elected, governments lie to advance their agendas, the press lies to promote its political prejudices, and people lie. I learned not to trust the press a long time ago. I was the scout den chief of a cub scout den that met on at the den mother’s home. She was the wife of a scout executive. We were invited to go downtown in uniform to have our picture taken by the Philadelphia Inquirer. I thought that was a big deal until I read the caption. It said that the scouts in the picture had been collecting money and gifts for a particular cause. I don’t remember the name of the cause, since none of us had ever heard of it. Even some churches are infected with lies. An English Bishop  named Robinson, wrote a Christ denying theological work many years ago and ironically called it, “Honest to God.” But the church should be and often is the place where you can escape the lies of the world. As we read in verses 3 and 4, God’s judgment will fall on all liars, What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree.

II A Place of Savagery

We read  and wonder about the obscure reference in verse 5, Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! The sojourn in Meshech and the living among the tents of Kedar is a poetic and proverbial way of expressing life in a remote and savage place. It would be like saying we were living with the Vandals and Goths, or living with bloodthirsty primitive tribesmen. Actually Meshech is listed as a son of Japheth in Genesis 10 and Kedar was a son of Ishmael, so the additional fact can be noted that the humiliation here was living among those who were traditional enemies of the children of Abraham. In 1955 five young men who had ministered among the Quechua Indians of Ecuador attempted to make a significant contact with the un-evangelized Auca Indians on a beach along an Ecuadorian river. They were killed by these stone age savages. However others followed in their steps including some of their own family members and many Aucas were converted and a church established. Savagery is not confined to stone age tribes. We don’t live in Meshach or Kedar, or in the jungles of Ecuador, but we live in savagery. Woe to us! As Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop demonstrated in their analysis of our current culture in “Whatever Happened to the Human Race,” we are no better than savages. There are those who would attempt to eliminate all the defectives from the population, whether by abortion or infanticide or euthanasia. They are no better than the Canaanites who offered their children as sacrifices to Moloch. Julian Huxley a renowned evolutionary biologist and member of the British Eugenics Society was actively advocating the elimination of the lowest and most degenerate types of humans before he died in 1975. Not only do we live in this savagery, but it is in us too. When James teaches us about the sinner’s tongue he says it is a world of evil among the parts of the body, and in 3:7 and 8 he says, All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. That which cannot be tamed is deemed savage. It is part and parcel of the world, the flesh and the devil. Now wonder the psalmist desires to escape it and find his refuge in Zion.

III A Place of War

In verses 6 and 7 we learn that when we come to worship we are leaving a place of war and finding peace.Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war. Literally the Hebrew says, “I am peace, but when I speak they are war.” It suggests a deeply ingrained character. This is exactly what James 4:1-3 tells us, What causes fights and quarrels (wars and fightings) among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. Wars arise out of our sinful hearts. That is why Jesus can says that there will be wars until the end of the age, and why he points out that there will be conflicts even in families between those who follow Him and their relatives. This does not mean that every war is totally wrong because in a sinful world police action is necessary for the protection of the innocent. God also uses wars as judgments as when he commanded Israel to war in the conquest of the promised land. The Scripture says He did this because the iniquity of the Canaanites was filled up. The bottom line is that when we are in the world we cannot escape these conflicts unless we come aside to worship the Lord. There we meet the Prince of Peace and we hear the blessed Gospel of Peace, that Christ has made peace for us with a justly offended Father through the cross. Here, as the Scriptures teach us, we find the peace that passes understanding.