This psalm is the first of a group of Psalms (120-134) called the "Songs of Ascent." "Ascent" is from a root which means "to go up," as ascending a stairway. They were sung by Jewish travelers on their way up to the temple in Jerusalem for the three annual feasts (Exodus 23:14-19; 34:22-24) - Passover in spring, Pentecost in early summer, and Tabernacles in the fall. Jerusalem was the highest city in Palestine. So, the pilgrims spent much of their time ascending to the city and then ascending the steps to the temple. The family of Jesus was taking the journey to Passover in Luke 2:41-52.
Each psalm is a "step" along the journey. The Talmud (a collection of ancient Rabbinical writings) states that the fifteen psalms correspond to the fifteen steps leading up to the temple.
Psalm 120 begins in a hostile, distant land, Psalm 122 pictures them arriving in Jerusalem, and the rest of them are about moving toward the temple and ascending the temple steps while contemplating various characteristics of God. While on the journey, the pilgrims would contemplate the blessings of walking with God.
What a beautiful picture! Eugene H. Peterson writes in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society :
Psalm 120 is one of those psalms written by an anonymous author. The psalmist laments that he is far from home and surrounded by a pagan culture which could have been Babylon.But the ascent was not only literal, it was also a metaphor: the trip to Jerusalem lived a life upward toward God, an existence that advanced from one level to another in developing maturity -- what Paul described as "the goal, where God is beckoning us onward -- to Jesus" (Philippians 3:14, The Message). p. 18
This is a captivity song as the exiles wept over the destruction of Jerusalem beside the "rivers of Babylon" which was probably the Euphrates and the waterways stemming from it.
REFLECTION on Psalm 120
Eugene Peterson writes:
People submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel as if they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no one they meet. Such dissatisfaction with the world as it is is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship. The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.
A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.
Psalm 120 is the song of such a person, sick with the lies and crippled with the hate, a person doubled up in pain over what is going on in the world. But it is not a mere outcry, it is pain that penetrates through despair and stimulates a new beginning -- a journey to God that becomes a life of peace.Are you disgusted with the way things are? Does your dissatisfaction with the world lead you into prayer for it? I do not think we are shocked anymore at what is happening around us. I really believe that media has sanitized us to the shock of the world and compassion for it that leads us to prayer.
I say this as someone who grew up "glued to the TV screen." We had them in every room, including the bathroom. My brother and I both had small ones in our room. Yep. We were all addicts. (My brother still is.)
In the summer of 1980 I turned off the tube. I said no. Realizing that I was addicted to soap operas, I kissed the television good-bye. In 1995, someone felt sorry for us and gave us an old black and white, and I would let my kids watch Sesame Street and other "approved" PBS shows. We moved to Malaysia, and, for five dollars a month, we could get English speaking news. Since all the news was censored there, it was a nice thing, but I started to get hooked back into it, even after 17 years of not watching it!
Since we have been back in the States, I have let more and more shows creep in, and I found myself not being as "shocked" with the world. Granted, most of what I watch is news, but I pulled the plug again on Memorial Day of this year, and I have not missed it AT ALL. It is amazing that in one month of not watching, when I do happen to see something on the screen when it is on in places I visit, I am already shocked!
Not all TV shows are bad, but the advertisements between shows and advertising of other shows that I would never watch can be pretty disturbing! (What was it with that "GCB" Show? I hope it got canceled [just checked, and it did]. Never watched it, but the trailers were disgusting!)
I have pulled the plug from Memorial Day to Labor Day before, but I am not going to go back to regular viewing after Labor Day this year. I will check the internet for news now and then. If my husband wants to watch something occasionally, I will let him be the guide because he is MUCH more disciplined than I am about television, having grown up out in the country where they only got two stations!
I want to be disgusted with the world, but I do not want to isolate myself from it either. I want to continue to stay informed, but I want to let that information lead to prayer as my heart breaks for the things that break God's heart!
How are you doing in your exposure to the world through different media?
Lord, help our hearts to break for the things that break Your heart. Amen.