The Lord’s Pilgrim Looking Upwards in the Midst of Contempt 

a brief study of Psalm 123, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 6 May 2011


Psalm 123 is another pilgrim psalm. Like all the pilgrim psalms, it was suitable for use by the Jews as they ascended Jerusalem for their annual feasts. But it is especially fitting for Christians to use as we continue on in our journey towards the Celestial City.

The Christian life is like the journey of the Jewish pilgrims as they ascended Jerusalem. It is an upward journey. Hope increases as we near our destination, but at the same time, there can be much weariness and discouragement along the way.

Part of these discouragements will come from those who observe us in our journeying with skepticism and contempt.

Jude reminds us that there will be “mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 18). Peter reminds us of the same: “there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet 3:3-4).

Who are these scoffers and mockers? I think if you read the book of Jude, you will realise that he is not referring so much to unbelievers outside the church, but actually to professing Christians. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness…” says Jude (v. 4).

This is not a popular subject to talk about. Anyone who highlights them is going to be isolated and regarded as bigoted and judgmental. But it is a biblical fact that this will be so. There is a narrow way also known as the Old Paths that leads to life. There is a broad way that leads to damnation. And as the Lord puts it through Jeremiah, there will be false teachers who want a more relaxed and easy walk. “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).

The saints of the Lord who are seeking to walk in that old path and the narrow way will find themselves increasingly viewed with disdain as our Lord was viewed with contempt. Thank God therefore for this psalm which no doubt would have afforded our Lord encouragement as He journeyed on to the Cross.

We may entitle this psalm “The Lord’s pilgrim looking upwards in the midst of contempt.”

It has two main parts. The first part, verses 1-2, is an expression of dependence and anticipation upon the Lord. The second part, verses 3-4, is a plea for the Lord’s mercy.


1. An Expression of Dependence & Anticipation

The pilgrim journey, as we mentioned, can be hard. It can be hard not because the way of the Lord is hard. No, no; as the apostle John puts it: “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn 5:3). So, no, for the true child of God, the way is difficult not because of the Law of God or of any biblical requirements.

No, no; the way is difficult, rather because of fellow travelers. They may or may not all be walking on the same road, but they share the same living space. And so they can often hurt one another with their words and actions. Nothing in this world can hurt a human being more than a fellow human being.

What shall the children of God do when they feel themselves hurt and grieved in their heart?

They can only look to the LORD. No one, but the LORD can fully understand. Thus our psalms begin:

1 Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.

The LORD is in heaven. He knows all things and He is above all things. And yet, He is also immanent in His Son and therefore understands all our sorrows. Therefore, we can always have the confidence that He understands and that He is able to comfort us in all our trials.

For this reason, in times of grief for the sake of the Gospel we need not hang down our head and cast our eyes on the ground. Rather, we may lift up our heads and look to Him.

We may look to the Father as servants who love their master and are dependant upon their master. We must look to Him with eyes of anticipation, waiting upon Him for his mercy and demonstration of love.

2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.

Servants who revere their master will look with attentive eyes unto their master. Maidens who love their mistress will look constantly upon their mistress. And so we must look to the Lord whom we love. Why do we look to the Lord? The servant and the maiden look to their master and mistress not only for direction and instruction but for comfort and redress.

Yes, when a servant trusts his master and he feels that he is being unfairly treated or unfairly criticised, where does he turn to for vindication and solace? Especially when he knows he is being misunderstood because he is doing what pleases the master, he will no doubt turn to his master. He will look to his master and wait upon him to deal fairly and mercifully, or even to dismiss the charges and to right the wrong.

So it will be with us. We have One to turn to when we are mocked or misunderstood because we desire to please our Lord. We do not have to fight for our own name. We can and must look unto our heavenly Father: Let, therefore, “our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.

But let us not remain silent when we look to Him. The servants and maidens may not be able to cry unto their master or mistress especially in public. But we have a heavenly Father who hears the petitions of our heart. We can plead with Him at all times. So let us plead with Him as we are taught to do in the second part of this psalm.


2. A Plea for Mercy

3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.

It is said that “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I am not sure who invented this proverb. But one thing I know: It is not true. I don’t know anyone who really thinks that it is true. In fact, I think that words can often hurt much more than sticks and stones.

Now, our bones are broken, we can go see a doctor. But where do we go to if our heart is broken because of contempt, scorning and ridicule?

Ridicule, scorning or contempt can hurt the most. They can hurt regardless of whether the speakers intend for them to be meant as constructive criticisms or as mockery.

Why should it hurt if what is said is true and constructive? Well, it will hurt though what is said is true for various reasons. It will hurt because it is always painful to have our pride  humbled. This is actually good for us. But it can also hurt though what is spoken is true because we are made to realise how we have failed the Lord. Disappointment with oneself can be extremely painful.

What can we do if we are criticised for our failures, and the criticism is true? Where can we get encouragement? We can and must go to the Lord to find encouragement in Him. We can and must go to the Lord to seek His forgiveness and ask for His grace to apologise for our failures, and to do better next time.

But what if the criticisms were malicious and contemptuous? Well, such criticisms will hurt greatly too especially when they challenge our integrity unjustly. What do we do when our integrity is challenged? We know that we can’t defend ourselves, because once our integrity is questioned we can no longer speak with moral authority about ourselves—regardless of whether what is said is true or false. And you can’t turn to your friends too for if your friends do not take the initiative to defend you, then it may be that your friends think that the attack is to some degree justified. What do you do in such a case?

Well, if you think about it, you will realise that you have no one to turn to, but to the Lord.

And so it will be the case with the church too. We have no one to turn to when we are maligned or when the world pours scorn and contempt against us. We can’t defend ourselves. How could we defend ourselves if contempt is poured upon us because we are serving the Lord whom the world does not believe nor submit to? How do we vindicate ourselves against people who do not believe in the authority of the Lord our God?

Like the Lord Jesus, the church would do well to turn our eyes unto the Father than to try to find help and relief from man. Like the psalmist we must learn to cry in union with our Saviour:

3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.

Whatever may be the reason for our suffering in the hands of the world, the Lord is in control and the Lord alone can alleviate our pains. Therefore we must learn to cry out to Him for mercy.

Moreover, our Lord who searches our hearts knows the depth of our heart even though man may not see it or may misunderstand us.

And the Lord can see the heart of those who pour contempt upon us. He alone can deal with them with perfect justice. He alone can vindicate us. Vengeance belongs to Him. In Him we must rest. In Him we must put our trust. In Him we must put our hope.


Conclusion

This, beloved brethren and children, is why the Lord gave us Psalm 123. He wants us to know that He understands. And He has given us word by which we may express our hope and anticipation and desire of mercy in Him. We do not need to wait in silence. We can wait with our heart filled with song. May the Lord help us. Amen.