The Lord’s Servant, Weary with the Strife of Tongues 

a brief study of Psalm 120, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 11 Feb 2011 


Psalm 120 is the first of 15 psalms, from Psalms 120-134, known as “songs of degrees” or “pilgrim songs.” These psalms were used particularly by the Jews whenever they went up to Jerusalem for the annual feast. Jerusalem is about 750 metres above sea level, so the pilgrims were said to ascend to Jerusalem. The word translated ‘degrees’ (hl;[}m') in the title refer to steps upwards, so the title may also be translated “songs of ascent.”

We can be quite sure that like all the faithful Jews our Lord would have sung these psalms with his disciples as they made their way up to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. No doubt, the words of the psalms would have expressed accurately the experience and pensive mood of our Lord as He journeyed on. And what is true of our Lord would, no doubt, be true of all His disciples throughout the ages, who walk together as a people filled with His Spirit, towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is true for Psalm 120 and for the rest of the Pilgrim Psalms. We may entitle this Psalm: “The LORD’s Servant Weary with the Strife of Tongues.”

We may discern three parts in this short psalm. First, from verse 1-2, we have a cry for deliverance from deceivers. Verses 3-4 contain a warning of destruction for liars. Finally in verse 5-7, we have an expression of desire for peace.


1. A Cry for Deliverance from Deceivers

1 In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me. 2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.

During His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus would suffer on many occasions because of lying lips and deceitful tongues. Early on in His ministry, rumours were spread about Him being a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publican and sinners, and a partner of the devil. At the end of His ministry He was accused of many things He did not do or say. It was upon these false accusations that our Lord was crucified. Thus it was with the words of Psalm 31:5 that our Lord committed His soul unto His father on the Cross: “Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth” (Ps 31:5).

Oh how our Lord must have been deeply grieved by all slander targeted against Him! But our Lord did not waste time trying to correct all the falsehoods said against Him. Rather He allowed the truth to speak for itself and committed Himself to the Father, the God of truth, to vindicate Him.

No doubt, our Lord would have found comfort in the words of this psalm when He found Himself most deeply hurt on account of all the falsehood spread about Him.

Well, as our Lord experienced such grief on account of false tongues, so God’s children throughout the ages who walk with Him may expect the same treatment in the world. So the spirit of Christ gives these words for us to sing in union with Him to encourage our hearts.

Have there been times, beloved brethren, when like Hannah, your heart is overwhelmed with sorrow on account of wicked tongues. You have come to worship the Lord, but your heart has no rest because of the wagging tongues and accusing fingers that appear before your mind’s eyes. Will you not at such times meditate on this psalm and think about how your Saviour understands?

Indeed, let use brethren learn to use this psalm too when we, as a congregation, experience slander. At such times, let us refuse to give in to the temptation to return evil for evil.  Let us rather find comfort in the Lord by singing the words of this psalm to encourage one another to rest in the deliverance of our Father as we walk together towards the Celestial City.

But as we do so, let us not withhold to warn at the same time those who persist in lies. Who knows if these, hearing the Word of God, might be convicted to repentance? So our Lord does not only give us words to cry for deliverance but words of warning in the same psalm. Consider therefore the second part of this psalm, which contains…


2. A Warning of Destruction for Liars

3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? 4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.

Those who continue to speak falsehood and slander the saints may be likened to a big fat ‘false tongue’. You see God hates lies and the sin of slander against the saints of God is so wicked that the sin, as it were, envelops the sinner so that he appears to be nothing but a blob of lying tongue.

What does this false tongue deserve? It deserves the severest judgement of God. It deserved to be shot through with the sharp arrows of a mighty army, each having a burning coal of juniper attached. The juniper tree in this context is known as the white broom tree. Its wood is said to burn brightly for a long time.

False tongues will in the words of James be “set on fire of hell” (Jas 3:6). Therefore let everyone take heed who would slander or gossip against the saints. “Every idle word that men shall speak” shall be judged (Mt 12:36). How much more words that kill and words that pierce the hearts of the righteous.

God, the God of truth, shall vindicate His saints. He will not leave false tongues, which are not repented of, unpunished.

But now, the pain and exasperation that comes with being falsely accused is real and cannot be brushed aside until the day of judgement. No, no; we need to speak about it, and our Lord has given us words to express it. Thus the final section of this psalm is…


3. An Expression of Desire for Peace

5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar! 6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. 7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

Mesech (Gen 10:2) is a region in the far north where barbarous people lived. Kedar is in northern Arabia where some angry nomadic Ishmaelites lived (cf. Gen 25:13). The psalmist is clearly not saying that he was literally living in the two places for he could not be in the same place at the same time.

But is it not true that sometimes even while we live amongst civilised people, it feels like we are surrounded by a ferocious people ready to pounce on us to tear us apart. This would have been our Lord’s experience. He came to preach the Gospel of peace, but Jews hated peace. They wanted to kill Him. His words which should have brought peace on earth became occasion for war and murder.  “My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. 7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.


Conclusion

Oh beloved brethren and youths, are there not occasions when you felt like that? What shall we do at such times? Well, often talking about it does not help, for where the sin has to do with the tongue, the more we talk about it to one another, the more we add to the wild fire. What shall we do then?

Shall we not remember the words of this psalm? Shall we not use it as a prayer and as a means to comfort and encourage one another as we make our journey together toward the heavenly Jerusalem where we shall enjoy the perfect peace which our soul longs for today. Amen. Ω