Psalm 123 – Looking to the LORD for Mercy in Affliction
This psalm is simply titled A Song of Ascents. It is another in the series of psalms sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem at feast time. These songs give us a pattern of preparation to meet with God and His people.
“This Psalm (as ye see) is but short, and therefore a very fit example to show the force of prayer not to consist in many words, but in fervency of spirit. For great and weighty matters may be comprised in a few words, if they proceed from the spirit and the unspeakable groanings of the heart, especially when our necessity is such as will not suffer any long prayer. Every prayer is long enough if it be fervent and proceed from a heart that understandeth the necessity of the saints.” (Martin Luther, cited in Charles Spurgeon)
A. The afflicted looks to the LORD.
1. (1) Where to look.
Unto You I lift up my eyes,
O You who dwell in the heavens.
a. Unto You I lift up my eyes: The psalmist declares his intention and action – to lift up his eyes to the LORD. This means that his eyes are not on his circumstances or himself, but on the LORD.
i. “It is good to have some one to look up to. The Psalmist looked so high that he could look no higher. Not to the hills, but to the God of the hills he looked.” (Spurgeon)
b. O You who dwell in the heavens: By remembering where God is, the psalmist grows in trust and confidence. Earth may have no mercy or help, but heaven has plenty of mercy and help.
i. We see a progression in these Psalms of Ascent, beginning with Psalm 120.
· In Psalm 120 we lament our surroundings.
· In Psalm 121 we lift our eyes to the hills of Zion.
· In Psalm 122 we delight in the house of the LORD.
· In Psalm 123 we look above the hills to the LORD in heaven.
ii. “The goal of the pilgrim is not Jerusalem, as important as that city was, or even the temple in Jerusalem, as important as it was, but God himself, whose true throne is not anywhere on earth but in heaven.” (Boice)
2. (2) How to look.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God,
Until He has mercy on us.
a. As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters: The example pictures a waiter or a butler standing behind his master seated at dinner. The servant looks to the hand of his master for the slightest indication of need or want, to instantly meet the need. With that same intensity, devotion, and steadfastness, the psalmist looks to God.
i. “They should stand where they can see Him; they should have their gaze fixed upon Him; they should look with patient trust, as well as with eager willingness to start into activity when He indicates His commands.” (Maclaren)
ii. “This is not an endorsement of slavery, of course. It is a way of saying that the disciple’s dependence on God and submission to God should be no less total than the most obedient servant of an earthly master.” (Boice)
iii. Morgan says the picture of the servants looking to the hands of the master suggests at least three things:
· Dependence: The hands of the master provide all that is needed.
· Submission: The hands of the master direct the servant’s work.
· Discipline: The hands of the master correct the servant.
iv. “Here, then, is the true way of looking for help from Jehovah. It is that of dependence, obedience, and response to correction.” (Morgan)
b. So our eyes look to the LORD our God: The psalmist waited to mention God by name, so as to build a sense of anticipation. The looking is fully described before the One looked to is named.
i. “The psalmist creates a suspense by drawing out the use of the divine name.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “Do we look to God like that – reverently, obediently, attentively, continuously, expectantly, singly, submissively, imploringly? Probably not, but we should.” (Boice)
iii. “Creation, providence, grace; these are all motions of Jehovah’s hand, and from each of them a portion of our duty is to be learned; therefore should we carefully study them, to discover the divine will.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “We have too long acted on our own initiative; let us wait on our exalted Lord for the indication of his will.” (Meyer)
c. Until He has mercy on us: This is how long the psalmist will focus his attention toward the LORD. He does not demand an immediate answer, but will persevere patiently until the LORD extends His mercy.
B. The afflicted pleads for mercy.
1. (3) The request for mercy.
Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us!
For we are exceedingly filled with contempt.
a. Have mercy on us: The psalmist wasn’t content to only wait for mercy; he begged for it. He demonstrated that waiting on the LORD is not a passive thing. He repeated the request for mercy, showing the intensity of his plea. The Master he looked to would look upon him and help.
b. For we are exceedingly filled with contempt: The psalmist needed God’s intervention and mercy because he felt filled with the contempt put on him by others.
i. Exceedingly filled: “The Hebrew word here used means “to be saturated”; to have the appetite fully satisfied – as applied to one who is hungry or thirsty. Then it comes to mean to be entirely full, and the idea here is, that as much contempt had been thrown upon them as could be; they could experience no more.” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. Sometimes others show contempt to us, and it just rolls off like drops of water. Other times we take contempt from others and we let it fill us – sometimes until we are exceedingly filled. These times lay us low and make us feel that only the mercy of God can save us.
iii. Contempt: “It is illuminating that contempt is singled out for mention. Other things can bruise, but this is cold steel. It goes deeper into the spirit than any other form of rejection.” (Kidner)
2. (4) The reason mercy is needed.
Our soul is exceedingly filled
With the scorn of those who are at ease,
With the contempt of the proud.
a. With the scorn of those who are at ease: This scorn is never easy to bear, but it is especially painful when it comes from those who seem to be at ease, who seem to have few problems or difficulties in life.
i. “This had become the chief thought of their minds, the peculiar sorrow of their hearts. Excluding all other feelings, a sense of scorn monopolized the soul and made it unutterably wretched.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The reason people ridicule what they oppose, aside from it being so easy, is that it is demoralizing and frequently effective. It is effective because it strikes at the hidden insecurities or weaknesses that almost everybody has.” (Boice)
iii. “The injurious effect of freedom from affliction is singularly evident here. Place a man perfectly at ease and he derides the suffering godly, and becomes himself proud in heart and conduct.” (Spurgeon)
b. With the contempt of the proud: This made the contempt heaped on the psalmist even worse – knowing it came from the proud and arrogant. Yet the psalmist was satisfied to wait for God’s mercy.
i. “The proud think so much of themselves that they must needs think all the less of those who are better than themselves. Pride is both contemptible and contemptuous.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Nevertheless, this psalm is filled with the unspoken confidence that the mercy of God will triumph over the contempt of the proud.
iii. “This sweet psalm, with all its pained sense of the mockers’ gibes and their long duration, has no accent of impatience.” (Maclaren)
iv. Contempt “…can be an honour (Acts 5:41), and it is something Christ Himself accepted and made redemptive.” (Kidner)
v. “To set the life toward worship in an ungodly age is ever to be the object of scorn and contempt. What matters it? The eyes of Jehovah’s pilgrims are lifted to the throne set high above all the tumult and strife of tongues.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org