Psalm 125 – As the Mountains Surround Jerusalem
This song is titled A Song of Ascents. Like the others in the series of 15 Songs of Ascents, it was especially appropriate for those pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for one of the three annual major feasts of Israel.
“We can imagine the pilgrims chanting this song when [walking] the city walls.” (Charles Spurgeon)
A. The people of God and Mount Zion.
1. (1) The permanent standing of the people of God.
Those who trust in the LORD
Are like Mount Zion,
Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
a. Those who trust in the LORD: What follows is a promise made to those who put their trust in the LORD. We can’t properly put our trust in Him until we remove our trust in other things. He alone is our refuge and strength.
i. “The phrase, Those who trust in the Lord, shows one of the several facets of our relationship named in the Old Testament, along with the mention of those who ‘fear’, ‘love’ and ‘know’ him; a personal bond too intimate to be a passing liaison.” (Kidner)
ii. “There is a false trust in Zion, a trust that does not go beyond the mere city or presumes on the commitment of God to preserve the city.” (Boice)
iii. “All that deal with God must deal upon trust, and he will give comfort to those only that give credit to him, and make it appear they do so by quitting other confidences, and venturing to the utmost for God. The closer our expectations are confined to God, the higher our expectations may be raised.” (Henry, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “It is a good thing to understand much, and to trust in the Lord with growing knowledge, but, dear soul, if you do not know much, yet if you are trusting in the Lord, you shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed.” (Spurgeon)
b. Are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved: The pilgrim who came from afar was impressed with the stature and standing of Mount Zion, the prominent hill upon which Jerusalem was established. The one who believes and trusts in the LORD is promised the same security, and he or she abides forever. Our place in His love, His new life, and His gracious purpose lasts forever and cannot be moved.
· Some people are like the sand, ever shifting and unstable (Matthew 7:26).
· Some people are like the sea, restless and unsettled (Isaiah 57:20, James 1:6).
· Some people are like the wind, uncertain and inconsistent (Ephesians 4:14).
· “Believers are like a mountain – strong, stable, and secure. To every soul that trusts him the Lord says, ‘Thou art Peter.’” (Page, cited in Spurgeon)
i. “Jehovah is their rock foundation, their encompassing protection, their enthroned King. In Him is all their strength and confidence.” (Morgan)
ii. “It is bedrock, high and secure. Moreover, it is surrounded by other mountains, which the writer compares to God, who likewise surrounds his people.” (Boice)
iii. “Is it not strange that wicked and idolatrous powers have not joined together, dug down this mount, and carried it into the sea, that they might nullify a promise in which the people of God exult! Till ye can carry Mount Zion into the Mediterranean Sea, the church of Christ shall grow and prevail.” (Clarke, cited in Spurgeon)
2. (2) The great security of the people of God.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the LORD surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever.
a. As the mountains surround Jerusalem: Jerusalem is not set upon one hill, but established among a series of hills. God’s people can trust that Yahweh will surroundand protect them as the mountains surround Jerusalem. The pilgrim coming to Jerusalem saw these mountains and with this song made spiritual application from the geography.
b. So the LORD surrounds His people: God promised not only to be present with His people, but also to be all around them. He would surround them, so that nothing can get to them unless it first pass through Him.
i. As the mountains surround Jerusalem: “Mount Zion is not the highest peak in the mountain range around Jerusalem. To its east lies the Mount of Olives, to its north Mount Scopus, to the west and south are other hills, all of which are higher than Mount Zion. Surrounded by mountains, Mount Zion was secure, by its natural defensibility.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “It is surrounded with other mountains, at no great distance, as if placed in the midst of an amphitheatre.” (Clarke)
iii. “The mountains around the holy city, though they do not make a circular wall, are, nevertheless, set like sentinels to guard her gates. God doth not enclose his people within ramparts and bulwarks, making their city to be a prison; but yet he so orders the arrangements of his providence that his saints are as safe as if they dwelt behind the strongest fortifications.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “It is a beautiful conception. Around the chosen city the mountains stood like sentinels, leaving no part without its barrier. So is God around us, and this enables us to understand how His permissions may become His appointments…. The assaults of our foes are at least permitted by God, and His permissions are His appointments.” (Meyer)
v. His people: “We are here taught that the Lord’s people are those who trust him, for they are thus described in the first verses.” (Spurgeon)
b. From this time forth and forever: This promise abides for the people of God – those who trust Him (verse 1). God’s surrounding protection will be with believers forever, even as Jesus promised His presence to His people to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
i. “Note, it is not said that Jehovah’s power or wisdom defends believers, but he himself is round about them: they have his personality for their protection, his Godhead for their guard.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We must never separate verse 1 from verse 2; the promise of verse 2 has the condition of trust in verse 1. “In the days when these people failed in faith, the surrounding mountains failed to secure safety to Zion. It was overcome and trodden down.” (Morgan)
B. Righteousness among the people of God.
1. (3) Righteousness in the land.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
On the land allotted to the righteous,
Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity.
a. For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous: This was the protection God promised to His people who trusted in Him. In Israel’s history, that scepter of wickedness only rested on the land when God’s people were stubbornly unrighteous and untrusting in Him.
i. Scepter of wickedness: “This may or may not point to foreign domination: the heathen have no monopoly of sin.” (Kidner)
ii. “Rod [scepter], here, may be taken for persecution, or for rule; and then it may be thus interpreted: ‘The wicked shall not be permitted to persecute always, nor to have a permanent rule.’” (Clarke)
iii. “Regardless of how evil the times, they knew that the Lord had promised never to permit the wicked to prevail over the righteous.” (VanGemeren)
iv. The pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem would see much of the land allotted to the righteousas they traveled. They could rightly reflect on this promise and determine that they would be those who trusted in God. They were the righteous ones who had received God’s allotment of the land.
b. Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity: God knows that the rule of the wicked could provoke even the godly to sin through rebellion or frustration. This is one of the reasons why God promised not to allow the wicked to rule on the land allotted to the righteous.
i. “It needs Divine wisdom to determine how long a trial must last in order that it may test faith, thereby strengthening it, and may not confound faith, thereby precipitating feeble souls into sin. He knows when to say, ‘It is enough.’” (Maclaren)
ii. “If evil were to prevail, it might be an occasion for some of the godly to be tempted, to lose heart, and to fall away. For the sake of God’s people, wickedness must come to an absolute end!” (VanGemeren)
iii. “God (saith Chrysostom) does like a lute player, who will not let the strings of his lute be too slack, lest it mar the music, nor suffer them to be too hard stretched or screwed up, lest they break.” (Trapp)
2. (4-5) Righteousness in the heart.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
And to those who are upright in their hearts.
As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways,
The LORD shall lead them away
With the workers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel!
a. Do good, O LORD, to those who are good: One of the primary features of the Old Covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai was the principle of blessing their obedience and cursing their disobedience. Here, the singer simply prayed that God would fulfill that aspect of the covenant and do good for those who are good.
i. The amazing greatness of the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God did good for those who are not good. We remember that in due time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6) and God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
ii. To those who are upright in their hearts: “The ‘good and upright in heart’ are they who stand steady in every change of circumstances; who complain not of God’s dispensations, but, believing everything to be best which he ordains, adhere to him with a will entirely conformed to his, in adversity no less than in prosperity.” (Horne)
b. As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways: Under the Old Covenant there was blessing for the good, but many curses for the wicked. The singer pictured these workers of iniquity being led out of the land in exile.
i. “…who are not faithful; who give way to sin; who backslide, and walk in a crooked way, widely different from the straight way of the upright, yesharim, the straight in heart; they shall be led forth to punishment with the common workers of iniquity.” (Clarke)
ii. “The psalmist uses a vivid image to describe half-hearted adherents to the people of Jehovah: ‘they bend their ways,’ so as to make them crooked…. ‘Those crooked, wandering ways’…can never lead to steadfastness or to any good.” (Maclaren)
iii. The LORD shall lead them away: “It is important to notice the difference between the writer’s prediction of God’s sure judgment on the wicked and his petition for blessing on the righteous. He does not need to ask that the wicked will be judged, because their judgment is certain, sometimes sooner than either we or they expect!” (Boice)
c. Peace be upon Israel: Psalm 125 ends with a prayer pronouncing shalom upon Israel – essentially, that they would be the good that enjoy blessing and not be the wicked who suffer exile.
i. “We remember that Jerusalem means ‘peace’ (shalom). Thus, we are told, we shall not only be like Salem but shall have salem too.” (Boice)
ii. “Finally the poet, stretching out his hands over all Israel, as if blessing them like a priest, embraces all his hopes, petitions, and wishes in the one prayer ‘Peace be upon Israel!’” (Maclaren)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org