Of Toads and Other Vermin

A devotional on Psalm 120

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The Songs of Ascents are 15 psalms from 120-135 likely written by various authors. The number 15 corresponds to the 15 steps leading into the Temple which was at the top of a hill. Ascending to it corresponded to approaching God Most High. “We shall consider them as songs sung by those pilgrims who went up to Jerusalem to worship…. These songs of desire, and hope, and approach are appropriate for the pilgrims’ use as they go up to worship,” says G. Campbell Morgan. This being likely so, then Jesus would have sung these songs on His many journeys to Jerusalem from Galilee,” as commentator Guzik notes. A pilgrim is a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons. He is also a wayfarer or traveler.

1 In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.

Maclaren states, “Devout hearts argue that what Jehovah has done once He will do again. Since His mercy endureth forever, He will not weary of bestowing, nor will former gifts exhaust His stores. Men say, ‘I have given so often that I can give no more’; God says, ‘I have given, therefore I will give.’” How favored we are to be the recipients of such blessings.

2 Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.

3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?

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Lord, save us from the lying lips of our enemies that seek to do us harm. As we approach God, may we be reminded and convicted that lying lips of our own are just as ensnaring as those of an enemy. “When he [the devil] lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” John 8:44. When we enter God’s holy presence, we are made utterly aware of our sin. Sin cannot dwell with him. The first order of business then is to confess. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” 1 Jn. 1:8, 9.

Guzik adds, “The lies our soul needs deliverance from are not only the lies said about us, but also the lies said to us – lies about God, lies about man, lies about ourself, lies about life, identity, purpose, and happiness. From these lies, deliver my soul, O LORD.”

4 A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!

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“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, [Is] the man [who] deceives his neighbor, and says, “I was only joking!” Pr. 26:18, 19. Deceit hurled against anyone is as a sharp arrow. It lands heavily and wounds deeply, the intent of kidding notwithstanding. Paradoxically, this deceiver soon gets a taste of his own medicine. God will rain on him a trained warrior’s sharp arrows and the mercilessly glowing hot coals of the broom tree. God has arrows of his own, albeit based on truth. God has judgment coals of his own. These may be used for cleansing (as in Isaiah’s case when the coal was touched to his lips upon his confession of being a man of unclean lips) or for destruction as in the case at hand.

5 Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!

Commentator Boice says, “These two peoples were located so far apart geographically that they can only be taken here as ‘a general term for the heathen.’ No one person could have lived among both. They are examples of warlike tribes, among whom the singers of Psalm 120 had no true home.” The psalmist echoes a sentiment of many believers who never truly feel at home in this world. Even when we are permanent dwellers here, we know we are mere sojourners and our hearts long for home.

6 Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.

To dwell among peace-haters for ten minutes is to dwell there too long. Commentator Trapp quips, “The very society of such (be they ever so tame and civil) is tedious and unsavoury to a good soul; like the slime and filth that is congealed when many toads and other vermin join together.” Guzik adds, “This makes Psalm 120 a fitting start to the Songs of Ascents. As the pilgrim journey to Jerusalem began, the author was mindful of the weariness endured living apart from the supportive community of God’s people. The psalmist needed this trip to Jerusalem at feast time and needed the larger community of the people of God.”

7 I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!

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