Eyes Up (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 123   |   Sunday, December 2, 2012   |   Code: 2012-12-02-PJ

      Today we are returning to our series on the psalms of ascent. We began this series earlier this year, and we're looking at fifteen psalms that are grouped together in the Old Testament canon. Psalms 120-134. All fifteen of these psalms begin with the inscription "A Song of Ascents," and they are the only psalms in the Hebrew psalter labeled that way. It's a small songbook within the larger book of Psalms. All fifteen are short psalms, easy to memorize.

      The most reliable tradition explaining why these psalms have been grouped together like this is that they were praise choruses that were sung by groups of Israelites as they made their way every year to Jerusalem for various feast days and religious ceremonies. The idea of "ascent" speaks of the fact that you can't get to Jerusalem from any direction without going up—and the climb was pretty steep. So these are songs for groups of pilgrims to sing while traveling, and in terms of their content, they run the gamut of emotions, from songs of lament to songs of celebration.

      Today we'll be looking at Psalm 123, and it is most definitely a psalm of lament. We're given no clue about the historical context. We don't know the author or even the time period when it was written. Commentators suggest it might pertain to the time of exile, during the Babylonian Captivity. Others think it belongs to a later time—the era of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Jews returned to their land and found it inhabited by Samaritans and Edomites who were filled with contempt for the people of God.

      In any case, it is a prayer for deliverance from a beleaguered soul who is emotionally spent because he has been the brunt of taunts and insults and mockery from scoffers who hate God and hold believers in utter contempt.

      Let me begin by reading the text. It starts with the Pilgrim-song inscription: A Song of Ascents. Then the Psalmist writes:

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.

3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.

4 Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.

Those last two verses sum it up: "We have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough . . . scorn." I know that feeling, and I suppose you probably do as well. We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to any expression of faith. You've got dozens of scoffers on television every day—comedians and talk-show hosts and news commentators who hate and deride biblical truth at every opportunity. Atheists are militantly outspoken and aggressive in their contempt for anyone who has faith. (As John MacArthur said recently, it's amazing that anyone would devote so much airtime and emotional energy to something they don't believe in, but you see it in the media and on the Internet every day.)

      On the other hand, if you stand up for God's Word in any public forum today, you will be shouted down, mocked, and treated with the utmost contempt. The world will respond with hostility, hatred, anger; with jeering ridicule and condescending scorn; or even worse: in some parts of the world, they will kill you. And the pressure from an increasingly arrogant, unbelieving world is relentless. Many Christians in our culture have been bullied or intimidated into silence or compromise—even where the issues are clear and important.

      All you have to do in order to be assaulted with acrimony and contempt is say you believe God created the universe. Suggest that it didn't evolve by sheer chance out of nothing. Or say that homosexuality is a sinful perversion and a shame to those who practice it—something almost no one in our parents' generation would have even thought to dispute—but say that today and you will be attacked as an unenlightened bigot; a moral troglodyte. Or suggest that killing an infant in its mother's womb is an act of murder against a helpless human being, and you risk incurring the collective wrath of the political, academic, and secular media brain trust.

      In short, Christianity has been portrayed as outmoded by an aggressive public relations campaign that has only intensified in recent decades as the church has sought to win the world's admiration—and the prevailing view in our culture today is that if you truly believe the Bible is the Word of God, you are worthy of the utmost scorn. Every other belief and every kind of sexual perversion must be greeted with tolerance or welcomed with open arms. The Christian faith is fast becoming the only worldview that political correctness deems INtolerable.

      And if you have never felt the contempt of worldly scorn, it's probably because you haven't been clear enough in your own testimony, because at the moment, the world is as angry and disrespectful and full of raw hatred for Christ as it has ever been. This is precisely the way Jesus Himself said it would be (Matthew 10:22): "You will be hated by all for my name's sake." John 15:18-19: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." So (1 John 3:13), "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you." But keep Luke 6:22-23 in mind: "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets."

      The prophets and saints and psalmists of the Old Testament regularly had to endure persecution—and they often suffered in far more direct and inconvenient ways than you and I do today. But we do understand and identify with the spirit of this psalm, and I think most of us will find it easy to empathize with what the psalmist was feeling when he wrote this.

      This is certainly a psalm for our times.


      Just four verses long, this is a compact expression of trust in the Lord. But it's fairly typical in size and form for these psalms of ascent. Remember, these are praise choruses for pilgrims. And what sets them apart from most of the praise choruses we sing today is the way they run the gamut of human emotion. Not all of them are cheerful, hand-clapping, if-you're-happy-and-you-know-it-style ditties.

      We tend to think of praise choruses as sunny and upbeat. "I'm inright, outright, upright, downright, Happy all the time." Hebrew praise was brutally honest. That's why we have so many psalms of complaint, psalms of lament, psalms that give voice to the psalmist's despair and discouragement, and even some psalms that express frustration when the Lord delays to intervene on behalf of his people. Hebrew music, accordingly, is often in a minor key.

      This psalm would sound right in a minor key. It's a song of sorrowful praise. It even ends with a note of lament about  "the contempt of the proud."

      But notice: sorrow is not the theme of this psalm; humble faith is. The true theme is sounded in the opening words, an expression of trust and reliance addressed to the One who is "enthroned in the heavens." That strong note of confidence sets the context for the rest of the psalm. It is a song about the scorn and contempt of arrogant unbelievers, but with the sovereignty of God in view. It's not a hopeless complaint, but an expression of the psalmist's conviction that God is sovereign even when it seems the scoffers have the upper hand. This is a song about faith that defies even relentless persecution.

      And I don't want you to miss the significance of this. Despite everything this psalm says about the relentless "contempt of the proud," there's no sense of despair or futility in this psalm. If you grasp what the psalmist is saying, it should inspire courage and perseverance. When you are fed up, look up. In short, this is a psalm about looking up when circumstances tempt us to be downcast.


      Now, with that in mind, here are a few features of this psalm you need to notice: First, the word eyes appears four times in the first two verses—and the stress is on looking up, toward the heavens (where the Lord is enthroned) with hopeful, expectant eyes. "To you I lift up my eyes . . . our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us." Look up—especially when your spirit is downcast.

      Second—and you would not get this from any English translation, but this is an unusual case where you have rhyming sounds in the Hebrew original. Several of the words throughout the psalm end with the same sound. Three expressions in verse 2 sound alike in the Hebrew: "our eyes . . . our God" and the expression "mercy upon us"; verse 3 repeats the expression "Have mercy upon us" twice. Then we have a single Hebrew word translated "we have had more than enough"—and that Hebrew word rhymes with all these others. Also in verse 4 the word translated "soul" ends with the same sound as all those others. In all, about seven words in three succeeding verses rhyme. If you could hear it in the original tongue, you would notice that repeated sound. Normally, of course, Hebrew poetry uses parallel thoughts instead of rhyming words. In this case, there's some rhyming of the word-sounds as well.

      Third (and this is significant), notice that though the psalmist is troubled, he doesn't actually mention what his trouble is until the end. Again, this psalm is about his trust in God, not about the troubles per se.

      Fourth, I love the contrast between this psalm and Psalm 121, which we studied earlier in this series. Psalm 121 opens with that famous line, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." When we studied that psalm, we stressed the point that he's not saying the hills are the source of his help. The hills were where the threat was.

      Here he is looking beyond the hills, into heaven, where God is on His throne, unthreatened by the rage of the heathen against Him, unchallenged by their rebellion, seemingly unperturbed by the relentless scorn of so much worldly contempt. The idea is reminiscent of Psalm 2:4: "[The heathen rage, but] He who sits in the heavens laughs [at the opposition of this world's rulers]; the Lord holds them in derision." He scoffs at them. Because (in the words of Psalm 11:4-5): "The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven [and] his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence." And Psalm 115:3, "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." All those ideas are built by implication into the address in verse 1 of our psalm: "You who are enthroned in the heavens!" God is above all His adversaries, and they pose no threat to Him.

      Looking at God through the lens of human scorn is like looking through the wrong end of the binoculars. It distorts Him; makes Him look small. But view the enemies of God from His perspective, and then you will see how insignificant they really are. In the words of Psalm 113:5-6: "Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?"

      The psalmist understood that, so even in the midst of this relentless assault, feeling as if he is drowning in the contempt of the wicked, he begins the psalm with a note of high praise. He looks to the Lord in worship (verse 1). He looks to the Lord in obedience (verse 2). He looks to the Lord for mercy (verses 2-3). And He looks to the Lord for relief (verses 3-4). That's a thread that runs all the way through this psalm: God's people look to Him in times of trouble, with the knowledge that He is sovereign, His purpose cannot be derailed, and He will in His perfect timing, come to their aid—even if it seems for the moment as if He is delaying or withholding His help.

      And here's just one more preliminary observation before we go through the text verse by verse: It's significant, I think, that this psalm (despite its emotional intensity) is so compact. It's not the shortest of the 15 pilgrim psalms; Psalms 131, 133, and 134 are each only three verses long. In other words, this is the fourth shortest of these fifteen psalms. But it's shortness is stunning when you consider the subject matter. This is the kind of circumstance where most of us would be tempted to pray a protracted prayer for relief. Listen to what Luther said about this psalm. He writes, "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."

      I've lost track of how many times I have made this point over the years, but "When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Jesus himself said that in Matthew 6:7-8, just before he taught His disciples the Lord's Prayer. In fact, the version of the Lord's prayer recorded in Luke 11 is less than three verses long. Long prayers are not somehow sanctified by their windy eloquence.

      It's true that Jesus regularly prayed all night and spent long sessions alone in prayer. But His public prayers were generally short and pointed. John 17 records a long prayer of Jesus. But ordinarily his prayers consisted of few words and very focused passions. And in those public contexts, when He knew people were listening in, He made His prayers teaching opportunities for those who overheard.

      I love the prayer Jesus prayed in John 11, just before raising Lazarus from the dead. It's not a request for God to work or a pleas for a miracle, but a simple expression of thanks to God, mainly for the benefit of the mourners who were standing around waiting to see what Jesus would do. Here's the entire prayer (John 11:41-32): "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." And then, "When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out.'"

      In the same way our psalm (or any praise chorus, for that matter) also serves a didactic purpose. It is a true expression of praise and prayer to God, but it is also for the benefit of the human auditors—to teach and encourage them. And I think you'll see evidence of that as we delve into the individual verses.


      Now, this psalm presents the psalmist to us in a complex series of roles. After the opening expression of confidence in the sovereignty of God, He portrays himself as a slave in verse 2. Then he takes the role of a supplicant in verse 3. And finally, in verse 4, he speaks of the abuse he has sustained as a sufferer, an object of scorn and contempt who desperately longs for relief. In each of those roles (the slave, the supplicant, and the sufferer), the psalmist exemplifies the kind of godly submission God calls us all to. Listen to 1 Peter 2:20-21: "When you do good and suffer for it [and] you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called." So this is a psalm for all of us.

      Let's look at each of those three roles in order—the slave, the supplicant, and the sufferer. And we'll let that simple outline guide us through this psalm. First—


1. The Slave

      The opening verse of the psalm, with this bold declaration of God's sovereignty, sets the tone for the whole thing. God is sovereign. He is "enthroned in the heavens!" That puts all the rest of us—righteous people and scoffers alike—in proper perspective. If God is sovereign, we're not. So when the psalmist says, in verse 1, "To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!" he is speaking as a subject to the ruler, or better yet as a slave to his master. Yes, verse 1 is an expression of worship, trust, adoration, praise, and all of that—but the bottom line is that because God is sovereign (the absolute, supreme ruler and Lord over all), we owe Him our absolute, unquestioning, unhesitating obedience, service, and loyalty. Psalm 100 makes this same point: "Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his." In short, He is our master and we are His slaves. God does not exist to serve His people, but vice versa.

      And the psalmist expressly recognizes that truth. In fact, he says, that's why he has lifted up his eyes—not merely in worship and adoration, but in expectant willingness (or rather, humble eagerness) to obey. Verse 2: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God."

      In ancient times, a slave would stand quietly, unobtrusively across the room, keeping a constant eye on the master's hand. The master would direct his servants with subtle gestures, and at the slightest sign from him, they would do his bidding. The psalmist looks to heaven in the same fashion.

      The imagery is rich with meaning. It speaks of patience. The servant waits patiently for his master's direction. He knows it is not his role to tell the Master what is to be done, but vice versa.

      It speaks of implicit trust. When the Master is dealing with his adversaries, the slave doesn't need to understand or concur with his Master's strategy; it would be inappropriate for him to interfere in any way, even if he himself becomes the brunt of the enemy's insults or abuse. His only job is to wait on his master. And that is what the psalmist recognizes in verse 2.

      Indignity and humiliation would be an expected part of the typical slave's daily experience. Servants in ancient middle-eastern cultures were often shamefully abused—and not necessarily by their own masters. For example, if someone out in the world secretly held the master in contempt, a domestic servant sent on a simple errand could end up on the receiving end of that person's hatred. An enemy too cowardly to oppose the master to his face might take it out on the slave—with insults, ridicule, or even physical abuse. And slaves had no means of repelling whatever mistreatment they suffered. Their only recourse was whatever protection the master might give them.

      That's exactly what the psalmist is referring to at the end of verse 2: "Our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us."

      The language there is significant, and touching. This is not an imprecatory prayer, but a plea for mercy. It's not a prayer for justice against my enemies, but a request for mercy upon me. He doesn't ask God to destroy the enemy. There are some imprecatory psalms, as you know, where the psalmist begs God to defeat the enemy for His own name's sake. But here the psalmist is seeking relief for himself, and he can't make an imprecatory request for his own sake. What he needs "for his own sake" is mercy, and he recognizes that. He doesn't suggest that he deserves deliverance. Just the opposite: he begs for mercy.

      Implicit in that request is a confession of his own sinfulness. He is an unworthy, unprofitable servant, and by requesting mercy, he is confessing that fact.

      This whole prayer is just seething with humility—extraordinary humility. Let's be honest: this is not how most of us are inclined to pray. This is the antithesis of selfish, self-centered praying—even though he is the one suffering wrongfully and he is desperate for relief. It's a great example of how to pray for ourselves without praying selfishly.

      And it has all those characteristics because the psalmist understands that God is sovereign, and he knows that he himself is subject to the majesty and authority of his Master. He is merely a slave, with his eyes firmly fixed on his master.

      And that's the key to his humility. It's not an cowering, abject humiliation, with his eyes staring at the floor. It is the dignified humility of a servant in the palace of the highest King. The slave's eyes are heavenward, and the majesty and grandeur of God fills his vision. A clear view of God will humble anyone.

      Furthermore, faith is the inevitable fruit of that perspective. Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1, "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith sees through the trials of this life and the persecution of this world and sees God, high and lifted up. Like Moses, we "[endure] as seeing him who is invisible." That's Hebrews 11:27, and the immediately preceding verse says this about Moses: "He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward."

      That's what the psalmist is doing here. He is looking beyond the reproach of these scoffers, anticipating the reward. He understands that God is sovereign. These sneering adversaries of all that is holy are nothing before the sovereign Lord of all the universe. That knowledge enables him to put himself, his adversaries, and his own suffering in proper perspective. So his prayer is a modest prayer for mercy for himself—not an angry demand for vengeance against his persecutors.

      By the way, God will avenge his people, and the psalmist understands that. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; and Hebrews 10:30 all say, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." That is usually quoted as an admonition for us not to be vindictive. In the words of Romans 12:19: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God." But it is also a promise that God Himself will punish evildoers and avenge His people.

      The psalmist gets that, and he also understands that he is first and foremost God's slave. Implicit in that understanding is a willingness to leave all vengeance—including the timing and the means of it—in the hands of the Lord. So he writes from the perspective of a slave.

      This plea for mercy suggests that the psalmist stands in another role as well. He comes not only as a servant, but also in a kind of priestly role, as a supplicant on behalf of all God's people. That's a second perspective I want you to see:


2. The Supplicant

      This whole psalm is a prayer addressed to God, and what's most remarkable here is that this is the fourth psalm of ascent, and yet it's the first one addressed directly to God in prayer. All the preceding psalms in this series have been songs about God, His faithfulness, His goodness, His mercy toward His people—but all of them are addressed to someone besides God. We've had Psalm 120, a psalm celebrating God's faithfulness, and except for a single verse, it's a rehearsal of human experience, addressed to no one in particular. Psalm 121 is a song of praise about God addressed to His people. Psalm 122 is a song about Jerusalem, ending with a chorus of joy that's addressed to the city.

      Only one line in those first three pilgrim psalms is a petition addressed to God Himself, and that's verse 2 of Psalm 120. Like Psalm 123, that verse is a plea for deliverance from persecution: "Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue."

      The entire body of Psalm 123 is an extended prayer in that same vein. The psalmist is the supplicant, and from the opening words to the final verse, the whole song is a prayer addressed to God. Look again at verse 1: "To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!"

      But notice this: The voice shifts from first person singular in verse 1 to first person plural in verse 2 ("Our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us"). He is praying not only on his own behalf, but as an intercessor for all the people of God.

      Again, there is nothing selfish about this prayer, even though it comes from circumstances that would tempt any of us to pray selfishly. But the psalmist resists that temptation by assuming the role of an intercessor on behalf of God's people collectively. He doesn't stoke feelings of self-pity or his own personal sense of need and comfort. He takes a priestly stance and approaches God as a spokesman for the people. That's why this is a prayer for mercy rather than a demand for reprisals against a relentless enemy.

      The psalmist doesn't protest that the treatment God's people are receiving is unfair, because he knows that as sinners before God, what we actually deserve is far worse than any persecution mere men might bring against us. We don't really want or need what's "fair"; what our hearts really crave, and what we need most, is mercy.

      So you have repeated pleas for mercy. Three times in quick succession, he begs for mercy, starting at the end of verse 2: "Our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us." These are not vain repetitions. In Luke 18:1, Jesus said we "ought always to pray and not lose heart." That's what the psalmist is doing: praying with persistence lest he lose heart in trying times.

      It's noteworthy that this threefold request for mercy is addressed to the Lord. Think this through with me. Why beseech the Lord for mercy? God is not the one mercilessly pouring contempt and persecution on the heads of His people. It's the scoffers who are doing that. Yet there's no threat against them; no verbal retaliation; even the plea for mercy utterly ignores them and looks to God. I think that's remarkable, because, again, it is clean contrary to all human instinct.

      But again, this is an implicit recognition of God's absolute sovereignty. God is not the author of the persecution. He doesn't approve of it, or endorse it, or condone it in any way. And yet because we know He does whatever he pleases and nothing is beyond His control, we know He has sovereignly permitted it. We know He is good and therefore has good reasons for permitting evildoers to act and for permitting the righteous to suffer. We don't fully understand those reasons in each instance. But now and then we get a glimpse of the wisdom of divine providence, and we get to see how God can use some grotesque evil to accomplish a work of infinite goodness—such as on the cross, where God's own Son (the only truly innocent human who ever lived) was made to suffer and die at the hands of evil men in one of the most profoundly wicked acts this world has ever witnessed. And yet out of that came salvation for multitudes who trust Christ, because Jesus' death on the cross was accepted by God as an atonement sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. So we clearly see that God can bring infinite good out of even the grossest evil.

      If you don't believe God is truly sovereign, how can you trust Him in times of adversity? These truths are taught on every page of the Bible. God is sovereign, and He will "[work] all things . . . together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." That's one of the most precious promises in Scripture. The wisdom of divine providence is one of the most amazing things we learn about God in Scripture. He will glorify Himself in the outworking of all history—including those parts of history where it seems evil men have got the upper hand.

      The psalmist recognizes that, and while this is a persistent, tenacious, threefold plea, it is a prayer of faith. It's not a panicked or disconsolate caterwaul.

      Still, the need is urgent and immediate, and as an intercessor on behalf of God's people, the psalmist's passion comes through in this threefold repetition. Spurgeon says, "He hangs upon the word 'mercy,' and embodies it in a vehement prayer: the very word seems to hold him, and he harps upon it."

      Let me come back to the point that this is a prayer for mercy, not vindication. There's not a hint of self-justification here. It's precisely the kind of prayer Jesus commended in Luke 18, in the parable of the publican and the Pharisee. "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'" He was eloquent; he sounded pious; he had a list of works he had done to recite back to God.

      And he wasn't just making that up. He had lived his life as a rigorous Pharisee—publicly respectable, fastidiously holy, constantly attentive to all kinds of religious minutiae. But his heart was completely devoid of any of the humility we see in Psalm 123. So even though he seems to credit God for the grace that enabled him to be holy, his prayer is all about himself—his good works, his accomplishments, his utterly mistaken notion that he is "not like other men"—and especially his belief that he was so much better than this publican. In reality, he was just a different variety of sinner, as much in need of God's mercy as anyone else. True humility would have taught him that, but he was a proud and arrogant man.

      The publican (the tax collector), had nothing to pray for but mercy: "Standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'" There may even be a kind of backhanded reference to Psalm 123 in that verse—or at the very least it reminds us that in Judaism, uplifted eyes are part of the posture for humble prayer. Looking up reflected the truth that God is seated on high, infinitely above humanity.

      But the tax collector in Luke 18 was such a gross sinner, so ashamed of himself, that he could only look down at the floor. This is the humility of abject disgrace. Nevertheless, Jesus commends his prayer for mercy and condemns the religious man who so proudly rehearsed his own good works. That should give us a clue about what kind of prayer God hears.

      The psalmist strikes all the right notes, with total humility from start to finish. He prays as a servant, with a quiet, obedient heart. He comes as a supplicant, making intercession for his people with a humble and chastened heart.

      But he stands also in a third role—one that he doesn't expressly mention until the end of his prayer. He comes as a sufferer, and he desperately craves deliverance from the hand of the enemy. So let's look at this third role:


3. The Sufferer

      Notice by the way, that all three of these roles evoke humility. A slave is the humblest of occupations. A supplicant must humble himself in order to pray rightly. And suffering is a discipline whose main benefit is that it humbles us. So the stress throughout this psalm is on humility. Sincere humility is exemplified in every verse.

      And these last verses especially resonate with us because they express what most of us feel in an secularized culture that is increasingly hostile to biblical principles. Look at the last phrase of verse 3: "We have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud."

      "Contempt" refers to an attitude of hostile condescension. It might be silent disdain, covert opposition, or open insults. "Scorn" (verse 4) usually refers to verbal abuse—mocking derision.

      The psalmist and the people of God have had it up to here with their enemies' sneering persecution. It has become more than they can bear.

      Finally, here at the end of the psalm, we learn the nature of the trouble that has prompted this prayer for God's grace. But then—once he names the trouble, as soon as he mentions "the scorn of those who are at ease [and] the contempt of the proud"—the psalm is over. Still he doesn't pray for revenge or vindication; he lets his threefold plea for mercy stand as the only petition in this whole prayer. Despite all his trouble, he has no other prayer requests—he just wants mercy. It is remarkable that there's no sense of anything like impatience or resentment anywhere in this psalm. Even verse 4 is more of a sigh than a complaint.

      But it's clear that he's fed up, weary, worn out. And we can certainly relate to that. This is another echo from Psalm 120. Remember verse 6 of that first pilgrim psalm? "Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace." It's the same sentiment here—only here it's not that his adversaries "hate peace," but rather that they seem so at ease. The wicked have made themselves comfortable, and they seem more affluent and more serene than the faithful.

      I don't know about you, but I can certainly relate to what the psalmist is feeling here. He almost seems to be describing the state of our culture.

      Here's the thing: this fallen world is no place to be at ease, and wherever you see people carelessly at ease, totally heedless of spiritual things, you are seeing the prelude to God's judgment. Keep that in mind as you contemplate the state of our culture today, and don't think being at ease signifies that you are enjoying God's favor.

      To be perfectly honest, I think that for the past generation or more, the people of God have been too much at ease. That's why the church is so worldly and backslidden. There's every sign that we're about to see persecution intensify, and it will become impossible for genuine believers to be at ease in a culture like this. It's aggravating to be the targets of persecution, and relentless opposition can seem discouraging, but God knows what he is doing, and the less we feel at ease, the better off the church will be spiritually.

      Those who feel at ease are the ones who ought to be most troubled. The Old Testament is full of warnings and woe against "those who are at ease in Zion, and . . . those who feel secure" in their rebellion against the Lord. In Isaiah 32:11-14, God through the prophet sounds this warning:

Tremble, you . . . who are at ease; Be troubled, you complacent ones; Strip yourselves, make yourselves bare, And gird sackcloth on your waists.

12 People shall mourn upon their breasts For the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.

13 On the land of my people will come up thorns and briers, Yes, on all the happy homes in the joyous city;

14 Because the palaces will be forsaken, The bustling city will be deserted. The forts and towers will become lairs forever, A joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks

The prosperity of wicked people is a prelude to judgment, and we need to keep that in mind. It helps us keep our troubles in perspective.

      But that's not the central point of this psalm. Again, this is an expression of true, godly humility, and it points us to the living model of true humility: Christ.

      Every virtue featured in this psalm was embodied and put on display to absolute perfection in Christ, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Though entitled to all the prerogatives of full deity, He took on human flesh—not as the highest of kings, but as the lowliest of servants. He further humbled himself by willingly giving Himself to die in the place of sinners whom he cane to redeem. He paid the price of sin in full, so that they can enjoy the reward of His righteousness. That's the very essence of a servant's humility, in the person of God's own eternal Son! It's a mind-boggling thought.

      He also stands in the role of a supplicant, and continues in that role even now. Hebrews 7:25: He "lives to make intercession." According to Romans 8:34, at this very moment, He "is at the right hand of God, . . . interceding for us." First John 2:1, He is our "advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." He is Lord of all, and yet He prays continuously on our behalf.

      Of course, the incarnate Christ also took on the role of a sufferer, bearing an eternity of pain and abuse on our behalf. He suffered willingly in our place, paying the price of sin in full so that God can be merciful to sinners like you and me without compromising justice.

      In other words, on the cross, Jesus reconciled justice and mercy. He redeemed the faithful and opened the floodgates of God's mercy for those who trust Him. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." That's Psalm 85:10, and it celebrates the triumph of salvation, which Christ graciously purchased for us by His willingness to become a slave to the will of God, a supplicant for the good of His people, and a sufferer for the sins of others.

      If you are not a believer in Christ, you can be saved simply by trusting Him. Titus 3:5: "He save[s] us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy—"a mercy that goes exceedingly abundantly beyond anything the psalmist might have envisioned or prayed for.

      And believer, al though He saves us by grace and not because of any merit we bring to the table, He saves us for good works—and His humble, praying, suffering, servant's heart is what we are to emulate. If he was "despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," and if our goal is to be like Christ, then we need to learn to bear those same kinds of burdens with grace.

      Scripture expressly says so in 1 Peter 2:21-23: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

      That is precisely what our psalm is saying, and it's a lesson we desperately need to heed, especially in spiritually precarious times like this. "Our eyes look to the LORD our God, [may He have] mercy upon us."