Whenever I read Psalm 125, I am in awe of this unnamed author’s trusting words:
1-5 Those who trust in God
are like Zion Mountain:
Nothing can move it, a rock-solid mountain
you can always depend on.
Mountains encircle Jerusalem,
and God encircles his people—
always has and always will. (The Message)
The image is one of security, an impenetrable fortress bounded by protective hills. Fast forward to today, and the one who believingly follows Christ can confidently claim to be surrounded with the presence of God. We are not inching along a knife-edge until a sudden gust of wind or a misstep into temptation sends us hurtling down a precipice. Like the singers of Psalm 125, we are able to rest, confident and secure in the God who guards our faith.
But we don’t.
Even at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus knew that this would be an important issue for us, and so He prayed for believers of the future:
“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me . . .” (John 17:11, NKJV).
Given this bedrock, why is it that the security of my faith is sometimes more like a sand dune rather than like Mount Zion?
The Old Testament record bears out the truth that I am not a trail-blazer in my ups
and downs. The nation of Israel became famous for its highs and its lows of trust. One day it was “The Lord our God will we serve and His voice will we obey!” (Joshua 24:24) Then, turn the page and only two chapters into the book of Judges, Israel is being rebuked for disobedience by none other than an angel of the Lord, (Judges 2:1-4).
Even New Testament apostles who dirtied their sandals in the same Palestinian dust as Jesus for three action-packed years had their ups and downs, declaring Him to be the Son of God, but then suffering tremors of unbelief when their dreams and designs on His identity unraveled.
Eugene Peterson calls this “the saw-toothed history of Israel,” and he attributes this persistent insecurity to three unavoidable factors:
1. Our feelings
As valuable as our emotions are for responsiveness and for self-awareness, they are insufficient as a foundation for faith. I may not feel like a child of God on a day when I’ve failed Him at every turn, but my security – the trustworthiness of my relationship with God – comes from who He is, not from how I perform, or how I feel about my performance.
2. The reality of pain and suffering
Elisabeth Elliot defined suffering as having what you don’t want (for example, cancer or a broken relationship); or wanting what you don’t have (such as a husband or a child or a better job). Although we do not know the specific circumstances of Psalm 125, biblical scholars assume either Hezekiah’s or Nehemiah’s life time. In either case, Israel was experiencing the harassment or the oppression of a pagan nation, and was subject to the indignities, deprivation, and sorrows that go with war-time or refugee status. With that in mind, how could the peoplesing the words of verse 3?
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
On the land allotted to the righteous,
Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity. (NKJV)
Looking at their circumstances from my vantage point, the “scepter of wickedness” seems pretty close to home!
The key to understanding their words lies in the word “rest.” It is being used in the sense of making a home for something, like a sword in a scabbard. Will wickedness be allowed to make its home among God’s people? Will any form of evil or suffering have the last word in the kingdom of God? No. God’s ultimate purposes will be fulfilled. His plans for Israel, and His plans for me, will not be cancelled, but are continually being worked out – even through the disappointments, the frustrations, and all the hazards of walking this broken ground.
3. Faithless defections
When my faith shrivels and my confidence fails, will I be like the seed scattered on stony ground that comes to nothing? I sing the hymn Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it /Prone to leave the God I love; and I wonder about Judas and the names that straggle into some of Paul’s epistles like a hall of shame for their worldly-mindedness or their faithless abandonment of the apostle in his hour of need. Is it possible for a Christian to wander so far from God that God takes in the welcome mat and pulls the shades?
Not without trying. Although a foolish sheep may become distracted and wander off to what seems to be an easier or more interesting path, the true sheep are never outside the wise Shepherd’s care.
Back to Psalm 125:1 – “Those who trust in God” will be kept – not because of a perfect track record or a towering righteousness, but because of a faithful God whose steadfast love extends to the heavens. This kind of love is grace, and grace is gift. Walking in the freedom of this knowledge – that the believer is mightily loved and held by a sovereign God – is not only liberating, it is empowering. Since it is not my effort that is holding me close to God, but instead HIS, I can relax in His care, and I can also strive in it,
taking risks for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom.
Teach me, Lord, to rest in your everlasting arms. Make me know that all other security is illusion.
This post first appeared at Soli Deo Gloria Connections.
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