Sometimes we tell stories backward; Maybe most of the time. We announce the joy or sorrow and then we tell how it happened.
“I got a new job!” and then we fill in the details.
“My wife has been diagnosed with cancer,” and then we tell the story of how she hasn’t felt right for some time and all the sorrows and concerns of the last three months come rolling out. (By the way, my wife is fine — nothing to worry about with us.)
The psalmist does something similar in Psalm 120. It is the first psalm in a series called the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). These were psalms that pilgrims in their families and with others on pilgrimage to Jerusalem would sing together as they ascended the mountain to where the Temple stood in Jerusalem. Festival time in ancient Israel was a time volume. Singing, worshipping, celebrating crowds of people filling the streets and approaches to the city.
In Psalm 120, the psalmist begins with the end of the story.
“In my trouble I cried to the LORD,
and He answered me.”
And then he tells the process of how he got to the place where he knew “He answered me.”
In verse 2, he cries out about lying lips and deceitful tongues. Actually it isn’t “tongues” but “tongue” (singular). It sounds like he is confessing his own lips and tongue are less than honest. Verse 3 is a question to his own soul. You’ve done that too. “Why did I say that? What an idiot I am.”
Ever done that? Said something like that to yourself? I have had those kind of moments two or three times a week, every week of my life! Notice that verse 3 begins with the word “What”. “What shall be given to you?” The question is to the person who has a deceitful, lying mouth, to himself and anyone else. And verse 4 is the answer. The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) captures it well and succinctly,
4 A warrior’s sharp arrows
with burning charcoal!
In other words, quick and painful judgment. Which is why verse 5 begins with “Woe to me”. Getting painful judgment is not pleasant and the Psalmist knows that he and everyone in his culture is due a certain judgment from a holy God. For too long he has lived in a culture that loves lies. He fears that he is becoming like it and yet his heart is drawn to a holy God so he seeks peace. Peace with his neighbor is a priority for him but even though he speaks for peace, when he speaks, his neighbors are for war (vs. 6-7). Christians in our time know this. Out of love for people, we speak to the culture about the Prince of Peace and His word and the world rejects us because the lies it lives with are comfortable. Until they aren’t.
Let’s sing the Songs of Ascent as we ascend a metaphorical Mount Zion.
Let us cry out in our trouble in the confidence that our God hears us.
Read Psalm 120
Writing the Story Backward
We can write the story backward.
But we can’t live it that way.
Moments have to be lived out.
Pain has to be experienced;
Sin has to identified;
Rebellion has to labeled;
All of it needs to be confessed,
To be overcome.
But if we have eyes to see,
if we hate falsehood,
if we lift our anguished voices,
if we cry out to You,
You will answer and rescue,
and change us
and make us a people
who continue to speak peace
in a culture that loves war.
Amen. Make it so O God
Deliver my soul from lying lips.
Go to Psalm 121