Pondering: The title for this short psalm is “Prayer for Deliverance from Slanderers.” As such, it is a prayer on behalf of the psalmist to God for relief from his suffering by those who are slandering him. Before considering the important message in this psalm for us, however, we need first to note the subtitle for Psalm 120: A Song of Ascents.
Scholars aren’t certain of the meaning or purpose of the subtitle. Robert Alter describes it this way: “This is the first in a sequence of fifteen psalms that bear this heading. Most scholars assume that ‘ascents’ refers to pilgrimages to Jerusalem. (The verb ‘ascend’ or ‘go up’ is the technical term used for pilgrimage.) But among other meanings that have been proposed, it could be a musical term, perhaps referring to an ascent in pitch or a crescendo in the song, or it could refer to the pattern of incremental repetition that is common to many of these poems.” (The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary; 120; p.435.)
More important, and worthy of our consideration today, is the reason the psalmist wrote this prayer-song. As the title indicates, he is praying to God for deliverance from slanderers. As he states in the first two verses, he is in distress and is crying out to God for help. “In my distress I cry to the Lord, that he may answer me: ‘Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue’” (vv. 1-2).
Apparently, the psalmist is surrounded by lying and deceitful people, who are causing significant suffering in his life. He compares the lying and deceit to “sharp arrows” and “glowing coals” (v. 4). And, because of the lies and deceits, he laments, “Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech, that I must live among the tents of Kedar” (v. 5). Even more, he writes, “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace” (v. 6). He then ends his prayer abruptly with this assertion: “I am for peace, they are for war” (v. 7).
Like the psalmist, have you ever been surrounded by liars and cheaters? Have you faced significant suffering due to the lying lips and deceitful tongues of slanderers? Have you felt like an alien in the places you live, work and play (and, dare I say, worship!) because of the hostile ways others are behaving and treating you? Have you felt agonizing pain from the “sharp arrows” of lies, and the “glowing coals” of deceit? I suspect that, like me, you have suffered because of the vicious and hateful words of slanderers who seem to be “out to get you” for no apparent reason.
So, if you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, then, to you I say, “Don’t despair, because there is hope!” Whenever you are facing significant suffering because of the lies and deceits of people around you (including your own family and friends), take note of what the psalmist says and does in Psalm 120. First, pray to the Lord in your distress for deliverance from those who slander you. Rely on the presence and the power of the Spirit in you to deal with lies and deceits in a loving, Christ-like manner.
Second, be a person who is “for peace,” always and everywhere, no matter what. This world is in desperate need of persons who are determined to promote and proclaim peace, especially amid all the lying, deceit, slander and hatred that is occurring around the world and in the places we live, work and play (and even worship) today. Again, pray to God for the desire and strength not to return slander with lies and deceits of your own. Rather, to return the sharp arrows of slander and the burning coals of hatred aimed at you with kindness, compassion, and peace!
Even more, during all the terrorism and violence, lies and deceits the world is suffering from these days, let’s begin greeting everyone we meet with these words: “May the peace of Christ be with you!” Just a thought.
Praying: Dear Lord of Peace, I confess that too often when I am suffering because of the lies and deceits of others (especially my family and friends) that I tend to retaliate with anger, lies and deceits of my own. Forgive me, Lord! Rescue me from the sharp arrows and burning coals of slanderers; and enable me to respond with only Christ-like truth and love. Help me to be a person who promotes and proclaims peace to everyone I meet every day. And I am even so bold as to pray that you will bring peace to the world that is suffering greatly from terrorism, violence, and hatred. May the peace of Christ dwell in my heart this day and always; and may I share the peace of Christ with everyone I encounter, no matter what I’m facing in life. In the name of Christ Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, I pray. Amen and amen.