I believe the songs of ascent deal with preparing God’s people to ascend into his presence just as Moses ascended into the mountain burning with fire. But, why is this the first of these songs? What is it about Psalm 120 which demands that it be placed first among the steps into the presence of God?
As I thought about this I noticed that the psalm which precedes Psalm 120 sings the praises of God’s Law for 176 verses. Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and includes profound insights into the grace and loveliness of God’s Law. Anyone who has not yet learned to love God’s Law will not be able to begin the ascent into his presence we must now begin. Again, if you do not already love his law then you cannot begin to ascend into God’s presence. In that case you should read the series on Psalm 119 which you can find by clicking here.
But even if you do love God’s Law you realize that you fail abysmally to obey it. That is what Psalm 120 is all about. This first song of ascent deals with understanding your personal condition, a qualification for continuing the climb up the ladder to God’s throne.
The psalm begins, saying,
In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
2 Deliver me, O Lord,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.
Until reading this psalm yesterday I had always believed that the psalmist was praying and asking God to deliver him from the lying lips and deceitful tongues which constantly assaulted him. Interestingly, my wife had also seen these verses the same way. This morning she asked me why this was the first song of ascent and as I began to explain it to her I told her that I now believed that verse deals with our lips and tongues, my lips, my tongue. She said, “When I read this verse this morning that’s the way I read it too. Until then I had always read this as applying to other people.”
So, the first key to understand this song, the first necessary requirement for ascending the ladder into God’s presence, is to rightly judge ourselves, to take the plank out of our own eyes. Although I want to walk perfectly in truth my lips and tongue still do not perfectly obey my inmost desire. Therefore, in my distress at my continuing imperfection I cry out to the LORD, and he answers me,
What shall be given to you,
(B)and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue? (Psalm 120:3)
And I say, “I don’t know LORD. You know.” And he says,
(C)A warrior’s (D)sharp arrows,
with glowing (E)coals of the broom tree!
“What is that, LORD, I ask.”
“Search the Scriptures and find out,” he replies.
So I found the reference to the warrior’s sharp arrows in Psalm 45, a glorious song the Bride of Christ, God’s overcomers, sings to her King, her God, her Mighty One. The Bride says,
In your majesty (I)ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you (J)awesome deeds!
5 Your arrows are sharp
in the heart of the king’s enemies;
the peoples fall under you. (Ps. 45:4-5)
Psalm 119 is all about understanding and coming to love this King’s truth, meekness, and righteousness. Yet, we all continue to fail miserably in walking in those ways. In that sense, even though we believe in Jesus, we (our flesh and carnal souls) remain enemies of God. And so this King-Warrior shoots his arrows into our hearts in order to change our hearts, to make them like his pure and perfect heart. Job said,
For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me. (Job 6:4 KJV)
Job knew that God ordered all things that came to him. Although we may chaff at the judgments of God against us we must remember that he disciplines the son which he loves. So, the arrows of God represent his disciplines in the life of the one who would go up the steps to see him as he is. But, what if we actually do see God? Yes, what then? Shall we die as Isaiah feared when he saw the Almighty? This is why he provides the coals of the broom tree as well as his arrows. Isaiah says,
In the year that (A)King Uzziah died I (B)saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train[a] of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had(C)six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
(D)“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
(E)the whole earth is full of his glory!”[b]
4 And (F)the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and (G)the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! (H)For I am lost; (I)for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the(J)King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he (K)touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)
Isaiah correctly saw himself. He knew he was unworthy to see God and to stand in his presence. Thus he bemoans his carnal self, his unclean lips. He realizes that he and all he dwells with cannot dwell with God in their current condition. Neither can we, and we must realize this. We must desire the baptism of fire which burning coals upon our lips represents. Isaiah describes it further, saying,
The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling has seized the godless:
(A)“Who among us can dwell (B)with the consuming fire?
Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
15 (C)He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions,
who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
(D)and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
16 he will dwell on the heights;
his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks;
(E)his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. (Is. 33:14-16)
And what is the result of allowing God’s coal to touch our lips, of dwelling with the consuming fire and everlasting burnings? It is the goal of our ascent, to behold and to stand in the very presence of God:
17 (F)Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;
(G)they will see a land that stretches afar. (Is. 33:17)
But, until each one of us individually realizes that we are grossly deficient with respect to God’s standard of perfection, we cannot be saved. We cannot ascend. We cannot be “raptured” into his presence. As long as we accept and justify our current condition of sinful carnality we cannot be forgiven. We have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. We have called good evil and evil good. We are not worthy within ourselves, yet we must yearn and mourn for God’s perfection. His arrows of righteousness must pierce our hearts, our souls, and conform us to his image. His hot coals, his baptism of fire, must touch the very core of our being and actually purify our lips and our tongue. Even our speech must be perfect in every way. And having seen this the psalmist now says,
Woe to me, that I sojourn in (F)Meshech,
that I dwell among (G)the tents of (H)Kedar!
6 Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
7 (I)I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war! (Psalm 120:5-7)
According to Ezekiel 27:13 Meshech is a slave-trading country, a people commercing in the souls of men. This describes all the people (nations) of the world who deal with Tyre (Babylon). This describes our current condition. In America just consider the whole Republican-Democrat contest for the next president. Both candidates support endless war. The only man who was for peace, Ron Paul, was robbed and cheated by his own party. We too want peace, but we cannot escape the endless wars of Babylon unless we ascend unto God’s Kingdom. We must go out from her. It is time to leave.
This is our first step of ascent, understanding our present personal carnal, sinful condition, and the condition of an entire world which can never come into the presence of God. Until we understand this and take this first step we can never ascend unto his throne.