I love everything about travel, except the travel.
Travel is hard, even after finding a worthy reason to leave home. We rush through traffic to make it to airports just in time. We deal with parking lines, check-in lines, baggage lines, security lines, the essential caffeine store line and boarding line. Then we travel 1000’s of miles in seats too small for Hobbits and deal with all the above in reverse. Once we arrive, if the travel is international, we navigate strange cultures, struggling to adjust to language, food, customs and traffic while dealing with that 20th century monster; jet lag, a term that didn’t land until 1966, when it first appeared in print in the Los Angeles Times.
The destination may be worth all that, but the travel can be a chore.
Now compare moving around today with the rigors of travel in the Bronze Age. We can easily travel 10,000 miles in less than 24 hours, while David had to settle for 20-30 miles before calling it a day. On top of all the inconveniences of rugged camping, weather and aching feet, our ancient counterparts faced the very real dangers of assault by raiders and robbers. Remember, these pilgrims were on the move, and as they moved, they were making their way through difficult and dangerous territory. In other words, all their troubles were not behind them yet.
Think of the refugees today in many corners of the world. Forced from their homes by natural disasters, intense persecution and ethnic cleansing. They’re suddenly exposed to harsh elements of weather and rugged terrain. Add the discouraging bias from residents in the lands they’re either passing through or attempting to resettle in. This is no “Princess Cruise.”
Psalm 125 could be an extension of the theme from Psalm 124. It is one thing to recognize God’s protection after our last close call, realizing how close we came to our mortal end. It’s another thing to steer our vehicle back on to the same road and continue to head in the same direction, toward even more danger. Eugene Peterson’s excellent book on this same grouping of Psalms is entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. That small volume, strategically placed at eye-level on my bookshelf, catches my eye several times a week, reminding me to keep pressing on.
The strategic placement of Psalm 125 is no less purposeful. The writer sings, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, the LORD surrounds His people.” The peaks that surround Jerusalem include Mount Scopus, Mount Zion, Mount Acra, and the eastern ridge of the well-known Mount of Olives. This writer is telling discouraged travelers, “Relax, you’re surrounded!” Every follower of Jesus can take great peace in this truth.
God is not panicking over the “clear and present dangers” and demons we face… Neither should we, because God surrounds us NOW, on our way to heaven.
Then we’re told, “The scepter of wickedness will not rest on the land allotted to the righteous.” That’s a powerful promise. The devil may have his sword drawn, but his arsenal is no match for God. Isaiah 54:17 reminds us, “No weapon turned against you shall succeed.” Did you notice there are no great commandments in this Psalm? However, there are two important reminders:
• First, a reminder to TRUST:
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion which cannot be moved.” In Acts 20 Paul’s friends warn him of dangers he’ll face if he dares continue his journey to Jerusalem. His response? In Acts 20:24 Paul says, “None of these things [his friends’ frightful warnings] move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul determined that he would move forward, unmoved by the danger that lay ahead, even if it cost his life, because he was determined to preach the Gospel again in Jerusalem.
• Second, a reminder to DO GOOD:
The Bible is clear that no one is redeemed, saved or forgiven by good works, but the Bible is also clear that God will reward us for our good works. Therefore, while we move step-by-step toward heaven, the best scenario is that we leave a trail of good works behind us. Maybe that’s what David meant when he said, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6
Given the sense of an inferred threat in this song, you’ve got to love the last words of these lyrics. They sound like the whispers of a father to a scared child, trying to fall asleep in a thunderstorm. “Peace be upon Israel.” Sons and daughters of God, rest in His peace … Shalom.
Some metaphors are “multipurpose.” In Psalm 121, the mountains were the challenges we face as we draw close to God. Now, those same “rocky mountains” are seen as the defense system, which protects us from our enemies. So why not welcome the Shalom – the Peace of God? Why not heed these reminders and relax and do good all the way home. Picture Jerusalem surrounded by formidable mountains, then realize you are surrounded in the refuge of God’s protection as well with His security detail assigned to you.
Listen to God’s whisper to you right now, “Peace be upon YOU,” in Jesus’ Strong Name.