Psalm 120 – A song of ascents.
I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.
Save me, Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.
What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom bush.
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived among those who hate peace.
I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.
“I Am Peace”
I have long been intrigued by the phenomenon of the “Peace Pole.” If you haven’t ever seen one, peace poles are simple monuments that bear the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in multiple different languages. The original peace pole was conceived by Japanese musician and poet Masahisa Goi in 1955 as he struggled to come to grips with the devastation of nuclear war in his own country and the continued threat of death and destruction posed by the cold war arms race of the 1950s. Since that first pole was “planted,” there are now over 200,000 official peace poles on display in over 200 countries around the world.
Peace poles serve to remind us that peace can and should be a universal goal, regardless of what language we speak. As Christians, they also remind us that God calls us to LIVE at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18), to SEEK and PRAY for the peace of our cities (Jeremiah 29:7), and to go even further and be PEACEMAKERS in the world around us (Matthew 5:9).
The writer of Psalm 120 offers his own prayer for peace. We don’t know who the author is, but we know where he is going. The psalm is given the heading “A Song of Ascents” (Shir HaMa’alot). It is the first of fifteen psalms with that ascription (Nos. 120-134) that would be sung by pilgrims “heading up” (ascending) to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the appointed feasts.
The song begins, as many prayers do, with a problem. The psalmist calls on the Lord in his distress, and receives God’s answer (vs. 1). The “distress” is in the form of “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues” (vs. 2). He laments that he lives among people who hate peace (vs. 6) and who go out of their way to instigate conflict (vs. 7).
The “answer” God gives to the psalmist’s problem is the promise that God will punish those liars, haters and agitators by giving them precisely what they long for in this life (sharp arrows) and what they deserve in the life beyond (burning coals).
This psalm could be read as one person’s problem and prayer (most commentators do), but I think it is a far bigger song than that. For starters, it is a COLLECTIVE prayer. It was intended to be sung not simply by individual pilgrims on their way to the Temple, but by the gathering host of God’s chosen people. Additionally, it is a UNIVERSAL prayer. The psalmist’s problem is the same problem experienced by people of every time, every tribe, every tongue. And finally, the psalm is a PROPHETIC prayer. The final verse is literally (and more accurately) translated as “I am peace.” Who is the earthly poet who would claim such a title?
As we look forward to another season of Advent and Christmas, we will be reminded again that Jesus was and is the fulfillment of that prophetic prayer. He was and is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He came to defeat all the liars and haters and agitators, including Satan himself, the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44). He came to bless the peacemakers and to give us his peace (John 14:27). And when he returns again one day in glory, “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” (Isaiah 9:5) This new King’s plan is to usher in a new kingdom of peace, joy and life for anyone and everyone who will lay down their burdens, take up his cross, and follow him. That’s a great plan!
So, what is God’s plan for all the liars and haters and agitators in our world today?
Before you answer that question, I’d encourage you to consider which camp you currently dwell in. Are you for truth or for lies; for peace or for war? I don’t just mean wars in the literal sense, but are you striving to LIVE at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18)? Are you actively SEEKING and PRAYING for the peace of our cities (Jeremiah 29:7)? Are you doing whatever you can to be a PEACEMAKER in the world around you (Matthew 5:9)? Or are you getting sucked into all the lies and hate and agitation? Are you letting it soak in under your skin; are you even giving it a platform on your Facebook or Twitter account? If you are, those sharp arrows will continue to strike you too; and those embers will continue to burn.
Instead, choose the path of peace—not just for someday, but for right now. As the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Follow the one—the only One—who can honestly claim, “I am peace.” May Christ’s peace prevail on earth! He is peace and life and joy. He is Living Water for a parched world. Always stay thirsty for him!