A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.
Beggars CAN be Choosers!
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I certainly remember hearing it or even saying it to myself on several occasions as I was growing up. It might have been used to correct a child’s poor sense of gratitude, such as “Don’t be such a finicky eater; you know beggars can’t be choosers.” Or a way of coming to terms with my own lack of resources as a teenager, “Hey, I know this car is a jalopy, but beggars can’t be choosers!” Even as an adult, the sentiment is helpful for glossing over disappointments large or small—an undesirable job, an insufficient house, or even a strained relationship—anything that falls short of our expectations.
There’s something healthy, of course, about being content with—or even grateful for—whatever little blessing we might have in this life (Philippians 4:11-12). But I would argue that there is one crucial aspect of life where beggars truly CAN be choosers!
Psalm 123 begins with “I lift up my eyes to you.” The songwriter is addressing the Almighty God, the one who sits “enthroned in heaven.” The image he develops is one of a helpless slave at the mercy of his master (vs. 2). The fact that he needs to look up to God suggests that God is high above him–God is great and the songwriter is nothing. It also implies that this “master” has sufficient means to supply his slaves’ needs—to address their concerns. So, whatever the master does—however he responds—should and must be accepted and appreciated, after all “beggars can’t be choosers,” right?
Obviously, the power dynamics of the relationship between a master and his slaves is pretty clear—one has all the power, and the other has none of it. The psalmist begs for mercy again and again (vs. 3); he is helpless against the “ridicule from the arrogant” and the “contempt from the proud” (vs.4). And yet, here he is in the presence of an all-powerful King. Here he is, able to advocate on his own behalf and also to intercede on behalf of his fellow slaves. Even though the power dynamics set him worlds apart from this unapproachable King, his relationship places him squarely at the feet of his loving and generous master. This beggar chooses to ask for mercy, and this gracious King chooses to listen.
There is a choice in “lifting up our eyes” to God. It requires our humility to be sure, but it also requires trust, confidence and hope. There is also risk involved. A slave with no standing before his master wouldn’t dare lift up his eyes—it’s much “safer” to remain at a distance and wallow in self-pity. After all, beggars can’t be choosers.
The Hebrew word translated here as “to lift up” literally means to take, or carry. It isn’t something I am forced to do—it’s something I choose to do. The same word can even be translated “to marry.” Imagine that prayer for a moment: “I marry my eyes to you, dear Master!”
How is it that I could ever hope to come before this King? How is it that I can ask for and receive mercy? How can I choose to marry my eyes to Him? It can only be because this all-powerful God, the one who sits enthroned in heaven, has extended his invitation. The most pitiful and impoverished beggar can choose Him, because the King has chosen us! He chose you for Himself, before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-6). And He chose you for a purpose, so that you would go and bear fruit for Him (John 15:16).
And because He has chosen us, we can “lift our eyes up” to Him—as slaves with standing before their master, beggars who choose to belong to the King. The writer of Hebrews tells us how this became possible. It is only possible because Jesus made a way for us. By his birth, death and resurrection we have been given an invitation to “approach God’s throne with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Marry your eyes to Jesus Christ! In him, slaves become children of God, sinners become saints, and beggars become choosers. He is our loving Master and King…stay thirsty for Him.