Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalm 125:1-2)
“Don’t move! You’re surrounded!” What sort of image comes to your mind when you hear that phrase? What’s your gut reaction? I can imagine a homeowner, surrounded by deadly wildfires, or an army being overwhelmed by an encroaching enemy, or the bad guys in a cop show, finally cornered and caught. Maybe it even brings to your mind the horrific siege of the Capitol last week.
It’s a frightening thing to be surrounded by danger, fear, uncertainty—to be helpless and trapped—to be alone with nowhere to run.
Now imagine a very different scene. “Stay where you are, don’t move!” As long as you stay calm and remain in place, everything will be OK. The enemy is at the gates, but the castle is safe. Don’t try to flee…don’t try to fight. There may be danger “out there” but inside there is nothing to fear.
Being surrounded with nowhere to run doesn’t have to be terrifying. It all depends on what, or who, is surrounding us. “Don’t worry…don’t move…it’s going to be alright…you’re surrounded!”
Psalm 125 is another of the “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134) that would be sung by God’s people as they returned to Jerusalem for the appointed religious feasts and worship. These songs are full of hope and praise and gratitude to God for His protection and provision. They celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past, claim his faithfulness in the present, and trust in that same faithfulness as their source of hope for the future.
The song begins with a declaration of that promise, expressed through two metaphors. “Those who trust in the Lord,” the psalmist declares, are like God’s holy mountain—Mount Zion—they are unshakable and immoveable. Why? Because they are surrounded! “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people, both now and forevermore.” (vs. 2) That kind of surrounding is a good thing. It brings peace and prosperity; it offers comfort and hope.
There is only one problem. Right now, the “scepter of the wicked” is over the land (vs. 3). This scepter (literally “rod”) connotes some type of dominion, power or authority that has a measure of control or influence in the land. God promises His people that this scepter won’t remain, “for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” (vs. 4)
Apparently, God’s presence and power isn’t the only thing that surrounds the people of Israel. What is this powerful and nefarious threat that challenges God’s good authority?
Scholars are divided on what the “scepter of the wicked” refers to. It could suggest that the holy city is under the control of a foreign adversary—a threat from outside enemies. But many scholars think that the “scepter” in Psalm 125 isn’t being wielded by an Assyrian or Babylonian or Persian king; rather, it is a threat from within—a persistent and disturbing desire to pursue the various gods of pleasure and power, wealth and control—instead of placing their hope and trust in the Lord. If that “scepter” remains over the land, God warns, “then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” (vs. 3) Something needs to be done.
For those who choose to by surrounded by God, to those who are upright in heart, the Lord will do good (vs. 4). “But to those who turn to crooked ways,” surrounding themselves with the ways of the world and choosing to trust in some other gods, “the Lord will banish with the evildoers.” Sometimes the biggest threats are already right here inside the holy city.
God won’t abide any “scepters” but His own. God doesn’t ignore the wickedness that encroaches from outside the camp, nor does He condone any wickedness that bubbles up inside it! We can never claim the peace of God by trying to claim the “scepter” for ourselves. Israel’s choice then, and our choice today, is whether to seek our deliverance and peace by whatever tools and scepters the world offers, or to find our hope in the Lord. Who and what are you being surrounded by?
The writer of Hebrews suggests a way forward for God-followers, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
In these troubling times, take comfort! You’re surrounded! You are surrounded by Christ’s great cloud of witnesses through the ages, and you can remain surrounded as you run your race and follow Jesus in faith. He is the author and finisher of that faith…he is the source of our hope and life…he is our Living Water. Stay Thirsty, my friends!