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From the editor: "Unto thee lift I up mine eyes" (Ps 123.1)

J Grant

This psalm is the fourth in the group known as the "Psalms of Ascent". A G Clark in his Analytical Studies in the Psalms states that these psalms deal with "human stress and divine sufficiency". Luther commented that Psalm 123 "is the deep sigh of a pained heart". These Psalms were sung by the pilgrims as they travelled up to Jerusalem at the appointed seasons. Three times a year the males were to go up (Deut 16.16). This fostered friendships, fellowship, marriage, and mutual enjoyment of the things of the Lord.

The first of this group, Psalm 120, tells of the distress of the writer as he looks at circumstances around him in his home locality. The second, Psalm 121, brings to the reader’s attention the deliverance enjoyed by the Psalmist as he sets out on the journey. The third, Psalm 122, reveals the delight of the pilgrim as he anticipates his arrival at Jerusalem, and the fourth, Psalm 123, the desires of the traveller as he continues on his way.

Psalm 123 emphasises the immediate obedience that must mark God’s servants, all of whom are "strangers and pilgrims" (1 Pet 2.11) as they journey and look for Godly direction and supply. The ungodly look on them with derision and treat them with disdain, but that does not hinder them or cause them to stumble.

There are three distinct cycles of thought in the four verses of this psalm. Amidst the uncertainty and difficulties of the journey the pilgrim lifts up his eyes to heaven. Help and strength will not come from what is around, but rather from the One who dwells "in the heavens" (v.1). The unclouded attention of the pilgrim is given; his desire is that there might be nothing that he will do that will dim his perception or ruin the enjoyment of having his eyes lifted up heavenward. May our cry always be, "Unto Thee raise I mine eyes" (v.1, Spurrell) without being distracted by lesser matters. Make it our ambition to ensure that no cloud comes between, no hardness of heart dims our vision, and no occupation with the world robs us of our enjoyment of the Lord.

In the second cycle (v.2) the Psalmist brings before us that we are as servants who are waiting upon their master or their mistress. They stand in their presence, no doubt at a respectful distance, with their eyes fixed constantly on the hands that give instruction. They wait to see every command, to fulfil every wish. But, not only are the hands the means by which the servants understand commands that have to be carried out, they are also the means by which the servants are supplied. Thus the servant waits "until that he have mercy", "until he be gracious unto us" (JND). They give, therefore, unwavering attention. May we always be conscious of our need to be constantly waiting on the Lord so that our spiritual attention is not distracted with that which distances us from Him. Perowne expresses this beautifully: "…the eye which waits, and hopes, and is patient, looking only to Him, and none other, for help". The pilgrim by this means will overcome.

But there is a third cycle (vv.3-4), another issue that grieves the servant. The ungodly trouble him. He is surrounded by the contempt of the scornful. He feels the attack, so much so that he "is exceedingly filled" by the continual exhibition of the world’s disdainful attitude to him. But, despite this onslaught he waits on the Lord with unending attention. His eyes will be on Him "until that he have mercy upon us". He will not give up, he will continue, no matter what the circumstances may be, trusting that the Lord will act in His own good time.

The description of the society in which the pilgrim lived reflects the world around us today. The "scorning of those who are at ease, and...the contempt of the proud" abound. The attack of the Adversary, devising means to waste the time and fill the minds and hearts of Christians, is relentless. Let us determine daily to follow the example of the Psalmist: "Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens" (v.1).


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