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Psalm 125

Psalm 125 is grouped with the songs of ascent—songs that were intended to be sung as the people came to worship, “sung as the people went up towards their land, their city, and the sanctuary of the Lord.”[1] We might expect these songs, then, to be overflowing with thanksgiving and praise, and to a certain extent, we do find this to be true. But these are also the songs of realists. The people of God have not forgotten their history, which contributes greatly to who they are. It was bad… Maybe it even is bad… But faith requires them to believe it won’t last forever.

There is an ebb and flow here between covenant and trust. Like the encircling mountains, God is unshakeable, God’s promises unchangeable, but there is a certain amount of trust that is necessary on the part of God’s people, because if these songs of ascent are anything, they are the words of a people who has experienced what it is to be oppressed, what it is to feel pain.

Of great interest is the comparison made between the people and the Lord. Those who trust are like a mountain. The Lord is like the mountains. “To an Israelite, mountains were the symbol of all that was immovable and unchangeable.”[2] Created Imago Dei, the people of God mirror who God is—unshakeable and present. Yet, there is a mild yet detectable underlying aura of warning. Could even the righteous be moved to evil acts in the face of injustice? The Psalmist indicates that this is a possibility, and the Lord is called upon to provide what might be later translated in the New Testament Scriptures as, “the way out,” so the righteous might endure.[3]

“Psalm 125 recounts the blessings of belief, bringing as it does assurance that God will do good to those who are good,”[4] and as it winds down, the final request is that of peace. It is notable that this peace does not require the Israelites to succumb to the injustice and oppression that is so prevalent in their narrative. There is a vast difference between pacifism and passivism. The righteous may certainly act, but they call on the Lord to help them join in the work of doing good… of being those good people.

The collective heart cry of this Psalmist and of the ancient people of God is not all that different than our own. We ask God to direct us in redemptive paths in order to frustrate the wicked and put an end to their devastating coercion. The Psalms can be difficult to navigate, because a fine line sometimes exists between wishing destruction upon enemies and simply acting to bring about liberation, but there is, indeed, a line. God is faithful to work with us, standing firm, as we seek the most salvific way, always beginning with Jesus and our responsibility to be like him. May it be so.


[1] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Psalms, vol. 3, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 211–218.

[2] James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), Ps 125.

[3] See I Corinthians 10:13

[4] Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion, electronic ed. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991), 378.