Do me a favor and please read Psalm 120.
We are now at the beginning of the “song of ascents” (Psalms 120-134). These psalms would have been sung while the Israelites were “ascending” to Jerusalem for some annual feasts (it is kind of assumed that no matter where you were you “went up” to the city and presence of God). In this VERY short psalm we get a crying out request for mercy, a prayer for saving, a prayer for punishment, and then finally a statement of fact that differentiates them from the people that surround them.
As with many other psalms there is some information we know and some we do not. We don’t know who the author is but we see that he is VERY thankful that he doesn’t live like the people in Meshek (which was near the Black Sea in Anatolia) or Kedar (which was located in Arabia). Why does he mention those cities? We aren’t too sure but it appears to be two locations that he would have considered heathen cities full of pagan people. Maybe they were cities that his own people had a feud with or maybe they actually had to live in these places thus fighting against a Godly way of life vs a pagan way of life. We simply don’t know. But they appear to be cities that were the worst when it comes to deceitful and lying tongues and to live there would have been the worst place in the world (to the author).
So what is this psalm saying? This psalm is proclaiming that our words mean something. That lying lips and deceitful tongues (vs 2) have no place within the Temple and presence of God. But let’s expand that even more because we know that our tongues, our words, our lips can do either wonderful things or wreak horrible havoc (James 3:2-13). We can build people up or break them down. But our tongue and smackers do more than that because they not only hurt others but they hurt us. We read in verse 6b of James’ text that when our tongues are “fire” and are creating evil – they corrupt the whole body. Your body. So harm to you…harm to others, and you better believe that it creates harm to God. Who believes a liar? Nobody. So how can a liar share the gospel, share the Good News, proclaim Jesus and then live out the first and second commandment to love God and love others? They can’t. Lying and deceitful tongues do not build up, they break down and when we lie we do so to protect ourselves – thus thinking of US and not THEM. So a liar may acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior … but they sure do not live out his calling in their life.
One thing our text does NOT pick up on or speak about, but I personally have direct experience with (as do probably you), is that living in a city like Meshek and Kedar would have been deeply challenging. Not only because of the ungodly way of life but also because it is very easy to become that which you despise. We even have sayings about this: “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and “If you can’t beat ‘em…join em!” We know that it is extremely hard to continue to fight against the very things that are not of God when surrounded by those very things. We know that it sometimes is easier to give in than to fight against. We know that sometimes it’s harder to be the one solid good example in a sea of horribleness. And for me, I’ve fallen and succumbed to the sins of the people as well as stood strong and eventually got out. I’ve “played the game” (thus failing) as well as “fought the good fight” and prevailed in truth and goodness. Both were hard but one allowed me to walk away with my head held high while the other had me regretting in sorrow and shame.
This psalm, to me, challenges me in the fact that the psalmist is declaring that truth is a godly attribute and godly way of living AND the fact that anything outside of that, especially lies and deceit, have no place in God’s presence. And while I really really want to cry out and point fingers at others and their lying lips and declare that God do something to them, I cannot ignore my own tongue and failure to use it in a way pleasing to God. And because I fail at times to use it properly…do I deserve to ascend to God’s presence? Do my lies keep me from going up to God and being with him?
The short answer? Yes. They do. My sins are my own and keep me from rising up to God. HOWEVER… because of God’s grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness, no longer do we need to ASCEND to him for he has DESCENDED to us. We don’t rise up to him (in truth because we can’t) because he has lowered himself to us. How? Jesus. Jesus descended. Jesus atoned for my sins. Jesus redeemed me by his blood upon the cross and LIFTED ME UP to him. No work on my part…all work on his.
You and me, we are people of Meshek and Kedar. WE are the very people that live pagan lives. Yes, we come to church on Sunday and praise God with our lips but then the other 6 days (and even the other half of Sunday) is often filled with moments where our lips do not reflect the worship we were just at. So maybe we’re worse than the pagans in Meshek and Kedar? At least they don’t go back and forth between truth and lies. At least they are “cold” while we are both hot AND cold – which is worse (read Revelation 3:14-21 about the church in Laodicea concerning THAT thought).
The takeaway? Yes, pray to God for the people that surround you that challenge your faith, challenge your desire to live a Godly life, and challenge your attempts TO LIVE that Godly life. Seek the Holy Spirit’s work upon your life to give you the strength to hold fast to his purification in your life. But praise God that while our lying lips steer us in other directions than we desire (I appreciate James’ descriptive words that our tongues are like a rudder on a ship) – our ship’s navigation system is right and true. That while we may get off course our GPS is set to Jesus and THAT is where we will set anchor.