Title: Longing for Home
Text: Psalm 120
Introduction: We’re in Psalm 120 this morning. We’ll also turn to Nehemiah and look at a couple of verse in chapters 2 and 4. Go ahead and mark those two places now.
A longing for Home; (my freshman year). 2nd story, night fire while in the army.
Let me ask you this morning: Have you ever been homesick?
In preparing for this series, I was moved by different authors and commentaries on the Psalms. Dr. Leslie Allen, a professor at Fuller said that he experienced a ‘trauma’ in his family, which led him to serve as a hospital chaplain for a few hours each week. I suppose it was a sort of therapy for him. I don’t know what the trauma was nor the experience of his life. But what he said about the Psalms in connection to that time in his life has stayed with me. He said: My own experience of trauma, and the consequent addition to my life of a few hours per week working as a hospital chaplain, have underlined for me the ongoing value of the Psalter in relating believers to their God. What an accurate description of God’s Word as found in the Psalter and how fitting it is at various times to each believer in his or her trials.
All of us have felt betrayal, anger, vengeance, the searing pain of losing a loved one, worry, doubt, confusion, hurt, and the like. These Psalms hit every believer at some point on the life spectrum. You may read a Psalm today that you’ve read a hundred times, but, because of where you are at the moment, it could really speak to your heart.
There is something interesting going on here in Psalm 120 that I found no help within my many books on the Psalms. I’m sure I’m not the first to notice it, but I want to point out to you something very interesting about this form of poetry… Lord (1), Lord (2), deceitful tongue (2), deceitful tongue (3); Verse 4 would then be the middle of the climax if this were seen as some chiastic structure; dwell (5), dwell (6), peace (6), peace (7):
- Lord: Yahweh, the focus of his prayer.
- Deceitful tongue: The conflict or difficulty he is facing.
- Dwelling: The struggle with living in a foreign land because he has been exiled from his homeland.
- Peace: Shalom, his desire, his request.
That will make 4 different areas of focus in this Psalm if this is significant. A fifth area would be verse 4, the climax of the Chiasm: 4A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!
There is another focus here that I’d like to bring out and I think this is the teaching point of the Psalm: Speech. Words. It flows through the Psalm. Words. What we say. Words represent emotion, feeling, anger and what lies inside of us. Jesus said that what comes out of the mouth is an overflow of the heart.
- He calls to Yahweh (v1). His words are directed at Yahweh.
- His request is deliverance from speech, or more specifically, ‘hate speech’, ‘smear campaign’ (i.e., lying lips and a deceitful tongue in v2.)
- Verse 3 represents speech as presented in a vow or perhaps a curse. Rd v 3; it is a formula we see in the O.T. You read often times in the form of “may God do so to me if I don’t…
- 1 Kings 19.2: 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
- Probably the most popular verse where you’ll remember this is found in Ruth 1.17: 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
- Arrows are sometimes used as a metaphor for words or speech. The picture here is that these words are wounding the psalmist and setting his world on fire – in a bad way. In a real battle, warriors would light their arrows with fire because the arrows that didn’t pierce an enemy would land on a roof and start a fire, a fire that would burn down the house and probably those other homes and businesses within close proximity, causing major destruction. Thus are the words of the psalmist’s enemy. Some of his words are landing and wounding him and others are bringing destruction to his home and his community.
- In verse 7, the Psalmist speaks for peace. In Psalm 35.20, David uses deceit in contrast to peace: 20 For they do not speak peace, but against those who are quiet in the land they devise words of deceit. In Psalm 27.3, David uses an army and war as metaphors for someone who rises up against him. That’s the picture we see in v 7.
If you take these pictures, illustrations or metaphors from Ps 120, you can see that this Psalm might just be all about the harmful words someone is using against him. It is at this point we might ask who is the speaker? The Thompson Chain Reference Bible attributes this Psalm to David, when Doeg, the Edomite, on behalf of King Saul, was harassing David. That might just be the context, but the compilers of this collection of psalms want this Psalm to be sung with the exile in mind because they have endured much of the same difficulty. Those who hate them have maligned them time and time again. I think Haman in the book of Esther illustrates this perfectly for us.
So, what? Are these people just disgruntled because someone is saying something nasty about them? Well, yes, but it is so much more than that. These folks have sojourned in a foreign land for decades. Do you see that in v5? Rd v 5; Meshech is to the North and west of Jerusalem in what we would consider modern day Turkey. Kedar is to the East and South of Jerusalem. This can’t possibly be the same person speaking of being exiled in two different places. There is no way they were exiled to these two locations so very far apart and in different directions. So, while it is true that the Jews were scattered in the dispersion, what is the writer telling us?
John Goldingay references Michael Goulder’s work in his article in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (1998) at this point. He connects these locations in v5 with Sanballat, the Horonite, and Geshem, the Arabian found in Nehemiah (2.10, 19). We don’t know very much about either man and a lot of speculation goes into this. But, there is some powerful archeological evidence to strengthen Goulder’s hypothesis.
- Sanballat, the Horonite: His name is Babylonian and translated as – Sin, the moon god, and ballat means he gives life. Haran, was the seat of worship of Sin, the moon god. History teaches us that Sanballat had power from the Northwestern areas of Samaria and beyond. We know that he was governor over Samaria at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, even though he would have been very old at that time. His sons would have done most of the work for him. So, Sanballat’s power would have been North and west, maybe even as far as Modern Day Turkey.
- Geshem, the Arab: We know nothing of him except through extra-biblical material. Inscriptions have been discovered in archeological finds from Arabia to Egypt. He must have wielded great power. One inscription mentions him as “King of Kedar”.
Look what they say; rd Neh 4.1-4; Now, Nehemiah knows this isn’t the first time the people of the land have tried to stop God’s work. They did it a few years back when Ezra was rebuilding the Temple. And, evidently, it worked for a while, because in Ezra, we read that the rebuilding of the Temple ceased for a period of time until Haggai and Zechariah (the minor prophets) intervened.
So here is the theory: maybe, just maybe, these two towns (Meshech and Kedar) are meant to represent the very people who are disseminating venomous lies with their deceitful tongues. Ezra had suffered in his mission from men who were like Sanballat and Geshem because of their lies to the king and to the people who would rise up against Ezra and the Jews. Maybe, just maybe, those men saw the success of their predecessors and now they figured they would lie and jeer and taunt Nehemiah, too.
You know the story. The wall was rebuilt and in record time. But it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t difficult for Nehemiah and the families who worked. If you read the book of Nehemiah, you know it was very difficult.
So, keeping this bit of information in mind, I want to get you to feel what the psalmist is doing here. And I plan to do this by pointing out a few principles from the text that applied to those people and to the people of God today. In this Psalm’s complexity, in its beauty, in the genius of its composition, I want you to feel what they felt. So, the first principle I see here is:
I. The prayers of the people of God are born out of the faithfulness of God. (1-2)
exp.: note that verse 1 is in the past tense. He had been in distress and he is in distress again; this is simply a cry for help that comes from the confidence that God has acted before and he will surely come to the rescue of his people again.
ill.: Ps. 37.25: I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. My faith is stronger now that I am older. I wish I could have been more faithful when I was younger. However, as the years have passed, I have seen God remain faithful time and time again. Older believers, if you hear me and you agree, say “Amen.”
app.: Oh, young people, Trust the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. I know that’s hard, but that is the way to go. In all of your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Let your prayers be strong and specific. Most of all, pray God’s Words back to him. Repent where you rebelled.
And when you see the work of God in your life, that will move you to come back time and again to the faithfulness of God. That’s what the Psalmist does here…
t.s.: Now, he turns from his distress and his plea for God to deliver him, to confront his enemies. We see this in verse 3&4;
II. The battles of the people of God are fought through the faithfulness of God. (3-4)
exp.: rd v 3; the verbs in v. 3 are passive. That means this author isn’t the one who brings about the action. God is the one who brings about the action. He will turn back upon them the very plot they have against him. rd v 4; that’s what shall be done to you!
I don’t think this is an imprecatory psalm. Yes, the psalmist is hoping for God to defend him. One could easily make the first two points of this message be: deliver me and defend me.
ill.: Recently we saw the movie: Paul, Apostle of Christ. I loved the many storylines flowing through the movie. There was the dilemma of staying or going. Persecution was rampant and severe. Pricilla wanted to stay and minister in the face of this persecution. Aquilla wanted to leave – his reasons were good. Some believers got weapons and stormed the prison where Paul was. Others were passive, praying their lives would influence and persuade their persecutors.
app.: you and I are faced with this same dilemma when we face persecution – that is, persecution on a different level. Someone may not like your ideas or be jealous of you and say things about you that aren’t true. How do you defend yourself? One thing you don’t do is behave in that same manner! You don’t tell lies about others just to get back at them. It is God who avenges. And, man, oh man, how fearful to fall into the hands of an angry God.
ill.: I was reading up on the coals of a broom tree and evidently, these coals burned very hot and very slowly. There is a Jewish story about these coals, obviously presented with hyperbolic language. The story is that these two men where camping and they kept warm through the cold night with the coals from a broom tree. The next morning the men continued on their journey home. According to the story, they returned a year later and the coals were still hot enough to start a fire!
app.: Well, like I said, that’s hyperbole for effect. But, the point is that the coals of a broom tree were hot! And, they burned for a long time. In effect, the writer here is saying that Yahweh is going to deal with these enemies, because of their deceit – because of what they wanted to do to the Jews.
exp.: let me remind you of what Paul said: 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. Paul also said: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
t.s.: The Prayers of the people of God are born out of the faithfulness of God and The battles of the people of God are fought through the faithfulness of God. Finally, the third principle:
III. The hope of the people of God is not in where we are now, but where we shall be one day. (5-7)
exp.: And that is with God. This is not our home. We’re not designed to live here and we’ll never truly be happy here. rd v 5-6; the psalmist isn’t on Mt. Zion… yet! The psalmist is a wanderer and he dwells in a land that is not his own and he dwells among a people who are at home where they are. He dwells among a people who don’t like him and his God.
ill.: When he ‘sings’ this psalm, he elicits an emotion… let me demonstrate…
I’m kind of homesick for a country
To where I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won’t matter anymore
Beulah land I’m longing for you
And someday on thee I’ll stand
Where are my home shall be eternal
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land
I’m looking now across the river
Where my faith will end in sight
Just a few more days to labor
Then I’ll take my heavenly flight
app.: The purpose here isn’t to sing a song, but to elicit a response.
t.s.: Let me ask you: Have you ever been homesick?
Conclusion: One day this life will end for each of us. For some, it will be sooner than later. Are you absolutely positively sure where you’ll spend eternity? If you’ve never given your life to Christ, I’d like to give you a chance to do so this morning.