Beth Moore - Road Trip Psalms - Part 1
All right, you are at Psalm 126. Be seated. I'm gonna read it to you, and then we're gonna study the context of it, but let me read it to you for now. I'm reading out of Psalm 126, verse 1 through 6, and I'm reading out of the CSB to you, tonight, in this translation, and it says, "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter then, and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we were joyful. Restore our fortunes, Lord, like watercourses in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves".
I want you to look in a little larger context so that we can place it within the book of Psalms that we find it in this songbook right in the middle of our canon, and then an even smaller grouping that's gonna become very, very important to us. The Psalms are divided into five books, book one, book two, book three, book four, book five, and this is part of book five, that would've begun in Psalm 107, all the way to Psalm 150. There are 150 psalms in this songbook in the middle of our canon. We don't know exactly why they were divided into five parts but probably so that they could correspond in some liturgy to the five first books of the Bible, so the Pentateuch or the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, so probably for liturgical reasons in their worship, that's the way it was grouped together. This is the first book, this is the second, third, fourth, fifth. So Psalm 126 falls in the fifth book of the Psalms, but it is in a smaller grouping that is very fascinating.
So I want you to get your hand, if you would, please, I want you to get your hand on Psalm 120, and then I want you to get your hand on Psalm 134, and I want you to hold them there for just a moment. So you've got where it begins, and you've got where it ends. If you will give a glance to every single one of those chapters, each one of the psalms, from Psalm 120, all the way to Psalm 134, you can see the difference. If you look straight down at 135, you will not see that same caption, but if you will look from 120, all the way to 134, so that's gonna be 15 different psalms, you'll see that right under it, depending upon your translation, it's going to say something like, "A song of ascents," or "A psalm of ascents," something to that nature. It may have a slight rendering that is more like, "Song of degrees," "Pilgrim songs," "Gradual songs". I love this one: "The song of the steps," and we're gonna understand, even before this night is over, why it was called that particular thing.
"The psalms of ascent," a group of 15 psalms that were used in very specific kinds of worship that I think, if you've never studied it before, you are gonna find very, very interesting and let it leap off the page at us because we're gonna see the role of worship in the life of somebody sojourning in the faith. Since Jerusalem was set on a hill, it was always a thought of going up to Jerusalem. No matter from what corner of the north someone had traveled on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they were always going up because Jerusalem was a city set on a hill, and because God had chosen it, it was a holy city, so it was not necessarily because there was no higher elevation on the planet. Of course, we know that's not true. What it did mean is that it was the highest place because it was the place where they believed that the manifest, though his glory filled the whole earth, the manifest presence of God would dwell. That is what he promised his people when they built a dwelling place under his command.
So these psalms have so much to do with taking that pilgrimage, that ascent up to that high place of worship with God. I'm gonna tell you a couple of things they were used for. There are three things specifically that the psalms of ascents, and if you wanna say it technically the way it really is, it's easier to say, "psalm of ascent," and keep it a singular form on "ascent" because it gets so awkward, "psalms of ascents," but it really is "of ascents" because it's of "a goings up". It is a plural, a way of going up. And so, there were a couple of different things, three different ones: The first one is that it was used, these 15 psalms were used as pilgrimage songs, so they would sing them on the road, so for any people from a region away from Jerusalem, and most people lived away from the city because they were rural people. They were making their living off of sheep, off of farming, off of the land.
So they were coming from a distance and some from a very great distance, but there were three great feasts in the life of the Israelites, and the men were commanded to come and appear before the Lord at all three of those feasts. And so, of course, they would bring their families with them, and when their sons were of age, they were also commanded to be part of it, so they would make this long pilgrimage for the feasts. It would be the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and so, no matter where they were coming from, they were ascending to Jerusalem. And so, they were singing these songs, and you know what this is like because, if you've taken even a long trip to get here, why is it, when you get in the car, why is it you're listening to music? Yes, it's makin' the time go. It's making you forget how many miles it's taking, how many minutes it's taking. This is exactly what they were doing.
So they would sing along the way, and it would be families of them 'cause they would move in groups, and you really do know this already because this is how Jesus got lost from his parents. Now, he wasn't lost to himself. He was back there, doin' the Father's business in the temple area that we're gonna talk about in just a little while, but his parents were like, it wasn't until they were setting up camp 'cause it says that at night was when they realized. It's because they'd stop to set up camp, start looking around and go, "Well, where's Jesus"? "Well, I thought he was over there". "Well, where are the kids"? He would've been in that in-between, 12 years old. Was he with the little kids, or was he with the adults? You understand what I'm saying? Because they were all together. There would've been cousins, aunts, uncles, little-bitty kids running all over the place, and so the same thing would've been true for them.
There were so many miles that they had to walk, so many hours they were gonna be on that journey that they would sing their way through it, and the most popular collection, if you want to know what their song list, their playlist, the Israelite playlist for a journey was these 15 psalms of ascent. That was their tradition. You know, we love song. Thought about it so many times. Did you know that singing and song predated humanity? And, of course, we would assume that because it had to come from God, but one way we know that is because, in the beautiful poetry that is the book of Job, when you start realizing, when you get into that book and realize the whole thing is poetry, everything changes.
There are a couple of little blocks of prose in it, but it's a poem, and it is a masterpiece, and in part of it where God has been talking to Job, in Job 38, God begins asking him some questions, and he says to him, "Where were you when I established the earth? Who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy"? This is how we know that the angels were created before man was created 'cause, notice then, when you see the days of Creation, we're not told when were all these beings created. Well, we know they predated us, and they predated all of Creation coming together because they were singing and shouting as God was creating the earth, and I don't know, I'm just speaking from conjecture here, but I'm trying to i
This was gonna be, this was "ex nihilo". This was "out of absolutely nothing," like, "boom," I mean, like, nothing's there, and then, "boom," and then it's hovering over the waters, the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters, and, "boom," it all starts coming together one day at a time, and they're just going like, "Whoa," shouting and singing, so he sets it up where there's accompaniment to Creation. So the love of song. No wonder we still hear so many songs about Creation, whether they have any mention of God or not, because it's in us. It was created in us, and it was around us when the earth was created. A little kid, we have a dance in us. You know, it can't be that all dance is perverse because a nine-month-old holdin' onto the edge of a table, that hears music, will bend his little knees to the beat because he knows you're supposed to dance to that. The love of song, road trip songs.
What's most significant to us tonight where these psalms are concerned and what we're about to see is that Jewish tradition teaches us that the 15 psalms are connected, associated somehow with 15 steps of the temple where the Levites sang, and this very early rabbinic tradition connects the 15 psalms to the 15 stairs in the temple. So here's what I wanna do: I wanna walk you into the temple so that you have an idea 'cause this is a really cool thought because Jesus would've taken this pilgrimage with his family, and so we know, at least, we see it in print in Luke chapter 2, we know he did. And so it's wonderful to think about him taking this whole journey all the way from Nazareth, all the way down south, some-70 miles until they get to Jerusalem, and so he would've sung these songs. Who knows but that, at some point, he would've been the one saying, "If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel say," and then all of 'em, "Let the Lord, if the Lord had not been on our side".
So picture this with me: So on the diagram, the main gate to the temple or the tabernacle, either one, always faced to the east. So here is the main entrance in, out in front of it. So before you'd walk through that gate, that would've been the courtyard for the Gentiles, and on these two pillars right here, there were warnings about them taking a single step through that gate into that next level because they were not to be in there. And then, through that door, if you were a Jewish man or a woman, you could come through this door, but this whole area right here is the women's courtyard, but if you'll look carefully, you'll see the semicircular edifice right here, and those are stairs. Those are 15 stairs going from the courtyard of the women to the courtyard of the Israelites, which was completely men, 15 stairs going up. Those 15 stairs became associated with these 15 psalms.
There's not one answer for how they came to this tradition. We don't know for sure, but it became an association that was made and accepted and embraced. And so, each one of those stairs, 15 of them, they were ascending up to a closer place with God, and it kept getting to where it was more intense, and less people were allowed to go. The Gentiles had to stay out here. Everybody could come in here that was Jewish, but the women had to stay here or to the steps, but only the men could go up through the steps and into the next area through the Nicanor gate, which would have let them into the court of the Israelites, where only the men were, but if they went further than that, then it got into the priests' courtyard, and then it would get to where all the sacrifices were done, and then, further than that, it got to where there were only certain priests that could go in, and they would minister in the Lord's house, in the holy place.
And then, of course, all the way back here is the holy of holies, but this was the whole idea of getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the presence of the Lord. So this whole idea of going up, ascending, that the Lord Most High, he who is exalted, that there was this concept in worship of going up to him. I'm going up. I'm ascending to worship the one true God. So the 15 psalms were somehow associated with these steps. They've taken this whole trip, but those that got to go up to where those sacrifices were happening and where the priests were, man, they were getting close. They were getting close. They were getting as close as regular people could go. Listen, when we start to get our minds wrapped around this, we begin to understand why it means something when we are told in Hebrews that you and I get to go boldly before the throne of grace, and that whole concept is into the very holy of holies, marchin' right there.
Ladies, we do not have to stay here because of the blood of Christ. Men, you don't have to stay here. Oh, you're not a priest? Guess what? You don't even have to stay here. We get to go all the way in, minister at the Lord's table, bring them the prayers of the saints, which is symbolized by the altar of incense, and go straight into that holy of holies, and that's our privilege in Christ. Psalm 84 is not one of the psalms of ascents, but you can hear it describe the life of the pilgrim and how similar it is to ours. Psalm 84:5-7, I'm gonna read it to you out of the NIV: "Blessed are those whose strength is in you," and it's the psalmist talking to God, "whose hearts are set on pilgrimage". Listen carefully to that because that's a lot of what we're thinking. "They pass through the Valley of Baka," which is a word that means "Valley of Tears". "They make it a place of springs, and the autumn rains also cover it with pools, and they go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion".
It's the most marvelous picture because it says, "They go from strength to strength". You can hear the steps there. Their hearts are set on pilgrimage, so they know the direction they're going. They know the destination that they're going. Ours is the heavenly Jerusalem. Theirs was the earthly Jerusalem, and, "They just went from strength to strength," 'cause sometimes they think, "Man, we still got 40 miles to go, and we've got, like, six-year-olds and adults acting like six-year-olds," which is so much worse. Can we admit to that? "And how are we gonna make, we go from strength to strength. That's the only way I'm makin' it. How about you"?
You know what psalm starts the psalms of ascent? 120. I want you to look with me at 120 because this is where it begins. Somebody is gonna so relate because, let me tell ya something, if you're in this place right now, you are at your beginning. You are about to step into a different place, and I'm hoping that all of us are because, no matter where we are, whether you're brand-new in the faith or you're very seasoned in the faith, here's what I can tell you: None of us have arrived at a place of ultimate intimacy with God and insight into his Word in the spirit of wisdom and revelation that we could have if he so willed, so there's always a stepping up, but somebody's right here, right now, and this is where it began. It'll go like this: "In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me". It starts with distress. "Rescue me from lying lips and a deceitful tongue".
Anybody just sick of lying people? "What will he give you, and what will he do to you, you deceitful tongue? A warrior's sharp arrows with burning charcoal. What misery that I have stayed in Meshech, that I've lived among the tents of Kedar. I have dwelt too long with those who hate peace". Listen, there's no better indication that we need to go to the Lord, then, when we look around us, whether in our city, in our town, in our school, in our workplace, in our church, in our home, in our marriage, in our marriage bed, and say, "What misery that I have stayed"? Anybody? You'll not wanna hold your hand up on that one. That's where it begins, and here's the beauty of it: There's a going in our staying. You get to do that. Maybe if you think, "I need to stay in my marriage," but everything in you is wanting to go. Go, go, go to God.
You think, "Oh, please, Beth". No, I mean it. Start a journey right there with him that, "Lord, if I can't bolt here", I'm not talkin' about, y'all, I must always say a disclaimer. I'm not talking about an abusive situation. That's what you need to get out of. I'm talking about your normal, run-of-the-mill, "I'm miserable where I am. In my city, in my town, in my group, in my school, in my home, in my marriage, I'm just miserable. I'm just miserable. Well, how can I bolt and not leave? I can go on a fresh pilgrimage with God". I wanna read to you Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip. Your Protector will not slumber. Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep. The Lord protects you. The Lord is a shelter right by your side. The sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all harm. He will protect your life. The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forevermore".
I wish we could just stay on this topic for a minute but that, if we could see it in Hebrew, and I can't read Hebrew, but my girl, one of my daughters, can. But I've studied. I study secondary sources all the time, and it's, just, it's narrative art. The thing about the Word of God, it's also true in Greek, but it is certainly true in Hebrew. It's not just what God said. It's how he said it, and the psalms, they're masterpieces. So what this psalm is doing is it's taking a ladder up to a platform, a peak, and then it's going to take it back down, and 5A is the peak of the ladder, and it really is the thrust of the pilgrim psalms.
You would've heard it in Psalm 124. The highlight of it, the climactic point of Psalm 121, is when it says, "The Lord is your keeper". There's only two Hebrew words there. There's not even a verb there. It's just "Lord" and "keeper," "yours," "yours," and it's at the very top of it, everything works up to that point, and then everything works down from that point, but the whole concept is, "The Lord is the one who keeps you". I don't know what those words mean to you tonight, but I want you, if you would, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to let that truth in, "The Lord, the Lord is my keeper". "The Lord is my keeper".