Compassion and mercy are recurring themes that come to mind as we continue to examine and explore the Psalms that form what is traditionally known as the “Great Hallel.” We maintain our focus on the “Songs of Ascent.” Sung and recited by Israelites on their pilgrimage to participate in annual festivals, the “Songs of Ascent” shape the substantial majority of the “Great Hallel.”
Hallel is an ancient word meaning praise.
In this installment of our “Psalm Saturday” series, we turn our eyes to Psalm 123 and Psalm 124. In these two psalms, we hear the writer calling on God’s compassion and mercy, recognizing the hand of God in our lives, and seeing the heart of the Lord caring for us as we travail through life’s trials and tribulations. Throughout our lives, God has compassion for us and shows us mercy. He is perfect in all His ways. As we travel on our spiritual journey, we must continually look to God for His sustenance and protection, especially from Satan and his evil cronies. As the Apostle Paul reminds us at the end of his letter to the Ephesians, our battle is not simply against flesh and blood, but against the dark spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:11). During times of spiritual battle, we desperately need God’s compassion and mercy to deliver us from the wily grasp of an enemy bent on destroying our witness and defiling our testimony.
A song of ascents.
1 I lift my eyes to You,
the One enthroned in heaven.
2 Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand,
like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand,
so our eyes are on the Lord our God
until He shows us favor.
3 Show us favor, Lord, show us favor, for we’ve had more than enough contempt.
4 We’ve had more than enough
scorn from the arrogant
and contempt from the proud.
The Israelites needed a big dose of God’s compassion and mercy because they were being threatened and ridiculed for their faith and trust in the Lord. In this psalm, the writer’s posture is one of humility as he cries out to the Lord for deliverance from Israel’s enemies. The psalmist felt the Israelite’s enemies encroaching from every corner and crevice, seeking to destroy them. He sought to draw on the powerful hand of God to help Israel seize victory over its enemies.
Mercy is rooted in God’s compassion and patience. Mercy is a central theme throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, mercy is seen by the very existence of God’s covenant between Him and the people of Israel. The Lord showered Israel with mercy, freely and on His own accord, without any prior obligation to do so. He did it because it pleased Him to do so. Similarly, in the New Testament, we see God’s mercy in the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus Christ. Because of God’s divine compassion on us, we can experience forgiveness. This is a sign of God’s mercy, because we did not deserve it nor did we earn it. He extends His mercy to us solely because it pleases Him to do so. Following the Lord’s demonstration of mercy, you and I can extend forgiveness to others, even though we might argue they don’t deserve it.
Today, as believers, we can experience ridicule and threats because of our beliefs. In what practical ways can you and I draw on God’s strength to lead us to victory over our spiritual enemies? How does living life readily showing mercy testify to the work of the Lord in transforming our hearts and minds and lead us to victory in the battle for people’s souls?
A Davidic song of ascents.
1 If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
2 If the Lord had not been on our side
when men attacked us,
3 then they would have swallowed us alive
in their burning anger against us.
4 Then the waters would have engulfed us;
the torrent would have swept over us;
5 the raging waters would have swept over us.
6 Praise the Lord,who has not let us be ripped apart by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the hunter’s net;
the net is torn, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of Yahweh,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
In Psalm 124, we hear David voicing praise to God for preventing the surrounding pagan nations from defeating Israel and delivering the people from potential assimilation at the hands of their enemies. The nations threatening Israel were enemies David could see and lay his eyes on. But, as the New Testament writers like Peter and Paul make clear to us, our enemies aren’t always plainly visible. The Apostle Peter describes our spiritual enemies as our “adversary the Devil,” who is “prowling” and “roaring,” seeking for souls to devour. Satan delights in destroying us because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Defeating us gives the Devil victory in his spiritual battle with God, so he preys on us in hopes of deafening our testimony to God’s glory. Thankfully, the hand of God is upon us, delivering us from the sting of death and the agony of defeat (1 Corinthians 15).
You and I don’t have to fight our battles alone. God is by our side. The Lord is filled with compassion and rich in His mercy. By showing mercy to others, we give God glory and we gain victory in the spiritual battle for the souls of entire nations. We should strive to always be ready to forgive quickly, even when it is hard and difficult to do, bearing in mind the great cost God paid in forgiving us.
A merciful God informs our worship. Because of the Lord’s compassion and mercy, you and I have much to sing God’s praises about on Sunday morning. May that thought lift your voices in your congregation this week and every week going forward. He is worthy of praise because His mercy is great and His love endures forever!
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Blackaby, Henry, and King, Claude A. (1994). Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Broadman and Holman Publishers. Nashville, Tennessee.
Getz, Gene A. (2011). Life Essentials Bible: Principles to Live By. Holman Bible Publishers. Nashville, Tennessee.
Lockyer, Herbert (1966). All the Books and Chapters of the Bible. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Randel, Don Michael (2003) The Harvard Dictionary of Music. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Tomlin, Chris, and Whitehead, David. (2017). Holy Roar: 7 Words That Will Change the Way You Worship. Thomas Nelson Publishing. Nashville, Tennessee.
White, James F. (1993) A Brief History of Christian Worship. Abingdon Press. Nashville.
Bob Utley’s Free Bible Commentary
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