A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,(Ps. 123:1-4 NIV)
for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.
This is a prayer for deliverance from a beleaguered soul who is emotionally spent because he has been the brunt of taunts and insults and mockery from scoffers who hate God and hold believers in utter contempt. Christianity has been portrayed as outmoded by an aggressive public relations campaign. This has only intensified in recent decades as the church has sought to win the world’s admiration—and the prevailing view in our culture today is that if you truly believe the Bible is the Word of God, you are worthy of the utmost scorn.
The prophets and saints and psalmists of the Old Testament regularly had to endure persecution— and they often suffered in far more direct and inconvenient ways than you and I do today.
Sorrow is not the theme of this psalm; humble faith is. The true theme is sounded in the opening words, an expression of trust and reliance addressed to the One who is ‘enthroned in the heavens.’ That strong note of confidence sets the context for the rest of the psalm. It is a song about the scorn and contempt of arrogant unbelievers, but with the sovereignty of God in view. It’s not a hopeless complaint, but an expression of the psalmist’s conviction that God is sovereign even when it seems the scoffers have the upper hand. This is a song about faith that defies even relentless persecution.
The word ‘eyes’ appears four times in the first two verses—and the emphasis is on looking up, toward the heavens (where the Lord is enthroned) with hopeful, expectant eyes. ‘I lift up my eyes to you’, ‘our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy upon us.’ Look up—especially when your spirit is downcast.
Though the psalmist is troubled, he doesn’t actually mention what his trouble is until the end. Again, this psalm is about his trust in God, not about the troubles.
Here the Psalmist is looking beyond the hills (Ps 121), into heaven, where God is on His throne, unthreatened by the rage of the heathen against Him, unchallenged by their rebellion, seemingly unperturbed by the relentless scorn of so much worldly contempt.
The psalmist understood that even in the midst of this relentless assault, feeling as if he is drowning in the contempt of the wicked, he sounds a note of praise.
The opening verse of the psalm, with this bold declaration of God’s sovereignty, sets the tone for the whole Psalm. God is sovereign. He is ‘enthroned in heaven!’ That puts the scoffers in proper perspective. The psalmist recognizes that truth. In fact, he says, that’s why he has lifted up his eyes—not merely in worship and adoration, but in expectant willingness to obey.
The servant waits patiently for the master’s direction. He knows it is not his role to tell the Master what is to be done. It speaks of implicit trust. When the Master is dealing with his adversaries, the slave doesn’t need to understand or concur with his Master’s strategy; it would be inappropriate for him to interfere in any way, even if he himself becomes the brunt of the enemy’s insults or abuse. His only job is to wait on his master. And that is what the psalmist recognizes in verse 2.
The psalmist is looking beyond the reproach of these scoffers, anticipating the reward. He understands that God is sovereign. These sneering adversaries of all that is holy are nothing before the sovereign Lord of all the universe. That knowledge enables him to put himself, his adversaries, and his own suffering in proper perspective. So, his prayer is a modest prayer for mercy for himself—not an angry demand for vengeance against his persecutors.
The psalmist is the supplicant, and from the opening words to the final verse, the whole song is a prayer addressed to God. The voice shifts from first person singular in verse 1 to first person plural in verse 2. He is praying not only on his own behalf, but as an intercessor for all the people of God.
At the end of the psalm, we learn the nature of the trouble that has prompted this prayer for God’s grace. They had endured no end of trouble. The best place to make this lament is in the presence of the Lord.
Lord help us to be aware of the need to pray for others even when we ourselves have our own grief and trouble. Lord help us to understand in a humble way that we are Your bond slaves. As the Master You have the right to rule in our lives and our only option is obedience. Lord help us to see that we need to bow down and worship because You have redeemed us. Help us we pray in the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.