George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 123

1. The book of the servant under siege

While the one part of Israel languishes in exile (120) and prays for deliverance (121), their brethren remaining in the Land are experiencing their own peculiar testing: a huge alien force in occupation, the prospect of a protracted siege with all its attendant miseries, and a humiliating and demoralizing “psychological warfare”. In a masterful blend of subtle lies and contemptuous threats, Sennacherib’s chief diplomat Rabshakeh strives to undermine the faith of those who man the battlements (123:4). But the true servants of the Lord (123:2), inspired by the noble Hezekiah and the righteous Isaiah, hold firm to their faith in the God of Israel (124:1,8). In the miraculous deliverance of his people, the Lord reaffirms His supremacy over all “gods” and all armies. Mount Zion is the dwelling place He has chosen (125:1); although Judah lies in ruins, this mountain will be inviolate as long as God decrees. The boastful enemy is swept aside, and once again peace reigns in Israel (125:5).

The repetitive character of these cycles in the Songs of Degrees may be easily seen in the following:

Part I
Part II

1. Distress:
Looking for the Lord

Plea for deliverance

‘Too long’ with the enemy
2. Prayer:
Our help is in the Lord, who

made heaven and earth

He shall preserve us
3. Deliverance
The city Jerusalem

Peace upon Israel

2. Structure

I lift up mine eyes,
Until that He has mercy.

The repetitious character of these few verses is also very marked:

“Have mercy upon us”
“Exceedingly filled”

3. Hezekiah

The waves of Assyrian aggression have reached their zenith; Judah lies smoldering and desolate, and the expeditionary force moves within range of Jerusalem’s walls. At their head rides Rabshakeh, the chief officer of King Sennacherib. His blasphemous speech is a classic of intrigue and insult (Isa. 36:4; 2 Kings 18:19-35), perhaps matched only by Hitler’s diatribes against all right and reason.

Hezekiah unerringly strikes the proper chord of faith. Entering the house of the Lord in sackcloth, he laments: “This is a day of... blasphemy” (Isa. 37:1,3). The profane Rabshakeh has not just threatened a city — he has rashly reproached the living God! Will not God now re-prove the words He has heard? Will He not take action against the one who has rashly lifted up his eyes against the God of Israel (2 Kings 19:22; contrast Psa. 123:1,2)?

Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. It is at this point that we find the setting of our psalm. Hezekiah receives the letter from the messengers, and again he goes to the house of the Lord, where he prays:

“O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who art enthroned above the Cherubim. Thou art the God, thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. Thou hast made heaven and earth... to thee I lift up my eyes, O thou who art enthroned in the heavens” (Isa. 37:16; Psa. 123:1, RSV).

In the midst of a shifting sea of Gentile fortunes, Hezekiah seeks the foundation: the omnipotent Creator of all kingdoms, who exercises final control over them all. This temporary, mortal, earthly king addresses the Great King of Heaven, immortal and invisible, who sits supreme upon His throne, surrounded by His glorious angels.

The king Hezekiah is different from all the kings of the other nations, whom Rabshakeh ridicules (Isa. 37:12,13). He sits in Jerusalem, site of the “heavens” — the most holy place — of the Lord. Here are His cherubim, offering present protection and future hope to those who wait upon Him. Here is the one place upon earth where God has decreed that His name will repose. In this knowledge the king offers his prayer.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us. There is an allusion here to the loyal slave’s attitude in rendering service to his or her master (a wonderful example is the nameless maiden of Naaman’s wife: 2 Kings 5:2,3). Sitting quietly but observingly, the servant is ready to respond immediately at the slightest hand or eye movement of the master or mistress. To do otherwise, to be lazy or inattentive, is to court disfavor or punishment, perhaps even death. But to fulfill the slave’s duty is to win honor and promotion (Prov. 27:18).

The servant also looks to the master for help in time of distress (see vv. 3,4). While the servant sets his eyes upon the Lord (Psa. 33:20; 25:15; 69:3; 130:5,6), he may rest assured knowing that the Lord has set His eyes upon them that fear Him and hope in His mercy (33:18).
Have mercy upon us. The triple repetition is very effective. It measures the intensity of the distress of the king and his people. “Mercy” is a word much used in the Old Testament with reference to God’s Covenants of Promise. These were much to the fore in Hezekiah’s mind at this time — for if this Assyrian campaign should succeed, how could there be fulfillment of the great Promise made to David?
For we are exceedingly filled with contempt... filled with scorning. An allusion to the raucous and brutal scorn of Rabshakeh (Isa. 36:13-20).
Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease. The Hebrew for “ease” has the sense of careless pride or arrogance.

And with the contempt of the proud. There were none so proud and boastful as those Assyrian rulers. The triple reference to this contempt (vv. 3,4) simply had to be matched by a triple ‘have mercy upon us’ (vv. 2,3).

4. Messianic fulfillment

It is appropriate to look for a further reference of this psalm in the Last Days, to the time when the State of Israel is quite overrun by its enemies and all seems hopeless. This will be the time of Jacob’s trouble from which the people will be saved, as in Hezekiah’s day. But the divine rescue will come only when there is repentance in Israel. Such a repentance is a necessary prerequisite (Psa. 81:13,14; Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 30:1-3; 1 Kings 8:44-53; Jer. 4:1,2,14-18; Acts 3:19,20). Scriptures as Ezekiel 35:5,10,12; Revelation 11:10; and Malachi 4:5,6 are also relevant here.

It is significant also that the last assault of brutal Assyria upon Judah was by words and not swords. Much more than the quarrel of a single generation holds our attention in this account. These scenes are a parable of the endless struggle between worldliness and faith, with doubt and despair between them. Rabshakeh plays the cynic, clever and self-confident; there is no God in his heaven and no other like himself. The ranks of the defenders upon the walls of Jerusalem are ourselves, sometimes strong in faith, at other times almost willing to give up the fight for a few tangible rewards now. In the background stands the serene prophet, God’s word in his hand, the righteous king at his side. Scorn and contempt beat against them in waves, but their resolve is firm: by the faith of these two great men, the city is carried through the crisis.

God’s mercy, though a long time coming, is certain. The new morning of Zion’s glad reign is on its way; the dark waves of ignorant aggression will yet become a sea of glass at the word of the Son of God, even as typified by the angelic conquest of Sennacherib’s dread host. Until that day our eyes wait upon the Lord, seeing Him who is far off (Heb. 11:13,27), and our heads are lifted up in expectation of coming redemption (Luke 21:28).
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