George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 125

1. Structure

With God, security
Without God, insecurity
With God, security

2. A psalm of Hezekiah

They that trust in the Lord: 2 Chron. 32:7,8. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord more than any of the kings of Judah either before or after him (2 Kings 18:5).

As mount Zion, which cannot be removed. The inviolability of Jerusalem, and of those who trust in the Lord, is the same. This is certainly not always true, but it was quite sensationally true in the great experience of Hezekiah’s reign (Isa. 31:5; Psa. 48:1-3,11-14). Zion is the original “house built upon a rock” (Matt. 7:24,25). “And the floods came... and beat upon that house” (Psa. 124:4,5; Isa. 8:7,8!); “and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock” — and that Rock was the Lord. (On a spiritual level, mount Zion is synonymous with the new covenant in Christ: Heb. 12:18-25; Gal. 4:24-26 — which certainly is also appropriate here.)
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem. In what sense can the immediate mountains about the Holy City be regarded as her defense? Certainly not by their height alone, for though ten times higher than the little “hills” on which Rome is built, none of the adjacent mountains (not even Olivet) has any great elevation above the city itself. However, Jerusalem is situated in the center of a mountainous region. Rugged peaks and narrow passes secure the city against any rapid invasion by a large force. And as the city is approached, a network of deep ravines and valleys further breaks up the terrain. Finally, the old city itself is a peninsula of land, immediately surrounded on three sides by steep valleys (at least, this was so before some of the valleys were considerably filled in by the debris of the centuries) (W.M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, pp. 667,668). But geography, while interesting in its own way, is not the truth upon which the spiritual lesson is imposed: By whatever figure employed, God alone is the defender of His city.

So the Lord is round about his people. There will come a time when the mountains are no longer round about, and the people of Jerusalem are no longer preserved (Zech. 14:1-3). But in Hezekiah’s day, the Glory of the Lord was round about, precisely as in 2 Kings 6:17 (cp. Zech. 2:4,5).
The rod of the wicked = Asshur, or Assyria (Isa. 10:5,15,24; 9:4; 30:31), lifted up by God Himself against a wicked Judah. The word there, as here, is shebet, or “scepter”, signifying the exercise of authority. But the rod of the wicked shall not rest or remain upon the lot of the righteous:

“O my people that dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod... for yet a very little while (as 26:20), and the indignation shall cease” (10:24,25).

In a re-enactment of the first Passover, the faithful shut themselves in their house — in this case, Jerusalem — the doorposts of their hearts sprinkled with the blood of faith (Heb. 10:22). All around them is darkness, but in the presence of the prophet and king there is divine light. In the morning the faithful awake to a new freedom: their vaunted oppressors lie silent in death:

“O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us [i.e., the Assyrian lords]... they are dead, they shall not live [i.e., the Assyrian army]... thou hast visited and destroyed them [by the Angel of death]... (but) thy dead men [like the fatally ill Hezekiah] shall live... Awake and sing [the Songs of Degrees!]” (Isa. 26:13,14,19).

Lest the righteous people put forth their hands unto iniquity. The phrase “put forth” suggests that the “iniquity” was turning in prayer to the “gods” of the heathen, as Ahaz had done (2 Chron. 28:16-25). At the height of the crisis, it would be a sore temptation to buy peace and easy treatment by forsaking Yahweh for Asshur.
Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, that is, to those who hold in firm allegiance to Thee, the God of Israel. And here “Do good, O Lord” means: ‘Answer the prayers of these faithful ones.’ (This was a favorite theme and prayer of Nehemiah: 2:8,18; 5:19; 13:14,31.)
As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity. The special righteousness and faith and trust of Hezekiah still was not enough to command the loyalty of all his subjects (Isa. 32:4-7; 33:3; 30:16). There were even among his counsellors (did Hezekiah choose them?) men of decidedly different characters — men who wove spider webs of intrigue and double-dealing diplomacy (Isa. 30:1), men who with silver tongues urged compromises that would turn Israel aside from godly paths (vv. 9-11). Such ministers were never completely eradicated in the best of times; it was probably during Hezekiah’s long illness and confinement that they undid most of his good reforms, and suggested and implemented the various Gentile alliances that so weakened Judah.

Chief among such traitors (no other word fits half as well!) was Shebna (22:15). Shebna is condemned by Isaiah as a prominent representative of false security and luxury in a time of national trouble, when true Israelites should have been afflicting their souls. His end is not expressly recorded in the Bible, but (unless he repented) it surely fulfilled in some way the scathing prophecy of Isaiah: that any flight would be fruitless, since he was destined to be led forth to captivity and death in a strange country (22:17,18). So this subtle serpent was at last publicly displayed by God for what he was, and was led away with other “workers of iniquity” to the place of his death.

But peace shall be upon Israel. The psalmist returns to the concluding theme of other cycles in the Songs of Degrees: the entire nation sharing in the peace upon Jerusalem (122:6-8; 128:6). Paul seems to quote this verse:

“And as many as walk according to this rule [i.e., crucifying the flesh and becoming new creatures], peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

It is noteworthy that in this concluding section of his letter, Paul also states that God is not mocked, that a man shall reap whatsoever he has sown (vv. 7-9). Shebna and his kind sowed to the flesh, and at last they reaped the same. Their fleshly circumcisions availed them nothing, for they never became new creatures (v. 15) — they continued to trust in the arm and the mind of the flesh right to the end. But men like Hezekiah were not weary in well-doing. They sowed the seed of faith and watered it with their tears; in due season they reaped the reward (v. 9; Psa. 126:5,6): peace upon Israel (2 Kings 20:19; Isa. 39:8).

3. Messianic fulfillment

An application to the Messiah is made inevitable by the phrases: abideth for ever... from henceforth even for ever.

Trust in the Lord. This is ‘justification by faith’, the matchless experience of those who are found to abide like mount Zion and in mount Zion. Those who become affiliated with Zion will share her destiny: like her, they will “abide” (yashab: to sit down or reign) forever. They will become “pillars” in the glorious millennial temple, and they “shall go no more out” (Rev. 3:12).

Both these psalms and Isaiah ring out with odes to the beauty and desirability of Zion, the city of the great king. She is “beautiful for elevation (RSV: cp. Zech. 14:10,11), the joy of the whole earth” (Psa. 48:2). She is the hill where God will dwell forever (Psa. 68:15,16; 132:13,14). And Isaiah calls upon Zion to awake from her slumber (moral stupor), to shake off the dust (of mourning), to loose herself from the yoke (of Assyria), and to put on once again her beautiful garments (the priestly robes, symbols of holiness and divine fellowship). His is the cry of victory at the vanquishing of the murderous oppressors from the north:

“For henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean” (52:1,2).
For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity. Here is a practical illustration of the principle stated by Paul:

“God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).

We are such frail creatures that it would be no great difficulty for God so to multiply our trials that hope and joy would be crushed beyond recovery, and we would be led in despair to forsake righteousness and follow iniquity. But God does not do this; instead, by a delicate balance, He places His children in the testing fire only long enough to purge out the dross, but not so long as to consume them. The trials of our faith are but for a moment alongside eternity (2 Cor. 4:17,18), and they serve an indispensable end: the perfection of godly characters that will be of everlasting use to the Father (Prov. 3:11,12; Heb. 12:5-11). Let us take our cue from these records of God’s dealings with His nation.

“All these things happened unto them for types; and they are written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11).

Perhaps we may in time approach the divine ideal of rejoicing in our tribulations, seeing in them not present distress but future glory (Rom. 5:3; Matt. 5:10-12).
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