Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sermon: Psalm 125 Peace Be Upon Israel

How can we know peace in the midst of this world? Where does our security lie? These are the questions that our Psalm answers tonight.

Throughout these summer evenings, we’re looking at the Songs of Ascents, the Psalms sung by the pilgrims as they travelled up to Jerusalem. As they walk along, the view in the distance of Jerusalem sets them off with another Psalm which speaks of security, goodness and peace.

Verses one and two present us with two similes, two word pictures of the security for God’s people. Three gives the reason, or the purpose for this security, and then four and five present the two ways to live, two alternatives for living, in the form of a prayer. It all drives towards the final line, the climax of the Psalm, ‘Peace be upon Israel.’

Let’s look at the pathway to peace then. Verse 1 shows the first simile. ‘Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.’ As the pilgrims journey closer to Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, they can see Jerusalem sitting up on the horizon, in a fixed position, secure. Mount Zion is presented as the simile for the people of God, ‘those who trust in the LORD.’

Do we see the significance of this? So often it appeared that the Jews thought that they were God’s people simply because of ancestry, who their father and grandfather etc was... But here it’s clear that it is those who trust in the LORD who are God’s people. It’s not enough to be part of the ‘right’ family, or even to be in church. We must be trusting in the LORD.

And as we trust in the LORD, we have this image of being immovable, established, abiding forever. What a great promise! As we go into verse two, we can see exactly why this is so.

You see, Jerusalem was sitting on top of a hill / mountain, and yet, it was surrounded by higher mountains all around. ‘As the mountains surround Jerusalem...’ The geographical landscape helped Jerusalem be protected from enemies (just think of how David captured the city in the first place in 2 Samuel 5 - by going up the water shaft (sewer?)). And yet that wasn’t the reason for Jerusalem’s security. Rather, the mountains were just a picture of the real protection: ‘As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.’

The mountains point to the LORD’s protection, watching over his people, like a hedge or a fence around them. This is why those who trust in the LORD cannot be moved - because the LORD guards them.

This protection is seen demonstrated as we move into verse 3. ‘For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous.’ The threat of outsiders is maybe what you immediately think of here - given that the LORD is the protection of his people. But as we think about the history of Israel and Judah, we see that there was plenty of wickedness in the homegrown kings, without needing to import any in from elsewhere. Just think of Ahaz (who burned his son as an offering 2 Kings 16:3), or Manasseh (who rebuilt the altars his father had destroyed 2 Kings 21:3). How can the Psalmist say that the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest on the land?

The key is in the word rest - which the NIV translates ‘remain’. The sceptre of the wicked shall not remain on the land. Yes, evil kings will rise up, as they have done, but they will not remain, and will not prosper for long. As the Psalm expresses the ideal situation for Israel, and admits that things are not as they should be, the long view is taken. God’s people cannot be moved, but abide forever. The LORD surrounds his people forevermore.

The reason why the LORD surrounds his people and will not allow the sceptre of the wicked to rest on the land is ‘lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.’ If evil men prosper and are in charge, then the righteous may be drawn into their evil. To prevent this from happening, the LORD does not permit wicked men to rule for long.

Think back over the kings of Israel and Judah. Even the good ones were bad. David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Josiah, Hezekiah. The kings failed, and were in some ways wicked. But the good news is that God has a king who will not fail, whose sceptre is not wicked, whose kingdom is good and true and pure and right and just.

Just as the LORD protects his people, so the Lord Jesus, the Christ (the anointed one) is King over his people. If Jesus is our king, how can we stretch out our hands to do evil? It happens, yes, sadly, we still sin, but our desire is to please him. We’re not being led astray by our king.

As we move towards the end of the Psalm, the two ways to live are placed side by side, in comparison, as the Psalmist cries out a prayer to the LORD, the king. ‘Do good, o LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel!’

Two ways to live - those who are good and upright, and those who turn aside, the evildoers. Given the two categories of people, I wonder where you put yourself? Or where you hope you are? Few people would describe themselves as the evildoers - we like to think of ourselves as the good and upright (maybe even the decent!).

Yet as we look at the Psalm, we have to admit that we find ourselves in the second category. That’s where we are - those who turn aside in crooked ways. But the good news is that we don’t have to stay there. There is a way to be good and upright, but it doesn’t come through being good and doing good. No, rather, the only way to be good is, as the Psalm highlighted at the start, to trust in the LORD. As we trust in the LORD, we are brought from the way of destruction to the way of life. Not because of ourselves, but through the grace and goodness of our God and Saviour.

Yet others remain on the path of wickedness, turning aside on their crooked ways. If you can imagine the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, they tread the narrow way. the path is sure, but if they turn off and go their own way, then they completely miss the blessings of Jersualem. The end result of their turning away is to be completely led away, in the company of other evildoers. As CS Lewis once wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”

Verses 4 and 5 together sit as a prayer. It’s more obvious in 4 than 5, and yet they sit together. ‘Do good, O LORD, to those who are good’ - we’re asking God to do something for his people. Similarly, verse 5 may be asking the LORD to deal with the evildoers, asking him to lead them astray.

And so we come to the final petition. Peace be upon Israel! This peace, the Shalom, is more than the absence of conflict, but is more positive, speaking of wholeness, contentment, satisfaction. Again, this peace comes from the LORD, and is rooted in his protection, his kingly rule, and his grace to sinners, turning them into the upright of heart.

Do you know that peace tonight? Paul applies it in Galatians 6 to those who are a new creation through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you will know that peace in your heart tonight, and throughout this summer.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 5th July 2009

1 comment :

  1. Hi All,

    This is quick appeal for sermons on Reconciliation and Forgiveness for our Peace Sunday that comes up on the 19th of September in commemoration of International Day of Peace. Africa Youth Ministries is working with various churches in Post War Northern Uganda in this regard. AYM will be hosting over 100 Pastors on a dinner on the 18th of Sept 2010 on this matter. For details on this subject visit us at and also you can visit our Global Peace Games page a great opportunity to minister to war affected Children and Youth at

    You can donate video sermons, on forgiveness and reconciliation as as movies or films on the same. Our preference is in DVD format. They can quickly be mailed to

    Africa Youth Ministries
    P.O. BOX 20029,
    Jerusalem Avenue 002, Off Airport Road