One of my favorite movies is a John Ford classic (1956) starring John Wayne. It’s called “The Searchers,” and it details the search for Debbie Andrews, a little girl captured in an Indian raid. The search goes on for a dozen years, led by a man, Ethan Andrews, who is really searching for something more than a lost girl. He’s searching for peace and joy in his heart and life. The closing scene of the movie gives the meaning of the “Search” in a song:
“A man will search his heart and soul, go searchin’ way out there, his peace of mind he knows he’ll find, but where, O Lord, oh where?”
We’re all searchers, looking for life and peace that can only come as we journey into the presence of God through the powerful work of Jesus Christ in our lives. As followers of Jesus, however, we can be confident in God’s power for the journey.[i]
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” (Psalm 125:1, ESV)
This psalm teaches us that God is the source of strength for His people in times of difficulty.[ii] As we journey through this pilgrim’s life, we can be certain that God will give strength to those who turn to Him in times of trouble.
1. Christ gives us power to stand strong
The pilgrim declares the kind of strength a person has when he places his trust in the Lord.[iii] It’s the kind of trust we have in our “E-Z” chair at home. We can depend upon it to be there. We can depend upon it to hold us. That’s the kind of trust we need to have in our Lord. We abandon ourselves to Him.
God gives us stability to withstand every storm. When we trust in Him, He makes us like Mount Zion.[iv] Like the mountain of God, nothing can shake or move us when we place our lives in His hands. The image continues in verse 2. God gives us comfort in the refuge of His care. God surrounds us with His strong arms, encompassing us in a place of divine comfort and safety.[v] Jesus wraps us up in His arms of comfort and care when we place our lives in His hands – just as the hills surround Zion with their protective care.
2. Living life God’s way gives us power for the journey
In verse 3 the setting of the pilgrim’s song becomes clear. There is an “ungodly force” that oppresses God’s people living in The Land.[vi] Here, the righteous come to the forefront of the song of strength. The righteous are those who are faithful to God in word and in deed.[vii]
Those who are faithful to Christ find an end to the troubles. The pilgrim declares that those who are faithful will see an end to the oppression that they face. The promise of God is that those who are faithful to Him will experience His faithfulness in times of trouble.[viii] There will be an end to the testing times.[ix]
We need to make sure we endure to the end. The ungodliness that oppresses the land is a temptation for God’s people. To be influenced by ungodliness presents a certain struggle for us. But we must endure. We must remain faithful and not fall prey to ungodliness that permeates our culture.[x] We find strength for our journey when we make a commitment each and every day to remain holy, even as God is holy. Jesus warned us, “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold, but he who endures to the end will be delivered” (Matt 24:12-13).
3. The confident expectation that God gives the best life
The pilgrim’s song moves from confidence and assurance to a prayer. This is our prayer for strength today as we face the debilitating distress of a distant journey to the divine embrace. God plants His joy in the hearts of the faithful. We ask the Lord to plant joy in our hearts. The psalmist asks: “Do good, Lord, to those who are good.”[xi] We find strength as the Lord moves through our lives with grace, bringing good to those of us who are devoted to Him. He brings us strength of joy and rejoicing, as a man who once was in a pit but has been delivered finds the strength of joy in the bright light of the sun and the firm foundation of solid rock. Today, we find joy in God’s work of grace in our hearts.
God also brings judgment upon the rebellious. We find strength when we are devoted to Him, but if we turn away from His path, then He will deliver us into judgment. Those who walk in the crooked paths find the discipline of the Lord God upon their lives.
God gives the best of life to His people. Ultimately, we declare that God brings “peace,” the best of life, to those who are His people.[xii] We do not find the best in life for ourselves or for our church when we compromise the will of God. We find peace when we seek the will of God and travel through even the difficult path that His will may lead us.
Dear Jesus, I pray that You would bring the best life my way as I seek to honor You with all that I am. I pray that I might find the power of Your embrace today helping me shine Your glory in this world. I pray that I might live life according to Your purpose and plan so that Your power might surround me at every turn.
[i]Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1965), 52-55.
[ii]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 167-68. Allen suggests that the backdrop of the psalm is post-exilic occupation of Judah by a foreign power. Whether this is the case or not remains tenuous. He writes, “In the course of worship in the temple, Yahweh’s people bring to Him in prayer this situation (cf. Neh. 9:36-37), which is aggravated by the collaboration of certain Jews in flagrant breach of their ancestral faith. It is this faith that is foremost in the worshipers’ prayer.”
[iii]“Trust” [batach] is confidently depending upon Yahweh to secure and strengthen. Hans-Joachim Kraus [Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 445] suggests that these are the people who “rest the hope of their lives entirely on Yahweh.”
[iv]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 167. “In the Songs of Zion Yahweh’s supremacy is described in terms of victory over nations massed against Zion. Their attack is related to the threat of chaotic forces subdued at the creation of the world.” Kraus [Psalms 60-150, 445] suggests that this “is an allusion to ancient traditions that proclaim the unshakable firmness of Zion, the mountain of God.”
[v]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21. “The hills surrounding Zion evoke the comforting thought of encompassing divine arms.”
[vi]Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 444. “Thus a time of foreign rule is to be assumed. Because the song in its style and in its world of thought points to a postexilic time, we must think of a corresponding period.” Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 438. He suggests that it does not necessarily point to “foreign domination: the heathen have no monopoly of sin.”
[vii]L. Allen [Psalms 101-150, 167] suggests that săddîqîm “refers to those in right relationship with Yahweh through the covenant, whose lives are lived in conformity with that relationship.”
[viii]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 168. “Foreign occupation is a travesty of Israel’s traditional theology, which inextricably linked the covenant between Yahweh and the (obedient) people with the gift of the land . . . The people’s sole tenancy is a divinely given privilege to which they may boldly lay claim before Yahweh in an implicit appeal for [H]is intervention. He will surely not allow such profanation to continue lest [H]is people grow weary in their faith and turn away from [H]im in despair.”
[ix]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TDOT (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 438. “Evil is always glad of something to corrupt; and 3b takes this seriously. Cf. the saying in Matthew 24:12 on wickedness and the cooling of love. It must be God who shortens its reign, and we are assured that He will.”
[x]Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 445.
[xi]The hifil imperative of yātăb means to “make glad” which is the resultant state of its alternative meaning, “to do good.” Kraus [Psalms 60-150, 445] states: “May Yahweh mercifully incline to those who lead their lives in uprightness of heart, and may [H]e do good to them.”
[xii]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 438. “By contrast, the final words of the psalm have arrived at peace, not by compromise but by the only road that leads to it [peace]: the way of righteousness.”