Ascending into the Presence of God
The Psalms (songs) of ascent, Psalms 120-134, have drawn me into their mystique for some time now. I think this is partly because these Psalms invite you to use your holy imagination and enter into and participate in the adventure and joy of Israel’s tri-festival pilgrimage unto Jerusalem each year. Because believers today know and experience the incarnational reality of Christ, it is sometimes difficult to fully appreciate what these annual journeys represented to the people of Israel. For them, the very presence of almighty God dwelt in the Holy of Holies in their temple in Jerusalem. These festivals represented opportunities to truly ascend into the very presence of God.
Although they worshiped the Lord wherever they were, to be able to come unto the very site of the manifested presence of Jehovah God was particularly unique and thrilling. The aspect of corporate worship must have been particularly appealing since most of their worship was individual and family oriented. Although feasting was a big part of these annual treks, this was really more a time of festive covenant renewal, memorializing and rededication before the Lord.
It was the three principal feasts of Israel, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, which generated the annual pilgrimages unto Jerusalem. Since the city was built in the Judean Mountains with an elevation of 2500 feet, the journeys naturally involved an ascent to the temple. The whole idea of ascension in these pilgrimages resonates wonderfully with the thought of rising into all that Christ died for us to become in him. We are told that we have been raised with Christ and seated with him in heavenly places. That is our spiritual position. Our pilgrimage is in how we walk out the reality of that position in our daily lives. As we face and engage the difficulties, trials and tribulations of everyday life and choose to apply Christ honoring scriptural responses, we are literally ascending unto Him, we are coming more and more into his glorious presence in reality.
I believe that each of the 15 Psalms of ascent offer us some aspect of direction and encouragement on our pilgrimage. In the remainder of this multi-part article I will be addressing what I believe to be a message for our ascent from each Psalm. This will not be an effort to literally exegete the Psalm per se but rather to share that which the Lord has placed in my heart as a key take-a-way meant to propel us on our respective journeys. As we inculcate the essence of each Song, we will be singing our way into the gloriously elevated presence of our Lord.
Psalm 120 KJV
In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.
Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.
It is so very appropriate that this Psalm commence the journey as it deals directly with one of the most fundamental aspects of our relationship with God. For me, this song is all about one’s absolute love of truth and total abhorrence of deception. Here the psalmist literally cries out to God in great distress seeking deliverance from the milieu of lies in which he appears to reside. Although the first several verses address the issue of truth and dealing with lies and deception, and the later verses with peace and war, there is a correlation between them. Truth relates to peace and deceit is a corollary to war. In other words, peace is the fruit of those who embrace truth while those who practice deception and harbor lies are virtually at war.
All lying and deception engenders great distress in those who love and honor truth in all things. Truth is absolutely fundamental in determining the kind of relationships we will form. There are three basic categories of relationships for all persons—with God, with oneself and with others. The depth and meaningfulness of our relationships in each of these areas is directly conditioned by the degree of integrity we bring to those alliances. This triumvirate of relationships is depicted in Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question regarding the greatest commandment.
Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37-39 NKJV
David was described as a man after God’s own heart. This means that at the very core of David’s life his profoundest desire was to follow the Lord and please him in all his ways. Even so, David fell into moral failure in his relationship with Bathsheba and faced terrible consequences with the loss of his child. However, as we read through Psalm 51, a Psalm of deep sorrow and repentance, we can see that David still understood the value God put on truth in the hearts of his children.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Ps 51:6 NASB
David’s moral failure notwithstanding, we can see in God’s response to his son Solomon that the Lord’s assessment of David’s life of integrity was the standard to which he also called Solomon.
Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’
1 Kings 9:4,5 NKJV
Loving, honoring, embracing truth from the heart lays the foundation for the quality, depth and meaningfulness of all our relationships. This high standard begins with being utterly truthful with ourselves. The ability to do this is predicated on hearing God’s voice to our hearts just as Jesus did when he arose from those baptismal waters of Jordon. “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” This was the Father communicating his unmitigated, unconditional love to his son, establishing in him a foundation upon which he would build everything in his life. In pronouncing his love, the Father was ascribing unto his son worth that would set him eternally free from ever having to falsely or artificially pursue significance in his life. Satan’s attempt in the wilderness temptation was primarily meant to attack and destroy in Jesus this foundational truth represented at his baptism.
Scripture tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. This is Father God saying the same thing to us as he did to Jesus; we are endowed with the unsurpassable love of God, a love that is given unconditionally. Loving us this way is God acting out of his purest and most defining nature—God is love. In offering us his love in this way he is ascribing to us unsurpassable worth even as he did for Jesus.
Undermining our confidence in the truth of God’s love and the accompanying ascribed worth is at the heart of most all advertising. Most ads are designed to make us feel that our sense of significance and value will be enhanced if we embrace the products being offered. Only by knowing ourselves the beloved in Christ can we resist Satan’s lies, be set free from pursuing our own sense of significance and be free to reflect and release the Father’s love through loving all others unconditionally and freely ascribing worth to them.
In addition to his distress from being among liars, the Psalmist describes the tragedy of living among the people of Meshech and Kedar. It is doubtful that David literally lived among these particular nomadic tribes given their extreme remoteness from Jerusalem. They simply represent evil society, a culture that always seemed to want war and eschewed peace. This Psalm is replete with parallels to our current geopolitical circumstances today. We are presently witnessing some of the most divisive and violent attitudes and behavior our nation has ever seen. Rarely before have we known the vitriolic rage being pumped out through our mainstream media. Sadly, we are also seeing truth as a major casualty in many major arenas of concern for our nation.
Why is it that we can’t seem to simply discuss issues rather than collapse into the morass of vitriolic rancor? What is really behind all the misinformation and outright lies regarding the so-called Covid-19 pandemic? Why are so many Internet and social media sites being censored, demonetized and deplatformed? What has become of true journalism when mass media was once the watchdog rather than the lapdog of our political structures? In a nutshell, truth has become the victim of individuals’ and group entity’s particular agendas. Having one’s own way appears to trump knowing and living the truth of a matter. The extraordinary widespread fraud perpetrated across the nation in this presidential election more than accentuates and verifies the verity of this statement.
When truth is sacrificed to personal or corporate whims, the perpetrating individuals and entities become the real victims of their own perfidy. The Bible tells us that… “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of hell.” We are also warned that all that is done in secret will one day be shouted from the housetops. In Jesus’ second coming, Satan is going to be uncovered and exposed along with all his deception and evil deeds. As this is happening we are all going to be called to answer for our stance regarding truth. Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica included an ominous warning in this regard…
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence
so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged
who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 2 Thess 2:11,12 NASB
This has to be one of the most sobering passages in the Bible. Loving unrighteousness more than truth results in being judged with a spirit of deception. I can’t imagine being in a worse state.
Let me conclude by reminding us what Jesus conveyed in saying, “I am the way, the truth and the Life.” In stating this Jesus was pronouncing himself as the personification of truth itself. This means that in whatever manner we reject the truth, we are in fact rejecting Christ.
In our pilgrimage unto the kingdom of God, like David of old, we establish our intent, our direction and our tenacity by despising all that is deceptive and false and by loving, embracing and living all that is truth and righteousness. May we always be able to say…
For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth.
Psalm 26:3 NKJV