Following on from Psalm 124, a question. What about when bad things happened in the lives of the people of Israel? How relevant then were the words of our previous Psalm? If the background to this psalm was, as mentioned last time, 2 Samuel 5, when God enabled David to defeat the attacking Philistines, then it appears that the background of Psalm 125 is much later. Possibly, after the destruction of the nation of Israel by Babylon and at a time when some had returned to Jerusalem, but they were still ruled over by the Persian empire.
So, was God no longer on their side?
The author of Psalm 125 does not appear to believe that God has changed his mind concerning them. He is still acting on their behalf, being faithful to all that he taught them concerning his covenant and the requirements for them to live by as faithful followers of the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). Consider his words in this yet another of the song of ascents.
1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and forevermore.
3 The scepter of the wicked will not remain
over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use
their hands to do evil.
4 Lord, do good to those who are good,
to those who are upright in heart.
5 But those who turn to crooked ways
the Lord will banish with the evildoers.
Peace be on Israel.
When the people of God entered the Promised Land, the initiative had all been with Yahweh, the Holy One who had chosen and saved them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Their part of the covenant between them and God was to be obedient and faithful to Him. His laws were for their benefit and blessing, not their salvation (see quote from Chris Wright in a previous Post in my introduction to Psalm 119 – Post # 332).
Sadly, the people often strayed from God’s ways, and yet God remained faithful. There is a good illustration of this truth in God’s words just before the people entered the Promised land.
5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:5-6)
Sadly, despite all that God had done for them, Israel was often a stiff-necked people, and had to face the consequences of this by facing God’s discipline of them, even sending them into exile. But in order to accomplish what he swore to [their] fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God remained faithful to His word, even bringing them back to Jerusalem. And that seems to be the background to Psalm 125.
This “corporate prayer-psalm” has a “confessions of trust (vv. 1-3)” and an “admonition (v. 5)” warning people of the consequences of failing to walk in God’s ways. (# 4)
Again (as in Psalm 121), the “mountains” are used as a picture in verse 1-2 of God’s ability to care for his people.
And this promise is even in the midst of the presence of the scepter [rule] of the wicked, who will be removed from ruling over God’s people, as they eventually were. One reason for this being to prevent them influencing the people to do evil (v. 3).
So, this psalm speaks of security for the people of God. But, as Broyles says, “This security is obviously conditional… The categories used for God’s people in this psalm are very telling. The opening verses stress the relationship: “those who trust in the Lord” and “his people.” The rest of the psalm uses moral categories primarily: the righteous (as opposed to the wicked), those who are good and upright in heart. This final qualification of the heart shows that we should be looking for more than mere good deeds. Thus, the petition, “do good, O Lord, to those who do good,” while explicitly addressed to Yahweh, also contains s warning to the congregation who over hears… Nationality or ethnicity does not guarantee Yahweh’s favor – one must maintain a relationship to Yahweh and a moral heart.” (# 4)
In the Book of Acts, Peter said:
34 “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right… [this being] the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:34)
Longman concludes that, “like Psalm 121, Psalm 125 can be a model prayer for the Christian’s confidence in the protection offered by God through Jesus Christ.” (# 30) And if you need more encouragement, then read Romans 8, particularly vv. 28-39.