A Matter of Degrees

It’s coming up on Sunday and time to go to church meeting. But you’re not feeling very motivated to go. Mostly it’s because of some of the people there. You know how it can be, the bossy sister who always has unsolicited advice, the brother who seems to only see people’s faults (especially “the young people”). Maybe it’s just you, or maybe just your congregation. What to do?

Back in the days of Moses, God set up his seven feasts in Jerusalem. In particular he said, “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD (Ex 23:7)”. Everyone had to leave home and go to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. Psalm 120 through Psalm 134 are each denoted as “A Song of Degrees,” and it has been suggested that these psalms were sung by the children of Israel as they went up to Jerusalem and then up to the temple. The first one doesn’t sound very promising:

Psalm 120 [A Song of degrees.]
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.

“I’m OK, it’s all those other people!” You can hear the conversations: “Those men from Gad think they’re really something. And don’t get me started on the Judeans. They act like they’re the only ones who know what God wants. Boy, it’s going to be long trip.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? After being away from God’s people for any length of time, even a week, we can begin to dwell on a lot of negative aspects of our experiences with them.

But we can turn our eyes to the Lord as the next Psalm reminds us:

Psalm 121 [A Song of degrees.]
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

You get to the church/chapel and you head inside and you see your brethren and sisters and think about why you’re there. The next psalm takes a different tone:

Psalm 122 [A Song of degrees of David.]
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, [and] prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace [be] within thee.
Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.

Why are you there? For “the testimony,” “to give thanks unto the Lord.” In spite of any misgivings, you can take up the attitude in the last two verses, “For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace [be] within thee. Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.” After all, it’s not “my” church or even “our” church, it is “the house of the Lord.” It’s what Paul wrote to remind Timothy, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim 3:15)”

The next one takes it a bit further. Psalm 123:3 says, “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.” Turn your critical eye upon yourself, and you will see again that we need the Lord’s mercy because of our OWN shortcomings. Jeremiah wrote, “[It is of] the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. [They are] new every morning: great [is] thy faithfulness. (Lam 3:22-23)” Even as believers we must depend on God’s mercy to keep our heart right.

Psalm 124 ends with, “Our help [is] in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Three psalms back it was MY help that came from the Lord; now it is OUR help. Psalm 126:3 says, “The LORD hath done great things for us; [whereof] we are glad.” What an improvement! Instead of “I am this” and “they are that,” it is all of us together, recipients of God’s goodness and grace, and together we are glad. When we get to Psalm 133, look how different things are:

Psalm 133 [A Song of degrees of David.]
Behold, how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity!
[It is] like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, [even] Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew of Hermon, [and as the dew] that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, [even] life for evermore.

Now we remember why we’re here! To give thanks to the Lord for what he has done for us, and to enjoy the fellowship of the saints. It’s good, it’s pleasant, it is precious! We can turn our eyes away from ourselves to the one who alone is worthy. So we can end with the last psalm in the group:

Psalm 134 [A Song of degrees.]
Behold, bless ye the LORD, all [ye] servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
Lift up your hands [in] the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

I’ll bet by then you can hardly wait to come back next week!

2 thoughts on “A Matter of Degrees

  1. Our faith community is where we get the most opportunities to work through our spiritual struggles. Here’s where the teaching gets real, even before we face the rest of the world. And here’s where we can no longer hide in the nest of our immediate family.
    Next week, though? Certainly there are opportunities to get together before then …

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    • Good point about the “next week” thing. It is unfortunate that our entanglements in life seem to work at keeping us away from our brethren and sisters except at very prescribed times. It would be better if our efforts were directed at bringing us together more often.

      Like

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