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Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (episode 7)

 

These edited transcripts are taken from Dwight's most loved audio series, Highways in Their Hearts. Click here to see the downloadable audio version in our online store.

 

There is a spiritual archetype in the Tabernacle's divine design. The closer you get to the Holy of Holies, the less furniture and fewer people you will find. To continue our pilgrimage metaphor, we continue up the steps and into the Temple through places with altars, basins, tables, and lamps. As we draw nearer, there are fewer and fewer people until we reach the Holy of Holies, where we only find one thing: the presence of the living God hovering over the ark of the covenant.

Oh God, set our hearts on fire so we refuse to settle for anything less than the blessing of your presence! That is what it means to be a pilgrim, to walk with Jesus.

I desire this and know you do as well. And I, like you, struggle with attachments to things of this world. But we must cast off these weights and encourage one another to do the same. The weights pull us downward; we are called to look up to the LORD our God for our help.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus [...]. - Hebrews 12:1-2

Not only must we deal with weights that entrap and entangle us, but we must set aside the sin that so easily beset us, that clings so closely to us. The literal rendering of the Greek is "the easily surrounding sin."


It is not hard to sin. Sinning is easy; it comes naturally. There is within us an inclination to go our own way, to believe lies that offer what we want on our terms. The Bible calls the force that bends, twists, and distorts the truth iniquity, and we all fall prey to it occasionally. No wonder Jesus exhorts us to pray, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from the evil one.


In contrast, pilgrimage is hard, and it comes about supernaturally.


Here is the key. When you stumble or fall, do not cling to, do not cherish the sin. Confess it instead. Confess both the sin and the harsh reality that the Father had to lay your sin on His Son. And be on guard against the religious spirit, that insidious form of iniquity that cloaks itself in spiritual language, enabling us to rationalize and get away with doing our own thing. We are adept at finding ways to keep the letter of the Law while carefully avoiding the Spirit.


To have the King's Highway in our hearts means a willingness to confess, repent, and be purged of iniquity. The cry of the pilgrim is, "Forgive me, LORD, for I have sinned. Cleanse me and set my feet on the path of life once again that I may glorify your great name."


Come and hear, all you who fear God,

and I will tell what he has done for my soul.

I cried to him with my mouth,

and high praise was on my tongue.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,

the Lord would not have listened.

But truly God has listened;

he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God,

because he has not rejected my prayer

or removed his steadfast love from me!

- Psalm 66:16-20

Here are three life lessons from Psalm 121 that can help us reach our goal as pilgrims.


1) To be conformed to the image of Christ and experience the presence and power of God, we must recognize the need to simplify our lives.

We have had to move several times in our lives, and if you ever have to move, you know how taxing it is because of the way we accumulate stuff. Usually, about once every year, I'd get into a decluttering state of mind, and we'd have a garage sale. Do you know what I discovered? As soon as we would clear the house, different things would find their way in. Almost the next day after we had our garage sale, we'd stop at another garage sale, buy their things, and bring them back to our house. [laughter]


It finally dawned on me that the secret to simplifying is what you do, not necessarily something you do without. Think about it this way: there is going to be complexity to life along with responsibilities and demands regardless of your situation. The key is to have a focus that is continually prioritizing your activities while continually sanctifying your actions.


We need a focus, a priority, a commitment that everything we do is done in the name of Jesus—for the sake of Heaven. "In the name of" is a Hebrew idiom for "in the authority of the one named." The same Spirit power that worked in Jesus is at work in you so that whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Simplify by deciding what is important to you and make that a priority, counting each day as a gift not knowing how many you have.


2) To be conformed to the image of Christ and experience the presence and power of God, we must recognize the way will not always be easy.


The journey will not always be smooth because it is uphill not downhill. Sin is easy; sanctification is challenging. There is a perverted gospel that promises our selfishness health and wealth as the result of faith. The truth is there are times when there are unexplainable struggles and troubles. The Bible witnesses that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12), and Jesus counsels that in the world you will have troubles (John 16:33).


Let me be clear: the rewards of biblical faith are indeed great. Though the way is narrow, risky, and difficult, there is good news for those who set their heart on pilgrimage. What you and I cannot accomplish in the natural, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus will accomplish in the supernatural! Take heart, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).


Psalm 121 proclaims that the Father watches over His children. He is referenced nine times in eight short verses, five of those using the sacred name given as a revelation to His redeemed people, Yahweh. And six times, His help and care for them is indicated by the English word keep or watch over.

GOD accomplishes the desire He places in the hearts of those on pilgrimage. They know the God of Israel does not slumber or sleep. In a modern idiom, He is on the job 24/7. What is He doing? Helping: keeping our feet from slipping, providing shade in a scorching hot world, protecting us from evil. He is leading and giving us life. Hallelujah!


3) To be conformed to the image of Christ and experience the presence and power of God, we must recognize the greatest obstacle to spiritual growth is not weakness. It is self-reliance.


As a pilgrim, you must recognize that not only is Yahweh your help, but that you need His help. When you do, you realize that relying solely upon Him runs contrary to the pride and self-centeredness so familiar to us.


Hebrews 11:21 paints a beautiful picture of faithfulness for us. Jacob, at the river Jabbok, had an encounter with the Holy God that left him limping (Gen 32). Now, at the end of his life, he blesses the sons of Joseph, who represent the continuation of God's promise to the next generation. It is there we see Jacob worshipping God while leaning upon his staff.

From a young age, we are taught to derive value from our strengths, talents, and accomplishments (or lack thereof). Spiritual pilgrimage begins when you realize your strength can get you many places but not into the Holy of Holies. You draw near by grace alone, which becomes evident when you humble yourself, when you cast aside encumbering weights and besetting sins, and when you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.


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Get the most recent study in your inbox every Sabbath. Click here.

 

Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.


Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.

 

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.


Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.


Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (episode 6)

 

These edited transcripts are taken from Dwight's most loved audio series, Highways in Their Hearts. Click here to see the downloadable audio version in our online store.

 

We are looking at the special grouping of Psalms 120-134 for clues on how to enter into a more intimate relationship with our LORD. We need and desire to experience His presence and power in a transforming and empowering way. We are setting our hearts on pilgrimage, looking for the highways in our hearts.


Our study of Psalm 120 yielded three essential lessons.

1) Our journey begins with an earnest longing and desire for God. We must not be satisfied with living on the periphery of spiritual experience.


2) If we are going to mature, we must learn to see God in and through our present circumstances. Distress and trouble are a part of our spiritual pilgrimage. We must learn to exercise faith for today.


3) We must learn to control our tongue to grow toward maturity. How we use language is one of the most significant thermometers of our spiritual temperature. What we think and speak has enormous power for good or bad, for blessing or cursing.


The next step up into divine presence is inspired by Psalm 121. It is unique in its beautiful arrangement; there are four groupings of two verses. The wonderful rhythm speaks of poetic beauty and profound spiritual truth.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;

the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.


The LORD will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

A clue to how special this psalm is can be found in its opening inscription, which is translated from Hebrew into English as A Psalm of Ascent like the others. But it is different in the original Hebrew. Where the others read a song of going up or ascending (shir hama'alot), this one literally means to ascend (shir lama'alot). The ancient sages of Israel saw this as profound.


Even more so than the others, Psalm 121 is a stepping stone to spiritual understanding. It speaks of the mystery of going up to God.

I lift up my eyes to the hills is a Hebrew idiom. This is the way Jesus used language. In English, we would say something like, I look up. Metaphorically speaking, we were dwelling on the periphery of the Holy Land in Psalm 120—in Meshech and Kedar. We have been looking through the eyes of a pilgrim who longs to get to Jerusalem, where the Lord is.


These travelers, in distress, see the hills. What hills? Again, contextually, these are those that surround Jerusalem. Looking up from our valley of despair, we see the Holy City of God. Our goal, the destination of our spiritual journey, is in sight. Which prompts the question, From where does my help come?


The help does not come from the hills; it comes from the Maker of the hills, the God of Israel, Creator of heaven and earth. Weary pilgrims, tossed and troubled by the world, look longingly up to where the Holy One chose to dwell. The question is rhetorical. It reminds us that the source of our strength, which keeps us keeping on, lies beyond ourselves.

My help, says the psalmist, comes from Yahweh.


The natural tendency for you and me is to seek help from the hills of our abilities and resources. In times of distress, we often look for what we need from ourselves or others. But not the pilgrim, not citizens of the kingdom. No, we must never forget that our help comes from the Lord God Almighty.


When I use the name by which God revealed himself, Yahweh, it is with intention. More and more, I am finding that the term God is so diluted that the referent is not clear. People say God, and they mean some impersonal cosmic force that underpins this physical universe. Others use the word to denote the true self within you, your higher being. Culture throws the word God around cheaply. It is used in a variety of ways in both casual conversation and cursing.


By the time of Jesus, the sacred name was not spoken in conversation, only by the high priest in the house of the Lord on special occasions. I understand that wisdom because you don't hear anybody cursing in the name of Yahweh. Yet the balance for us is that when Jesus teaches us to pray Our Father in heaven, his referent is Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I want to be clear when I teach who I am referring to and that He alone is God.


My friends, it may seem basic, but never forget those around you—even in church—are not necessarily making the connection. Yahweh is the God of Jesus. And it is the Father, by way of the Son, who we serve and in whom we find the source of our strength and help.

If you are setting your heart on pilgrimage, this is a vital spiritual lesson to learn. Yahweh is the goal toward which we are progressing and moving, but he is also the one who gives us the get-up-and-go to get there!

Hebrews 12: 1-2 sheds some much-needed light on our faith journey.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.


To make this spiritual journey, you must fix your eyes on Jesus the way he fixed his eyes on Yahweh. Here, the metaphor of a race is used in place of the image we are working with, pilgrimage. The point is that both are not a sprint but a long-distance race. And if we are going to run successfully, we must lay aside everything that hinders us.

The Greek here suggests the word weights, lay aside every weight that slows us down. Before races, some horses are handicapped by putting extra weight on them to slow them down. Many of us don't get anywhere in our spiritual journey because we handicap ourselves. You and I are often weighed down, entangled in the affairs of this world.


What kinds of things hinder us, handicap us, and weigh us down?


As in all things, Jesus comes to our rescue. This time, with insight into the question we are asking.


Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. [...] And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. - Luke 8:11-15


What are these weights that hinder us? Life's cares, riches, and pleasures. But not so for those with a highway in their heart. Pilgrims are captivated by the beauty of their God's character and words. Rather than the sin which clings so closely they hear and hold fast His words and bear fruit with patience.


Behold the profound simplicity of spiritual pilgrimage! Behold the joy of experiencing the LORD who keeps you from all evil and keeps your life.


Previous Post | Next Post


Get the most recent study in your inbox every Sabbath. Click here.

 

Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.


Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.

 

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.


Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.


Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (episode 5)

 

These edited transcripts are taken from Dwight's most loved audio series, Highways in Their Hearts. Click here to see the downloadable audio version in our online store.

 

It is worth repeating that the desperation causing us to cry out to God begins to fade as God takes care of our needs. He meets us at the place of our repentance, and we are satisfied—for the moment. The distress dissipates, and we gradually adapt to this world's comforts, conveniences, and culture. We turn our back on the One who rescued us, only to resettle in the world. We become sated, no longer hungering and thirsting. No more do we cry out of spiritual poverty.

The Psalms of Ascent (120-134) address our continuing need for divine presence as we serve others and seek to be a people in the world but truly not of it.

What happens once we begin our journey in earnest? Many difficulties beset us. One that is unfortunately all too common in Christian communities is that of gossip and slander. Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. A warrior's sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree (Ps 120:2, 4).

Have you ever been victimized by gossip, malevolent talk, or slander? It is very distressing. There is something almost innate in most of us where we feel we have an inalienable right to be understood on the one hand and to be assumed as well-intentioned in our actions on the other. Consequently, we are easily upset when someone maligns our motives or misconstrues our actions. But if they begin to speak about it in malicious and maligning ways, it is painful on so many levels.


The psalmists knew of what we speak, namely, using the tongue as a weapon of destruction. This is a shared human experience.

  • Ps. 57:4 My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts—the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

  • Ps. 64:3-5 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

  • Ps. 5:9 For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.

  • Ps. 12:1-4 Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. [...] those who say, "With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?"

  • Now notice the contrasting parallelism in 121:6-7. The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. They will keep and guard those in need.

Let me quote from an ancient Jewish commentary on Genesis that shows what a grave offense these tongue-related sins were to the biblical mind in the times of Jesus (and still are today).

"Why does the psalmist compare these words to an arrow rather than to other weapons (Ps 120:4)? All other weapons smite from close quarters, whereas the sharp arrows of the tongue smite from a distance. Even so is slander, for it is spoken in Rome but it kills in Syria."

"And why likened to coals of the broom bush? All other coals are extinguished inside when they are extinguished on the outside, but the coals of the broom bush are still burning within even though they are extinguished without. So is he who listens to slander. Even if you go and appease him and he lets himself be appeased, he is still burning within."


Two of the Ten Commandments relate directly to your speech. You shall not take the name of Yahweh in vain (not use it lightly, not misuse or misrepresent it). You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.


Human nature, with its tendency toward iniquity, rebellion, and self-centeredness, reveals itself in speech. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire (James 3:5)! The LORD specifically prohibits these abuses.

The phrase bear false witness is fascinating in Hebrew because it uses the same root from which Jesus pulls the word for church (edah). A false witness speaks falsely but is himself false. Jesus says, "My church, by contrast, is the edah, my witnessing body. Kingdom people bear witness to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Therefore, my people speak and act truthfully."


I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).


Here are some wise sayings from Jewish sages that I have found particularly helpful on such a critical but overly familiar subject.


One teacher said, "If a man publicly puts his neighbor to shame, it is as if he shed blood." Another rabbi responded, "You have spoken well, for we see on such occasion how the red disappears from a person's face and the pallor comes."


"Your fingers are tapered because if you hear bad speech, you are to stick them in your ears like pegs. Do not listen!"


"There are four great sins which correspond to four great virtues, in that man is punished for them in this world, and their capital (or stock) remains in the form of punishment dealt out to him in the world to come: idolatry, incest, murder, and slander. The last is as bad as all three put together."

Since, in Jesus' day, it was common to be martyred for your faith, Jewish leaders had to make hard decisions like this one. If you are faced with the threat of death, which commandments of the Torah can you set aside to spare your life or the life of someone else?

After considerable deliberation, they ruled four commandments cannot be set aside if death is at stake. All others can. The four are prohibitions against 1) idolatry, 2) sexual immorality or adultery, 3) slander and blasphemy, and, 4) murder. Slander and blasphemy carry the same weight as idolatry, immorality, and murder!

Slander is spoken of as the third tongue in Hebrew because it slays the speaker, it slays the one spoken to, and it slays the one spoken of.

We need to learn to check our speech.

  1. Check it out. Reflect on what you say and how you say it. Quiet yourself and ask, "What does my speech reveal about the condition of my inner person?"

  2. Keep it in check. The wise sages of Israel reflected that words fitly spoken are like pure silver, but silence is golden. We are designed with two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we speak.

My friends, if you and I are to make this spiritual pilgrimage up to the New Jerusalem, we must learn that our speech reflects our inner being, and, the gift of speech is to bless God and the ones He has made in His image and likeness.


Previous Post | Next Post


Get the most recent study in your inbox every Sabbath. Click here.

 

Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.


Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.

 

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.


Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.


Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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