where pilgrims start

[1] In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
[2] Deliver me, O LORD,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.

[3] What shall be given to you,
and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
[4] A warrior’s sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!

[5] Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
[6] Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
[7] I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war! (ESV)

“Psalm 120- A Psalm of Ascent

The village of Gatlang was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 2015.

My wife and I recently took 17 university students trekking in Nepal. On the first day, after we had hiked straight up for three hours, we took a much-needed break at a teahouse and began to walk along a relatively level road toward Gatlang, where we would spend the night. The views were spectacular, our first clear view of the Langtang peaks.

After a couple of hours, I asked one of the guides if we were close. He said we were very close. Maybe another 45 minutes. A couple of hours later I realized this was Nepali for 3 hours. But I don’t think this was the kind of lying lips that the writer of Psalm 120 is concerned about. In verse 5 and 6 he is tired of living in Meshech, which Ezekiel 27:13 says “exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise (ESV).” Human trafficking is not just a modern problem, but it is still a real one.

During the civil war in Nepal that ended in 2008, over 12,000 people lost their lives. Anti-government Maoist began conscripting children, providing an opening for traffickers who took money from hundreds of villagers and promised to provide their children safe schools and homes in Kathmandu. In some cases, they abandoned them, after taking more money from poor families in the city who would be given a meager allowance of rice to feed them in conditions that amounted to servitude, without schooling or support. In other cases, they put them in poorly managed “orphanages,” soliciting even more funds from sympathetic Westerners. (See Conor Grennan’s Little Princes.)

The Psalmist here was tired of that kind of lying, and rightly believes that the judgment of God awaits deceit like this, “sharp arrows with glowing coals (vs. 4).” And he is ready to leave it behind. It is in this distress that he calls to the Lord (vs. 1). And it is in this distress that his pilgrimage begins. We will never go where we should until we tire of where we are.

Trekkers, I think, sometimes feel this tension. We often travel some distance and at some cost to get away from something. But darkness is everywhere, and the poor villages through which we hike have also been subjected to abuse and corruption. It is easy to overlook the evil that lurks in these villages, imagining the pristine views and simple lives are an antidote to the evil of our hearts. They are not.

In this Psalm, and in the ones to follow, the peace we seek is toward Zion, toward Jerusalem, toward the presence of God. This is what motivates the Hebrew pilgrim to set out on the journey toward Jerusalem described in the next 13 Psalms of Ascent. And it is what should motivate us to look more closely at the darkness around us.

“Too long” we have had our dwelling among those who hate peace.

It is time to see. It is time to cry out. It is time to act.

8 thoughts on “where pilgrims start”

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