what pilgrims need

Our Eyes Look to the Lord Our God
—a Song of Ascents.

[1] To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens
 [2] Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant

to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

[3] Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
[4] Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud. (ESV)

Psalm 123

IMG_0680In the remote villages of Nepal, and in probably most of the world, there is a history of oppression and even abuse. This is what, as we have seen, caused the Hebrew pilgrims who sang the Palms of Ascent to set out on pilgrimage in the first place. “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace,“ they cried (Psalms 120:6).

But of course the villagers we met on our short trek lacked the resources to travel, and probably lacked the confidence that life would get any better. There are oppressors everywhere, and after living with the Shah kings for centuries, their Maoist liberators have not proved any better. Even elders on the local level are feared more than respected, deeply embedded as they are in the privileges of caste, which is illegal but still culturally pervasive.

You can see it etched on the faces of those you meet; hospitable but cautious, respectful but reserved, warm but wary. Even the charity of western benevolence has come with strings attached and unintended consequences, while the caste-bound Hindu order, with its frameworks of fate, fear, and fealty make matters worse instead of better. These people would, like the Psalmist in verse 4, say:

Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

So you can also see how they might, as the servants of Psalm 123, “look to the hand of their master,” unsure of whether they will receive a rebuke or a reprieve. Uncertainty makes them tentative. And perhaps resilient. But what they need. and what they want, is mercy.

History had taught the Hebrews, and Scripture teaches us, that mercy is the defining nature of Jehovah, who is referred to over and over in the Old Testament scriptures as “gracious and merciful. “ The prayer here, “Oh Lord have mercy on us,” is not a lament, but an expectation. They will look to him until He does (vs. 2) because they are sure He will.

Hindus believe the capricious idols they serve are capable of mercy—that’s why they bring them offerings every morning. But God’s mercy is a reflection of His character. It is the mercy, and not the sacrifice, that is “new every morning.” Jeremiah puts it this way: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail (Lamentations 3:22).”

P1000954From the beginning of His relationship with His people, God says He is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Nehemiah 9:31; Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:5; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13).” This is the ground of His covenant-keeping love. This is what every Nepali villager and every western trekker needs, the unexpected and unmerited mercy of God.

Then all of us will sing the songs of Zion, even praise to our God “who is enthroned in the heavens.”

And in our hearts.


This is the fourth in a series of devotions for trekkers, based on the Psalms of Ascent.  Look for a new one each Monday.  The series begins here:  Psalm 120.

One thought on “what pilgrims need

  1. These are some of your best work in my opinion. I have really enjoyed and been made to be more thoughtful of the goodness of God revealed in the Psalms.

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