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Weds 11 May - Psalm 123

Psalm 123

I lift up my eyes to you,
    to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
    as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he shows us his mercy.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
    for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

- - -

Meditation on Psalm 123

This is one of the shorter psalms in the collection but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have much to say to us.
It is part of the collection of 15 psalms which have ‘A song of ascents’ as the title for each of them.

As we have noted before, these Songs of Ascents probably refer to the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. These brought the pilgrims singing their way to Mount Zion – cf. Isaiah 30:29, ‘And you will sing, as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people playing pipes go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel.’


Verses 1-2


In the first four of these psalms there is a progression as to where the psalmist looks.  

Psalm 120 – we look to our surroundings and those who surround us and we are in distress.

Psalm 121 - we look to the mountains.

Psalm 122 – we look to the house of the LORD.

Psalm 123 – we look to the One who ‘sits enthroned in heaven.’


Boice comments on this progression when he writes: ‘the goal of the pilgrim is not Jerusalem, as important as that city was, or even the temple in Jerusalem, as important as it was, but God himself, whose true throne is not anywhere on earth but in heaven.’

This is where we come when we bring our praises and our prayers to our God and Father, in the name of Jesus. We are coming to the throne room of heaven.

As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, ‘your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.’ (Hebrews 1:8)

Whilst it may be a throne where judgments are made, it is also a throne of grace. Again, the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to come – (Hebrews 4:18) ‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’


The psalmist uses a short parable to make his point rooted in the experience of those who would read – or even sing – this psalm. He uses the example of male and female slaves. Picture the scene in the dining room at Downton Abbey as the family sit down to dinner. The servants (slaves) are standing the whole time, positioned behind the diners. Their eyes are focused on the master. If they see a hand raised or a word spoken, they react immediately. Their eyes have to be focused, ready to act as the need arises.
The female servants (slaves) are either in the kitchen or cleaning around the house. But they, too, were focused on meeting the needs of their mistresses. 

Just as these male and female slaves were focused, so the psalmist encourages us to be focused on the LORD as we look for His mercy.
Just as the slaves show…

  • their dependence on the master
  • their submission to the master
  • their discipline from the master

…so we, as the children (servants) of God are   

  • dependent on Him
  • submissive to Him
  • disciplined by Him 


And it’s in that way we pray for, we plead for the mercy of God.

This is how Jonathan Edwards – an 18th century theologian) defines mercy: 

“God is pleased to show mercy to His enemies, according to His own sovereign pleasure. Though He is infinitely above all and stands in no need of creatures; yet He is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms in the dust.”

Millard Erickson, a 20th century theologian defines mercy as: 

“God’s mercy is His tenderhearted, loving compassion for His people. It is His tenderness of heart toward the needy. If grace contemplates humans as sinful, guilty, and condemned, mercy sees them as miserable and needy.”


Verses 3-4


Why does the psalmist encourage us to plead with God for mercy in these verses?


He talks about…

  • contempt
  • ridicule

… from

  • the arrogant
  • the proud


In Psalm 10:1-11 we get a fuller discourse as to how the psalmist sees the arrogant and proud enemies of God and of the people of God.

We see this in the story of Ezra and Nehemiah.

In both of these two books we read about the God of heaven’.   Ezra 1:2; Nehemiah 1:4-5; 2:4 and 20.

This is the God to whom Ezra and Nehemiah prayed, pleading with Him for mercy and deliverance from their enemies.
Nehemiah had done a recce job overnight and the building programme started with everyone involved where they lived.
But they experienced what the psalmist is referring to.

Nehemiah 2:19   ‘mocked and ridiculed’

How did Nehemiah respond? ‘The God of heaven will give us success’.

This didn’t stop Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. They turned to anger and insults and contempt – 4:1-3.


  • ‘feeble Jews’
  • ‘a fox could knock the wall down’
  • ‘let’s meet away from the work’



All through this ordeal Nehemiah kept on praying to the God of heaven.


The people of God around the world today are subjected to mocking, ridicule and contempt. Maybe you have experienced being mocked and ridiculed for your faith.

Let’s pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world – ‘God of heaven, have mercy.’

- - -  

(Roger Purdom) 


New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Photo by Kaushik Panchal on Unsplash