Week of November 7

Pursuing Peaceable Lives

Read: Job 30; Psalm 120; Galatians 3-4
“I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!”
Psalm 120:7


What comes to mind when I say, “War?” You may think of any number of global and regional conflicts like World War II and the war in Iraq. We have another possibility to consider. The comic strip Pogo once stated famously, when referring to ecology, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” The psalmist reminds us today that we are often our own worst enemies! War does not take place solely on battlefields but also in our daily relationships. Our songwriter has been attacked by slanderous enemies and he is in distress. Therefore, he cries out for God to bring shalom into all areas of life. If you are like me, then you long for peace. Let’s seek peace in our devotional today.

Let's See What the Bible Says

The Setting
How do you use the psalms in your devotional life? Specifically, how does your church incorporate the psalms in its worship services? Psalm 120 has been termed a “Song of Ascents” or “Pilgrim Song” which may mean that it was sung while the exiles were returning from Babylon. Some scholars believe that the step-like progression through the psalm guided worshipers as they took steps in the temple precincts to move from one court to another.

Most interpreters, however, believe that it was used as worshipers ascended the hill to the temple (EBC). This hymn became a part of the Great Hallel psalms and was very likely sung during the three annual festivals (Psalms 120-136). How wonderful to think that worshipers sang about peace when so much around them was about war. Do these words ring true to your heart today? If so, then seek now to place yourself daily into the context of this psalm.
Becoming a Person of Peace
The psalmist sought de-escalation of the conflict that engulfed him by actively seeking peace. He was not a pacifist; instead, he was a peace activist. Perhaps we have not thought of peace in quite this way, nor have we seen it as an active response to hurtful words. So, our understanding of this key virtue needs to be stretched greatly and Psalm 120 will help us to do so.

The circumstances were “close-quarter attacks,” not with weapons, but words. “The peace-loving psalmist was distressed at the slanders spoken against him but was certain that God would save him” (HCBC). Notice that the psalmist’s cry is upward, not outward. He does not respond in kind to his attackers; instead, he cries out to God to bring peace into the situation. We shall soon see that there are certain steps to peace, but first we must discover that there is a pattern to the psalm that fits a lifestyle of peace.
Steps to a Lifestyle of Peace
The first step on the pathway to peace is to set our hearts on issuing our complaints to the Father rather than setting our jaws against our neighbors (v. 1). Jesus was slandered by His enemies, yet He did not return insult for insult (1 Peter 2:23). We are called to this same ministry (1 Peter 3:13-16). The author of the song places the phrase “on the Lord” in such a position that God becomes one upon whom he is solely dependent in his hour of great distress. We have every opportunity to do the same and we also have the additional benefit of the Holy Spirit’s aid (Luke 12:11-12).

Secondly, our next step in the pathway to peace is to take the active step of praying through the situation (vv. 2-4). Notice that while he is absolutely assured that God will respond favorably in verse 1, he still encounters suffering in verses 2-4. He tells God that he has been falsely accused and dealt with treacherously. Rather than lash out against these verbal assailants he prays and asks God in an oath-like way to judge them (v. 3). They were hurling words like fiery arrows made from the broom tree that flourished there, so he prays for God to do something like uproot the tree for the sake of his honor (v. 4; cf. EBC). This was then an eye-for-an-eye form of justice (lex talionis); whereas now we are to pray for our enemies to experience God’s mercy and grace (Matthew 5:44).

Thirdly, our pathway to peace includes being realistic about the situation—it is bad. Do not sugarcoat the circumstances when falsehood is at the root of the problems you face. He uses two barbaric locations—Meshech and Kedar—to describe the intensity of his desperation. His enemies are no better than the godless people that lived in these places. Do not miss the point: Even though he has a permanent abode he feels as though he is a sojourner among his own people! With reverence for God’s sovereignty, feel free to lay the situation clearly on the line.

Finally, take the active step of calling on God to restore the peace (vv. 6-7). Yes, it is a positive, active response to pursue peace. Cry out for shalom even amid your agony (v. 6). In his whole being—because this is the meaning of shalom—he prays for the establishment of peace. If you and I have trouble making peace, then invite the Prince of Peace to do it through you. There are times, like today, when only the Lord can intervene to bring about peace. Invoke His name and His aid in every circumstance where there is war.

Let's Deepen Our Walk

We all know the adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In Ashlock speak, “The adage needs to be placed in the garbage” because it is not true. Seriously, I bear the scars of hurtful, slanderous things that people have said to me through the years. I am sure that you do as well. I find it powerfully comforting that the balm for such wounds comes from the Almighty God who heals and restores. We find help in the hurt by praising Him and then spreading His peace!

Here are two thoughts for our spiritual growth. First, just as there is a tempo to this psalm, there is a rhythm to the life of peace. And we need to enter it! We should become intentional about living as peacemakers. D.L. Moody once said, “A great many people are trying to make peace, but that has already been done. God has not left it for us to do; all we have to do is enter into it.”

Secondly, just as the “little engine that could” struggled up the hill repeating “I think I can,” we must struggle up the hill of slander by repeating, “With peace I can.” We must keep in mind that peacemaking is a virtue and a fruit of the Spirit, so we are already equipped to respond to hurtful words and actions with the weapon of peace (Matthew 5:9; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 6:15, “gospel of peace”). Take the pathway of peace today.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Consider your response to a past or present conflict where you were slandered by another person(s). Did you respond with peace or with insults? Each of us has what I will term a “default decision-making” process. Many of our chosen responses to hateful words are reactions that were learned in the home and not from the Lord. Choose the path that the psalmist has presented to us today, then be led by the Spirit to choose the way of peace.

2. For Families: Being “peace activists” is a challenge that even our children can take up. Ask your family members to join you in an experiment. Instead of lashing out when family members “get on each other’s nerves,” or say hurtful things, or lash out in anger, try the P.A.T.H. of Peace instead:
-Pause to ask God for His peace 
-Act toward the offender with kindness
-Think about what words would lessen the tension
-Help all parties through the conflict.
Memorize today’s verse together: “I am for peace” (Psalm 120:7a).

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock