In my continuing series on the Biblical Way of War I would like to comment on two of the Songs of Ascents that deal with warfare. As this section of scripture is somewhat obscure, I thought it best to separate the two psalms and deal with each separately. Before dealing on the specific military aspects of Psalm 120, though, I thought it worthwhile to briefly examine the Song of Ascents and the role that this particular psalm has with beginning this section of scripture (which is from Psalm 120 through Psalm 134).
The Songs of Ascents
The Songs of Ascents is a little known section of scripture (though some of its psalms are quite familiar, especially Psalm 127 and Psalm 133). This series of psalms was to be sung every year by the people of God as they went up to the temple during one of the three “missionary” feasts each year (at the Passover/Days of Unleavened Bread festivals in the Spring, the feast of Pentecost in early summer, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall). These psalms were meant to bring to attention various aspects of God’s ways as well as the sort of world that they were leaving behind when they came before God in worship.
Psalm 120 sets the stage for the rest of the Songs of Ascents by expressing the lament of an exile from Israel concerning the harshness of life among the heathen. In doing so, it serves as a reminder for Israelites (whether by blood or by faith, even to this day) of the difficulties of life among people who are hostile to God’s ways, and clearly shows the military side of God’s judgment. The psalm reads as follows: In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me. Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, or what shall be done to you, you false tongue? Sharp arrows of the warrior, with coals of the broom tree! Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar! My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”
This particular psalm may be divided into two sections, both of which deal with warfare. The first section deals with the lying tongue and its consequences. The anonymous author of this particular psalm asks for God’s deliverance from those who practice deception around him, presumably lying lips devoted to slander and false accusations. Those who are familiar with the damaging effects of a lying tongue know that it is a serious matter and God deals seriously with it. In fact, this particular psalm promises that the “sharp arrows of the warrior” and “coals of the broom tree,” presumably of shame, will be the divine judgment on these slanderers. God is the defender of those who are attacked by lies, as our adversary Satan is the father of lies, and has been from the beginning (John 8:44-47).
The second section of this particular psalm is a lament of the destructive effects on one’s emotional and spiritual well-being of dwelling for too long among those who hate peace. Though the psalmist is himself for peace, being a believer in God, the fact that he is for peace drives his wicked adversaries around him to be in favor of warfare simply to oppose him. As he is for light, they are for darkness, as he is for peace, they are for war. It is only in a nation under God that true peace can be found either within or without. Those who are satanic and bent on destruction and evil will cause warfare and quarrels and strife wherever they are, and their deceitful plotting and hostility to righteousness marks them as the seed of Satan rather than the children of God.
A Historical Note on Meshech and Kedar
Now we turn to the specific geographical context of this psalm, which states that the psalmist has been in exile in the land of Meshech and among the tents of Kedar. Why the author is in exile is not known–perhaps he had some political enemies. Meshech is shown in the Bible as pretty hostile nation. It is referenced as engaging in the slave trade in Ezekiel 27:13, and as one of the nations who makes war on the people of God in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Meshech, which means “price” or “precious” in Hebrew, is listed in Genesis 10:2 as the sixth son of Japheth, and its realm was thought to be in Asia Minor, in the region of Cappadocia, and peoples as diverse as the Muscovites and Armenians and Georgians have been claimed to be descended from Meschech, or have claimed such a descent for themselves . Clearly the peoples Russia or the Caucasus Mountains are people who could easily be seen as warlike.
The tribes of Kedar are themselves well-known to students of the history of the Middle East. Kedar was the second son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13, 1 Chronicles 1:29), and the tribal confederation of the Qedarites was sufficiently well known to be named prominently in Assyrian texts as a glorious enemy defeated and forced to give tribute by various Assyrian monarchs. The Quedarites were themselves allies of the Nabatean Arabs of Petra and appear in various Greek and Roman classical texts of history as well. The tribes of Kedar, nomadic Arabs, are sufficiently prestigious that some historians even claim that Mohammed descended from him . Again, it is not difficult at all to imagine the Arabs being judged as a warlike people, especially for those familiar with their contemporary history with regards to the modern state of Israel.
Warfare as Judgment
In closing, let us contrast the two attitudes of religion and war expressed in this psalm. First, we have the psalmist promising that the deceptive and lying tongues of his adversaries will be repaid with sharp arrows from the warrior (presumably God or His servants). As God judges evil, those who practice evil and falsely accuse His servants will suffer His wrath, as those who make war on God’s people and violate God’s standards of behavior make war on God. Second, we have the wicked and warlike peoples of Meshech and Kedar, the heathen among whom the psalmist was exiled, seeking war simply because the godly psalmist desired peace.
Again we see that the ways of ungodly men are implacably opposed to the ways of God, and make war. As long as some refuse to submit to God’s rule and standard of behavior, there will be warfare between the followers of God and the followers of Satan. Those who are God’s servants desire peace, and so they pray for the establishment of His kingdom on this earth so that there will be peace through the victory of righteousness over evil, of truth over deception, and of God’s ways over the ways of Satan. There can only be peace through victory, and so we pray for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10), so that we may find true peace.