Prayer in Time of Spiritual Need
1 A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who are enthroned in heaven.[b]
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants[c]
are on the hand of their master,
or as the eyes of a maid
focus on the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes are on the Lord, our God,
as we wait for him to show us his mercy.
3 Show us your mercy, O Lord, show us your mercy,
for we have suffered more than our share of contempt.[d]
4 We have had to suffer far too long
the insults of the haughty[e]
and the contempt of the arrogant.
- Psalm 123:1 Upon returning from the Exile, Israel experienced prolonged and harsh humiliations: vexations from nearby nations and from the Persian administration and persecution later on. The pilgrims do not feel the need to recite at length the list of their misfortunes, for these are too well known. The prayer is expressed in a simple attitude: eyes humbly and perseveringly fixed toward the Lord await a sign of hope. Can people be more true before God?
This psalm can serve to show the right attitude we should have toward Christ. John (Jn 10:28f) amply indicates that the inner and outer life of the Church and Christians is sovereignly regulated by the risen Christ together with his Father. Our faith assures us that the almighty hand of Christ will save us when we call for help against our inner and outer enemies. We should keep our eyes fixed continuously on him in the never-ending battle we must wage in this world (see Heb 12:2).
- Psalm 123:1 The psalmist indicates the awesome power of God, the Ruler of the universe enthroned in heaven, who “does whatever he pleases” (Ps 115:3), and whose love and wisdom are beyond our calculation (see Ps 36:5; Isa 55:9).
- Psalm 123:2 The fate of male or female slaves was entirely in the hands of their masters or mistresses. Their welfare or their woe depended completely on the will of their overseers, whose hands could bestow benefits or punishments. Hence, the psalmist pictures the slaves as keeping their eyes fixed on their masters and mistresses. In like manner, God’s people fix their eyes on their Lord with utter dependence; like servants and a maid, they look to their Master—for acts of kindness and mercy.
For the Lord rules sovereignly. He is on the throne (see Pss 2:4; 11:4; 102:13; 115:3) even when the arrogant assail his people. No matter how exalted this God of Israel may be, he is still the Lord (“Yahweh”), the God who is faithful to the covenant he has made with his people and is ever ready to help them in any adversity.
- Psalm 123:3 The psalmist prays for God’s favor (see Pss 6:3; 57:2; 86:3) to right the injustice done to God’s children, who have unjustly endured great contempt (see Ps 119:22) and ridicule (see Ps 44:13; Neh 2:19; 4:1). It is interesting to recall that in the Sermon on the Mount, contempt (“You fool”) ranks as more grievous than anger (see Mt 5:22). Yet, from the Christian point of view, to endure suffering (including contempt) for Christ is a necessity (see Lk 9:23; Col 1:24), as well as an honor (see Acts 5:41), for all his followers as they make their way to glory (see 1 Pet 4:13f).
- Psalm 123:4 As is the case in our day, the People of God are mocked by the haughty and the arrogant (see Pss 52:3; 73:2ff), who rely on and seek only themselves, giving little thought to God. Although it is entirely permissible to pray to be delivered from this ridicule, another approach is to accept it in union with the suffering Christ. Even the Old Testament has passages recommending the acceptance of such suffering: “Let him offer his cheek to those who strike him and endure their insults. For the rejection by the Lord will not last forever. Even though he punishes, he will be compassionate in the abundance of his unfailing love. For he does not willingly afflict or cause grief to the children of men” (Lam 3:30-33).