A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
2 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.
3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.
(Psalm 123:1-4 NIV)
This psalm is a plea and a prayer for God’s help in difficult circumstances. Like other psalms in this section, this one is by an unnamed author, and with no specific historical timeframe. God, in His infinite wisdom, omitted these details so the truths would be universal, spanning generations and cultures and geographies, including ours.
Notice that the psalmist begins by looking up to God. We don’t look down at God, as an idol sitting on the floor. We don’t look across to God, as in a mirror. Rather, we look up to God in humility and awe, as worthy of our respect and reverence.
Author Eugene Peterson explains this so well:
“And do we really want it any other way? I don’t think so. We would very soon become contemptuous of a god whom we could figure out like a puzzle or learn to use like a tool. No, if God is worth our attention at all, he must be a God we can look up to — a God we must look up to . . .”
(Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 59.)
And how does the psalmist describe God as he looks up? He “sees” God sitting on His throne in heaven. This visual image shows God as ruler, in charge. God knows about everything in His domain, and everything is under His control. In a word, God is sovereign.
So where does that leave the psalmist (and us)? The psalmist describes himself as a male servant, waiting patiently for the kindness and provision of his master. Likewise, just as the female servants look to their mistresses who are over them, they wait patiently for the goodness and love of the women in charge. And so we wait for the goodness and kindness of the Lord, just as the servants wait on their bosses.
Notice that there is no entitled cry here – no “I deserve” mentality that would make the slave on equal ground or superior to their master or mistress. And so it is with us – when we proudly proclaim “I deserve…”, we falsely elevate ourselves as equals with or superior to God, rather than humbly accept whatever comes from God’s heart and hand.
The psalmist knows that adversity and ridicule are not from God, but from other people. Other people who do not acknowledge God look down on the servants with ridicule and contempt, priding themselves on their wealth, status, power, or other human accomplishments.
So what does the psalmist ask for?
Equality or superiority to those who ridicule, mock, and show contempt? No.
The psalmist humbly asks for God’s mercy, God’s undeserved favor. There is no expectation of God, only thankfulness for whatever God sees fit to share with the servant. The psalmist knows and trusts God, and will be content with whatever the Lord provides, as he knows God’s heart is kind and loving toward him.
May we have the same heart as the psalmist, to know God and His good heart of love, compassion, mercy, and kindness.
May we be content to be with God, to be satisfied with whatever comes from His hand.