Psalm 123: Look up, not down

Session 8 in the series "Bringing sons to glory"

Psalm 123 is a call for the LORD to bring His power into our situation where we are held in contempt by the powers of darkness.

Download accompanying notes:

Psalm 123

After viewing, your next session is: Session 9 – Psalm 124 – Kept by the LORD »

Psalm 123: Look up, not down (Session 8)


On Day 1, God created light. And on Day 1, God separated the light from the darkness.

When we receive the light of Christ, we become separated from the powers of darkness. And the powers of darkness aren't happy about that.

We are working our way through the Psalms of Ascent. We have come to Psalm 123 ... the fourth of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent.

In Psalm 120, the first of the Psalms of Ascent, we started a journey toward Jerusalem ... the Jerusalem that is above ... by turning to Jesus. "I called to the LORD and He answered me." (see Psalm 120:1)

I followed this by recognising, and confessing my sin and my shame (see Psalm 120:2-6)

The acts of calling on Jesus and confessing my fallen state brought me into His peace. I was reconciled with God (see Psalm 120:7).

And I also saw, in that last verse of Psalm 120, that "they" declare war on me (see Psalm 120:7). The "they" who declare war on me are the powers of darkness. There are powers of darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (see Ephesians 6:12).

Our struggle, the Bible says, is not against flesh and blood, but against powers of darkness (see Ephesians 6:12).

In the passage in Ephesians 6 (see Ephesians 6:10-17), we are told that we need to be strong in the might of the LORD (see Ephesians 6:10), and three times we are told simply to "stand firm" (see Ephesians 6:11,13,14).

We aren't told to seek a fight with the spiritual powers, but we are told to resist them.

In Psalm 120, I called on Jesus (see Psalm 120:1). In Psalm 121, I lifted my eyes. I looked up. I looked to Jesus, the Maker of heavens and earth (see Psalm 121:1-2). And, in Psalm 122, I saw that my purpose should be aligned with His purpose ... to have a people, made up of Jews and Gentiles, come into unity in faith in Christ Jesus. We are to be joined together ... for Him. And we stand against the powers of darkness ... together.

Psalm 122 - English & Hebrew

Here is Psalm 123 ... a translation closely following the Hebrew text.

  1. Song of the ascents. To You I lifted my eyes; the One seated in (the) heavens.
  2. Jerusalem, the built up, like a city that is joined together,
  3. Behold, like eyes of servants to (the) hand of their lord, like eyes of a maid to (the) hand of her mistress, so our eyes (look) to the LORD our God until He will be gracious to us.
  4. Be gracious to us, LORD, be gracious to us because greatly are we filled (with) contempt.
  5. Greatly filled is our soul with the mocking of the self-confident, the contempt of (the) arrogant.

Here it is, in the Hebrew: (Read in Hebrew)

Psalm 123 Verse by verse

Verse 1 ... "Song of the ascents. To You I lifted my eyes." (read in Hebrew)

"ALEICHA" ... "To You". I speak directly to the LORD.

"NASATI" ... "I lifted" ... the Hebrew is past tense.

We have read in the first verse of Psalm 121 ... "I will lift my eyes ... to the LORD, the Maker of heavens and earth." I declared my intention to look to Jesus. My eyes are still lifted upwards to the heavens ... to Jesus.

"To You I lifted my eyes" (read in Hebrew) ... "the One seated in (the) heavens" (read in Hebrew)

That's where Jesus is ... seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus fills heaven and earth. Jesus also dwells in the heart of every person who believes in Him. And, at the same time, Jesus is seated in the heavens, at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus is Spirit, and He can be in all these places at once. The statement that He is seated in the heavens emphasises that He has rested from the work that He was given to do on earth, by dying for us on the cross, and that He is now in the place of authority over all spiritual powers.

"Song of the Ascents" .... (read in Hebrew). The HEH prefix indicates "the" ... "the ascents". However, it is also possible to translate the Hebrew as "the song of ascents". The fifteen Psalms of Ascent may be read as one continuous song.

With that in mind, the next verse is the 26th verse of the Song of Ascents.

Verse 2 ... "Behold, like eyes of servants to the hand of their LORD." (read in Hebrew) ... "Like eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress," (read in Hebrew) ... "So our eyes look to the LORD our God until He will be gracious to us."

It's interesting that the expression "Adonai Eloheinu" ... the LORD our God ... would appear in the 26th verse in the Song of Ascents.

Also significant is that our looking to Him for grace should be likened to servants looking to their Master, waiting for the smallest signal from the One who has authority over them. Not many people in our day and age like the idea of being subservient. But the LORD delights in people who are humbly submitted.

And we also note that the language has switched from me looking to the LORD, to a communal prayer. We appeal to Jesus.

Verse 3 ... "Be gracious to us, LORD. Be gracious to us." (read in Hebrew).

We appeal to Jesus for Him to bring His power into our situation. And what is our situation? ... "greatly are we filled with contempt" ... (read in Hebrew). The Bible says that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Timothy 3:12). To be persecuted means to be hated by a hostile world ... a world that is under the sway of the devil (see Matthew 10:22). Jesus said that those who believe in His name would be hated by all the world.

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, He started by saying "Blessed are the poor in spirit". To be "poor in spirit" is the opposite of being proud. To call on the LORD ... to turn to Jesus ... means that I recognise my need. I am no longer self-reliant.

Jesus continued the sermon by saying "Blessed are those who mourn". The mourning is to have grief and sorrow over my sin. "Godly sorrow leads to repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10), and in Psalm 120 I did repent ... I turned to the LORD and I confessed my sin. That's repentance. I turn to Jesus. I give Him my sin, and He gives me His righteousness, and He empowers change.

I am being transformed, little by little, into His image. I co-operate, but it's a work that He is doing in the power of the Holy Spirit. It's in that spirit of humility and need that we appeal to Jesus.

Verse 4 ... "Greatly filled is our soul ... with the mocking of the self-confident ... the contempt of the arrogant" (read in Hebrew).

Unbelievers do disdain those who have faith. Unbelievers like to think that they sit on the throne of their lives. And history shows that attitudes of contempt can sometimes swell up into active hostility.

This is a short and simple Psalm ... a recognition that coming to faith in Jesus brings the peace of the LORD into our hearts but a recognition that going on with Jesus brings us into conflict with a world that rejects Him.

And for us victory lies not in taking up moral and civil causes, nor in political activism, and certainly not in taking up arms, but in turning the other cheek, being humble and gentle, and in appealing to the LORD to pour His grace into our every situation.

Go now to the next session: Psalm 124 - The LORD preserves His people.