Short Devotions on the Pilgrim Psalms
(PSALM 120)

The Pilgrim Psalms begin on a sombre note. The pilgrim’s journey towards the city of Jerusalem is anything but peaceful. Enemies lurk at every corner, seeking to destroy the pilgrims and hinder their pilgrimage. Harman rightly observes that the picture of the pilgrim is like a sheep among wolves in his own country. How sad when your enemies come from those you count to be your brethren!

Interestingly, much of the distress of the pilgrim was caused not by physical blows but wagging tongues. The tongue may be small, yet it is very powerful – just like chilli padi. An untamed tongue can cause great damage. Proverbs 12:18 describes the words of the rash speaker as “piercings of a sword”. Proverbs 18:21 adds that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Indeed, stones may break a person’s bones but perverse words can break the spirit (Prov. 15:4).

Alas, the tongues of the ungodly are consistently dripping with deceit, treachery, slander and malice. With no love for God and His truth, they employ their loose tongues against the pilgrim to brutal effect. Thus, the pilgrim cried, “Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!” (Ps. 120:5) Mesech refers to the grassy plains of Russia close to the Black Sea. On the other hand, Kedar is a remote area in the wilderness of Southern Arabia. These are areas far removed from Israel. The psalmist was thus describing his great distress. The pain he felt was so great, it was as though he was living in a foreign land. How sad!

Similarly, the church is supposed to be a place where like-minded brethren gather to worship the Lord, with hearts full of joy in Christ. However, all it takes is a few loose tongues to destroy the peace in the church, just like in the early Jewish church during the time of James. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:6-10 KJV)

The pilgrim’s tongue is markedly different from his opponents (v.7). While the lips of the ungodly cries for chaos, and confusion, the pilgrim cries for peace. When wicked men’s tongues are filled with poison, the pilgrim’s words are full of grace. The heart of the pilgrim is clean unlike that of his enemies, thus what comes out of his mouth is also clean. As he is a man of clean lips, his prayers will also be heard by the Lord in the time of his distress. The tongue of the pilgrim will surely be blessed.

Sadly, the enemies of the pilgrim did not take kindly to the words of peace and continued in their hostility and persecution. Thus, in great anguish, the psalmist cries out an imprecation against them (v.3-4). The tongues of the wicked will surely be judged. No loose word shall go unpunished.

Sometimes we wonder why our prayers are not heard. Perhaps the reason is due to our loose and sinning tongues. If that is so, fix your tongue. Otherwise, you will lose out on the blessings of the Lord.

Moreover, we must be careful not only with what we speak, but also what we write. In this age of social media, it is so easy to post hurtful and damaging words that are unbecoming of a pilgrim. Take care also of your emails and letters. Nothing is kept secret from the Lord. We are accountable for every word that we say or write.

We must also be careful with our counsel to others. It is so easy to give advice for the purpose of lording over them and to feel superior. However, the advice we give may be worldly and sinful. As James 3:1 says, “My brethren, be not many masters (i.e. teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”

A loose and perverse tongue reveals much about the heart of the person. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34). Therefore, heed the injunction of Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Pray and check yourself before you speak.

Lovingly in Christ
Pastor Clement Chew