Be a Cloud of Witness – Psalms of Ascent #8

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The last post on the Psalms of Ascent ended with God’s people dealing with “the scorn of those who are at ease” and “the contempt of the proud” at the end of Psalm 123.  That Psalm emphasized the Lordship of the Lord, who is “enthroned in the heavens.”  Those who follow the kingdoms of the world often have contempt and scorn for those who follow another way, who declare another Lord.  However, Psalm 124 explains that our Lord has not left us alone:

“A Song of Ascents. Of David.

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
            let Israel now say—
if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
            when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
            when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
            the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
            the raging waters.

Blessed be the LORD,
            who has not given us
            as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
            from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
            and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
            who made heaven and earth.” (emphasis mine)

This Psalm speaks of times when we know only the Lord could have saved us, and we’ve learned that, “When all you have is God, He is enough.”  Sometimes life is hard because of circumstances that force us to depend on Him, and we learn to trust Him and Him alone.  The best way to know for ourselves that He is good is to act on our trust in Him, even when it’s hard or doesn’t make sense.  When God works wonders for us, we should keep a record of God’s power and faithfulness in your life, like the memorial stones Israel placed after crossing the Jordan.[1]

The other thing to notice about Psalm 124 is that it is entirely written with plural pronouns.  David, the author, is telling us that the works of God in our lives, especially when there seemed no other way forward, are to be shared with the community of believers.  “Let Israel now say” is something we do together.  The church must be a community of people who share God’s work in their lives, as a contrast to “the proud” and “those who are at ease.”  The One we serve – and the One they ridicule – wants us to testify to His salvation, and not any other hoped-for salvation.

John Calvin notes on the last verse (8): “The contrast between the help of God, and other resources in which the world vainly confides, as we have seen in Psalm 20:7, ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,’ is to be noticed, that the faithful, purged from all false confidence, may betake themselves exclusively to his succor, and depending upon it, may fearlessly despise whatever Satan and the world may plot against them.”

We know what God has done for us, but as a community we amplify the common witness of God being faithful.  Hebrews 11 chronicles the faith of God toward His people in the Bible, in order that we may have a “cloud of witnesses” encouraging us not to “grow weary or fainthearted” as we endure hostility from sinners for serving our Lord.[2]  Psalm 124 is part of a liturgy for ancient Israelites traveling to corporate worship in Jerusalem and can be applied to corporate worship today.  God calls all of His people to join the cloud of witnesses.

Therefore, when you attend worship this week, find a way to join someone else’s cloud of witness.  Tell them what God has done for you, that only He could do.  Then tell someone else.  If you need encouragement yourself, pray that God would meet your need.

Dear fellow travelers: Be a cloud of witness.  Show others your memorial stone.


If you’ve missed the earlier posts in the Psalms of Ascent series, the first post is here, and each post links to the next at the bottom.


Note on the series: This occasional Saturday series will cover Psalms 120 to 134.  These “Psalms of Ascent” form a type of hymnal or liturgy that pilgrims could sing or recite on their way to the three annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths.  In a modern context, these Psalms are a call to prepare for worship, to rejoice in the Sabbath, and to answer a call to serve God’s church on earth.


[1] See Joshua 4
[2] See Hebrews 12:1-4

Participating in the Psalms

Reading the Psalms is a great devotional habit.  Most years, I read one a day starting January 1 until they’re done and then start again the next year.  However, too often I read through one without it having any effect on me.  Too often I miss that the writers aren’t just trying to teach about God, but they are trying to share their experience of Him with me.  They don’t just want me to know what they know about Him – They want me to feel what they felt about Him, and act as they acted toward Him.  For example, Psalm 96:1-5 reads like instructions:

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
            sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
            tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
            his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
            he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
            but the LORD made the heavens.

Verse 1 isn’t “listen to me sing a new song” but instead it asks everyone (and everything) to sing a new song to God.  The Psalmist wants us to participate with them in their joy, and even spells out how and why to do this:

  • from day to day” – make it a daily habit
  • among the nations” – don’t pick and choose your audience.  Share publicly and indiscriminately
  • For great is the LORD” – because He deserves it
  • For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols” – because no other is worthy

Not only the Psalms, but all worship, requires participation.

I read Psalm 96 a few days ago, and to be honest, I wasn’t “feeling it.”  I didn’t give up.  I took some notes so I wouldn’t lose the idea, but more importantly I struggled with it and prayed that God would show me an opportunity to participate in this Psalm.  Shortly after, I saw the memory of breaking my collarbone in Facebook, which I shared there but also expanded into a post here, praising God for His healing.

I’ve written that: “’A new song’ suggests something that’s creative, offered in praise…Perhaps you are not a ‘creative’ person.  You might be a tax collector or a soldier[1].  You might be a clerk, accountant, lawyer, politician, engineer, housewife or anything else.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s about knowing who you are and dedicating that to the Lord and to others.”

Your situation is not mine.  Few people have blogs, and God doesn’t always deliver answers to prayer in the same way, but in whatever way we can, He wants us to participate in the praise of the Psalms, sharing Him every day, to all people, because He deserves it.

This day and every day, what can you do to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name”?  Take a moment and ask Him how you might participate in the Psalms.


[1] See Luke 3:12-14

When All You Have is God

Photo by Greg Willson on Unsplash

Near the end of Book 3 in the Psalms (43-89), several Psalms read like cries for help by writers at the end of their rope.  In Psalm 86:14, for example, David writes: “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.”  While the exact circumstance is unclear, David knows there is a wide conspiracy against him, and his only hope is to turn to God.  The Psalm opens with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”

Likewise, when we feel desperate and don’t know where to turn, these Psalms remind us that God will never turn us away.  On Psalm 86 John Calvin comments that “the more severely any one is oppressed, and the more destitute he is of the resources of human aid, the more inclined is God graciously to help him. That despair therefore may not overwhelm our minds under our greatest afflictions, let us support ourselves from the consideration that the Holy Spirit has dictated this prayer for the poor and the afflicted.”  In other words, because these Psalms are in the Bible, we can be sure that, no matter the mess our own choices or the actions of others have put us in, God in His steadfast love will listen.

Throughout the Psalm, David writes reminders of the character and works of God as a contrast to both his circumstances and his feelings of futility.  Like him we must always remember that our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character, and that our circumstances are never so bad that loving us is beyond His power to achieve.

Our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character

Even for the most desperate, there is always a way out, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” In Psalm 86, David does not just pray for a miraculous deliverance, but in verse 11, David looks for the way of escape: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”  A united heart is one that feels no anxiety because it knows it is seeking God’s will and willing to act on it based on reverence for Him.  God may urge us to merely wait for His deliverance, or prod us to actions we may not expect, but in all cases, He knows the way, because He is the Way. Only He can unite your heart.

Bring your desperate anxiety to Him and let Him show you the way forward.  When all you have is God, He is enough.  When you feel your faith is weak because you can’t see or feel God in your life or the world around you, begin with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy,” and He will listen.

The Lord Cares Even for Your Wilderness

If you are like me, some days feel very eventful and productive, but other days remind me of the saying: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  There are times when we all wonder: Who cares about what I did today?  Did today matter?  Did anyone notice?

When recently reading Psalm 29, verse 8 struck me, which says: “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”  Why is this verse here?  Earlier in the Psalm, the voice of the Lord thunders, shatters the tall cedars of Lebanon, and flashes like fire.  Who cares about the wilderness?  It reminded me of the tree falling with nobody around.  Why does it matter?

It matters because the Psalmist (David) wants us to know that God’s power exists even where we can’t see it and in ways we may see as inconsequential.  However, to Him, nothing is inconsequential, and no detail is too small.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30 that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”  If a tree falls in the wilderness, God cares about it even if nobody else does.

Psalm 29 closes with “May the LORD give strength to his people!  May the LORD bless his people with peace!”  His strength and peace are available on good days and bad.  On days we feel motivated and days we don’t.  On eventful days and on days we feel we are in the wilderness with nobody to hear.

Today, God will notice you, and will work in ways that you may only know when you look back on them from eternity.  No tree falls without His knowing about it.

May His strength and peace be with you always.