Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 6

This 6-week study of the Psalms of Ascent came to an end for us this past Monday. I don’t know about you, but I always want my Beth Moore studies to go on a lot longer!

This week we finished up Psalm 132, where we are reminded that God answers us when we call on Him. Does anyone need that reminder today? The LORD has made a promise that is non-negotiable, and this promise was His Son. We are heirs of this promise if we follow the word of God — we too will be kings and priests! (Revelation 1:5-6) God has made a covenant with His people and He sticks to His promises. Our part of the covenant is to walk in God’s world on God’s terms, receiving salvation in Christ and then putting His word into practice in carrying out our daily lives. The LORD has chosen us, He desires us, He is pursuing us.

The three short verses of Psalm 133 speak volumes about the blessed unity of man. The unity of brother with brother is compared with the first blessing of Aaron as a priest of God, when the oil poured on Aaron’s head symbolized the uniting of all of Israel with the LORD. The second metaphor speaks of two of the tallest mountains in Israel, one in the north and one in the south, and the symbolic unity of these two portions of the country when pilgrims from the diaspora would unite together in Jerusalem for the three great feasts. The LORD desires unity for His people — the blessing of life forevermore through His Son.

The final Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 134, concludes this group of psalms very appropriately with words full of praise for the LORD. In three verses, the Hebrew word “YHWH” (or Yahweh, translated as LORD in all capitals in the English Bible) is repeated five times. As the great feasts ended in Jerusalem, and the people of Israel gathered up their families for the long journey back home, they left the great city with these words on their lips: “Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD! May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!” (ESV)

I hope that you have enjoyed taking this journey with us. May you continue to have a passionate and ever-growing desire for God’s word and learning how to walk in God’s world on God’s terms.

Study Guide answers (pages 172 and 173 of your study book):

  1. survey; road
  2. Let go; loads; loosen
  3. next step
  4. destination; worth the trip

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 5

“If you, O LORD, kept a records of sins, O LORD, who could stand?” (NIV)

So begins Psalm 130 in Week 5 of our study. And truly, what a question! This question should make us fall on our knees in thankfulness to God for His great mercy, for if He kept a record of our sins not one of us could stand up under that condemnation. God is just that holy – we literally could never be in the presence of God with the stain of our sin upon us. But the psalm doesn’t end there. The question is followed by a statement that fills our souls with hope, “But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered.” Psalm 130 goes on to describe this hope as waiting and watching…”more than watchmen for the morning”…knowing without a doubt that God is true to His word and that He fully redeems us from our sin through His Son.

Psalm 131 calls us to a recognition that pride is often a stumbling block in our ascent to the next level of relationship with the Lord. Why is God so opposed to arrogance and pride in our lives? Perhaps because arrogance and pride are a focus on ourselves rather than on God. Perhaps because arrogance and pride can become a habitual behavior and attitude in our lives. Perhaps because arrogance and pride are barriers to having compassion for other human beings. Humility, on the other hand, brings our minds into a place where we are not the focus. Instead, we can focus on others and develop a servant attitude. What would our lives be like if we made a habit out of humility?

Beth Moore describes Psalm 132 is one of 11 “royal psalms” scattered throughout the book of Psalms that may actually have been written by Solomon instead of David. This psalm recalls the hardships endured by King David, and his promise that he would not rest until he had fulfilled God’s command to build a permanent dwelling place for Him on earth. It was David’s greatest desire to bring the ark to the city of Jerusalem, but as we read in Joshua, Judges, and I/II Samuel, this did not happen quite as smoothly as David had hoped. Ultimately, David was able to bring the ark to Jerusalem but only after He learned to obey God’s instructions completely and without the slightest error.

We serve this same God! A God that is simply that holy and powerful.

See you next week!

Study Guide answers (pages 144 and 145 of your study book): 

  • Tabernacles
  • 70
  • 10
  • All; captive; king’s daughters
  1. Wise up; forgive; outwit
  2. Encourage
  3. Love; deeply
  4. shields; armor; one hand; weapon; other; sword; fight for; with

Notes From Psalms of Ascent – Week 4

This past week of psalms were difficult for me and maybe for some of you. Psalms 127 and 128 are about the fruitful family, with pictures drawn of the wife and mother surrounded by her children, and Psalm 129 is about protection of the oppressed. As someone who has been told that I will never bear my own children without medical intervention, I cried when I studied these psalms. Yet at the same time God was merciful in meeting me in my tears and showing me that the words of these psalms apply just as much to me as they do to anyone else.

In Psalm 127, I am reminded that even children can become an idol in one’s life. God describes children as “a heritage from the LORD” but not “the heritage” — make sense? I limit the effectiveness of God in my life when I believe that bearing children is the only evidence that God has blessed me. As Beth Moore says, “God grants us heritage in numerous ways.” I have truly missed the point when I make having a baby an idol in my life that becomes my litmus test for God’s ability to bless me. Yes, children are a blessing, but God can bless me in other ways. Yes, children can be like protective arrows, but God can protect me in other ways. Yes, a full house of children is a reward, but God will reward me in other ways.

Psalm 128 continues with the metaphor of fruitfulness and prosperity, using both the Hebrew word “asher” for happy in verses 1 and 2, and the Hebrew word “barak” for blessed in verses 4 and 5. To me, the most important parallel drawn in the study of Psalm 128 is between the wife described as the “fruitful vine” in verse 3 and Christ referring to himself as “the vine” in John 15: 1-8. This point was raised during our Bible study meeting by a young woman who said that she loved reading about this parallel but didn’t fully understand it yet — I am right there with her.

We obey God’s command in Genesis 1 when we are “fruitful and multiply,” and we are told in John 15 that abiding as branches in the “vine” of Christ while allowing God to prune us will allow us to be even more fruitful. Apart from this vine we cannot bear fruit. Apart from this pruning process we will wither away. I keep coming back to the mental image of Christ as the central root the provides complete nourishment, and the only way that we can become the fruitful vine with olive shoots around our table is to glorify the Father by abiding faithfully in His Son.

Psalm 129 draws a very vivid picture of the attack of the Oppressor, beating down on the backs of the oppressed and attempting to bind us with ropes of affliction.  Many people know this feeling well and, if you have ever suffered from depression, you will know this feeling like the back of your hand. There is nothing like the incredible binding constraint of an episode of depression. The only thing that exceeds the power of that feeling for me is when I immerse myself in the incredible freedom of God’s powerful word. Only then am I able to release myself to the power of God’s full authority in my life.

What becomes clear is that, for the world, freedom equals no authority but for the one abiding in Christ, freedom equals God’s authority. There is incredible freedom in allowing yourself and your life to be completely defined in Christ, and recognizing that even in our oppression His word is there to guide us out of our places of bondage and into the “broad place” (Psalm 18:19) of His complete redemption.

Study Guide answers (pages 116 and 117 of your study book):

  1. joy
  2. Messiah
  3. lights
  4. water pouring; rivers; living water
  5. Ingathering

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 3

Our next three psalms (125, 126, and 127) are all about the goodness of God! Encouraging words on our journey that we are protected on all sides, we are restored by His goodness, and we are confident in His will for our lives.

Psalm 126 tells us that God surrounds us like the mountains surrounding Jerusalem – sure, unshaken, everlasting. These aspects of the nature of God are secure, and we can rest wholly in the fact that His nature does not change. But how often do we trust the security of the blessings of God rather than trusting God Himself? How often do we believe that God is who He says He is based on whether or not we get what we want? We should be careful to not confuse His blessing with the nature of His person. In other words, as Beth Moore says, “If our trust is in manifestations of God’s favor rather than God Himself, we will crumble like dry clay when he calls us to walk a distance of our journeys entirely by faith and not by sight.” Rest securely in the fact that God’s goodness is present even in our struggles.

I love the opening verse of Psalm 127: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” To me, this perfectly captures the sense of unbelief and overwhelming joy that God would be so merciful and good to us in the restoration He performs in our lives. When you think to yourself, “I must be dreaming!” God surely does great things for us. But Psalm 127 continues with the exhortation that the part we play in this blessing plan involves “sowing the seed.” The seed is God’s word and it must be applied to our lives. There are times when this sowing process involves tears and weeping, but we are given the promise that, in due season, our harvest will come with shouts of joy.

Psalm 127 reminds us that our efforts are in vain if we do not recognize that God is responsible for the goodness in our lives. I believe that the Psalms and Ecclesiastes are having what is called a “canonical conversation” here. Remember what the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity.” The psalmist (Solomon in this particular case) echoes the same sentiment, “Unless the LORD builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.” When we perform work thinking that we alone are responsible for our gain, this is vain labor. Yes, we are to labor in our earthly lives, but why and for what? So that we can claim sole responsibility for our own fortune and gain? Instead, we labor in recognition that we are doing so alongside our Lord, who is building us up and working all things together for our good.

See you next week!

Study Guide answers (pages 88 and 89 of your study book):

  1. seven weeks; Pentecost
  2. giving of the Law
  3. remembering; former bondage
  4. great generosity; grace; giving; spontaneous; bounties
  5. Feast of the Harvest

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 2

Last week we finished up Psalm 122 and delved into Psalms 123 and 124. As we go through these Psalms, we are encouraged to think of a word or phrase that sums up each one and fill in these words or phrases on the stair step graphic in the back of our workbook. For me, the themes of these particular Psalms are relief, contempt, and rescue, respectively.

In Psalm 122, we hear the relief of the Israelites as they finally step foot in Jerusalem at the end of their long pilgrimage. The psalmist writes, “Our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem!” They clearly feel the strength of this fortified city, built solidly as a place of justice and majesty — the home of the “thrones of the house of David.” We can reflect on our own cities and church congregations in the way that Israel viewed Jerusalem, as places where we hope to prosper and grow while freely worshipping our God. As exiles from their holy city, the Israelites must have been overjoyed to have finally reached their destination.

Psalm 123 depicts the psalmist looking desperately to God for His attention and favor. We read the words of despair at dealing with “scorn from the arrogant and contempt from the proud.” We are reminded of the deep connection between what we see with our eyes and what ultimately affects our hearts, souls, and minds. As Beth Moore states, “Where we look…has a tremendous impact on how we feel.” In our times of struggle, do we look to the Lord first? His word tells us over and over again that He is enthroned in the heavens, with more than enough power and mercy to rescue us from the contempt of our enemies.

Psalm 124 uses powerful metaphors to illustrate the peril that surrounds us in this world. I know that I have often felt like the “torrents” of sin were going to engulf me and I was being “ripped apart” by the teeth of the enemy. This psalm reminds us that the Lord is always on our side and, although we may be allowed to go through a season of struggle, our lives are always under the watchful gaze of our God. Although we may not always understand the plans of the Lord we know that he works all things together for our good.

See you next week!

Study Guide answers (pages 62 and 63 of your study book):

  1. Unleavened Bread; seven; haste, depart
  2. sin; sour; fermentation; evil impulses; corruption
  3. kept over; former baking; hid; with
  4. death; burial; resurrection

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 1

Again, delayed in posting this week. But I have a good excuse! I am in Missouri for my 20-year high school reunion! Time flies.

In Week 1 of our study we looked at Psalms 120 and 121, began studying Psalm 122, and focused on the psalms as songs. Above all, we are encouraged that God wants us to approach Him in song if that is how we can most effectively express ourselves. Sing the Psalms!

In the Psalms of Ascent, as the Israelites made their regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem, we can both see and hear how this group of psalms were the songs that accompanied the steps of their journey. This group of psalms are short in length, possibly because they were meant to memorized. When you read them, the emotions are so strong that you can almost imagine hearing the voices of the Israelites together as they sang.

Psalm 120 speaks of distress and laments living life as an exile in a fallen world. The author says, “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.” As the first song of the Psalms of Ascent, it is fitting that the journey would begin with expressing discontent and longing for the LORD to deliver us. The author pleads, “LORD, deliver me from lying lips and a deceitful tongue.”

Psalm 121 is reassurance that, even in the distress of living as an exile, the LORD will protect. The Hebrew word shamar, which means “to protect or keep,” is used six times in these 8 verses. We are reminded that our God never sleeps, never takes a break, never takes his eyes off of His children. The steps of our journey are under His watchful gaze, both now and forever.

See you next week!

Viewer Guide answers (pages 34-35 of your study book):

  1. creation; God, Father, Christ, Son
  2. emotions, experiences, spoken, satisfy
  3. ability, memorize
  4. beautiful, unaffected; spirit, mind
  5. change; affect, God
  6. created world; humans, angels

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Introductory Session

Summary notes from the Introductory Session to Psalms of Ascent

I’m a little behind this week getting the summary notes posted. This is such an exciting study that it is hard to know where to start!

In the Introductory Session, we focused on what the Psalms of Ascent are, where they are located, and why they are important. The Psalms of Ascent consist of Psalms 120 through 134, and these 15 psalms are traditionally associated with the pilgramage of Israel to Jerusalem for the three yearly feasts. Recall that the people of Israel were scattered throughout the near East (often referred to as the “Diaspora”) and were required by the Law (Torah) to return to Jerusalem three times a year for the “Three Great Feasts” as described in Deuteronomy 16:16. “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, ad at the Feast of Booths.” (ESV)

The 15 psalms are commonly associated with the 15 steps of the temple leading from the Court of Women (the furthest place that women were allowed to advance within the temple) to the Nicanor Gate that led to the Court of the Israelites. We can rejoice that, although the women were prevented from further approaching the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple, we have full freedom in salvation through Jesus Christ to boldly approach the throne of our God!

We are encouraged in this study to do two things:

  • One, to develop a practice during our daily study to get down on our faces before God in prayer. This is not something that many modern Christians are accustomed to doing, but we will be richly blessed in the process. We can imagine ourselves as our ancient Jewish brothers and sisters making their way to Jerusalem, falling on their faces before God for his mercy and also in their longing to see the City of Peace.
  • Second, to memorize Psalm 121. This will be the memory verses for this Bible study, but you are welcome to memorize more of the Psalms of Ascent if you want to!

Psalm 121 is amazing and so beautifully designed by the Holy Spirit (as so much of God’s word is). There are 58 syllables leading up to the middle phrase “The LORD protects you” and there are 58 syllables leading to the end of the psalm (imagine stairsteps!). God is referred to as LORD (or Yahweh) five times throughout the psalm, reminding us that He is our covenant keeper. The Hebrew word “shamar” (translated at “protect” or “keep”) occurs six times throughout the psalm, reminding us that this Maker of heaven and earth is our constant Protector and watches over every step of our journey.

See you next week!

Viewer Guide answers (pages 8-9 of your study book):

  1. 15, 120, 134
  2. to go up
  3. Great Feasts, Pilgrimage; song, steps, places, faces; exiles, captivity

Coming Up on 9/22! New Beth Moore study with the women of Grace Chapel

On Monday 9/22, the women of Grace Chapel in Lincoln, NE, are beginning the latest Beth Moore study “Stepping Up: A Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent” and we are very excited! Won’t you join us?

This will be an in-depth look at Psalms 120 through 134, which were the psalms sung by the Hebrew people on their pilgramages to Jerusalm for the three major yearly festivals — Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

For those of you attending the study at Grace, here are some notes and helpful reminders to help prepare you for the study:

Study Book

While a study book is not required, the lessons are an essential companion to the DVD lesson series and are highly recommended. You will quadruple what you learn of God’s word by using the study book!

There will be 6 weeks of homework, and each week consists of 5 daily homework lessons that should take approximately 45 minutes each to complete. Many women use their daily quiet time to complete the lessons, or use the lessons as a great way to establish a daily quiet time.

Cost of the study book plus shipping and handling is approximately $13 plus tax. Please do not put your payment in the Sunday offering bag as it may get lost in the shuffle and I need to keep track of those who have paid. Payment can be made by cash or check made out to Grace Chapel. Payment can be made at Bible study.

Monday Meetings

This study is 7 weeks long, so we will be meeting every Monday night from 7-9 pm until November 3. Please plan to meet for approximately 2 hours on Mondays to discuss questions from the previous week’s lesson (30-45 minutes) and watch the current week’s DVD lesson (~1 hour). I also want to include prayer and social time after each meeting if anyone wants to stick around.

Blog Review

For those who may have to miss a Monday meeting, please visit this blog where I plan to summarize the lesson from Monday night. Look for the heading “Notes from Psalms of Ascent” under Categories in the left sidebar. I’ll go over the main points so that you won’t feel lost or behind the following Monday.

We hope that there might be women who regularly frequent the Women In His Image blog who will join in the study with us. Feel free to leave comments on the blog posts, ask questions, or just let us know that you are with us!