The Thirteenth Decade of Psalms
This psalm is the next in the psalms of ascent (120-134)—a psalm that would be sung as pilgrims made their way up to Jerusalem. This is a psalm of true assurance . . . for true men. This is because the only kind of assurance that false men can have is a false assurance.
“A Song of degrees. They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even forever. For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; Lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity. Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts. As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity: But peace shall be upon Israel” (Psalm 125:1-5).
Summary of the Text
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion (v. 1). They cannot be moved or removed, but abide forever. Like the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds His people (v. 2). He will surround them forever. The oppression of the wicked will not long remain upon the righteous (v. 3), in order to protect the righteous from veering off into iniquity (v. 3). Then comes the prayer—do good, oh Lord, to those who are good (v. 4). Those who are good are those who are upright in heart (v. 4). For those who fall away into crooked ways, their lot is thrown together with that of the workers of iniquity (v. 5). But peace is upon Israel (v. 5).
Perseverance of the Saints
Some accuse Reformed theology of offering believers an empty tautological comfort. We say that no saint can be removed from the hand of God, and then, when someone is removed, we say that they were not really a saint.
The criticism claims that this is a version of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. “No Scotsman would dream of pronouncing Edinburgh the way you do.” “But my Uncle Angus McDougall pronounces it exactly that way.” “Well, he is clearly not a true Scotsman then.”
We do have the initial appearance of this informal fallacy in this psalm. We are told in the first verse that the one who trusts in the Lord “cannot be removed,” and then in the fifth verse we find out what happens to those who are removed—“such as turn aside unto their crooked ways.” But what good is it to be told that those who trust in the Lord cannot be removed when the way you get removed is by ceasing to trust in the Lord? But consider:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
1 John 2:19 (KJV)
So it is not fallacious to say that genuine trust can never be abused or abandoned by the Lord, while at the same time to acknowledging that such trust can be mimicked or counterfeited by the unregenerate. For a time.
We teach the classic Reformed doctrine of perseverance. This is to be distinguished from “once saved, always saved,” if by that you mean that someone can throw a pine cone in the fire at youth camp, and then live like the devil for the rest of his life, and still be saved. No, the elect persevere in holiness. And if someone falls away from that profession and walk, our conclusion is—let God be true and every man a liar—that in this instance the man was the liar, and was lying all along.
The Rod of the Wicked
We see a curious expression in the third verse. The rod of the wicked does not appear to be laid on the backs of the righteous, but rather as a measuring rod (Rev. 11:1) on the estates of the righteous. Think of Jezebel seizing Naboth’s vineyard for her husband, and Ahab going down to take possession of it—“the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous.” Think of confiscations, eminent domain, or predatory taxation. Those who received the letter to the Hebrews had experienced this sad reality (Heb 10:34).
And remember that in our time, those who rob and steal will always take care to do it in the name of human rights, most likely for the sake “of the children.” But property rights are human rights.
Good for Those Who Are Good
We find a prayer in the midst of this psalm. We began with confidence (vv. 1-2). We then heard a promise (v. 3). Then there is this prayer in verse 4. The psalm concludes with a warning (v. 5). So what is the prayer? The prayer is this: “Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts.”
We already know that when and if we are good, it is only by the grace of God. He saved us apart from a consideration of our good works (Eph. 2:8-9), but He saved us with the intention of having us walk in good works (Eph. 2:10). We were created for those good works just as those good works were created for us. We were saved for them, but not because of them.
We also know that when we are good, there is always an admixture of self in it. We know that if God were to mark iniquities, no one could stand (Ps. 130:3). Our goodness is therefore not ultimate or perfect.
But it is real nonetheless. With these things acknowledged, and fully acknowledged, there is such a thing as Christians walking worthy of their calling (Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:12, Rev. 3:4). “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And returning to the previous point, it is this sort of walking worthy that the elect persevere in.
So take a look at those things you would love for God to bless. Your business? Your family? Now take a look at those things in your life that are yelling at God to do the exact opposite—your browser history? Your catty tongue? Your envious looks? Are you willing to pray this prayer? “Do good, oh, Lord, to those who are good.” And not just externally good either. Upright in heart. So don’t whisper your prayers for a blessing with your lips, and shout your desire for a severe chastisement with your life. God sees all of it, remember.
The Mountains of Your Salvation
The reason God’s people are like mountains which cannot be moved is that they are surrounded by the mountains of God, which cannot be moved. When you are saved by Christ, you are as secure as He is.
Some men are like the sand beneath their beautiful house (Matt. 7:26), and it looks very fine until the storm comes. Some men are like the sea, restless and choppy, casting up mire and dirt (Is. 57:20-21; Jas. 1:6). Some men are like the wind, blowing first this way and then that (Eph. 4:14). But believers are mountains.
And believers are like mountains because they have come to Christ, who is the mountain. Christ is the Rock, and His work is perfect, and all His ways are righteous (Dt. 32:4). Becoming like Him includes becoming like this—immoveable.