On our trek through Psalm 120, we’ve looked backward and forward. We’ve thought about the value of remembering God’s past faithfulness and anticipating his future vindication. These are both good practices, but the psalm doesn’t end with them. It returns to the present:

Woe is me!

    –for I have sojourned in Meshech;

    I have dwelled with the tents of Kedar.

Too long I have dwelled with haters of peace.

I am for peace!

    But when I speak, they are for war. (verses 5–7)

Meshech and Kedar were not in the land of Israel. Meshech was far north of Israel in modern-day Turkey, and Kedar was a powerful tribe of Arab nomads in the desert east of Israel.

The psalmist doesn’t mean he literally lived in these two places, which would have been geographically impossible. He’s using a metaphor. In the ancient world and in the Bible, Meshech and Kedar were associated with military power. Ezekiel talks about hordes of warriors from Meshech,[1] and the tribe of Kedar was the most powerful North Arabian tribe. By using these two place names, the psalmist draws on a metaphor that puts him in a foreign place, where war is the order of the day.

The psalmist is living in a barbaric land where he doesn’t really belong.

We also know he’s a foreigner by the verbs he uses: “sojourn” and “dwell.” Neither of these is a word used to talk about permanently settling somewhere. Sojourners—like Abraham—were foreigners living in a land not their own. “Dwellers” didn’t own property or have legal ties. The psalmist is living in a barbaric land where he doesn’t really belong.

What he longs for every day is shalom, peace, a place in which he can thrive. Instead he has woe upon woe—distress and trouble in a land where lies rule the day. The wicked go unpunished. The righteous suffer. God is silent and appears inactive.

And that’s where we live, isn’t it?

This psalm is unsettling; it has neither a “Praise God!” nor a “I trust you!” ending. Instead, it leaves us in the tension of present distress.

What are we supposed to do with that?

We can endure the present because the future is certain; it is in the hands of a God who has an impeccable track record of faithfulness.

I’ve got three suggestions.

  • Lament. Grieve the realities of life in a fallen world. Cry and cry out.
  • Keep moving. Read the next psalm in the collection, Psalm 121, and be encouraged that today’s lament is not the end of the story—”I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth….”
  • Go backward. Return to the beginning of this psalm and remember God’s faithfulness in the past.

We can endure the present because the future is certain; it is in the hands of a God who has an impeccable track record of faithfulness. Tucked between these truths about the past and the future, we move through whatever today’s distress looks like—one step at a time.


[1] And Tubal, from the past (32:26) and in Gog’s horde of the future (ch. 38–39)

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