Judith Viorst tells of a little fellow named, Alexander, who shares, “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
I remember hearing Dr. J. Howard Edington preach a message based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, titled, “Jesus and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” at Beeson Divinity School (07/30/97). Since then, I discovered sermons similarly titled with a different name based on a different text, featuring Moses, Job, and Paul. If we knew with certainty that Hezekiah wrote Psalm 120; we could title this message, “Hezekiah and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Psalm 120 begins a collection of psalms called the song of ascents (Psalm 120-134). David authored four of them (Psalm 122; 124; 131; and 133). Solomon was the author of Psalm 127. The author of Psalm 120 is unknown, although some assign authorship to Hezekiah, there are reasons for and against.
Psalm 120:1-7 reads, “In my distress I cried to the Lord, And He heard me. Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips And from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, Or what shall be done to you, You false tongue? Sharp arrows of the warrior, With coals of the broom tree! Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech, That I dwell among the tents of Kedar! My soul has dwelt too long With one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war.” Note three things from this Psalm.
I. Note his distress: a terrible, horrible feeling.
Psalm 120:1a reads, “In my distress. . .” Dr. Willem A. VanGemeren comments, “The position of ‘on the Lord’ is emphatic in the MT and thus expresses sole dependence on God in the hour of distress. The ‘distress’ is not specified until vv. 2-4.”
Dr. VanGemeren explains, “The ‘deceitful’ tongue is compared to a bow whose arrows are the words (cf. 57:4; 64:3; Pr 25:18; Jer 9:38) and to a fire (Pr 16:27; Jas 3:6). By the law of lex talionis, the adversaries must receive God’s judgment, likened to a ‘warrior’s sharp arrows’ and to ‘burning coals’ (v. 4; cf. 11:6; 140:10). The ‘burning coals’ were charcoal produced from the ‘broom tree,’ whose charcoal was the best. The tree grows in the desert and may grow to twelve feet high.”
Jonah 2:2 records the following confession of Jonah, “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction.” No doubt, Jonah was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!
2 Corinthians 4:8 records the confession of Paul, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.” Paul had more than one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Psalm 120:3 reads, “What shall be given to you, Or what shall be done to you, You false tongue?” Here, the psalmist employs an oath formula to express his desire to see the Lord bring the fulfillment of their deceitful words upon themselves. Note similar use of this formula in the following passages:
1 Samuel 3:17 reads, “And [Eli] said [to Samuel], ‘What is the word that the Lord spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.’”
2 Samuel 3:35 reads, “And when all the people came to persuade David to eat food while it was still day, David took an oath, saying, ‘God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!’”
2 Samuel 19:13 reads, “And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if you are not commander of the army before me continually in place of Joab.’”
1 Kings 2:23 reads, “Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, ‘May God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah has not spoken this word against his own life!’” (Emphasis mine)
II. Note his deliverer: a thrice-holy God.
Psalm 120:1b-2a reads, “. . .the LORD. . . O LORD. . .”
Psalm 18:2 reads, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 40:17 reads, “But I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.”
Psalm 70:5 reads, “But I am poor and needy; Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.”
Psalm 144:2 reads, “My lovingkindness and my fortress, My high tower and my deliverer, My shield and the One in whom I take refuge, Who subdues my people under me.”
2 Samuel 22:2 reads, “And he said: ‘The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.’”
Romans 11:26 reads, “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’”
Dr. Reginald Heber (1783-1826) expresses the heart of orthodoxy in these words:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!
Isaiah 6:1-3 reads, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!’”
Revelation 4:8 reads, “The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’”
Matthew 28:19 reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Dr. Lehman Strauss (1911-1997) explains, “Christian brethren, our God is a thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8); our Saviour is holy (Acts 4:27, 30); the Spirit who indwells us is the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:8); the Bible we read is the ‘holy scriptures’ (Rom. 1:2); the name by which we are designated is ‘holy brethren’ (1 Thess. 5:27; Heb. 3:1); ours is a ‘holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:5); the calling wherewith we are called is a ‘holy calling’ (2 Tim. 1:9); when our Lord comes again He presents us ‘holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight’ (Col. 1:22); and John points out the ‘holy city’ (Rev. 21:2). Now that the end of the age is nearer than when we believed, Peter asks: ‘Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?’ (2 Peter 3:11-12)”
In an article titled, “Billy Graham Says His Heart Aches for ‘Deceived’ America,” Christian Post reporter, Stoyan Zaimov, shares the following quote: “Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone – except God,” [Rev. Billy] Graham says. Dr. Graham adds, “Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control.”
III. Note his dwelling: a troublesome hostile environment.
Psalm 120:5-7 reads, “Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech, That I dwell among the tents of Kedar! My soul has dwelt too long With one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war.” Rev. Edward Jewitt Robinson (1821-1900), shares the following in The Caravan and the Temple, and Songs of the Pilgrims: Psalm 120-134: “The language is metaphorical, for the same people could not be in opposite countries remote from each other, and the two races did not intimately mingle in any border land. The implacable people among or near whom the children of the captivity had to work and wait, whether degenerate countrymen, oppressive Chaldeans, or, more probably, malicious Samaritans, were no better than the fathers of the Muscovites or the offspring of Hagar.
In the same way we speak of the Goths whom we encounter, Arabs in our streets, and heathens in Christendom. The psalm, passing from figure to fact, explains itself in the concluding verses. ‘My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.’ By Mosech and Kedar are meant the disturbers of Israel. The missionary abroad, persecuted by ungrateful pagans, and maligned and hindered by immoral and envious settlers; the evangelist at home, whom Pharisees pronounce a low person, and infidels despise; the Methodist, nicknamed by one party a schismatic, and by another now patted on the back, and then cuffed and kicked; the Christian student, in a class composed mainly of disdainful unbelievers and provoking worldlings; the religious workman hated by intemperate associates for his purity, and cursed by blasphemers among them for his piety; the God-fearing apprentice, under an ill-tempered taskmaster who construes his mistakes into proofs of hypocrisy, and among thoughtless shop-mates who ridicule his habits of devotion and his scrupulous behaviour; the converted youth whose parents are not ashamed of being without sittings in the sanctuary, and whose brothers and sisters are Sabbath breakers; any one of these tried saints of the Lord, and many another sufferer from proud and false tongues, may use the words, ‘Woe is me,’ etc.”
Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe comments, “Any Jew who feared God and respected the Ten Commandments would not bear false witness against another Jew or seek to slander his or her name. It would be difficult to dwell with these foreign peoples, but it would be even more difficult to dwell with Jewish people who acted like foreigners. Believers today must not only live with unbelievers but also with professed believers who live like unbelievers. . . . The psalmist was a peacemaker and tried to encourage his godless Jewish neighbors to be peaceable, but they were more intent on making war. His loving words only made them more and more angry. After over fifty years of ministry, I am convinced that most of the problems in families and churches are caused by professed Christians who do not have a real and vital relationship to Jesus Christ. They are not humble peacemakers but arrogant troublemakers. Until God changes them or they decide to go elsewhere, the dedicated believers must be patient and prayerful. This is the way Joseph dealt with his brothers in Canaan and his false accusers in Egypt. It is also the way David dealt with King Saul and Jesus dealt with His enemies (1 Peter 2:18-25).”
Rev. John G. Butler writes, “It takes a lot of courage to do the will of God especially in a hostile environment.” Remember Noah (Genesis 6:9), Job (Job 1:8), and Daniel (Daniel 1:4, 17), “the most godly men of their respective generations” featured in Ezekiel 14:14, not to mention Joseph and Esther. Paul warns Timothy, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Many exhibit an extreme hostility toward Christians and the Church in this postmodern era. Hebrews 12:3-4, and 14 reads, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. . . . Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Ecclesiastes 3:8b reads, “A time of war, And a time of peace.” 1 Peter 2:11-12 reads, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Dr. Neil M’Michael (1806-1874) pastor in Dunfermline and professor of Systematic Theology and Church History, shares the following in his book titled, The Pilgrim Psalms An Exposition of the Song of Degrees, Psalms 120-134, “What an appalling picture have we here of unreasonable and wicked men! As they love lies, so they hate peace. Is not this the very spirit of him, who was both a liar and a murderer from the beginning? They hate that which is beloved by all the good. What holy and gentle delight is associated with the very name of peace! Peace resting upon our bosom, and soothing all its cares: peace resting upon our households, and folding all the members in one loving embrace: peace resting upon our country, and pouring abundance from her golden horn: peace resting upon all nations, and binding them together with the threefold cord of a common humanity, a common interest, and a common religion! The man who hates peace is a dishonour to the race, an enemy to his brother, and a traitor to his God. He hates Christ, who is the Prince of peace. He hates Christians, who are men of peace. Destitute of internal peace himself, and reluctant that any should possess a blessing in which he himself has no part, it is his incessant effort to sow the seeds of alienation, and to fan the flames of discord. And just as the foul bird of prey scents the battle from afar, and flees to the field of carnage, so you find the haters of peace perpetually prowling around scenes of contention, that they may lend a helping hand to the work of Satan.” Psalm 120:7 reads, “When l speak, they are for war.” Rev. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) comments, “He spoke with all respect and kindness that could be; proposed methods of accommodation; spoke reason, spoke love; but they would not so much as hear him patiently; but cried out, To arms! To arms! so fierce and implacable were they, and so bent on mischief. Such were Christ’s enemies: for his love they were his adversaries; and for his good words and good works they stoned him; and if we meet with such enemies we must not think it strange, nor love peace the less for our seeking it in vain. ‘Be not overcome of evil’, no, not of such evil as this; ‘but’, even when thus tried, still try to ‘overcome evil with good’. Romans 12:19 reads, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Psalm 37:37 reads, “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; For the future of that man is peace.”
Jessie R. Baxter, Jr., (1887-1960) penned these words in 1946, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through. . .” Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986) reportedly shared in one of his messages, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and our standing up there and our state down here, our position up there and our condition down here ought to match. We are pilgrims and strangers, exiles and aliens, and this world is our passage but not our portion, as Matthew Henry said long ago. The Scriptures tell us, ‘. . . this is not your rest’ (Micah 2:10), and ‘. . . here have we no continuing city . . .’ (Hebrews 13:14). A dog is at home in this world for this is the only world a dog will ever know, but we cannot make ourselves at home here for we were made for another world.”
Revelation 2:13 records the words of Jesus to the church of Pergamos, “I know. . . where you dwell . . .” He knows where you dwell too! Someone said, “Often the very circumstances we want to change are the circumstances God uses to change us.” This statement reminds me of a poem by William Cowper (1731-1800) titled, “Light Shining Out of Darkness”:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
So, when you have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, remember, God knows where you are, God knows how you feel and God is at work in your behalf for your good and His glory.
Judith Viorst: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1972), 1.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary-Psalms, Revised Edition, gen. eds. Tremper Longman, III, David E. Garland, Psalms, Willem A. VanGemeren, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 891.
Expositor’s, Longman, 292.
Reginald Heber, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, (1826).
Lehman Strauss, Devotional Studies in Philippians, (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1959), 33. Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp.
Stoyan Zaimov, “Billy Graham Says His Heart Aches for ‘Deceived’ America,” Christian Post, July 26,2012, “Accessed: 11/21/14, http://www.christianpost.com/news/billy-graham-says-his-heart-aches-for-sinful-deceived-america-78949/ .
Edward Jewitt Robinson, The Caravan and the Temple, and Songs of the Pilgrims: Psalm 120-134, (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1878), 13-14. https://archive.org/details/caravanandtempl00unkngoog .
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament : Wisdom and Poetry, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2004), 334.
John Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor – Matthew. (Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 2008), 326. Database © 2013 WORDsearch.Institute for Creation Research, Accessed: 11/21/14, http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/4648/ .
Neil M’Michael, The Pilgrim Psalms An Exposition of the Song of Degrees, Psalms CXX-CXXXIV, (London: W. Oliphant, 1860), 15-16.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete), (1706), Accessed: 12/06/14, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/psalms/120.html .
Accessed: 11/29/14, http://nickvoss.wordpress.com/tag/famous-preachers/feed/ .
William Cowper, “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” Accessed: 12/06/14, http://www.bartleby.com/45/2/127.html.