When I was a young lad my granddad and I would often tease one another with harmless jokes, tricks and horseplay. Sometimes, when I would “get one over on him,” he would take his cap off, rub his sparsely haired head, and reply, “Now Steve, you’re just not trying to get along, are you!” That was all in good fun.
In the world we are living in there are a growing number of people who, in all honesty, are not trying to get along. We see it among our politicians, among drivers on the road, among husbands and wives, siblings, friends, nations and races. There are individuals who seem to be angry at the world. A spirit of distrust, scorn, contempt, and even hatred seems to be growing. Places that were once considered “safe havens” have become “danger zones”: colleges, shopping centers, parks, elementary schools, and even churches are now places where careful people will “keep their guard up.”
The riots of 2020 and the invasion of our nation’s capitol in January of 2022 are symptoms of the growing contempt in the hearts of the people of this nation. They are examples of how far people are willing to go to express their contempt toward others. When our leaders encourage violence, or are at least silent in trying to prevent it, the violence will grow.
Pilate should have exercised his authority as governor and not allowed Jesus to be crucified. He had found no fault in Him (Lk. 23:14-15). But doing what was right was not his top priority. Pleasing the crowds (and maintaining his political position) was his number one priority (Matt. 27:24-26; Lk. 23:18-25; Jn. 19:12-16). The Jewish leaders’ contempt for Jesus won the day.
Jesus, on the other hand, did not allow contempt to rule His heart. Although, all from the high priest to those who called for the crucifixion of this innocent men were acting contemptable, Jesus did not revile them in return (1 Pet. 2:23). In fact, Jesus purposely went as far in the other direction as He could possibly go. He asked for their forgiveness (Lk. 23:34).
When Paul described the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, notice how many of these are in some way associated with scorn and contempt: hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, envy, and murder.
In Psalm 123, the psalmist (and those with him) is weighed down by those who had “exceedingly filled (their souls) with scorn” and “contempt.” No one enjoys being mocked contemptibly. Who relishes in the hatred of others toward themselves? Whose heart is not pained when the proud and lazy render disdain toward those who are struggling?
The psalmist could have reacted with his own contempt and scorn toward those who were treating him so. He could have escalated the situation by gathering some stones to throw at his persecutors. He could have prayed that God rain down fire upon their heads. That would show those selfish haters.
It is true that such malicious treatment can reach down into a person’s soul and, if allowed, generate a dark countenance. It can drive out a person’s benevolent energy and replace it with a vindictive spirit.
In Luke 9:51-56, Jesus and his disciples were heading to Jerusalem. Their journey would lead them through Samaria. Jesus sent his messengers ahead to Samaria to find lodging for them. However, because they were traveling to Jerusalem, no one would provide lodging for them. Their contempt for the Jews “was so thick,” as the saying goes, “you could cut it with a knife.” The disciples responded in kind, asking Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, Just as Elijah did?” Their hearts were in the “tit of tat” mode, but it was not just a “tit for tat.” It was, “Since you will not give us a room to lodge in, we will burn down your house with you inside.” Apparently they reasoned, the best way to end this contempt would be with a greater contempt. Jesus responded, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Lk. 9:55-56).
Vengeance belongs in God’s hands. In Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30 the writer quoted Deuteronomy 32:25, saying, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” James writes, “For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:20).
Jesus kept this spirit of mercy even at his most dire hour and in a time most worthy of His contempt. Peter says of Christ, “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
The psalmist in Psalm 123 did not give in to his fleshly temptation to respond in kind to those who were treating him with contempt. Instead, he turned to God: “Unto You I lift up my eye, O You who dwell in the heavens” (1).
It is no accident that God and heaven are always described as “up.” Judges sit on elevated daises to show their superior authority in the courtroom. A king’s throne is most often on a raised platform, not just so all can see him, but to show who has the power over his realm. The pope has a throne and is often seen from a balcony looking over the people to show his power in the Catholic Church. (Note: the pope’s power is not from God – Matt. 23:9.) Judges, kings and popes are granted this power, and that, temporarily. God owns His power. Revelation 5:13 says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” It was not granted to Him, nor can it be taken from Him.
Because God’s majestic grandeur is eternal, we do not cease looking up to Him (Ps. 123:2). Listen to James’ words: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jam. 3:17-18). Did you notice where this wisdom is from?
When David was running from Saul’s jealousy, he kept looking up to God for mercy (2 Sam. 24:14). In Psalm 86:14-15, David prayed, “O God, the proud have risen against me, and a mob of violent men have sought my life, and have not set You before them. But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” He refused to take vengeance into His own hands when he had opportunities to take Saul’s life (1 Sam. 24:4-7; 26:8-11). But he did keep looking up (Ps. 5:3).
The writer of Psalm 123 knew this same God. He knew that He was the source of mercy that would provide the relief they needed from their enemies’ contempt.
Jesus, our example, looked up to His Father for mercy from those who poured out their contempt on him. God provided that mercy to Jesus by raising Him from the dead. And, most amazingly, this plan of God would also provide mercy for others who would look up to Him, seeking deliverance from the contempt of Satan and his minions and the dark depths of the fiery of hell. That is the wisdom that is from above and is marvelous in our eyes (Ps. 118:23).
Let us imitate Jesus; let us keep our eyes “lifted up” to the One “who dwells in the heavens.” Let us try to get along with all men. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Let us keep our eyes lifted up to the God of all mercy.