Though Christians may try to “pursue what makes for peace” (Rom. 14:19), we seem to have an increasing number of neighbors who want to be at war with us. Many of us are in communities, workplaces, homes, or even churches where we have had to deal with hostility and slander. This struggle, however, is not new. Thousands of years ago, the psalmists lamented very similar circumstances, but they also found enduring hope in the middle of such trials.
One of these songs of lament is Psalm 120. This is the first of a series of fifteen psalms that are titled “Songs of Ascents.” These songs were likely sung on pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem. The main focus of Psalm 120 is a cry for deliverance from lying lips and a deceitful tongue. The psalmist struggles with the reality that evil speakers deserve judgment, and yet they are a continuing problem in his life. He sees himself as living in “Meshech” and among the “tents of Kedar,” which are names of foreign tribes who lived beyond the fringes of Israel. It is likely that he used these distant names as a dark metaphor, crying out, as it were, “Woe is me, for I live with a bunch of barbarians.” While he wishes for peace, his neighbors want to be at war with him.
This psalm reminds us that even for many Old Testament believers, pilgrimage did not begin with a rosy or idyllic life. Pilgrimage began with discomfort with this world and a cry of distress. It is inevitable that believers will have challenges in relationships. The Lord Jesus taught that even within families there would be difficulties:
I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matt. 10:35–36)
A faithful believer should expect to be hated: “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Though a Christian may strive to be at peace as much as possible, conflict can become unavoidable.
We ought to consider, however, that in God’s providences these experiences can ultimately be useful. Conflicts may be one of the early challenges of the Christian life that make pilgrims out of us. They can detach us from hope in this world and drive us nearer to Christ. “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:13–14). Through suffering at the hands of His own brethren, the Son of God lived and died under persecution far more unjust than we can imagine. When we struggle with conflict and even endure reproach, that struggle may be used by the sovereign God to bring us into closer communion with Christ, causing us to cry out to the Lord. Let us have confidence that our constant hope is that “He heard me!” (Ps. 120:1, NKJV).