Many of us probably do not know any servants or slaves. We may at times have felt like a slave when relationships were poor at work or in the home. Perhaps we have even used the metaphor of slavery as we struggled with a besetting sin. It is hard, however, for most of us to imagine being in the dependent relationship that ancient slaves were in. Instead of receiving a wage, a slave looked to his master to supply every need. He could not just head to a store and spend some of his savings on what he wanted. He owned nothing. He was himself owned. All he could do in a time of need was ask.
In Psalm 123:2, the psalmist prays from the low position of such a servant:
Behold, as the eyes of servants,
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant,
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
This believer had come to honest self- knowledge. He came to God with empty hands. The context tells us the psalmist is struggling with the contrast between his situation and that of his proud neighbors:
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud. (vv. 3–4)
The psalmist’s neighbors scorned him while they lived a life of ease. He needed God’s help. The position of this prayer and repeated cry for mercy display a deep struggle of the soul.
Through his trial, the psalmist had learned that God owes him nothing. It is a difficult but necessary lesson for a believer to learn. While others were looking down on him, he had learned to look up to the Lord. Many people come to God’s house, or come to Him in prayer, with the assumption that they are owed something by God. They assume that they deserve a good life—at least equal to that of their neighbors. Believers need to learn, however, that even though we may have done our duty, God owes us nothing. “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
It is true that the New Testament also reveals a fuller picture. In Christ, we are no longer slaves but sons, and even heirs through God (Gal. 4:5). What a glorious position believers have. Yet the lesson of Psalm 123 still rings true. When the circumstances of life teach us to pray in lowly dependence, they are working out for our good. If scorn or sickness or sadness take us to this point, we are learning a necessary lesson. If you still have not prayed like this, the command of the Word is, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). A sense of entitlement is an enemy of spiritual growth. It is only when we become small that God and His mercy become great.