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Psalm 123: Contempt

This Psalm describes the unpleasant experience of a person of low position (v2) receiving arrogant scorn and ridicule from others who look down on them (v3-4). They’ve had enough, and they cry out to God for help. 

Contempt is a particularly bruising experience. If you’ve ever experienced mockery from people who disregard your worth, or see you as beneath their consideration, you’ll know that it hurts. It can cut deeper than other forms of rejection, because it is dehumanising to be thrown to the bottom of the pile. Elsewhere in the Bible contempt is considered as destructive and as wrong as murder (Matthew 5:21-22). 

How do we respond to contempt? One option is to curve inwards: to take on the cruel assessment of others, and join in the self-scorn. Another is to lash outwards: to react defensively, to return like-for-like, to join in the mud-slinging in an attempt to climb above our opponent. But a far better option is to look upwards

When we have experienced ridicule from those who look down on us, it is tempting to conclude that pride and arrogance simply go with the territory of being ‘above’. But imagine, by contrast, how dignifying it would be to look up to somebody kind, whose very posture is one of grace (v1-2). 

The Christian God is one who is utterly above (v1) and beyond human description. Of course, this is exactly where we want him to be: if he wasn’t above us, he wouldn’t be much of a God at all. And yet his posture is the precise opposite of arrogant, scornful people. We know this because in Jesus we see a God who does not show us contempt from on high, but who was willing to stoop down, come to earth, become one of us, and experience ridicule and contempt himself. He can even transform our experience of contempt so that we can not only endure it but also flourish underneath it (Acts 5:41). Lift up your eyes to him, and he will never ridicule you; he will only show you grace.

PRAYER Jesus, thank you that you are gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). Help me to lift my eyes to you; help me see that you are a God who gives, and keeps on giving, grace. Amen.

A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.

2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,

as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt.

4 We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.


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