Harold Bennett - Song of Degrees - Mudgee - 1995

Psalm 20.1-2, I have enjoyed thinking of the Songs of Degrees. I have read them before. The songs Degrees are a set of psalms, beginning Psalm 120 to Psalm 134 and we understand that these, Psalms are the songs that the Lord's people sang as they went up to Jerusalem to their annual Feasts. A degree is a step, like a step on the stairs. That is so in several things. These songs of degrees are just steps upwards and onwards that the Lord's people were taking as they went to their feasts.

This truth is something we enter into by degrees. We learn to love it by degrees. Faith increases by degrees. We wonder today, to what degree have I entered into the Truth and to what degree do I love it, to what degree do I have
faith in it, because we enjoy it and enter into it by degrees and always by taking steps upwards and onward.

Proverbs 4.18, God's way gets better and better and the light gets brighter and clearer. We love and appreciate it more. As the unjust walk, the path of the unjust becomes more unclear as a person goes on. We are thankful we enter, into it by degrees and it gets better and better as we take steps forward and upward. God's people have always been a singing people, because they have something to sing about. The Songs of Degrees tell us what the Lord's people had to sing about. They were singing about the same things God's people sing about today. The subject of each of these 15 psalms:

Psalm 120 is about distress. We live in a world of stress and it seems there is more stress all the time from jobs, family and society. The cure for stress might be to take a holiday or get a good night's sleep, but the cure for distress is different, it is to cry unto the Lord. I know a young man who told us there was something he wanted to do and he knew it was wrong and he wouldn't pray about that. He got to the point where he couldn't pray about anything and
finally, in his distress he cried unto the Lord. Distress isn't the worst thing that can happen to a person. It could be wonderful if we came here feeling a little distressed today, because it puts us in a position where the Lord can help us. We don't worry about people who are feeling a little distressed. We do worry about people who get wrong and go wrong and never do anything about it, but when we say and do wrong and feel distressed about it, we are in a position where the Lord can help us.

Verse 2, when we have to live among people who are untrue and deceitful, that causes distress. One man, before he met the Truth, he went to his preacher and found that verse (Matthew 10.8) "freely ye have received, freely give." The preacher told him, "Oh! Just leave that up to me." He went home in such terrible distress and it led to him crying to the Lord.

Verse 5, Mesech was the slave market (Ezekiel 27:13). The psalmist was in distress because he felt, "I am just a slave to possessions, people and things, and I don't want to be a slave to possessions, people and things getting the control over him that the Lord should have." In his distress he cried unto the Lord. Kedar ... was a wandering enemy in the wilderness and the Psalmist felt, "I don't want to be wandering, just drifting through life, getting no closer to God and home," and in distress he cried to the Lord.

Verse 6, our hearts go out to people who have to live in divided homes, with someone who hates peace, and people in care centers and an atmosphere they have no control over. If we have come here today and feel a bitter distress, it puts us in a wonderful position, where the Lord can draw near and help His people.

Psalm 121 is about where our help comes from. Verse 1-2, the first verse is a question. The psalmist knew his help didn't come from the hills. It was on the highest hills that the heathen built their groves and worshipped their idols. He knew his help didn't come from these places. He knew his help came from above those hills, from the heaven, the Lord that made the heavens.

We are gathered today, because we need help. God has made us in such a way that we need help. Good humanity is man looking to man for help and there is a lot of that in the world, but Christianity is man looking to God for help. If man looks to man for help, you get what men can do: the scientists, the physiologists, the philosophers. Ten years from now, all their books, advice, and counsel will be different. When man looks to God for help, we get that eternal Wisdom and strength that comes only from God and we get what God can do to help us. He doesn't slumber or sleep (Verse 3-4), He sees every need and emergency and can come to the help of His people. We are thankful we have the privilege of looking up to God.

I know a professional photographer and he told me that the human countenance is at its most beautiful when the eyes are lifted and the chin is lifted. When taking a portrait, he often asks the subject to lift up their eyes and chin.
God's people are at their best when they are lifting their eyes for the help from the One Who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 122 is about fellowship. (Verse 1-3) I hope you were glad when they said, "Let's go to convention", glad at even the thought of coming to convention. It wasn't the psalmist's worldly friends that said, "Let us go into the house of the Lord," it was his Godly friends who encouraged him. Fortunate is the person who has Godly friends who can encourage them in the right direction. Some children playing meeting and one of them said, "I want to be one of those "glad to be here people!" He was glad that he was glad to be there. If that gladness ever dies away, we will have lost our purpose. That gladness began in your heart and mine when we heard the gospel and gladly received the Word. There might have been some people in that mission not so glad to hear the gospel and it made them mad instead of glad. Gladness began when we got a vision of eternity and the worth whileness of living for and spending life for eternity.

Psalm 4:7, no farmer is happier than at the time of the increase in harvest. God puts gladness in His people above and beyond that. Verse 2, a man who'd been in a mental hospital said he, at first, hated those walls and gates, but as time went on, he appreciated the walls and gates, because he realized they were his safety. There is a difference between the walls of a prison and the walls of a home. The walls of a prison are meant to keep evil in. but the walls and gates of a home keep evil out.

Psalm 73:2, the psalmist had been in slippery places and there, his lips would no longer be singing. Then, he was in an even place, where his lips would be singing. Verse 3, there is a closeness about this fellowship. It is not only compact, but it is compacted together, that is the closeness we feel in the way of God. God's people have no registered name, no colleges, or office buildings, yet all around the world; God's people are built as a city compacted together, a togetherness we love. I have had the experience of riding with workers in areas I wasn't familiar with and glad when they say, "That is the farm where some of our friends live."

Verse 4, the reason why we have come up to the annual feast is to give thanks to the Lord. No matter what happened through the past year, no matter the circumstances and trials, we can always give thanks to God, because God has always done far more for us than we have. He keeps us hopelessly in debt. We are always thankful when we realise, "I have received far more than I deserved." Even when the storm hits, we can give thanks because it shows where the weak limbs are. We have come to give thanks.

Verse 5, the people hadn't only come to meet with God, but with those that the Lord had set as guides to His people, because there are thrones of judgment that are set. God has always had those that are set as guides to His people. Judgment isn't punishment, the thrones of judgment aren't set to cut and slash His people, but to show us what is right, to give us God's opinion on the matter and to see things as God sees them. When a judge takes a case, he gives his opinion, based on the law, as to how the law, an interpretation of it, applies to the individual case. As we are gathered here, the Lord will give His opinion through those thrones of judgment, as to how the Word of God fits your case and mine.

Psalm 123 is about the servant. (Verse 2) A man who had a good servant had a valuable thing and would take care of a good servant. This psalm tells us how God appreciates servants, but the world doesn't always appreciate those who
serve God. In many lands where servants are a part of the household, the master doesn't speak to the servant, but he will give a little sign with his hand, that is why the servant looks to the hand of his master. The maid looks to the hand of her mistress for some small indication of something to do. God doesn't want us running ahead and taking our own initiative in this matter of serving, but He appreciates His servant who keeps his eyes on Him, waiting for some little indication of what he should be doing. He appreciates a servant who gives a ready response. We have come, not just to hear some new things, but looking for some little indication of some way in which we can serve, something we can do and that is why we keep our eyes on the Master and He appreciates a ready response.

Verse 4, those that are "at ease" - sometimes, people slack off and have lost their enthusiasm in their service to God, One lady said, "You don't need to go to all those gospel meetings or drive all those miles, they are for the outside." That person was one of the scorners at ease. When we slack off from the Lord in our ease, then God slacks off from His people and then our joy slackens off also. God takes very good care of His servants who serve Him well and He also takes care of the scorner.

Psalm 124, "If it had not been the Lord..." This is the song all the Lord's people will be singing in heaven. "If it had not been the Lord Who was on our side..." Abraham Lincoln, in the height of the Civil War days - a General said,
"We need to pray that the Lord will be on our side". Abraham Lincoln said, "No, we need to pray that we are on the Lord's side." When we are on the Lord's side, then He is on the side of His people. That is the song God's people will be singing in heaven. A man who had success in business said he couldn't boast about that business, because in the beginning someone invested money in it and he had a lot of good advice along the way so he couldn't boast about it. So it will be in our case, it was the "Lord who was on our side."

Verse 4, "the waters;" Verse 5, "the proud waters." Out in this world there are lots of proud waters. You watch their airs, you can get carried away by the stream of this world and its pride and undertow. That force in the water that pulls people under. If we get caught in that stream, it was "the Lord on our side" and he helped us.

Verse 7, "The snare is broken and we are escaped." Going with an Indian to watch them setting a snare, hoping some animal would put his paw or head into something he didn't see. The animal put his foot into the trap. The Indian waited till the animal came back the second and third time and the animal gained a little confidence. Then he tightened things. There is a lot in this world we could have put our heads or our feet into, but when that happened, "the Lord was on our side and broke the snare."

When we stand on the shores of eternity, we will not be talking about "my power," it will be "the Lord who was on our side." Sometimes, we have been caught in the snare, but the Lord has come to the help of His people and that is the reason for their victory.

Psalm 125 is about the bulwark of Truth. (Verse 1-2) Sometimes, people worry about the future of the Truth. They worry that the day may come when God's Truth will die on the earth. This psalm tells us that God isn't going to allow anything to come in from the outside to destroy His Truth, because just as there were mountains around Jerusalem that constituted a natural fortification, so that you would have to remove these mountains, so you would have to remove the Lord, who is around about His people, anything that would destroy His Truth.

Verse 5, if there is anything on the inside, or anyone who persists in taking his own way and who is a problem-maker, the Lord will just lead him to the outside, because peace is very important to the Lord and His efforts are directed towards the peace of His people. So, there is not anything to come in from the outside or anything from the inside. We don't worry about the future of the Kingdom, but what we worry about is our future in the Kingdom. "They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion." The enemy wants to destroy faith and trust. As long as nothing destroys this trust and faith in the Word of God, His servants, and people, we don't need to be concerned about our future in this Kingdom that can never he removed.

Psalm 126 is about the precious seed. (Verse 6) That precious seed is the seed of Truth. God's people had been brought into captivity, a dry and barren place and the Lord was restoring them after the captivity. There were some that had kept the word of truth alive. Now they would have something to sow that would bring forth Truth. Prodigals go out, take their own way, waste years of life, and want to come back. We are thankful there are those who have kept that precious seed of Truth alive in themselves so there is something to come back to and there can be a sowing and reaping.

Psalm 127 warns us against being too anxious and worried in this work. (Verse 2) Jesus knew a wonderful freedom in His work and we don't need to be too over-anxious or burdened in the work of God. We have our part to do and God has His part to do. If God can't do His part, then nothing is done. (Verse 1) There is a lot of work goes into preaching the gospel, but if in all of that, the Lord cannot work, then nothing is done. (Verse 1) A lot of work goes into shepherding God's people and keeping the city, but in all of our efforts, if the Lord can't work and keep the city, then it is not kept. God's servants are some of the busiest people around. God-directed busyness is what really counts. Sometimes, we feel if we are not going somewhere, we are not doing anything. If, in all our activities, we are not God-directed in our busyness, there is nothing done. God has His part to do and we have our part. What keeps God from doing His part is if there is a wrong condition in our hearts - hardness, unwillingness, unforgiveness - then the Lord cannot work. If there is a wrong condition of heart, then in all that goes on at Convention, nothing can be done. It is not so much "service," but it is "relationship." It is in that relationship of the heart that the Lord can work. We don't need to be over-anxious, but do our part in co-operation with the Lord.

Psalm 128 is about the fear of the Lord. (Verse 1-4). This is about family life. There is a difference between being afraid of the Lord and fearing the Lord. To be afraid of the Lord means we are frightened He is going to hurt us and we are being selfish in thinking about ourselves. We fear the Lord is going to grieve us in our selfishness, but to fear the Lord means we are concerned about hurting God and grieving Him, thinking about reverencing Him, so that we do the things that please the Lord. The fear of the Lord should be in all of our attitudes, conduct, and relationships.

Verse 3, "Thy wife... thy children." A vine needs support and the man is to support his wife. That is where the fear of the Lord comes in. A man won't be ridiculing her or scorning her, but will be treating her with the same kind of reverence and respect as he has for the Lord. Olive plants are easily broken off. Children are easily broken off from the Truth. A man who fears the Lord isn't going to make many mistakes because he will be thinking of them and their welfare. Whatever investment he has made into his family, it is in turn, going to enrich him because the fear of the Lord has affected his attitude, actions. and relationship that, not only is directed towards God, but towards those he lives with. (Verse 2)

Psalm 129 is about afflictions. (Verse 2, 3, 5) There are those who hate this fellowship and do everything they can to destroy it. We have it in our country and you have it. But God's people don't need to take matters into their own
hands. Verse 3, the reason they did that was because they were trying to reap a harvest. The reason they did that "ploughed upon his back" was because the psalmist was on his face praying to God. All he could do was plough upon his back. It's like the grass on the tops of the houses, just a thin layer of earth and then grass grows, but no reaping, nothing to fill their hands. Remember that wrong isn't going to come out on top and those that hate Zion won't reap a harvest as long as we are on our face and calling upon Him for our help.

Psalm 130 is about forgiveness. (Verse 3) I can tell you who would stand "if God should mark iniquity." Nobody! (Verse 4 ) Verse 7, it is our unspeakable joy to have this psalm in the scriptures, that reassures us again and again that God loves to forgive His people and show mercy towards His people, but we remember that there is forgiveness with the Lord, "that Thou mayest be feared." Before a person professes, the enemy likes to tell people that "you are all right." Then when the person makes their choice, the enemy comes along and plagues people with the thought that "you are all wrong." We have this reassurance that "there is forgiveness with the Lord."

The difference between a pig and a sheep - clean it up, spray perfume on it, and put a ribbon around its neck. The pig would go right back to the mire, start wallowing in it again. There is something in the pig that he loves to be in the mire and the dirt and he will go right back to work again. The sheep hates the dirt and won't run back there right away. The sheep may fall and get caught in something, but he hates it. So it is with the Lord's people, there is forgiveness with Him, to keep clean and pure. We don't go running back to the mire again to wallow in it.

Psalm 131 is about a weaned child. Verse 1, that is the spirit of a child. Sometimes, we meet people and they want you to explain Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation, and the Second Coming and prophecies and want to know about things
that are a matter of speculation more than revelation. I don't exercise myself in matters too high for me. There were a lot of other things he could exercise himself in. There are things we can exercise ourselves in that aren't too high
for us. One of them is to know the Lord and the other is to know our duty. Those are two things that are not matters that are too high for us.

Verse 2, I can remember when we were on the farm and the time came what you had to wean the calves from their mother and they bawled and bawled when you weaned them, because they were so dependent on their mother. You had to wean them because if you didn't wean them, they wouldn't grow and develop properly. They bawled and bawled and finally they became content and quiet because they were weaned. Sometimes, we feel we just have to have certain things and we resist the weaning, things that are only hindering our growth and development in the Truth and flesh bawls and bawls and cries and cries and finally you are weaned.

I can remember when my little brother was weaned of his bottle and he bawled and bawled and nobody got any peace in the house. He just thought he had to have that bottle and now my brother is in his mid-thirties. If you were to give him his bottle back, he would be so embarrassed. Sometimes, we look back in life at things we thought we just had to have, we would be so embarrassed it we had them because we are weaned. Things of this flesh, only of the dust, we can be so content, because our desire has changed now. When you wean someone, he is less a baby now and more like a little child. The Lord wants us to be less like a baby and more like a little child. His desire was changed.

Psalm 133 is about unity. Unity is a wonderful thing. We can hardly comprehend the unity there is in the Kingdom of God all over the earth. The political world is divided so many ways. I suppose you could say the English hate the French, the French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Russians, the Russians hate the Japanese , the Japanese hate the Chinese and go all around the world that way, because the world is all divided, but more than that, what of the political, ethnic worlds? The religious world is even more divided, but God's people know a wonderful unity. Two factors come into the picture that makes for unity, without which there is no unity among the people of God: (1) the Spirit of God (spirit of unity) and (2) the doctrine of God.

Verse 2, (Exodus 29) when Aaron was anointed with that holy anointing oil, which is like the spirit of God - they brought him to the door of the tabernacle and washed him to take away all that was offensive from his human heart. God washes us with the water of His Word to take away all that is offensive in our mind. Then they anointed him with the sweetest of oils, like the Holy Spirit of God. When God's people are washed and anointed with His Spirit, it makes the sweetest possible fragrance; it makes it so you like to be around them. Sometimes, God isn't able to give us His Spirit that makes it pleasing to be around, because we have not been willing for the washing, so He can anoint us. You like to be around someone anointed with that sweetest possible fragrance.

The pure doctrine, "there the Lord commanded the blessing even life forevermore." Deuteronomy 32:2, his "doctrine shall drop as the rain, speech shall distil as the dew." The dew is like the true doctrine of God. Only God can make
dew. It is always in a perfect sphere. The doctrine of God is always perfect. When something is faulty in the teaching and doctrine, there is no unity. These two factors, the Holy Spirit and the teaching that comes from God make for unity among His people and "there the Lord has commanded blessing, even life forevermore."

These songs God's people were singing as they were taking forward and upward steps, entering by degrees more and more into His Word.