Howard Mooney - Song of Degrees - Wilmington Convention - 1972

I would like to talk about the Songs of Degrees and we will look first at Psalm 120. The Songs of Degrees are a special group of Psalms that were sung at Convention at Jerusalem at every annual feast.

We are a singing people because we have something to sing about. This convinces us that this is of God because we all enter into the same experiences. I have been through all the experiences mentioned here and so I can enter into all these experiences and sing them from the bottom of my heart.

Psalm 120, all of us have known distress. It can be a wonderful experience because distress brought us to the Lord in the first place. Distress is something that makes us call for help. The universal distress signal is known throughout the world. A ship in distress sends out an S.O.S.

If you look at verse 5, you will see that there were two things that distressed the Psalmist. Mesech was a slaves' market. (See Ezekiel 27:13.) It was from one captivity to another and each form of captivity was worse than the one before. There were many graves around this city. It seems that the Psalmist was not actually living there but it seemed like that. He had allowed himself
to be taken into captivity. He was a victim and could not free himself.

He sent out this distress signal for he had not wanted nor intended that he would go through life in bondage. In Kedar were the tents of the roaming, nomadic Bedouin tribes who wandered aimlessly through the desert. They were always feeding the flocks but by the end of the year they would be no further advanced. They would never get anywhere and when they passed away there would
be a little mound of sand to mark the place where their carcase fell in the desert.

We could be like that and at the end of the year we could say, "I have not made the progress I should have made." We are strangers and pilgrims and every year we should be a little nearer to God and home yet sometimes we have to say, "This last year I didn't do that." We would be distressed about that and would say, "I wouldn't want to spend another year like that." You send out a distress
signal.

If you have come here distressed you are a fortunate person. The people we worry about are those who are not distressed, but yet they have every reason to be distressed. It is good when we can say from our hearts, "He heard me."

Psalm 121 sums up the experience that, "The Lord helped me." It was the Lord, not an army. Every time the psalmist saw the hills, mountains and heavenly bodies he could say, "God who made them is helping me."

Jeremiah lived in an age like ours. There was a wave of moral decline going throughout the land and there was also a wave of false religion. Three hundred and thirty-three times in Jeremiah it says, "Thus saith the Lord." This was to offset those who went when He sent them not. (See Jeremiah 14:14-15.) In Jeremiah 32:17 it says, "Ah Lord God! Behold Thou hast made the heaven and the
earth by Thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee." There is nothing too hard for God. There were all kinds of restrictions and handicaps around Jeremiah at that time but what gave him hope was the power with which God had made the earth and the Heavens.

The remedy for unbelief is in the story of Creation which is the basis of our faith. This seems a necessary part of our experience. In Mark 9:14-29 we read of a father seeking help for his son, "Lord I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief." This father believed all that God had done but he hardly believed that God could do all this for him.

I was four years old when my parents professed. I do not remember the mission or the workers who were there but I do remember the baptism at the end of the year. As I grew I was taught to believe in God; taught to believe the Word of God; taught to believe in the Way of God, in Jesus the Son of God. I was taught to believe that the Lord's people were the most wonderful people in all the
world.

I believe that even more strongly today. I still find it hard to believe that God can do what He wants to do for me. I too can say, "Lord, help Thou mine unbelief."

In Romans 4:20, we read of Abraham that "he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;" God had made to Abraham the most staggering promise in the Bible; his son a gift from God and his seed going to multiply. In Hebrews 11:12, we read that Abraham's seed would be "as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable."

This promise was given to an old man who was ready to die. I am told we can see 6,000 stars with the naked eye. Here Abraham was about a hundred years old and Sarah was almost as old. How many children of Israel came up out of Egypt? There were 600,000 men as well as women and children. God had fulfilled that staggering promise a hundred times over. If God makes a promise to you in these meetings there is no promise but what He will be in the position to fulfill a hundred times over if necessary.

If you doubt that, just lift up your eyes as this man (in Psalm 121) and as Abraham did, and your faith will be restored. In this Psalm, three times the Lord was keeping His people and three times we read of preserving. The Lord would be keeping him from the dangers without and preserving him from the dangers within. What a wonderful combination!

The fourth verse shows the help of God; on the job night and day, "Behold He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." It is becoming more of a dangerous world all the time and often it is the things within. Matthew 15:18-20 speaks of these things that come from the heart. We seem to have a common tendency within to send us to a lost eternity so it is necessary to be preserved. We could live like a hermit; right away from any outside contamination but there is still something within us that will take us to
corruption were it not for the preservation of God.

In Psalm 122, the Psalmist says the Lord has made him glad. This is the best description we can have of Convention. Here you can say you have found something of God that you wouldn't find anywhere else. How often do we find ourselves measuring our years from Convention to Convention? In verse 3, "Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together," we have the compactness of
fellowship, love, peace, judgement and so on.

It is easy for any of us to get out of line sometimes. There was an old lady in Alaska who was very isolated with no fellowship for much of the time. At Convention she gave her testimony and told us, "Convention means so much to me because I get out of line." This is one of the real differences between the true way and false ways. The Sunday meeting would be a barren experience for
false religions for they come together to get something but God's people, if faithful during the week, can meet together and bring something; such as a thankful heart.

Remember all the storms of the past year. When giving your testimony the purpose is to give thanks. When you present your line of thought in the meeting, make sure that there is a strain of thanksgiving; as in Psalm 69:30, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving." In other words, "I will make it large enough to see it and understand it."
 
God can be like our father but more so. Nothing brings more joy in the heart of the parent than to see gratitude in the children. These Children of Israel who sang the songs of degrees went up to Convention every year just to give thanks. Elkanah and Hannah, went up to worship, to give thanks and to sacrifice. Thanksgiving always makes it easier for the Lord to give us more.

Psalm 125:1, "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever." It means just what it says. If we put our trust in God it will be impossible for anything to move us out of the way of God. So often, the messages of the young workers do as much as many of the deeper things that the older ones can bring out.

I love this thought, "trust." We can trust His teaching, trust his ruling or government, trust His understanding of what is best for us, trust His strength to carry us through ("I am with Thee alway, etc") and trust His timing, for God has never acted out of time. God in His own time sent His Son and will send Him back again. When He comes, we will all agree He couldn't come at a better time.

If He speaks today, do not put it off, "harden not your heart." In a meeting like this, there will be a message that is vital for each one of us and we need to say, "I must do something about it." Do not leave it saying, "I know that, later on, it will be better." There are two or three logical reasons why people might think that later on it will be better for serving God. But if "later on" would have been better then God would have waited a little later before He spoke to you. God's time is now. If we trust in that way, it will be impossible to move us.

The Psalm ends by saying, "Peace shall be upon Israel." That is where we find peace. Every promise is within our reach and shall be fulfilled.

Psalm 130 is like Psalm 40. In both David was speaking about a pitfall, a trap to catch animals. Snares are for small creatures but the devil is out for the big game. He would know, "If I can get a faithful child of God and destroy their soul, then I have done something big."

When making a pitfall, it needed to be damp. If it was not damp enough to make it miry, they would pour water on it. It was camouflaged on the top. An animal would fall in and it meant certain death unless someone came along to release it. David had crawled over the fence and had fed somewhere where he never should have fed. If you stay in the Lord's pasture, you need never worry. Snares are in the forbidden pasture.

Maybe David had intended to just have a little nibble, a little meal, and then get back again but he forgot there were pitfalls there. He knew he was doomed for eternity unless he called on the mercy of God. God heard and helped and put a new song in his mouth. He had lost his song when he had fallen into the pit.

David saw Bathsheba and thought he could get by. We never get by with anything in this fellowship. We may think, "Why can't I do such and such. Somebody else is getting by with it." David thought nobody else had seen him. He forgot that God's eyes are over His people all the time. He had to pay a dreadful price to have a right spirit renewed in Him.

Our brother was speaking of three Psalms. Psalm 40 describing the pit. Psalm 51, the horrible cry when he realised he was helplessly caught in the pit and Psalm 103 where a new song was in his mouth when things with God were established again. If these Psalms were not written by the same man, then they both had the same experience.

There are many pits we can fall into. I have seen one or two women who fell into the pit of depression and were feeding on self-pity which is another forbidden pasture.

We can come here to convention having fallen into many kinds of pitfalls. We need to send out a distress signal for we cannot make it out of here under our own power. We can leave here like "a hind let loose" (prophesied of Naphtali in Genesis 49:21). We can be like a little deer that had once been in a pitfall but was now let loose.

Psalm 133 speaks of the unity and fellowship of God's people. That is the end God has always worked for. Every experience breaks down barriers so that we can become more compact. Unity is made possible because of two things that the Lord has added as a result of our submission to His will.

The anointing oil had the sweetest perfume of all the perfumes. The Children of Israel were not to make anything like it; nor were they to apply it on themselves. It was planned and provided by God to be poured out upon those who fitted into His will. It is a pleasure to be near such a person. If we are what God wants us to be then we will find joy in the compactness of this fellowship.

Dew also came from God's presence and that's where there was summer pasture. That is where the lush pasture was to be found. If we are what we should be; if our relationship with God through the week is right then when we come together it is a fulfilment of this Psalm. If you live in the presence of that God-given dew, then you, too, will have fresh pasture.

If, on the other hand, we speak on the words we spoke on two weeks ago it is a sign that we have not spent time in the presence of that dew and have had no fresh pasture.

In all these Songs of Degrees, I can read myself into the experiences and into the feelings of the experiences. It makes me feel very grateful. We have every reason to sing about this experience. Every year we should be able to sing more melodiously in the spiritual sense of the word, because of our experiences during the year.

May it be so. For Jesus' sake.