“I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1
Psalm 121 is the second of fifteen ‘Songs of Ascents’, songs designed for pilgrims to sing as they made the journey to Jerusalem and its temple for the great annual festivals as set in the Torah. Taken as a whole, the songs move us from the lament of the believer living in a fallen and hostile society (Psalm 120) to the praise of those standing in the house of the LORD (Psalm 134). Taken individually, each song invites us to reflect on the struggles that God’s faithful people endure in this world and more importantly upon the fact that it is the LORD who is the true stronghold and help for those who put their trust in Him.
Psalm 121 is a declaration of faith and confidence. As the pilgrim believer travels there is a ‘looking up’ (vs1) above and beyond trials and dangers to the LORD who is the helper of those who look to Him (vs2). That help and protection are in fact needed is inevitable in a world filled with ‘evil’ (vs7). In such a world the believer’s ‘life’ – not merely physical life but life in full, both physical and especially inner soul life – needed to be kept or protected (vs7).
The description of the sun and the moon ‘striking’ the pilgrim by day and night, is not a suggestion that creation itself is somehow the enemy, but rather a recognition that in this fallen world we face trials and difficulties day in and day out, and that even sleep does not necessarily mean immunity from the trials of life. Readers of the Psalm would have been familiar with this through the deployment of watchmen whose task it was to keep a careful lookout and to warn against the approach of enemies. Of course, such watchmen could not sleep on duty if those in their care were to remain safe.
With these images in mind the Psalmist proclaims the LORD as Sovereign Creator-‘the maker of heaven and earth’ (vs2). As Creator the LORD rules over the world and thus is well able to help those
who look to Him in times of trouble. The LORD is also the watchmen over His people, the One who ‘keeps Israel’ and neither ‘slumbers nor sleeps’ (vs4). He is thus the Creator who is powerful and present to watch over His people in all their ‘going out and coming in’ (vs8) i.e. every aspect of daily life and to keep them from ‘all evil’ (vs7). Nor are these attributes simply true of gods or God in general. For throughout the Psalm, God is called ‘the LORD’, the covenant keeping God of Israel, the God who brought them out of Egypt and who showed them His unfailing love and truth (see also Exodus 3 and Exodus 34).
How then does this realistic but confident Psalm speak to us today. We are not pilgrims on a journey to the ancient city of Jerusalem in Canaan. But we are pilgrims on a far greater journey than that, a journey through this fallen world and on our way to the New Creation. At times along this journey our eyes are drawn down, to our life circumstances or to the enemies that we perceive to be around us and even within us. At times like these we need to be reminded to lift up our eyes to the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth, to the LORD our helper who has come near to us in the way that we needed most of all, namely, as a Saviour from sin, death and judgement in the person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The confidence that the Psalmist had is thus the confidence that every Christian can and should have, confidence in our ever present Lord, our powerful Creator, our gracious Saviour and Protector, the One who said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I gave them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). With this great promise in our ears and in shared faith and confidence with the writer of Psalm 121, let us therefore ‘lift up our eyes’, seeking “things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:2) and so doing, day by day, continue the pilgrimage to which God has called us.
Written by Mervyn Eloff