“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
(Psalms 121:1–8 ESV)
I’m reading through the Psalms at the moment. I had thought I might blog about Psalm 119, but somehow never quite managed it, although I do recommend reading it, and focusing on one 8 verse section at a time – there is an amazing variety to the Psalmist’s praise of God for his word.
Having finished Psalm 119 it was on to the Psalms of ascents. I don’t have much to say about Psalm 120 (but there is an excellent reflection on it in Eugene Peterson’s mediation on the Psalms of ascents – “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”).
Psalm 121 has long been a Psalm I have loved, possibly since it appeared in my pigeon hole at university along with a chocolate brownie and a note of encouragement! I remember it being the focus of Chapel one particular tough week at Regent – and it seemed like the talk that week had been prepared especially for us.
There is something about the first line that resonates – possibly because I have usually lived somewhere where seeing hills is possible – the North Downs, Durham Cathedral, the North Downs again, Vancouver North Shore mountains (these somewhat put anything else into the shade) and now the Cotswolds – not to mention my love of the English Lake District.
That could be a bit misleading however because when the Psalmist looks up to the hills he isn’t thinking “O how pretty, perhaps I’ll talk a walk later”. He is thinking of danger. He is thinking of the fact that hills are the centre for the worship of other gods. He is thinking that he needs help. Which is why it so vital that the LORD (the God of Israel, who rescued them out of Egypt) is the creator God who made everything.
For us it might not be hills that make us think danger. It could be our office, it might be a relationship, it could be our bank statement. It might be anything that could bring danger, or lure us away from God. When we see those things we ask: where does my help come from. And for us too – our help comes from the LORD – who made everything.
Which also means that the hills then become a great reminder of God’s power and strength. As look to the hills I think of the one who made the hills, and I remember that he is the same God who has rescued me. He has the power to do what he says.
And that means the rest of the Psalm is really good news – because it tells us that this creator God keeps watch over us. This creator God does not slumber or sleep – I always seem to read this Psalm after a particularly bad run of nights with one or other child, so this is incredibly good news. His watching over me is a constant.
He keeps me from danger striking me down. He keeps me from all evil – evil has no final power over us. He keeps our life – our life is safe with God. He keeps all our going out and coming in – from now and forever. This keeping is a guarding, a watching over, a constant vigilant care. It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen – but it does mean that in the bad things there is one who knows and keeps us to the end – we can trust his care for us.
Eugene Peterson puts it like this:
“The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breath, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life…. We Christians believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God’s grace and love are experienced. … Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God who keeps all evil from getting inside us, who keeps our life, who keeps our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.” (“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”)
So, reread the Psalm again, and reflect on all the “keep” words – and notice who does the keeping (the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth).