Summary: The LORD is my/our helper, keeper and preserver.
I Will Look unto the Hills: an Exposition of Psalm 121
As we continue this year through the season of Lent, the world seems especially stressed. There is threats of a global pandemic continuing to spread. The world’s financial markets are under stress. In this country, at least, there is political turmoil. There is social upheaval. There is a growing fear that our national and world leaders are not up to the challenges that face us. Christians are suffering terrible persecution in many parts of the world. Or course, these troubles have all been with us in one degree or another since the fall of Adam. All to often, the world looks for help in all the wrong places. They think help comes from within. We look for someone with a new idea. There is hope and change. For a moment, the sky brightens only to be later dashed into cynicism. So where can we find help? The 121st Psalm has that answer for us.
There is no stated author for the psalm nor occasion for which it is written. The prefix “A Song of Ascents” is attached to it. It is part of a collection of 12 psalms which share this preface. We don’t know whether these psalms were written as a group for that purpose or were later collated into this collection. We do know that these psalms were used by pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem to worship. Whether this was the original intention of the psalm, we do not know. However, the historical context of the psalms are for the most part of secondary importance. The words of the psalms instead become personalized as a means of reflection. They become a conversation between God and us as well as God and the church community. So then, what is the psalm telling us?
Psalms are also poetry and song. They have their own language. Unfortunately, many of the modern translations are stilted and ugly. The translators of the Authorized Version (King James) understood the beauty of words. The 121st psalm in the King James is a masterpiece of poetic translation. This is no easy task as Hebrew poetry and English poetry have different forms. But the AV translators understood the beauty of the text and endeavored to express the thoughts of the psalm in beautiful English. The words God speaks to us are beautiful words. They are not the words of a technical manual. So, as I often do with the psalms, I will be using the AV and addressing any minor inconsistencies along the way.
The first verse reads: “I will look unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” Most modern translations place a question mark at the end of the line rather than a period. This may be technically correct as far as translation goes, but it changes the meaning from the hills as being the source of help to mountains of adversity to be overcome. However, seeing that this was the song of pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem to worship, there is a connection between Yahweh and Mt. Zion. Jerusalem was on the loftiest hill. It was also the moral high ground. The worshipers always went “up” to Jerusalem. If one follows the AV, then what is being said is one sees the mountain as the base of the throne of Yahweh. It is the LORD who presence is atop the mountain. God often meets with his people on mountains. So the psalm then orients one to the majesty of the LORD rather than the adversities we face. This is a rightful posture. We orient ourselves first towards God. Just look at the Lord’s Prayer and how it begins. It begins with God. The petitions for bread and deliverance come later. We look to God first. Then we look at our problems in the light of who God is.
“My help cometh from the LORD which made heaven and earth.” If the first verse is a question, it is a rhetorical one. The worshiper already knows the answer. Perhaps one person might call out the first line and the worshipers responded with this line. God did not just make the mountains. He made the heavens and the earth. The LORD is above all. He is omnipotent. He is able to bring His will to pass. This is similar again to the LORD’s prayer. We orient our worship to the LORD alone.
“He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber.” The reason why it was necessary to establish first the sovereignty of God before this verse is apparent. The LORD must be able to help us. His being willing to help us is not enough. A person might be willing to help one in need, but if that person is unable to do so, then all you have is someone to cry with you in your beer. But is is equally necessary that the LORD be willing to rescue, or else there will be no rescue. It is wonderful that we serve a God who is both able and willing.