Summary: There’s only one sure Source of protection
Psalm Steps> Psalm 121 “Powerful Protection” -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We’re studying the “Songs of Ascent”, sung by Jews traveling to Jerusalem for the high holy days. We read in the Gospels how Jesus as a boy of twelve made the pilgrimage with his parents. He likely sang these psalms, and later sang them with His disciples. Today many people continue to recite Psalm 121 at the beginning of a journey. Its’ been called the “Traveler’s Psalm” and is an affirmation of God’s powerful and providential protection.
Isaac Bashevis Singer once confessed, “I only pray when I’m in trouble…but I’m in trouble all the time, and so I pray all the time.” Where do we turn when we’re in trouble, when life hits us hard? Where does our help come from? There’ve been times in our lives when we can look back at an instance and say, “If it weren’t for God’s protection, I’d have been killed.” What sustains us in our darkest hours? The reassurance of Psalm 121 brings us from fear to faith.
Many people have been blindsided by the beauty of the opening statement, and have misunderstood the author’s intent. We picture someone being inspired by a mountain range, finding strength in the rugged, hilly landscape. Part of the problem is the King James rendering: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” Yet the hills are exactly where the psalmist does NOT find strength. He looks higher than the hills. The NIV correctly puts it in the form of a question, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?” -Then gives the answer: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” One name for God is El-Shaddai, “the most high God”. He is above all others; He is our “higher power”.
The Jewish composer of this Psalm considered his options. Back in Bible times, pagan shrines were built on hilltops, called “high places”; groves of trees were planted and people were lured to these places by the false promise of spells, magic, and the immoral practices of cultic prostitution. There is no help or protection from Baal or Asherah, or any of the false gods. Don’t look to the hills—accept no substitutes.
Heathen/Gentile nations worshipped and feared the sun and the moon, and people today continue to trust in the stars (astrology/horoscopes). The psalmist looks beyond the hills, beyond the sun, moon, and stars to the One who stood on the edge of nothing and spoke the universe into existence. We’re assured, “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (vs 4). Wicca, Native American, and New Age religions continue to worship nature instead of its Creator (pantheism). The prophet Jeremiah declares, “Truly the hills are a delusion—the idolatrous commotion on the mountains” (3:23). Jesus assures us, “I am with you always.” We don’t need any “supplemental help” from the sun or the moon.
We may not be worshipping nature or bowing down to idols, yet we’re still susceptible to idolatry, which is trusting in anything other than God. An idol is anything we love, rely on, and obey more than God.
Our help is heavenward, not earthbound. When we lived at the Presidio of San Francisco we were made aware of just how fragile life can be. We moved there only a few years after the devastating earthquake of 1987. I was assigned to Letterman Army Medical Center. While I was there, I saw the Army Corps of Engineers began repairing the earthquake damage, sealing all the cracks in the walls, giving us a false sense of security! We had few illusions about terra firma! We were there during the Oakland fires, which missed my cousin Jane’s home by a few blocks. You who experienced the “Perfect Storm” of 1991 know how dangerous this world can be. This instability causes us to realize how we need to look beyond ourselves for refuge.
We cry out for help, and our help comes “from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (vs 2). To look anywhere else ends in futility and disappointment. Vs 3 declares that God “will not let your foot slip.” We find in God our security. Roads in ancient Israel were strewn with dangerous rocks and stones, and robbers were a constant threat. This was before the New Testament time of protected Roman roads which made travel safe. The brief book of Jude says that God is “able to keep us from stumbling” (vs 24). Peter assures us that we are “kept by the power of God” (I Pet 1:5). Though the paths of life are often difficult and perilous, God will not allow our feet to slip.
Psalm 121 helps us meet straight-on the issue of how to deal with fears and insecurities in a dangerous world. When the Israelites made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem their homes were unprotected. But we’re assured in vs 3 that God “will not slumber nor sleep”. He watches over us every step of the way. He is with us. Soldiers can rest from battle because guards are placed along the perimeter. In the same way, we are garrisoned by the eyes of God’s Providence night and day.