Psalm 121 – Help Is on the Horizon
The coronavirus pandemic marks the first time an entire generation, a privileged one at that, has been asked to undergo the trials of their ancestors – loneliness, danger, economic hardship, disease. How are we doing? Honestly, some of us are not doing very well. As the worldwide crisis goes on, it seems like a perilous journey that might never end. Psalm 121 was written to encourage worried travelers on a more literal, no less perilous journey: the rugged, weeks-long trek through ancient Israel toward Jerusalem.
This is a song for an anxious pilgrimage.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Where does my help come from?
From most areas of Israel, Jerusalem would have been an upward toil. In verse 1, travelers look toward the mountains which lie ahead of them. At the outset, they realize there are undiscovered problems hidden in those hills.
And yet, the horizon also holds an answer. The beautiful temple of God, plated in gold, sat atop Mount Zion at the apex of the capital city. From certain vantage points the travelers might glimpse their destination in the intense sunlight, glowing in the distance. By raising their eyes toward their coming hardships, the pilgrims would also be reminded of the powerful presence of God, their help along the way.
Watchman on the walls
The Lord is portrayed as the watchman on the walls of our lives. He keeps us, guards us, watches over us in the most active and intimate way. He is as close as our shadow, and his protection extends to every time of day or night. We may sleep in hostile situations with confidence that He does not. It is His job and His character to keep us from harm. Without knowing what lies around the next bend, whether bandit or lion or refreshing mountain spring, we can trust that nothing comes to us except by His permission. In addition to the ten dangers we do encounter, this poem implies there have been hundreds more we passed safely by, thanks to the continual watchcare of God. And we do not face the problems of the journey alone.
Dangers still in the distance
The psalmist wrote his final stanza in the future tense. After describing the Lord’s present protection, he invites worried travelers to trust God for those dangers and years still in the distance. We cannot always see the boulders in the road, the robbers hiding nearby or the mountains of tomorrow, but we know they are there. This song assures us many potential threats have already been fenced out and our God is with us every step of the way. We tend to imagine the troubles ahead, but God is far greater than our problems, real or imagined.
As we face a changed world, not knowing where danger lies but knowing it’s out there somewhere, where does our help come from? When the eyes of fear glimpse illness or loss or poverty, let us also envision the presence of God guarding, guiding and comforting us all along our journey. Psalm 121 reminds us, we can either focus on our fears or upon God’s constant presence and abiding love.
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
- What dangers do you imagine lie in wait for you?
- Can you trust the Lord to protect you on the journey of life? Consider memorizing a verse from Psalm 121 to help you remember God watches over you.