We enter into the final book, book five of the book of Psalms, it centres on the Word of God. When God spoke his Word heaven and earth were created. When God said, “let there be”, it was so. Creator God of everything, what better help could a person have? I have to say there was a wave of devilment flushed over me when I sat down to look at the Psalms in this section. I was tempted to go for Psalm 119 and if you know your Psalms then you will realise the devilment in my thinking as that Psalm has 176 verses.
The Psalm I finally decided on is one that will be well known to all of you, both as a Psalm and as the hymn, ‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes’, of course it is Psalm 121. This psalm certainly fits into our recent focus on journeying, not only through the book of Psalms but our journey through life and our journey of faith therein. Our journey through life can lead us into the valley of despair, as the psalmist finds himself, where everything looks hopeless. But such is the power of the Word of God that in that very valley is where the answer becomes most clear. In this life as we go through those valleys we look for help that once more we may head for the summit and climb back up to the mountaintop. The Psalmist convinces us not to be in cast down fashion, look up to the hills, for help is on its way. There is only one help for the psalmist, or for anyone else, who is surrounded with problems. Look up and rejoice, God will come to your rescue. There is a wonderful poem written by M.S. Lowndes entitled ‘Hidden in my heart’. I recommend it to you.
Reading: Psalm 121
The focus of God watching over his people is central to the Psalm. No less than five time the phrase, ‘watch over’ is used in a Psalm that is, after all, only eight verse long. This is why I think so many, over the generations, have turned to this piece of writing making it one of the most loved of all the Psalms.
As the Psalmist writes this he was most likely on a journey that was also a pilgrimage to and from the temple in the great city of Jerusalem. As with all scripture there should be a note of caution when reading any part of it as though it were separate from the rest. There are Psalms that speak quite clearly about the author’s feeling of abandonment. There are Psalms that speak quite clearly about the fear from surrounding nations and their armies. Nothing in this Psalm suggests that these things do not exist. But this Psalm centres on the positives of God on the journey as a protector. This journey through the hills can be filled with anxiety and the Psalmist is fully aware of potential dangers it poses.
What we read are his concerns around the uncertainties faced on such a pilgrimage but also in the journey of life itself. The arid desert exposes the pilgrim to the elements and in particular the heat of the day if they did not find shade. Of course the desert at night is a place of cold frosty air in a moonlit night. God will be the shade both night and day. The psalmist is not looking at the hills as a source of help but rather he is raising his head, raising his eyes and looking outward. I am sure we have all done something similar when we are musing over something.
We look in a particular direction or we focus our eye on a specific item and ask a similar question as the Psalmist does, ‘how am I going to get through this, where am I going to find the answer, where will my help come from? I quite often sit staring out the office window, looking at a hedge with my eyes but in my mind’s eye I am somewhere very different. We are not looking to the item to provide the answer or indeed to be the help that we stand in need of. We are simply focusing our mind more on the problem than we are our eye on an item. The circumstances may be unknown but there is a strong assurance that God is our help and our protection keeping us safe from harm. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from.” Something very different from the way we pray in church today, the Psalmist with eyes wide open, surveying the scene before him, expresses boldness and confidence in prayer, with hope and expectation of help and salvation. God is with His own every step of the way to make sure our journey is completed.
The presence in the wilderness was the fire by night and the cloud by day. The presence with the believer now is the Holy Spirit which is our Comforter and our Guide. Around the clock protection. Day and night God is our Protector in all the regular routines of life. He will guide us to our promised land that is eternal life in heaven. ‘The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.’ That is for all places and for all times, through this life and for ever. To all who put their trust in God this gracious assurance is made. I think there is something to be said for sometimes, whilst not forgetting the hazards of life, we concentrate our thoughts on the positive aspects. Instead of, as I said last week, living in either mode of, ‘don’t panic’ or ‘we’re all doomed’.
It is nice to look and be satisfied that God is there, God is here, and we need be neither panicked nor doomed when our help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.