Blazing through unknown paths can be like traveling over trails of terror. I’ve had that the feeling of fear sweeping over me in strange territory. The night has settled down around me, filling every corner of the path. The trees create a canopy of darkness over the uneven steps that I must take, and strange foreboding and sense of doom creeps into my soul caressing my mind with thoughts of disaster. Every noise in the darkness grows to monstrous proportions as I think of lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!). I begin to feel like Dorothy walking through the Land of Oz looking for help to get me home.
We’ve embarked upon a journey to the summit as followers of Jesus Christ. Although victory is promised, our heart and mind can wander through the deep darkness of a path that threatens us with danger around every turn. Certainly that is what was pulsing through the heart of the psalmist when he wrote this song of hope and victory.[i]
On our journey into the presence of God, we travel through dangerous valleys surrounded by the shadow of mountain’s peaks where the enemy can swoop down upon us in a moment.[ii] Like Dorothy, our resolve can give way to fear at the thought of the wicked witch swooping down on us.[iii] So, with the psalmist, we ask, “When I lift my eyes to the hills, whence will my help come?”[iv]
“Where can I find help as I travel along this pilgrim’s path?” Even as we focus upon the promises of God in His Word . . . Even while the power of Jesus Christ covers us with the truth of our protection . . . Even as the Spirit of God awakens power and strength in our soul . . . The difficulties and dangers on our journey toward His presence sink their terrifying talons and entice us to doubt and fear.[v]
1. We believe God is coming to help
When we find the grip of terror sweeping over our soul to caress our mind with doubt and fear, we need to answer that terror with a confession of faith. The psalmist felt the chill of doubt, but he heard the voice of faith leading him to see God’s rescue.[vi]
The One who is the Maker of Heaven and Earth . . . The One who moved eternity to bring salvation to the lost . . . The One who imparted Himself through the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts . . . God Himself comes to help us on our journey.[vii]
Let’s hold fast to this confession! God is our help as we move through this life. He is the One who comes to our aid, and He is always with us through the journey. This is the promise of our Savior when He commissioned us on the journey, “Behold, I am with you always, every day until the end of time” (Matt 28:20). This is the promise of the Spirit who intercedes for us in the moments of our deep distress (Rom 8:26-27). This is the promise of the Father who knows our hearts and has given us the Mediator, Jesus Christ, pouring out the grace and mercy to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:13-16). The source of help to us every moment of our journey is the Maker of Heaven and Earth who never sleeps. The One who lives and moves to help us at all times.[viii]
2. God brings real help in real time
And this help is not merely emotional. It is not just spiritual. It is not confined to the psychological. God brings real help in real time to us as we journey to the summit of His presence. When the climb is difficult, God gives us a firm footing. God sees us as we walk along the steep and slippery slopes, but He leads us each step of the way, watching over us faithfully and eternally so that we might complete our journey to the summit (121:3-4).[ix]
God brings real help to protect us in difficult and dangerous times. His help is so real that He becomes our shade to protect us from the burning rays of the sun.[x] His help is so real that He becomes our security in the darkness of the night-journey as He covers us with His powerful love (121:5-6).[xi] God helps us in every part of our life every inch of our journey, now and into the future (121:7-8).[xii]
Today, we embark upon this journey to the summit. We look upon our path with fear and with faith. We see the looming shadows along the trails of terror, but we see the journey as a trek to triumph.[xiii] The journey to the summit is dangerous, but it is the way to the very best life on both sides of eternity. So, we journey victoriously, knowing that our help comes from Christ along the way.
Lord Jesus, thank You for being my constant security, my keeper, my shade, my protector. Thank You for being my helper at all times as I travel this journey to the summit!
[i]See, Anthony Ceresko, “Psalm 121: Prayer of a Warrior?” Biblica 70 (1989): 501–10. He suggests that the psalm was originally the “prayer of a warrior” prior to battle in the hills. Thus, the psalmist leads the pilgrims in a prayer for help in the days of battle before them as they travel through the hills surrounding Jerusalem. The enemies of the Lord await them to thwart God’s purpose and plan in their lives, and this song is a prayer of preparation for them to understand that God is available to help them when the battle comes raging.
[ii]This is the interpretation of harim; taken by A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartnell, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 746; A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 2:852; J. Morgenstern, “Psalm 121,” Journal of Biblical Literature 58 (1939): 316. Sigmund Mowinckel [5:48] and Herman Gunkel [Die Psalmen HKAT 2.2, 4. Ausgabe (Göttingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1934), 540] look upon this term as a reference to mountain sanctuaries dedicated to pagan gods. In this view, the pilgrim sees all the pagan deities surrounding him and wonders which one will help him. Other commentators view the term in a more positive portrayal of the heavenly heights [P. Volz, “Zur Auslegung von Ps. 23 und 121,” Neue kirkliche Zeitschrift (1925): 584], the divine title for Yahweh similar to “rock” [M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 200]; the cosmic mountains of Yahweh’s dwelling place [N. C. Habel, “Yahweh, Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Study in Tradition Criticism,” Journal of biblical Literature 91 (1972): 328-29].
[iii]H. J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 428-29. He notes that the idea of the pilgrimage sparks anxiety and fear into the hearts of God’s people.
[iv]T. H. Weir, “Psalm 121:1,” Expository Times 27 (1915-1916): 90-91. Weir proposes that “whence” introduces an indirect question. Kraus seems to support this suggestion.
[v]Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 429. He quotes Calvin’s comments: “The thoughts of the godly are never so stayed upon the word of God as not to be carried away at the first impulse to some allurements; and especially when dangers disquiet us, or when we are assailed with sore temptations, it is scarcely possible for us from our being so inclined on earth, not to be moved by the enticements presented to us, until our minds put a bridle upon themselves, and turn them back to God.”
[vi]Julian Morgenstern, “Psalm 121,” Journal of Biblical Literature 58 (1939): 323-71. Morgenstern suggests that verses 2 and 3 represent the voice within the psalmist pronouncing this confession of faith. A. A. Anderson [The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 2:851], along with the majority of scholarly commentators, indicates that these verse represent the voice of priest or elder assuring the psalmist of God’s coming help.
[vii]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 431. He writes: “The thought of this verse leaps beyond the hills to the universe; beyond the universe to its Maker. Here is living help: primary, personal, wise, immeasurable.”
[viii]R. Laird Harris, s. v., “yanum,” in TWOT, 563. He notes that the term here for “slumber” helps us see a comparison between Yahweh and the gods of the Ancient Near East. Yahweh never falls asleep on the job. In fact, unlike the gods of the other peoples, Yahweh lives.
[ix]A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartnell, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 748. He notes that God as the “Keeper of Israel” provides a deep level of confidence for us. The God who is faithful to Israel through the ages is the God who is faithful to His people today. He is faithful!
[x]A. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906), 738. He notes the danger of sunstroke and the practical protection of God toward His people.
[xi]Mitchell Dahood, Psalms III, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 202. He writes that the “notion that the moon beamed harmful influences was widespread in the ancient Near East.”
[xii]Bruce Waltke, s. v., “nephesh,” in TWOT, 589-99. Life, according to Waltke, denotes “the living self with all its drives, not the abstract notion ‘life’ which is conveyed by hayyim, nor the other meaning of hayyim which refers to a quality of existence as well as temporal being.” The point is that God watches over and cares for the whole of who we are.
[xiii]David Barker, “’The Lord Watches over You’: A Pilgrimage Reading of Psalm 121,” Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (1995): 173. He writes: “As the pilgrim looked to the mountains, he saw them as a place of both fear and hope. They contain danger and yet salvation. They were the residence of bandits, animals, and even pagan shrines, but they were also the residence of the temple and Yahweh.”