Psalm 121 - Looking to God for Help
Many of the greatest fears in life come not from what we can see, but from what we can’t — from the next unpredictable natural disaster, at present times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from the nameless and faceless thief that might break in while we’re asleep, from the disease that could strike someone in our family at any time. Satan consumes us with fear by inflaming the unknown. He exploits our imagination, and torments our feelings of insecurity.
The Israelites knew insecurity. Each year, they travelled from their homes to faraway Jerusalem, many of them by foot, for one of the three major feasts (Exodus 23:14). Jesus himself made the treacherous trip from his own hometown many times, walking (or riding) more than ninety miles each way. God had told them to go — to come where his presence was (1 Kings 8:10–11) — but the road was dangerous and uncertain.
“If we don’t regularly feel our need for keeping, we have lost our hold on reality.”
Along the road, the people met threats above and threats below, most of which they could not see or predict. They were fully exposed to scorching heat and volatile weather. Robbers hid in the caves and hills, knowing exactly when to expect their victims. The people knew they had to go, but they did not know if they would all make it. Surely, some didn’t. So, they felt fragile, vulnerable, unsafe.
Our road to heaven, to the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), is much longer than the dozens of miles they walked, and no less treacherous. We carry God’s promises with us, but life still often feels desperate and uncertain. Temptation hides and strikes. Trials ambush us and our loved ones. Besetting sin lingers. Disaster and crisis come unannounced. We feel our need for keeping.
When God’s people felt their need for keeping along the road to Jerusalem, they did not cover their mouths in fear; they raised an anthem. They cried out with hope into the uncertainty, drowning their fears with verse and chorus. They sang against danger.
Psalm 121 was a song for rough and uncertain roads like these. The refrain over and over again in these eight verses was that the Lord can and will keep them. The psalm was written because the long and lonely road to Jerusalem was dangerous — and because the long and often lonely road to heaven is also dangerous. The vulnerability and fragility in these verses describe the very different world we live in today, the world in which Satan prowls and sin tempts and death lurks. We still feel our need to be kept.
You can sense the insecurity in the opening line: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1). We don’t know what was in the imagination of the writer, whether the hills were hiding dangerous enemies or if they were simply empty of allies. Either way, these hills made him feel small, vulnerable, and helpless: Who will help me now?
What the psalmist could see told him he was in trouble, but he did not trust in what he could see. Where does his help come from? “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). As he imagined what he might suffer, he looked beyond the threats he could see to the God behind everything.
If the hills around you suddenly look terrifying, remember who made the hills. Your God built each hill to this precise height, down to the tiniest fraction of an inch. He shaped every curve and cliff, planting each bush and flower and putting each rock in its place. He counted and scattered the blades of grass. Your God knows this hill, watches over this hill, governs this hill and every hill. And yet how quickly we’re tempted to fear the hills!
The Lord can keep you, because there’s nothing God cannot do. No crisis or circumstance can overwhelm him. He is never surprised or shaken. He made all things, sustains all things, and rules all things, including every detail of our lives, even on the most difficult days. No hill is too high, or night too dark for him. When what you can see only screams anxiety, see the strength of his power in all he has made. Surely the God who made the mountains “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
When the religious leaders later threatened the apostles and warned them not to preach the gospel, they prayed a similar prayer: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” (Acts 4:24). Where did the early church find the courage to keep witnessing? They began by remembering just how powerful their God was — the power they could see everywhere they looked. Look around, look closely, and know that the Lord can keep you.
If God is your keeper, he is “your shade on your right hand” (Psalm 121:5), meaning no one is nearer to you than the one who keeps you. Nothing can come between you and your God. “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night” (Psalm 121:6). This is the writer’s way of saying, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (Isaiah 54:17) — no weapon of man, no weapon of Satan, no danger in nature can keep God from keeping you.
Nothing day or night, for as long as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, can rob you of your life or his love. Even when you have to sleep, surrendering all awareness and control of your circumstances, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3–4).
If we don’t regularly feel our need for keeping, we have lost our hold on reality. We may have never really known and felt reality in the first place. Beware if “the Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24) sounds stale, nice, “maybe necessary someday,” rather than urgent and indispensable. We are far more vulnerable than we often realise.
If you do feel your need for keeping, if you feel your weakness, and wonder how you’ll make it home then take heart. Jesus prayed, and continues to pray, for your keeping, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name” (John 17:11). You have an inheritance “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” that God is keeping for you. And God is keeping you for it (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Wherever he calls you to go, however hard the journey feels, whatever fears emerge along the way, hear him say, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:8).
We all need help at times in life. Psalm 121 is a Psalm about trusting in God’s providential care. It is a travel Psalm. In fact many families read this Psalm out loud together before going on a trip. Devout Jews recite portions of this Psalm when they leave or enter their homes. They attach a small cylinder called a Mezuzah with some Scriptures in it (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21) to their right door frame. And whenever they leave or enter their home they touch the Mezuzah and recite Psalm 121 verses 5 and 8.
Do you need help today? Then this psalm is for you. This is a good one to memorise and have handy for the journey of life. Psalm 121 teaches us three big truths about God’s help and care for you. 1) The Creator is your helper. 2) The God of Israel is your protector. And then finally, 3) the LORD will keep you from all harm.
We are on a journey to God, and Psalm 121 is a wonderful song for the journey. The Maker of heaven and earth watches over every aspect of our lives. He protects us from all harm. There are no accidents for those who belong to God.
And that means you do not need to worry or to be afraid of anything. Nothing can happen to you without God’s knowledge. Nothing can harm you under his protective care. Even the worst things that happen to you – whether illness, loss or even death – all these things take place under God’s providential care. God is for you, not against you. He is committed to your good, and you can trust him in all things.
So take comfort in this. Learn to trust God in all things and to look for the good in all the details of life. God cares for you. He will provide for you. He is there to help you. “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
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