10 August 2020
TO YOU, O LORD, I LIFT UP MY SOUL; IN YOU I TRUST, O MY GOD. (Psalm 25: 1)
A SONG OF ASCENTS. 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. 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 KEEP YOU FROM ALL HARM – HE WILL WATCH OVER YOUR LIFE; THE LORD WILL WATCH OVER YOUR COMING AND GOING BOTH NOW AND FOR EVERMORE.
Psalm 121 is one of the most beautiful and meaningful psalms ever written. It is called a song of ascents, being a song for people about to go on a journey. It is clear why pilgrims sang this song going to Jerusalem – to the Temple on Mount Zion. The opening sentence can be taken in two ways. Are the mountains a symbol of God’s strength and a reference to His dwelling place – perhaps Mount Zion? If so, they point to the pilgrims’ source of help. Or are they the location of the high places where other gods were worshiped? If so, the psalmist’s point is that there is no help to be found there, but rather that the living Lord alone is the source of help. This time, I invite you to MEDITATE with me on some of the great truths of this psalm.
As we look at the Psalm, try to imagine the Israelite families, 2,500 years ago, travelling together to Jerusalem to go to the Temple and offer sacrifices during important religious festivals. They would go on foot or donkey loaded with provisions and leading goats and sheep that were to be sacrificed. Often, as they travelled they would sing together, for instance this psalm, probably precented as our ancestors did – and sometimes we still do – with our Gaelic psalms here in the Highlands. Psalm 121 is a Song for the Journey, A Journey watched over by the Lord, A journey that takes us to the Lord.
I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? As the Psalmist looks up and sees the highlands of Judah, the sight is imposing! The rugged hills and rolling mountains were obstacles that had to be negotiated carefully. There were wild animals that lurked and armed robbers who could suddenly attack travellers and take their money, animals, belongings, or even their lives (remember the accounts of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, – Luke 10: 25-37). There were many hidden dangers and the anxious psalmist gives the only answer he knows: My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. Put this confession into your present anxieties, and learn that only the Lord, the God of free and faithful grace, the God who created the universe by His power, the God who redeems my soul from sin, can give me the protection I always need!
He will not let your foot slip… – How many of you have ever walked down a steep slope or narrow gorge with rocks underfoot? It is scary, isn’t it? But God is there for us in every hazard of life – constantly, continually. As we journey through life there is never one moment when He is not fully aware of every need and every danger ahead of His pilgrims. He never slumbers nor sleeps.
Travelling through Palestine would bring prospects of very hot, baking sun in daylight and shivering cold in moonlight. The Lord provided all they needed for their protection day and night. Indeed, can we sing this song, right? As we journey, life’s mountains look imposing… but how dangerous? There are finances, emotional upheavals, natural disasters, sickness, Global Pandemic threats. When things go wrong, and life seems to be falling apart the question arises: – Where does my help come from? Human beings, no matter how powerful, kind, well-intentioned they are, will ultimately fail us. Only God is rock-solid dependable. As David confesses at the end of Psalm 124: – Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth! (verse 8). That’s because His help is more than money, joy and happiness, good health or – even – warm, sunny holidays in Spain. His help is spiritual and eternal.
When the Psalmist says: – The Lord will keep you from all harm, let us think about just lying in a hospital bed or riding in an ambulance thinking: – How can this be true that the Lord will keep me from all harm? This is very human, but God can use even our physical troubles to work for our spiritual and eternal good. Let us not overlook these words : – for evermore. That tells us this is not just a song about earthly travels, but also about a spiritual journey meant to last eternally. Remember these Israelite pilgrims were travelling to Jerusalem. So are we! Except, we are travelling to God’s Spiritual Jerusalem, City of God’s Eternal Peace, Yeharoo-Shalom, in Hebrew. That is why Jesus came: – God wants us back with Him. Forever.
Those Israelite pilgrims were travelling to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. So are we! John’s Book of Revelation tells us that when we get THERE, – we will be: before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His Temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7: 15-17). We will be with God and see His Glory. Our song for the journey will become a new song – a song of thanksgiving to God that our pilgrimage finally is over. Our song will be a song of victory everlasting in Christ.
Let me end these meditative thoughts with a paraphrase of Psalm 121, written in 1973 by Leslie Brandt:
WHERE SHOULD I LOOK FOR HELP IN MY NEED? TO MAJESTIC MOUNTAIN PEAKS THAT PROBE OUR SKIES OR TO GIANTS OF INDUSTRY THAT HEM IN OUR CITIES? TO SATELLITES THAT CIRCLE OUR WORLD OR TO COMPUTERS THAT STORE UP OUR KNOWLEDGE?
THE ANSWER TO MY PROBLEMS AND THE FULFILMENT OF MY NEEDS MUST COME FROM GOD WHO CREATED SKIES AND MOUNTAINS AND PEOPLE TO DWELL IN THEIR MIDST.
GOD IS A GREAT GOD WHO KNOWS EVERY DESIRE, WHOSE WATCHFUL EYE IS UPON US NIGHT AND DAY. WE CAN MAKE NO MOVE WITHOUT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE. GOD’S CONCERN FOR ALL OF US IN CONSTANT; GOD’S LOVE IS ETERNAL.
AND THUS, THE LORD WILL KEEP YOU, SHIELDING YOU FROM THE FORCES OF EVIL AS A SHADE TREE SHIELDS YOU FROM THE RAYS OF THE BLAZING SUN.
GOD DOES CARE FOR YOU, AND GOD WILL FIGHT FOR YOU AGAINST THE ENEMIES OF YOUR SOUL. WHETHER YOU BE COMING OR GOING GOD KNOWS THE COURSE YOU TAKE, AND GOD WILL GO BEFORE YOU.
A story: – The Great Wall of China is a gigantic structure that cost an immense amount of money and labour. When it was finished, it appeared impregnable. But the Tartars, led by Genghis Khan, breached it. Not by breaking it down or going around it. They did it by simply bribing the gatekeepers. This would never happen to the Kingdom of God because Jesus himself is the Gate (H. Fosdick).
All those who find comfort, support and guidance in Psalm 121, who know it by heart and meditate on it, singing it often, – all those who are pilgrims in this world, taking painful things of life with faith, and trusting in the Lord even as refugees or persecuted, – the Christian Church Universal, where the Word of God is still preached, the guidance of Jesus is still taken seriously and faithfully, – potential believers who are searching for God and Salvation in Christ, – everyone, who is being affected by Coronavirus in any way or place, – people in leadership of countries, councils , churches, organisations, – our Church of Scotland in all its Presbyteries and Congregations, – our Christian sisters and brothers here in Portree, Skye, the World – people of other faiths or none and for the new generations to come, – those who work to bring healing, those who offer counsel and consolation, those involved in research seeking new cures and treatments, those who must make diagnoses, those who care for loved ones, those whose lives have been overturned by disasters …and for all those loved ones, family members, neighbours and unknown people, whom … in quiet prayer…we all bring to the Lord… Open our hearts, Lord God, to our responsibilities of never giving up our prayers… in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, who art in heaven…
I to the hills will lift mine eyes, from whence doth come mine aid? My safety cometh from the Lord, who heaven and earth hath made.
Thy foot he’ll not let slide, nor will He slumber that thee keeps. Behold, He that keeps Israel, He slumbers not, nor sleeps.
The Lord thee keeps, the Lord thy shade on thy right hand doth stay: the moon by night thee shall not smite, nor yet the sun by day.
The Lord shall keep thy soul; He shall preserve thee from all ill. Henceforth thy going out and in God keep for ever will.
DEAR FRIENDS, SINCE YOU ALREADY KNOW THIS, BE ON YOUR GUARD…AND NOT FALL FROM YOUR SECURE POSITION. BUT GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. TO HIM BE GLORY BOTH NOW AND FOR EVER! AMEN. (2 Peter 3: 17-18)
Sandor, your Minister.