This psalm is a song of ascents – traditionally it would have been sung by the Jewish pilgrims who were making their way to Jerusalem for the annual religious festivals. The first verse is a rhetorical question, as the speaker approaches the city of seven hills.
“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.”
Psalm 121 Commentary
Walking or travelling in the foothills of any mountains can make us feel small and insignificant as they appear majestic and enduring, with an immovable quality. But the speaker answers their own question, as strong and immovable as the mountains seem, our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of the mountains. Indeed our help is the God of all creation, awesome in power, steadfast and unchanging!
“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.”Psalm 121:3-4
The psalmist expresses an assurance of God’s attentiveness to Israel, to His people. We are now children of God, brought into His family when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. And we can be assured that in His majesty and power, God is attentive to the details of our lives too.
“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.”Psalm 121:5-6
Here, there is a description, an image of the psalmist’s confidence of God’s faithful protection of His people. The writers of the psalms are very poetic and often use hyperbole – exaggerated statements which are not meant to be taken literally, to stress or emphasise a point. We can still get sunburnt as Christians – and I have never felt threatened by the moon! The psalmist is simply saying that we as God’s people can always trust in His presence with us.
“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 forever more.”Psalm 121:7-8
This is a song of pilgrimage for those who are travelling, often far from home and for a long period of time – travelling was then at a much slower pace! And so the psalmist finishes with emphasising once again God’s protection, at any time of day or night, and wherever you are, you can have peace of mind that the Lord is there, watching over you.
Psalm 121 Devotion
For several years I drove to work in the direction of the Welsh mountains. Some days the sun would be visible, rising behind the hills. The view ahead would be stunning, bright, and clear with everything bathed in a warm yellow glow. Because of this clear visual reminder, Psalm 121 became a favourite of mine:
“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.”Psalm 121:1
Occasionally, though, the skies would be full of foreboding grey clouds, the sign of a storm brewing. On other days, a grey thick mist of low cloud would descend and everything would be obscured, the mountains would be completely hidden from sight.
It was on those days that I would be reminded, that we live by faith and not by sight.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”2 Corinthians 4:18
Our help comes from the Lord
I know from experience that the mountains are there even when I cannot see them. In the same way I need to remember that God is there, even in those times when His presence seems to be hidden. Our feelings are unreliable, they can shift and change as quickly as the weather! They can darken and lighten depending on our circumstances. God’s Word, however, is steadfast and true, never changing, and we can rely and depend on His word.
During a difficult season of my life I often prayed these words on my way to work. The mountains were a clear and visual reminder that God’s presence is always with me. There are times when doubts and fears close in, just like that low cloud coming down, and they hide the warmth and light of God’s presence. It is in those times that we strengthen our faith by reminding ourselves of the truth of His word. God watches over us; the Maker of heaven and earth is our ever-present help.
Thank you Father God for the knowledge of your love, that you are constant and unchanging and that we can place our trust in you, through all of life’s circumstances.
Our trust is in the Lord alone
There is a deep assurance for us as Christians that we are ‘safe’ for we have been ‘saved’ by the Lord. The fear of death and hell has been broken by Jesus’ victory at the cross. Our future destination is assured. His presence with us, always, is assured. But this psalm is not meant to give the impression that we are invincible. We are to be wise and cautious, to be aware of our own safety, and take protective measures, when required.
We are all living in a fallen world, beautiful but broken, and there will be times of very real trials and difficulties. Faith is trusting in God through those times when we don’t understand what is happening. When we acknowledge that tension, that we don’t understand, but we are choosing to trust in His faithful presence, we will stand firm.
Thank you Father God that when we place our trust in You, we can have the assurance that Your grace is sufficient, and all that we need. We can have peace, that even through times of hardship and difficulty, your presence is always with us.
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