March 21, 2010
(1) I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
(2) My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
(3) He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
(4) Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
(5) The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
(6) The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
(7) The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
(8) The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
An atheist was walking through the woods, admiring beauty of nature. "What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he thought. Then he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. Turning, he saw a monster of a grizzly bear charging towards him. He ran away as fast as he could in the opposite direction, but when he glanced back over his shoulder, he saw the grizzly was gaining. In desperation, he cranked it up a notch, ran even faster, but when he looked again, the bear was even closer. He tripped and fell to the ground. He tried to scramble up again, but it was too late. The bear was on top of him, paws raised, ready to rip him from nose to toe. The atheist cried, "Oh my God!" Time stopped. The bear froze. The birds stopped singing, the river stopped flowing. The sky opened up. God spoke from the heavens, “I thought that you did not believe in me.” The atheist said, “Look Lord, I know that I have always denied your existence, and I would be a total hypocrite now to say I am a Christian and call on you for help.” The atheist paused for a second then he added. “Maybe however you can make the bear into a devout Christian bear.” And God said, “OK.”
And the river started flowing again, and the birds started singing. Instead of instantly ripping the atheist to pieces, the bear dropped his knees, brought both paws together, bowed his head, and said: "Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful."
Today many people are facing tough times. They are not about to be eaten by a bear, but there are many kinds of crisis. Our nation and indeed the whole world has been for the last couple years caught in a financial crisis, the worst financial crisis since WWII.
You might know that unemployment in Rock Hill is over 20%. It is just over 16% in York County.
Of course it is worse in some other places. CNN covered the story of Amber Easton who went from $80,000 a year to scrambling for work, for any work. Easton's saga began in July 2007 when she traded in her job as a corporate compliance officer to attend law school, which she thought would help advance her career. But after a year of law school, she decided it wasn't for her, and she thought she would just go back to her old job. But, by then, her old job was gone, vanished. And she has no real job offers since then.
She has applied to 70 different companies but gotten few leads. She recently went through a rigorous interview process for one job in another state, but to no avail.
Her Detroit neighborhood a couple years ago was booming, she said, but now "it's like a ghost town around here."
Across the nation, people like Easton are feeling the pinch. Good jobs have evaporated. Former full-time employees are now working part-time contract positions just to get by.
Nearly 2.6 million jobs were lost during 2008, the highest yearly total since the end of World War II in 1945.
Dr. Rosalind Dorlen is a clinical psychologist in Summit, New Jersey, an area she calls a "Wall Street ghetto" where formerly high-flying executives are out of work. She says, "What I'm hearing is a terrible sense of betrayal, anxiety and people experiencing lots of stress."
You could add to that loss of faith. When we are afraid that we cannot trust our financial institutions, the stock market, our banks, or our government, and that fear often leads to either cynicism or panic. This fear may be the most potent enemy we’re facing today. When the nation was in the midst of the depression in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these famous words in his first Inaugural address:
“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.” (For full inaugural address: http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres49.html.)
Now we don’t want to overdo this. There are some good signs out there. The stock market has recovered much of its losses, but I just saw on the news last week that most investors have not returned to the market. Everyone is standing arorund waiting to see if things are actually getting better.
The job market is certainly not better. Most companies are waiting to see what is going to happen before they start hiring again.
All of us are certainly effected by the fear and uncertainty of the time. But we need not be controlled by fear, for we have the reassurance of our faith.
Psalm 121 has a lot to say about hope and reassurance.
I know that this is the favorite psalm of many people. By the way, that raises an interesting question. What is your favorite Psalm? Do we have any volunteers? What is your favorite psalm?
I suppose that most people would say the 23rd Psalm, but I know that many prefer 121st .
The book of Psalms is sometimes called God’s song book. It has always been an important part of the worship of the people of God. During the Protestant Reformation, when we returned to a more pure worship of God, there was a movement to sing the psalms in the language of the people. This required several things. You had to have a good translation from the Hebrew, and then you had to convert this to some poetic form that could be sung, and also you had to have good music.
These singable collections of psalms were called psalters. In 1539, John Calvin published the first edition of his Geneva Psalter in French. In our hymnbook we have some songs from the Geneva Psalter. In 1650, the Scottish Psalter appeared. That leads me to a trivia question.
What was the first book to be published in the American colonies? In the area that we now call the USA, what was the first book to be published? The Bay Psalm Book in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is a collection of metrical Psalms.
But returning to things Scottish, many people say that Psalm 121 is the favorite psalm of Scotland. I will lift up my eyes unto the highlands of Scotland. Where does my help come from? It comes from William Wallace who came out of the highlands to throw the English out of the country. Of course that is not what the psalm says at all. But I am sure some Scots feel that way. One embittered Scot told me that all the problems of Scotland could be summed up in one word: England.
But we need to get back to our psalm. Is the Psalm writer engaged in some kind of dialogue with others or is he having a conversation with himself – thinking aloud as we might say. I incline to the view that it is what we might call a personal meditation
The Psalm writer is clear – his help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth By ‘help’ he seems to mean protection, guidance and blessing
In the world of the Old Testament, pagan gods had specific territories and roles A god might be a household or local god In Egypt, gods were often combinations of humans and animals. The Canaanite gods were nature-gods, Baal and Ashtoreth. But Yahweh, the LORD (or as sometimes in Old English – Jehovah) Was greater than all gods (Exodus 15:11; 11:18) Later prophets, such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, said these gods did not exist But such a thought was difficult to the ancient mind A god that you could see and touch seemed more real than an invisible God But Isaiah points out the folly of such a notion:
Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and
says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a
god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and
says, “Save me; you are my god.” They know nothing, they
understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so that they
cannot see, and their minds closed so that they cannot understand.
The contrast could not be plainer – the LORD, the God of Israel Is creator of heaven and earth, creator of the universe In the worship at Jerusalem, God was acclaimed as maker of heaven and earth As the pilgrims journey to the holy mountain, they affirm the basis of their hope. The Psalm writer asks, ‘where does my help come from?’
We ask the same thing. We have our problems, tough times. We need answers for our personal situation. We also need answers for larger questions. Is anyone there? Is God speaking? What is God like? Why was I born? Why am I here? What happens when I die?
Maybe the psalmist was thinking about such questions, and wondering if there is anything else.
He is asking fwhat we might call the ultimate spiritual questions, and he knows some of answers. He knows his help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. In times of trouble, in times of loneliness, God is a living presence to us.
There is a scene in the musical "The Sound of Music" where Captain von Trapp and Maria return from their honeymoon to discover that the Nazis have taken over Austria and that they are trying to force Captain von Trapp into their military service. The von Trapps have come to the abbey for refuge and to escape,but the nuns of the abbey tell them that all of the roadways are blocked at the border. Captain von Trapp decides that they will have to abandon their borrowed car and walk over the mountains. Maria is worried about the seven children making such a long, difficult, and dangerous journey. But then the kind Mother Abbess, quoting from Psalm 121, tells them, “You will not be alone. Remember, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.’ …..God be with you.” And off they go, into an unknown future, but confident that God will see them through. And God did!
This is God’s greatest promise, isn’t it? We find it recorded over and over again in the Bible, on page after page of the Scriptures, God’s promise to always be with us, God’s promise to never forsake us, God’s promise to give us the strength we need in every situation.
So, if you are going off to college or to a new job or a new marriage or anew home or a new community or a new challenge or a new opportunity or a new health situation, remember God. Remember God’s love, strength, and great promise to always be with us.
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 reference to Israel is an important one – Israel is the people of God. Israel is the community of faith, that group of folks who trust in God’s eternal promises.
Now you might ask, if God is going to be with this collection of pilgrims, does that mean that nothing every went wrong for them. They never slipped. They never fell. We certainly wish that is what it meant, but nothing in the history of God’s people indicates anything like that. Believing in God does not armor us against the slings and arrows of life. Or put it this way, believing in God does not mean that bad things will not happen to us.
But it does mean that God will be there for us, when bad things happen, to bear us up upon his shoulders and carry us through the tough times.
Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
It seems to me that the verse refers to the walk of faith rather than an earthly walk The meaning being that people who entrust themselves to God’s care Will not be let down by him If we keep in the way of faith and service, we will empower us and enable us.
What then are we to say about millions of Christian martyrs? Let me lay some astonishing statistics on you. In 2000 years of history about 70 million people has died for their belief in Christ. That is a lot of people, but that is not the astonishing thing. 45 million of that 70 million were killed/murdered in the 20th century. 65% of all Christian martyrs were killed in the last century. We have the idea that persecution of Christians is something that happened in ancient times in Roman arenas. Not so. Most persecutio9n of Christians has been in the last hundred years. But come back to our question. If they are good people looked after by a good God, why did terrible things happen to them.
I have an even better example. God’s own son died a horrible death on a Roman cross. If Jesus was not exempt from death and suffering, we are certainly not going to be.
Pain and suffering and death part of life. If we are living those things happen to us. Does that mean that God is not with us. Not at all.
Sometimes God calls us to suffer. As God called Jesus to go to cross. Jesus was not eager to go. He was not a suicide. But he went, because of the call of God.
Jesus’ incarnation reminds us that God does not always lift his people out of suffering. Instead, God is willing to go through that suffering with us. God watches over us, at birth, in life and through death.
The Psalmist is confident that God watches over Israel (Psalm 121:4)But, as if that were not enough, he adds
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
The same divine guardian of the people of God in generalIs the personal guardian of the individual believer. In a desert climate, shade from the sun is necessary. To be in the shade is welcome for protection and refreshment. In offering these blessings God is not far off but at our right hand
• By day (represented by the sun) and by night (represented by the moon)
• the servant of God knows his protection and blessing
Six times in six verses the Psalmist uses the same word translated often translated ‘watch’
• He who watches over you will not slumber (v. 3)
• He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (v. 4)
• The Lord watches over you (v. 5)
• He will watch over your life (v. 7)
• He will watch over your coming and going (v. 8)
• But that’s only five – the sixth use of the same word is hidden
• ‘The LORD will keep you from all harm’ (v. 7)
The original word literally means ‘to hedge about’ (i.e. guard, protect, keep, preserve, save)
• And when Isaiah spoke of the ‘watchman’ – he also used this word
• A watchman is more than a spectator, a watchman stands guard or keeps watch
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.
To get the emphasis of the verses we can usefully substitute the word ‘guard.’ The LORD will guard you from all harm. The Lord will guard your life. The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and for evermore
The important thing to notice is that the LORD’s care extends to all adversities We should not interpret ‘The LORD will guard you from all harm’ To mean that nothing ill will ever befall us – rather it simply means that help us along the way. In all the paths of life the believer is promised the ever-vigilant protection of God As God made promises to Israel, so he makes promises to those who are his in Christ By God’s grace, through faith, we are received into the community of faith The community of faith is the church – by church we do not mean a building But a gathering of people assembly or congregation
Jesus gave them this promises, ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20). The life of the believer is not a life cushioned from all unpleasantness. That was no more the experience of the Old Testament Israelite than of the New Testament Christian or generations of believers since But believers have an important message from God. God says, I am with you, I am watching over you, I am guarding you. Therefore, we may entrust our lives to a faithful creator. Regardless of happenings at work or at home, whether we are asleep or awake God is there to guard us and protect us and ultimately deliver us.
The writer to the Hebrews writes to encourage the early believers –Some are in prison, some are being ill-treated, others are suffering He does not expect God to wrap them up in cotton wool removing them from all ills Instead he reminds them of this promise:God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6). Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121 is called “a psalm of ascent.” The people of Israel walked up to Jerusalem. The city is in hill country. It is about 2500 feet above sea level. In contrast, our beloved York is 761 feet above sea level. So if you went to worship at one of the festivals, you literally went up to Jerusalem. They did not have expensive hiking boots or shoes or sunglasses or anything to make their journey more comfortable.
Three times a year faithful Hebrews made a trip to Jerusalem on foot. They refreshed their memories of God’s saving ways at the Feast of Passover in the spring; they renewed their commitments as god’s covenanted people at the Feast of Pentecost inearly summer, they responded as a blessed community to the best that God had for them at the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn. They were a redeemed people, a commanded people, and a blessed people. That’s what we are.
What is a mountaintop experience? It is a “God’s-eye view”. It is seeing a wee bit of what God sees when He looks over us. It is the sheer silence of grace, love,and joy all bound together. It is in knowing that I have purpose in life. It is knowing that I can come into the presence of God. or put it another way that I have the presence of God with me as I go along my way.
We are all on a journey. We are on a lifelong journey of discipleship as people who are walking to follow Jesus in our everyday lives as the years go by. We have some mountains to climb.
We need to climb them, climb every one of these mountains or die trying! In fact if we don’t climb these mountains we will die spiritually as Christians and as a congregation!
If you study it, you will find that three times in Psalm 121 God is referred to by the personal name Yahweh, translated as GOD. Eight times he is described as the guardian or keeper, or the one who guards. He is not an impersonal executive giving orders from on high; he is present help every step of the way we travel. If you study it even deeper you will find more riches: Three possibilities for harm to travelers are referred to in this psalm. A person traveling on foot can at any moment step on a loose stone and sprain his ankle. A person traveling on foot under protracted exposure to the hot sun, can become faint with sunstroke. And a person traveling for a long distance on foot, under the pressures of fatigue and anxiety, can become emotionally ill, which was described by the ancient writers as moonstroke (or by us as lunacy). (EugenePetersen, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, page 39)
the psalmist talking about how God provides and protects us on the journey. It speaks of the concern for stumbling and safety, the heat of the sun and the dangers of the night, and the beauty of arriving.
As Christians we know where our help comes from – it comes from the God who provides and protects.
Throughout the Bible we find words of hope and promise that remind us we have no reason to fear, for God is our refuge and strength:
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth
and the mountains fall into the heart of the
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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