The Lord’s Pilgrim Finding Strength & Help in Him
a brief study of Psalm 121, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 21 Feb 2011
Psalm 121 is a “song of degrees” or a “song of ascent.” It is the second of fifteen such psalms. The Jews of old would sing these psalms whenever they ascended to Jerusalem on their pilgrimage for the annual feast. For this reason they are also known as “Pilgrim Psalms.”
But let us understand that these Pilgrim Psalms were not written for the purpose of the annual ascent to Jerusalem. There are songs that are written for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. These songs would be somewhat out of place on other occasions. But the Pilgrim Psalms are actually psalms that are useful for all occasions because they are really about the pilgrimage of the saints in their journey towards the Celestial City. They are suitable for use by the Jews during their annual pilgrimage because the climb to Jerusalem and the expected joy at the end provides a very fitting picture of the strangers’ and pilgrims’ heavenward journey.
Psalm 121, is a prominent example. We may entitle it “The LORD’s Pilgrim Finding Strength and Help in Him.” Our Lord, no doubt, also found encouragement in this psalm during His own pilgrim journey. Indeed, we can sing this psalm with confidence only because of our union with Christ. This psalm is no doubt written in the Spirit of Christ, and it is not difficult for us to see how the Spirit would intend for us to understand that Christ is the principal speaker in this psalm.
We can divide this psalm into four parts, of two verses each, to study it.
· From verses 1-2, we have an expression of confidence of the LORD’s power and ability to help.
· In verses 3-4, we are assured of the LORD’s watchfulness.
· In verses 5-6, we are reminded of the LORD’s protection.
· And in verses 7-8, we are encouraged with an affirmation of the LORD’s preservation.
1. The LORD’s Power
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.
Jerusalem is on a mountain, about 750 metres above sea level. Our highest hill, Bukit Timah is only 163.63 metres and Mount Faber is only 105 metres in height.
In those days when people did not get to Jerusalem by car, the trek on foot can be quite exhausting. Now, if you are on a journey to Jerusalem, you are not going to see Jerusalem straight away. Instead, you will be walking through undulating terrain for a few days. Then as you come near Jerusalem, you will no doubt begin looking up to the hills to see if you have arrived. Abraham and his son were heading to Mount Moriah where Jerusalem is. It was on “the third day [that he] lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off” (Gen 22:4).
Now, this is the scene that the first verse of this psalm is painting. Most commentators and Hebrew scholars today will translate verse 1 in the interogative, as a question: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help?” This is how the same construct in the Old Testament is translated most of the 17 times it occurs. Translated this way, it is a rhetoric or poetic question answered in verse 2.
But it is also possible that the pilgrim is looking not to just any hill (cf. Jer 3:23), but towards the hills of Jerusalem knowing that God’s presence is manifested there.
Either way, these encouraging words reminds us that the Maker of heaven and earth is the only one who can help us in all the trials that we may encounter through the changing scenes of life.
So look to Him, beloved brethren and children. When you are sorely tried, don’t hang down your head. Chin up and lift up your head. As our Lord lifted up His head unto His Father for help in the moments of His greatest need, so we must do the same. Look not to man or to the devices of man. Neither, look to the hills for help. Look beyond the hills. Look to Him who is the maker of heaven and earth. The LORD is powerful to help. You are not climbing the mountain alone. The Lord is ever willing to be give you strength and help. Therefore struggle not alone. Go to Him.
He knows all that is going on in your life and in your heart. For secondly, consider…
2. The LORD’s Watchfulness
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.
The Lord is not only powerful to help; He has a special interest to help His children. He has an infinite love for His only begotten Son and therefore He has an infinite love for His adoptive sons and daughters purchased with the blood of His Son. Behold, He is the keeper of Israel for Christ’s sake.
For this reason, if you are united to Christ, He will not suffer your foot to be moved or to slip. This is the assurance we can have through Christ Jesus our compassionate great high priest.
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our heavenly Father. He never slumbers nor sleeps unlike man. He know what is going on with your life. He is constantly watching over you.
Are you in the situation in your life which feels miserable and appears to be hopeless. Do you feel like you are walking along a narrow cliff and any moment your feet will slip and you will shatter into a thousand pieces? How did you get yourself in that situation? Was it by accident? Was it because the LORD was not watching over you and allowed you to make one wrong turn after another so that you are now in this precarious situation?
Believe, oh brethren, youth and children, that you did not appear on the ledge of the cliff by accident. Neither did the Lord, the keeper of Israel fall asleep momentarily and so allowed you to get cornered in this terrible situation that you are in.
No, no; He neither slumbered nor slept; and He is not sleeping nor slumbering now. He is watching over you. He is watching your every step, and He is making sure that whatever pain and sorrow you have to experience, all things will work out together for your good as you continue to walk in His love. For consider…
3. The LORD’s Protection
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.
The sun can be merciless in the near semi-arid desert conditions of Palestine. Everyone who made a trek to Jerusalem from the surrounding cities would know the danger of heat-stroke.
What about the moon at night? Well, it was commonly thought that moonlight can cause insanity. Insanity is called lunacy because it is thought to be caused by phases of the moon. ‘Lunar’ means ‘of the moon.’ Well, I do not think there is any basis for this belief.
But whatever the case may be, it is clear that the LORD, the keeper of Israel does protect His people for all harm and dangers.
Of course, we must not take these words over-literally. Today we will protect ourselves from the sun by appropriate clothing, sunshades and sunscreens; and we will hardly ever get moonstruck because we don’t normally travel in the open by night!
But it remains true that the LORD protects us from known and understood dangers like the sun, and also from unknown fears and causes of danger as moonlight might be perceived to be.
As God’s children, we need not live in fear. We need not fear man. We need not fear nature. We need not fear circumstances. We need not fear the future. We need not fear death.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1).
Of course a healthy fear of real dangers is necessary for our lives on earth. If you do not fear heights when you are at the edge of the cliff, you will be in trouble. Likewise if you have no fear when faced with a rabid dog, you are probably suffering from Urbach-Wiethe disease.
On the other hand some of us are simply filled with too many fears in life that we are crippled and unable to move forward in life.
Beloved brethren and children, I will to urge you to trust the Lord. Do not fear to do what is right if what you are seeking to do is based on sound biblical reasons. If you are doing anything out of sinful or selfish reasons, naturally you cannot claim the Lord’s protection. But if you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then know for a fact that the Lord will be a shade upon your right hand . No danger will come upon you that will ultimately harm you and your love ones or bring shame to you.
But finally, consider…
4. The LORD’s Preservation
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.
The LORD not only protects, He preserves too. He will preserve you in His love. He will preserve you from being destroyed by evil. He will preserve you from apostasy. He will preserve you through every trial and temptation so that it may be truly said:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1Cor 10:13).
Are you a believer? Are you a child of God? Are you of the Israel of God? Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you fear God? Then you may sing these words with confidence. And you may testify with the Apostle Paul:
“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim 4:18).
Of course, you must not forget to pray. The Lord Jesus teaches us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What the Lord promises in Psalm 121 has already been procured for us by the Lord Jesus Christ. But God is pleased to withhold them from whomsoever will not ask and to give them to whomsoever will ask.
So then, allow me to say: If you would pray daily, you will know the Lord’s preservation in your coming in and going out from this time and forever more.
This, beloved brethren, youths and children, is Psalm 121. I trust that you can see how comforting and encouraging this psalm is in all situations of life. Do not use this psalm only when you are going on a hike or mountain-climbing. It will be a shame if you do not know this psalm by heart and cannot sing it together it while hiking up a hill. But do not just use it for such times. Rather, use it often to encourage yourself especially when you find your Christian walk to be an uphill climb.
Indeed, let us use it often to encourage one another as we journey on together towards the Celestial City. Amen. Ω