Psalm 121 is one of my very favorite psalms. I have read it at the graveside of a teenage friend killed in a car accident. I have read it at the bedsides of innumerable hospital patients. I have repeated it to myself when anticipating a tough conversation or a difficult sermon or entrance into a hostile nation. It has a special place etched into the granite wall of my soul.
It is a psalm of ascent. That means it was sung by those Hebrew pilgrims who would make their way from their homes in the lowlands up to the mighty and majestic city of Jerusalem, at which place they would offer sacrifices in the great temple or celebrate with scores of other pilgrims some magnificent feast. With each footfall forward the pilgrims were ascending the hills, climbing ultimately onto Mount Zion itself. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills (Psalm 121:1). And one can indeed read those words and envision the eyes cast upward to the destination, full of hope and expectation.
But what if the hills are not inspiring? What if the destination is frightening? For years I have read the psalm believing that the glance up into the hills is somehow akin to looking heavenward, searching the skies for the radiance of the Father. But what if the hills do not warmly invite? What would happen were I to read those words as words of fear, something more like the following: I cautiously lift my eyes unto the dark and seemingly insurmountable mountains. Somehow then the next phrase grips me on a whole new level: From where does my help come?
Mountains are fascinating features. They are majestic and enticing. One can stare at them without blinking, mesmerized by their scope and the sunlit peaks and their soaring beauty. But traditionally they provoke fear. Bandits live within them, as do wild animals and no small measure of imaginary goblins. Add to such possibilities the strain of the climb, the sudden storms, the avalanches, the darkness under the trees, and one could well expect that they are dangerous and frightening and generally ominous.
Do you have anything like that in your life right now? Are you facing anything dark and ominous? Are you finding yourself having to climb a root-ridden trail through the deep dark woods, wandering upward toward a seemingly insurmountable peak? What is the hill you must climb today?
Sometimes we look up and we’re inspired and our hearts swell with awe. And then sometimes we look up and we tremble because the darkness is growing and the peaks are hidden behind angry clouds, and there seems to be no possible hope or practical solution. At such moments we must ask, with the psalmist, from whence does our help come?
And with the psalmist we must readily answer that our help comes from the Lord. He is the maker of Heaven and Earth. He is all-powerful and good. The Lord is your keeper (see Psalm 121:5). You can trust him, as can I.