Psalm 121

A song of conviction,
A song of peace,
A song sung by those weary with the journey
yet made joyful by the destination.

I
A Song of Conviction

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.  …

It always puzzles me how the moon can harm.  Halfway through the psalm the poet declares:

The sun will not harm you by day,
      nor the moon by night.

I remember a summer day at the beach in childhood spent digging a sandcastle and ending with searing pain of sunburn.  So it is good to know the sun will not harm, but the moon?

It is possible this is a simple poetic parallelism.  The sun by day leads to the moon by night to express the constancy of God’s care: day and night God watches over us.  Our guardian does not sleep.

Still it is not the moon that threatens us in the nighttime; it is those who take advantage of the cover of darkness – and the thoughts and fears of our own hearts that rise up against us in the silence of the night.

The compiler of the first chapter Genesis does not use the words for sun or moon when speaking of God’s creating, because these are the names of gods in the Babylonian pantheon.  The author instead calls them the greater light and the lesser light: these are mere lamps in the sky not spiritual powers that can bless or harm.

But we still have remnants of such ideas.  We speak of mother earth, and joke (?) that she is angry at what has been done to her.  We fear nature’s wrath.  The vagaries of sport lead us to allude to “the hockey gods” who govern the bounce of the puck.  We don’t want to “tempt fate”; we speak of kismet, karma and the power of the full moon.

We have an innate inclination to look for causes to the events around us and, like the ancients, we hunger to bring the unpredictable under control.

On the heights of the hills Israel set up shrines to other gods in hopes of such control.  Is the first line of the psalm, then, a declaration of defiance?  “I look up at the hills where everyone turns for hope, but my hope comes from the LORD!”  “The LORD will guard my way and I need not fear the gods of the hills, the gods of sun and moon, the gods of rain and drought, abundance and famine, health and sickness, war and peace.  The gods who are fickle in their gifts – sometimes generous, sometimes onerous.  The gods whose mood swings are unpredictable.  I will not fear because my hope and trust is in the LORD who is our true guardian, who does not sleep (who, unlike Shemesh, the sun, does not disappear at night), whose attention does not wander, who is always present at our right hand.”

This LORD is not the god of sea or sky or storm, some element of creation – he is master of it all.  He is the maker of heaven and earth.  He is the one who fashioned the hills on which we carry out our silly rituals in the vain imagination that such superstitions can shape events, can ward off wrath and bring blessing.

We are not crossing our fingers or refusing to step on the foul line.  We are not placing our hope in the same socks worn game after game to bring us victory.  Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.  Our help comes from the LORD, who scattered the galaxies across the universe and the abundance of life across the earth.  The LORD who wrote compassion into the heart of man and cast down Egypt when they refused to yield to it.  The LORD who brought bread from heaven to sustain the weary as he carried them from a land of slavery to land of their own, where each could sit under his own vine and his own fig tree – where each could enjoy the fruit of his own labor and the bountifulness of God’s good creation.

Why should I look to the hills?!  My help comes from the LORD!  This god is my shade in the heat of the day.  This god is my protection in the fear of the night.  In his shadow the vicissitudes of life that come to us all are not dangers to be feared but occasions when I will yet see his hand.

II
A Song of Peace

I lift up my eyes to the hills…

There is something calming in lifting up our eyes to the hills.  Something important happens in the human spirit as we stand before mountains.  Whether they are old and gentle like the Smokies, new and dramatic like the Tetons, or vast and imposing like the Rockies, we feel their majesty.  We are aware that they have existed long before and long after us.  It is as though they had arms surrounding us with something steady and enduring amidst the rush and uncertainty – and brevity – of life.   They still our spirits.

Like the arms of a parent around us, they make the world seem solid and secure.  They speak to us of God.

And our spirits can breathe.

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 forevermore.

III
A pilgrim song

The header on the psalm says simply:

A song of ascents.

It is a pilgrim song.  A song sung by travelers.  A song sung by those weary with the journey yet made joyful by the destination.  A song sung by an ever growing crowd headed up to Jerusalem.  They lift up their eyes to the hills and there on the heights see the temple of God.  The vision of that place where heaven touches earth and blessing abounds across the world sustains them.  It makes their step secure.  It makes their sleep untroubled.  The LORD of heaven and earth towards whom they travel guards their way.  And his dwelling place is their destination.

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About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Psalms, Reflections on the Scriptures and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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