Psalm 121


This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 30th, 2010.       To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Ps 121.

Where Does Your Help Come From?

The gods in the hills?   This is a Psalm of Ascent – it was sung by the Jews as they walked up towards the City of Jerusalem, and the Temple, in order to worship.   As they went up, they would sing, I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?   There is meant to be a pause here.   We are meant to hesitate a second and consider:  Where does our help come from?   There is a choice before the singer – does his help come from the hills?

The hills were the place of idol worship.  Asherah fertility poles and the idols of the Baals were set up on the hills.   Israel’s history  recounts how the people would go up to the high hills – at one point, God says, “… on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute” (Jer.2:20).

Why was the draw to the high hills so powerful to these people?   The hills were a place to go and bargain with – to manipulate – the gods.  You could take an offering and make the hard trip up the hill.  You could give the god what it wanted (a plate of food, silver, a chicken), and then expect the god to give you what you wanted or needed.   You could make a bargain, and then the god would owe you.   And if you can make a bargain with god – doesn’t it feel safe knowing that the deity owes you something?

The Bargains We Make?   These ancient practices seem blatant and ridiculous – we have learned to be much more subtle about our bargains with God.   Our bargains are much less about offerings – (we know God doesn’t need a chicken) – and much more about behavior…

~ If I do everything I am supposed to do – you won’t let my life fall apart.

~ If I am basically a good person, and live the right kind of Christian Life – avoid the bad sins – go to church – act morally – you will love me… or at least  won’t hate me.

~ If I clean up my act enough you will forgive the terrible things I have done in my past.

~ If I can get my children to believe all the right things, they will be happy, well adjusted and believing.

~  If I live right, you won’t  make me suffer.

This is the way people – including us – think of God.   We tend to believe in a bargaining God who can be manipulated – more importantly – who has to be manipulated in order to be for us.   Our unofficial theology – the one we don’t bring out and show people – is a theology that puts God up on the hill where I have to climb up and give him something before he will give me something.

Where Should Our Help Come From?   This song of Ascent was meant to be sung as people walked up towards the place of public worship.  It was meant to confront the false idea that God is a manipulative, uncaring, distant deity who requires us to bargain.  But if this is who God is not – then who is He?   Where is my help supposed to come from?   If God doesn’t make me bargain – if he is not like the gods on the hills – what is he like?

Our Help Comes From the Lord.

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.   This is a statement of confidence.  This song was sung as a proclamation – where you take hold of yourself and make yourself stop and pay attention – and gather yourself to say with confidence – This is what I believe!  and This is who I believe in!    Who do we believe in?

Vs. 3-5a – Our God is The One Who Doesn’t Fall Asleep at the Wheel:   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— 

Most of  us have drifted off at the wheel of a car after long hours of driving.  Most of us have gotten distracted by kids fighting in the back seat, by cell phones ringing, or changing the radio – and this is sort of what the ancient gods were like.  The gods of the hills were drowsy gods.   You had to go up the hill to wake them up and get their attention.   The gods of the hills were not good about knowing when you were in trouble -you had to go tell them.   But our God is never drowsy.   He is like the driver who never falls asleep, is never distracted, and is always alert and in control at the wheel of the car of your life.

Do you know this?  I am often tempted to think that God has let something slip, or that he isn’t paying attention – or that he isn’t going to provide.  As though God might say, O, I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to let that happen.  I let things slip – but God is always with me – even when I let things slip.

Vs.5b-6 –  Our God is Standing Beside Us to Give Comfort and Strength:   the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The gods of the hills are… well… up in the hills.   But our God is the maker of the heavens and the earth.  He is near.   He is the shade at your right hand.  What does that mean?

Shade was important in the hot climate where these people lived.  The sun could drain away your strength – sap you.  Your right hand, for most people, was the strong hand – the one that had skill in it.  So this Hebrew idiom is saying, God is the one who comforts and strengthens you when you run out of strength in the heat of the day.    When you are spent – when a situation is just too much for you – God is there to comfort you.

That’s a good thing – because no matter how strong we are or think we are – when the heat gets turned up – when we face enough pressure or hurt or fear or loneliness or frustration – our strength fails.   And what does God do then?   Does he roll his eyes?  Does God get angry with how weak we are?   No – he covers us with  shade – he refreshes us.

Do you believe this when you fail – or do you flog yourself for not meeting God’s expectations – or your own.  When you fail to do what you were supposed to do – When you fail to behave as you were supposed to behave – When you fail to clean up your act as you intended to – When you blow it with your children – When they don’t believe as they’re supposed to – When you find yourself suffering – is God shading you or is he glaring at you?  The Psalm proclaims that He is your shade at your right hand!

Vs.7-8 – Our God Never Stops Watching Over 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 forevermore. 

God has taken on himself the care of your life.   God has taken an active interest in you – to do you good.   The other gods are like bored DMV clerks in a busy office – you have to force them to take an interest.  That’s why you have to bargain with the gods of the hills – they won’t be interested unless something is in it for them.

But God has taken an interest in us for the sake of his own glory.  God’s interest in us is a consuming passion.   You, after all, were meant to be a reflector of his image – to be his glorious creation.  God’s interest is to see you thrive.   God has so committed himself to your life – that his interests for his own glory – and his interest to see you thrive and live – are one and the same!   He has given the life of his own Son for this purpose.  Therefore God keeps us from harm – although we suffer – although we have trouble – although we fear – although we act foolishly – in the midst of these things God watches over us.

Do you believe this?   Does God demand that you adequately keep some bargain?   Have God’s interests passed you by?   Is our God like the other Gods?  NO!

The Psalmist gathers himself to proclaim – The Lord will watch over your coming and going forever!

This is a Psalm of confidence which you and I are meant to proclaim.  This is where our help and confidence come from.  As you reflect on this Psalm this week – I encourage you to stop, gather yourself, believe the Word of God, and Proclaim this in confidence.

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