St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Thursday, June 25
By: Brad Dutton
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
When asked to write a devotional from the Psalms you might think: “Wow. 150 choices is a few to choose from in that book. How can you pick one?” I agree but considering what has been going on the selection was instantaneous for me: Psalm 121. Why? Well, mostly because I believe people of faith and those who may not have a faith they practice or practice frequently are wondering these days we are in: “Where can or will my help come from during all this?”
What I’d like to do for you in this devotional is share some of the things I’ve learned about Psalm 121 over the years and give some insight on why for me it has always been special but perhaps even more so in these times we find ourselves in now.
First, you will see this is listed as “A Song of Ascents.” I have been taught that this ascent was referring to the journey religious pilgrims took up to Jerusalem. I have never been there myself, but I am told it is an uphill hike and that the grade is not slight. I feel many of us today believe we are at a point in time that we are on an uphill journey.
The Psalm begins with: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (NIV) I find it interesting that during this many gods period in which this was written the hills or mountains where the places many believed the gods lived. In fact, it was common to find little shrines or shelters built to these different gods at these lofty places. I envision a “Food Court” of sorts where all the options are laid out for the seeker to choose from. But the psalmist quickly answers their own question and what I hear is: “My God is THE GOD. He is who made all we see and even things we can not see.”
The next two verses are interesting when you consider what people believed who worshiped other gods. These folks understood that just like humans the gods need rest and sleep to recharge. And the mention of both slumber and sleep is important. Sleeping would be what we document in medical records as LOC or loss of consciousness. This is a state in which we have no awareness of what is happening around us. Slumber on the other hand was more of simply tuning out or taking a break from things. I see slumber as those times my father has claimed: “I’m not asleep. I’m just resting my eyes.” Which sometimes was true, but there have been occasions that the sounds that followed indicated LOC.
Verses five and six talk to us about the Lord providing shade and protection from both the sun and moon. The moon? Yes, this is hard for us to understand, but the ancients believed the moon had some powers and that moonlight could harm you in certain situations. But the sun and shade thing is certainly something we can relate to in south Texas. But first, let’s not quickly skip over the mention of the right hand.
We have all heard the expression “right hand man.” One of the explanations of this which may give us more insight into why it was mentioned comes from ancient battle. Ancient soldiers where all trained to fight right handed—sorry lefties. But the left hand was important too since it carried a shield. So if you will take a ‘make believe moment’ with me and grab your sword in your right hand and hold your shield in you left hand you are ready for battle. But if you have your shield in your left hand how do you protect your right side? You can’t, but your battle buddy on your right side can help you with that problem, and that is how the fighting formation was organized.
But the protection from the sun and providing shade were then and still are now a big deal. Now that we are full into the summer heat the daily walk Edie and I take is strategically selected depending on one thing—shade. We have five different routes, but in the summer evenings only two provide significant shade and protection from the sun. It is a huge difference maker and we often comment about the difference in temperature walking 200 yards on shaded vs. unshaded pavement.
The final two verses for me are such a great promise and remind me of something we find many times in the Psalms. Strong, declarative language and statements. There is certainty in what is said not God “might” do this or “may” do that. Even though Psalm 121 is already extremely strong with only eight short verses, go back now and just read the first two and last two.
For me during what I lovingly refer to as “COVID Crazy,” the confidence of the psalmist found in Psalm 121 is a needed reminder that we are not on this journey alone. While we may feel little is certain in these days we navigate allow me to close with one thing I know is certain: God was with us before this pandemic, God is with us now during this pandemic and God will be there with us after this pandemic.