I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
In these times of Covid-19, the news of the sick and dying flood in from around the world while many of us wait sheltered in place. Medical providers and first responders work under intense pressure at the risk of their own health even as their loved ones anxiously wait at home. A friend is quarantined after giving birth longing for the day when she and her husband can share their daughter with family and friends. Another is furloughed without pay. Others find their long hoped for wedding day no longer possible choosing to marry with no guests. Small business owners face closure, and long-termed disciplined investors find their strategies unraveling in days. With so much suffering and uncertainty, from where does our help come? Psalm 121 is a prayer for such a time as this.
On the precarious journey to worship in Jersalem, the psalmist opens with a survey of the landscape: “I lift up my eyes to the hills.” The daunting conditions at hand—shakey foot paths, exhaustion, dangers by day and night—lead the pilgrim to ask, “From where does my help come?” Though the dangers are real, the psalmist answers with confidence in the One God, maker of heaven and earth, who is relentless in keeping His people.
The Hebrew word shamar meaning to keep, guard, watch over, and attend to carefully is repeated six times through the psalm:
- • He who keeps you will not slumber . . . (v. 3)
- • He who keeps Israel . . . (v. 4)
- • The Lord is your keeper . . . (v. 5)
- • The Lord will keep you . . . (v. 7)
- • He will keep your life . . . (v. 7)
- • The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in . . . (v. 8)
The cosmic creator of heaven and earth is personally attentive in ceasless care of His people. And yet, how can we sing this song in the psalmist’s key in our own time? God walked the path to Jerusalem in person to keep His loving purposes for His people.
Luke 9:51 says that Jesus set his eyes to go to Jerusalem where he was rejected and betrayed that in Him our foot might not be moved. He was struck by day and night that we might be ultimately safe in His presence. Jesus suffered Roman crucifixion, died, and rose from the dead in victory over evil that we might be kept now and always. Though we remain vulnerable to troubles in the already but not yet of God’s Kingdom, we are never alone. Jesus says,
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-28).
Our Christian vocation in a world of suffering and uncertainty is to live by the Spirit as a people of surprising hope. Though we weep in suffering, the Father’s attentive care answers our cry. Though we doubt in the face of uncertainty, Jesus’s faithfulness secures our feet. Though dangers are present by day and night, the Holy Spirit keeps us in God’s loving presence. Whether in sickness or in health, on the frontlines or at home, may we sing this song in these times and become a living answer to What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.