“I lift up my eyes to the hills —
where does my help come from? (Psalm 121:1).
Two things need to be cleared up as we consider this psalm. First, via the King James Version and Maria von Trapp, an errant translation has made it into our hearts. In those, the second line reads, “from whence comes my help.”
On the surface this suggests that our help comes from the hills. But on a more thoughtful reading we realize that God often meets His people on mountain tops and thus we see God there and feel secure.
However, the NIV translation is more accurate. This is a travelling psalm. The Israelites are making their way towards the temple for one of the yearly festivals. They needed to journey through the mountains which were full of dangerous pathways and evil bandits.
Further, the mountains were full of shrines to false gods who offered protection. The people encouraged each other with this psalm to keep them for the temptation of these false deities.
The second item that needs clearing up is not one of translation but one of culture. Our Christian culture is very much about ‘me and Jesus’. Thus, when we read this psalm we read it personally and reply, “but is this true?”
The Israelites would never have sung this psalm as a ‘me and the Most High God’ testimony. They would not have understood this as an individual blessing. It is not that I have some sort of claim on God that He must keep me safe or else He has failed in being my God.
The Israelites were a deeply communal people because God had formed them that way. The only claim they had on God was that He had laid claim to them. They were the sheep of His flock because He said so.
God kept intervening in human history to develop this covenant relationship with Israel. His greatest intervention was in Jesus, through whom He redeemed the world and established His new people, the church.
He has called us to be members of His kingdom of priests and His holy nation (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9). The Lord watches over us because He watches over His church. We may trust in Him, because He has made us His children.
Jesus echoes this psalm when He says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Can we trust this God? Jesus says that God has the hairs of our head numbered (Matthew 10:30). That is how much He cares for us.
But this does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us. It means that we are never out of His care. Our only comfort is indeed that in life and in death we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
Your Friend & God’s Friend,
1 Thessalonians 1