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. Psalm 121:1-2
My husband and I recently helped our adult daughter move into an apartment she shares with another young woman. Although the distance to her workplace and university is less than five miles, the fact that she will travel alone, especially at night, concerns us.
To calm my maternal jitters, I have claimed Psalm 121 for her. Many scholars believe that Jewish pilgrims sang this hymn as they traveled to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals.* The journey was dangerous, filled with rugged terrain and bands of thieves. Safe travel was a legitimate concern.
To allay his fears, the psalmist shifted his gaze from the treacherous roads to the source of safety: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 2). In essence, he is saying, “The Creator of these mountains and valleys is able to protect and guide me as I travel through them.”
To emphasize God’s guardianship, the psalmist used forms of the Hebrew word shamar six times. English Bibles translate shamar in several ways: guard, protect, keep, preserve. Jews used shamar to describe the work of shepherds and watchmen. It implied diligence, constancy, and expertise.
Some people misinterpret verses like “the LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life” (v. 7). They conclude that God’s children will never encounter suffering or death if they are faithful and obedient. But the Hebrew word translated “life” is nephesh, and refers to “the inner being of man.”** In other words, no earthly peril can jeopardize our eternal well-being. (See Romans 8:38-39.)
I can’t protect my two adult children from dangers—not physical, emotional, or spiritual ones. But “the Maker of heaven and earth” can and does. He is their body-and-soul guard both day and night (vv. 5-6).
Is someone you love traveling perilous roads, literally or figuratively? Are you on a treacherous path? “Lift up [your] eyes to the hills,” to the One who is powerful enough and loving enough to watch over your life and the lives of your loved ones (vv. 1, 7). He “will neither slumber nor sleep” until all His children have arrived safely home (v. 4).
Travel confidently and sleep soundly, pilgrim.
Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Some may think Paul’s account of his hardships indicates that God doesn’t protect His children very well. What was Paul’s perspective on his difficulties? Read 2 Corinthians 4:8-18.
Read Psalms 125-126. What truths about God are highlighted in these psalms? Why do you think those truths were so important to Jewish travelers? In what ways do those truths also encourage you?
The phrase “Maker of heaven and earth” appears in four other psalms: Psalm 115:15, Psalm 124:8, Psalm 134:3, and Psalm 146:6 (NIV). Why are these psalmists praising the “Maker of heaven and earth”? What words of praise will you offer Him today?
Denise K. Loock
* The three festivals were Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths (which included Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). Another widely supported view is that this psalm and the other fourteen Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) were sung by pilgrims on the journey home to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. You might want to read Yom Kippur under Dig into Holidays.
**”Hebrew Lexicon :: H5315 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 5 Aug, 2014. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5315&t=KJV