A few months ago, my journey took an unexpected turn. Unexpected is an understatement.
Suffering entered my life as it has never done before. It came like it always does, unwelcome and uninvited.
Sometimes suffering enters life slowly, building over time, chronically affecting our lives and shaking us to the very core of who we are.
Other times, like this summer, suffering comes abruptly.
In the posts to come, I will attempt to record the journey that God has taken me on (and still is) as he has opened my eyes and my heart to new facets of his grace, love, and presence with me through dark days, hard days, pain, grief, guilt, fear, confusion, and lament.
For this post, let me share the very Psalm that I was studying the day before the event that rocked my world.
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.
Reading this Psalm, a favorite of mine like many others, I had no idea what would happen in the day and days to come. I had no clue that the direction of my life was going to change so abruptly. I had no way of knowing that danger awaited me and that suddenly my home, my “work”, and my friends in Christ would be taken away from me.
Here are my notes from that day before the searing pain of suffering began…
• David’s help is only from Yahweh, the maker of heaven and earth, the living God of Israel
• God is the source of this help since he created everything
• “lift up my eyes”
• In Hebrew the action of “lifting the eyes” implies looking at something longingly or with desire rather than looking at something with dread (See also Gen 39:7; Ezek 18:6; Jer 3:2.).
• This meaning is clearly evident in another psalm in the Songs of Ascent. Psalm 123 opens, “I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.” In Psalm 121 a similar action may be in view.
• Understood in this way, “mountains” likely refers to the mountains of Zion, thereby creating an “emphatic confession of YHWH as the God who is present” on Zion, the mountain of God.
• God is a refuge, always at our side.
• The psalmist answers his own question in verse 2a: “My help comes from the Lord.”
The word “help” in English fails to capture the fullness of the meaning implied by the Hebrew term ‘ezer. The English word “help” can be understood as mere “assistance,” but such an understanding falls short of the claim being made by the psalmist. In its nominal form, “help” occurs twenty times in the Old Testament, with thirteen of those occurrences referring to Yahweh’s ability to save and deliver.
Further, when combined with the word for “shield,” the terms together indicate Yahweh’s divine protection over Israel (Deut 33:29; Pss 33:20; 89:19–20; 115:9–11). While the word “shield” is absent from Psalm 121, this latter meaning (i.e., divine protection) appears in view in verses 1b and 2a. Both the language and imagery in the remainder of the psalm extend this understanding of ‘ezer.
In the following verses (vv. 3–8) the psalmist refers to God’s watchful care over him, and in the fourth strophe he even confesses that “the Lord will keep you from all harm” (v. 7). God provides this kind of “help” because he is “the Maker of heaven and earth.”
– from Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience
• All of the verbs are imperfects. They denote ongoing and continual Divine care and protection (underline and bold this!!!)
• Notice how YHWH is characterized.
1. Creator, Ps. 121:2
2. Sustainer, Ps. 121:3
a. In an individual sense, cf. Ps. 121:7
b. As well as a corporate sense, cf. Ps. 121:4
3. Vigilant observer, Ps. 121:3
4. Shade, Ps. 121:5-6
5. Perpetual keeping, Ps. 121:3,4,5,7
• NIV Application Commentary has some great insights on this Psalm…
“Psalm 121 invites those who recite this psalm to consider “from whence” comes their help. The correct answer is God, of course, but to speak it is one thing, to believe it is another. The psalmist assures those who pray this psalm that we do not walk alone—the Maker of heaven and earth journeys with us as our helper. John Ortberg reminds us that “Scripture alternates between hair-raising risks and assurances of impregnable security. And when we look at the lives of great followers of God, we see this combination of breath-taking risks with an almost brazen confidence of being safe in God’s hands.”
“Ortberg mentions those moments in biblical history when people journeyed with God amid the risks. Moses defied Pharoah. Israel occupied the promised land. David challenged Goliath. A poor band of disciples followed Jesus. Paul sat in a Roman prison. None of these actions make sense unless the actors all understood “from whence” came their help—unless they understood that they were “in the watch-care of a great big God.” And the same is true for us.”
“The risk-taking, journey-making paths we walk as Christians are informed by the claims in Psalm 121. While the paths we walk and the lives we live may be fraught with challenges, we are not forced to confront them alone, for we know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39). We have confidence that the Maker of heaven and earth stands as Guardian “watch[ing] over [our] coming and going both now and forevermore.”
The day after taking notes from my reading and study of Psalm 121, God made this Psalm real to me.
Fraught with challenges, I am not forced to confront them alone!
God is the source of my help because he IS my help!
“Nothing can separate me from God’s love” now has teeth.
YHWH is my creator, sustainer, vigilant observer, shade, and perpetual keeper!
Thank you God for hearing my cries that continue to this day, months after those events that came into my life. Just knowing that you, the Creator of all things, hears me, brings me comfort. The God of the universe hears the cry of this traveling pilgrim. Amazing!
God, thank you that you prepared my heart to read this Psalm on that day before my world was changed. Your sovereignty is beyond my comprehension!
You are my help – the one who can save and deliver. You are always at my side, even in those days when I could not tell, could not feel your closeness, and could not see your hands of mercy that were meeting my needs.
Your promise, that you will never let my foot be moved, is one that I am holding on to even today, I look to that promise daily as I walk through the pain that is still present from these months of walking on the path of suffering.
Thank you Jesus that your divine care is just as it is written here in this Psalm — imperfect tense verbs, on-going and continual!!!
You, O Lord, are my keeper, and you will keep me by the power of your grace. Help me to understand that this does not mean that life will return to “normal” – that all the wrongs of those days will be made right (this side of heaven). Help me to trust that your ways, the way you choose to keep me, are right, just, best, and full of love!