Look Beyond the Mountains
I wish I had greater self-confidence. I wish that I felt certain that I could handle every challenge that comes my way. But the truth is that when struggles mount up against me, I have a tendency to get discouraged and afraid. I look at the problems and they seem huge and intimidating; I look at myself and I find that my weaknesses and incompetencies are glaring.
Where can I look for help?
Psalm 121 tells us, “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. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your soul; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Psalm 121 seems to have been written for people like me—people who want to know where to turn for help.
For me, I look up at the mountains of problems that overwhelm me, and I wonder: Where can my help come from? For those in ancient Israel at the time this psalm was first sung it was a bit different. They, too, faced immense troubles and fears: Would their crops grow? Would their sheep and goats thrive? Would their families be healthy? Would they be safe on their travels? But they imagined that their help could actually be found in the hills above them.
Eugene Peterson explains, “During the time this psalm was written and sung, Palestine was overrun with popular pagan worship. Much of this religion was practiced on hilltops. Shrines were set up, groves of trees were planted, sacred prostitutes both male and female were provided; persons were lured to the shrines to engage in acts of worship that would enhance the fertility of the land, would make you feel good, would protect you from evil. There were nostrums, protections, spells and enchantments against all the perils of the road. Do you fear the sun’s heat? Go to the sun priest and pay for protection against the sun god. Are you fearful of the malign influence of moonlight? Go to the moon priestess and buy an amulet. Are you haunted by the demons that can use any pebble under your foot to trip you? Go to the shrine and learn the magic formula to ward off the mischief. From whence shall my help come? From Baal? From Asherah? From the sun priest? From the moon priestess?…. A look to the hills for help ends in disappointment. For all their majesty and beauty, for all their quiet strength and firmness, they are, finally, just hills. And for all their promises of safety against the perils of the road, for all the allurements of their priests and priestesses, they are, all, finally, lies. As Jeremiah put it: ‘Truly the hills are a delusion, the orgies on the mountains’ (Jeremiah 3:23).” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 36-37)
This psalm told the people of long ago to look beyond the hills—beyond the counterfeit help they offered—to the One who made the heavens and the earth. And this psalm tells me to look beyond my apparent mountain of troubles to the One who actually made the towering mountain ranges.
Amidst all of our troubles, this psalm invites us turn our eyes toward God, for this psalm describes God as
– The Source of our help (verse 1)
– The Maker of heaven and earth (verse 2)
– One who will not let our foot slip (verse 3)
– One who watches over us without slumbering or sleeping (verses 3-4)
– The One who shades you (verse 5)
– The One who keeps you from all harm (verse 7)
– The One who watches over your coming and going both now and forever (verse 8)
The promise of this psalm is that troubles of this world may come against us but, with God’s help, they will not bring us down. Eugene Peterson argues, “All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us. that is the promise of the psalm…. ‘The Lord will keep you from all evil.’ None of the things that happen to you, none of the troubles you encounter, have any power to get between you and God, dilute his grace in you, divert his will from you.” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 38-39)