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Thursday, 5 February 2015

Psalm 121


25th January 2015
Sunday Morning
Bethel Laleston

God our helper.

Psalm 121

A Song of Ascents.

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 for evermore.

The fifteen Psalms from 120-134 have a subtitle of Songs of Ascents in our modern translations. They are otherwise known as Songs of Degrees, they are a distinct group of Psalms sometimes together referred to as the Little Psalter. It seems that the title degrees fits best with the original Hebrew word but what it means and why is open to discussion. You can read much about the theories in commentaries and on the internet. It is widely believed however that these are the songs that pilgrims sang on their way into Jerusalem in readiness for the passover celebrations. I leave that with you for your own studies.

Our purpose today is to be helped and inspired as we look at what the word of God says and not it's very interesting structural nuances. The title that I have chosen to some extremists would be blasphemy, even to us if we did not understand something of our God of grace it would be difficult to grasp.

God is our helper!

The Psalm breaks down naturally into 4 verses or stanzas, each consist of 2 verses in our bibles. The themes that we will look at are:

  • A declaration of God's help.
  • The promise of constant help.
  • The promise of complete protection.
  • The promise of eternal relationship.

God is my helper:

It is thought that the Precentor or worship leader would sing the first verse and inspire the response from the pilgrims that follows in the next 3 stanzas. We observe that the first 2 verses are in the first person whilst the remainder of the psalm is in the third person which creates a clear division.

The writer is making a clear but bold declaration that whatever might be around then God is much bigger. The hills of Jerusalem were impressive to all who were travelling along the road but more especially due to the theological truths that they pointed to. Jerusalem was the city of God, the place that God had chosen to make His name known to all men and the place that symbolised God's presence with His people. Jews were expected to regularly go to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple and to experience the fellowship of believers. This was the highlight of their life and so when the hills of Jerusalem came into being then it would be easy to be awe inspired by the surroundings and to worship Jerusalem and not the creator. Therefore the Psalmist immediately deals with potential heresy by reminding his readers that however awe-inspiring the surroundings might be they are totally impotent to do anything for God's people.

We do well to keep that in perspective as we are about our daily lives. Some of us have seen the most awesome parts of nature that take our breath away. (It might pass our notice sometimes at how awesome our own countryside is.) However awesome it is, however wonderful the architecture of a religious building might be there is absolutely no way that it can help us. That is the point that the Psalmist is making here. The hills of Jerusalem spoke of the glory of God as do so many other things but in themselves they are impotent to help anybody. We might get a feeling of peace and solitude, just read any visitors book in the pretty churches around Britain and you will read of the help that the building supposedly brings. The reality of that peace is that it is left on the seat of reflection and the problems of life return immediately out of the influence.

The Hills of Jerusalem then and still bring that feeling and the hope of peace but they simply do not deliver what they promise. Scripture tells us that all of creation speaks of the Creator and as such the Psalmist says as I look at the hills it reminds me that the One who made them is MY HELPER! Just to make sure that we fully understand this he first of all poses the question and then answers it immediately. He asks; in the presence of the majesty of creation where does my help come from and the answer is immediate. It comes from Yahweh!

My Help Comes From God Almighty.

He created all that we see around us and yet He is our helper. To some faiths that is blasphemy, to them God is far too distant and holy to be bothered about helping mankind, in fact the way to gain their god's favour is to help him out by doing things to serve Him. God Almighty is not like that at all, He helps His people in fact: without His help we cannot be His people at all. It is by Him and through Him and for His purpose that we are His people in the first place.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.


That is the observation of the Psalmist and now he goes on to make promises as to how that works out for the people of God:

We have a constant Helper:

Our God never ever takes His eye off the ball! Remember when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel; (1 Kings 18) they were to call down the fire of their gods to consume the sacrifice made but nothing happened. Elijah suggested that they should shout loudly to him because he might have taken a nap. God never slumbers and never sleeps. He is always attentive to the needs of His people and indeed the world. He knows and sees all things, He is omniscient and omnipresent and all powerful, therefore He knows all about you and me! He helps us in all things and so will not let us slip away from Him. Jesus said as His final promise to His people “I will be with you always.” There is nothing that He does not know about and there is nothing that will cause Him to lose His people, what a wonderful truth is found here. I hear of people who are called by the mountains or the sea to adventure in their presence. They can make no such promises, in fact many make the ultimate sacrifice to the god of adventure in their quest to get close to their calling. God is nothing like this, he makes this promise that He will not let us go from His protective keeping.

We are safe and secure in our relationship to Him.

This is the lesson we learn from the Lord Jesus as we read the account of the disciples who were on one occasion with Jesus in a boat on the sea. A great storm that even frightened experienced fisherman blew up, they feared for their lives but Jesus was with them. He may have been asleep but He was there. When they woke Him He calmed the storm but not before He had rebuked them for their fear and lack of faith. They marvelled at the effect but learned in the most practical of ways that our Lord God never sleeps and always cares for His people even if at times He might seem distanced to them.

He is the same God as he always was and is and always will be the same. He is never changing and always attentive to the world that He has made but He is especially attentive to His Kingdom of which we are treasured members. Do you know and feel that right now, tonight, tomorrow?? He IS your constant Helper in times of trouble and also times of ease.

Not only are we secure but we are also kept which means that we have:

Complete protection:

I am not a great fan of zoo's but when we have been in Tenerife we have visited Loro Parque a zoo that is also something of a research station with the preservation of a number of endangered species at the forefront of their business. It is interesting to see how some of the animals relate to their personal keeper. I have a photograph of a killer whale looking through the glass of the tank at it's keeper, there is delight in both faces. They are pleased to be together, they love and respect each other and I suppose there would be nothing that they would not do for each other. That is a similar picture to God's relationship with us and ought to be how we are with Him. He is our Keeper, He feeds us, cares for us, protects us and fellowships with us. He is there at work rest and play. He delights in all that we do and as such He protects us. Now this is not a promise that we will never get hurt, be ill or die but when we experience difficulties He still is caring. The Psalmist tells us that He is a shade on your right hand. We might not understand at this time of year what this might mean. The sun in Palestine is both burning and blinding and therefore shade is vital. God is a shade to us from the blinding problems of life and so just as the sun will cause sunstroke if it is not shaded so the issues of life will make us weary and sick of spirit without the Lord's protecting hand. Day and night we are protected, the sun will not burn us up and the lunar influence will not madden us because He is our protection.

Are you bothered about what is to come or what might be, are you lying awake wondering how you might cope with issues, God protects us from the harm that issues bring. Trust in Him because He is our complete protection from the harm that life's issues bring. We will of course be ill, we will struggle in many ways with life's problems but they will never ever separate us from the loving protection of God Almighty. We are reminded of Stephen standing in front of his accusers with their stones at hand. What did he see? He could have said:

A Sovereign Protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and Hearer of prayer,
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my Shield and my Sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind Author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

Of course that was Augustus Toplady's words. Stephen whilst he stood in the face of death said in effect “I see Jesus! Who is my Sovereign protector!

What do you put your trust in especially when difficulties arise?are you confident that god is your keeper or do you have a faith that is more like the disciples in the boat. Be assured our God who never slumbers or sleeps will keep you just as Stephen knew He will never leave you nor forsake you either! Heaven will be open for you and Jesus will be there ready and willing to receive you safe and secure at just the right time. Which is our final point:

Our relationship with God is eternal:

It is the Lord that keeps us from all evil, through salvation in Jesus we are kept not merely in body but more importantly in soul or spirit, we are eternally kept by Him both now and forever more. What does that mean to me and you? We are His people, especially called to be His forever, one day we will go to be with Him, finally safe and secure. How do we live until then?

For our encouragement let me read the account of David Livingstone’s leaving home for the mission field:
On the morning of November 17th 1840 the Livingstone family got up at five o'clock. David read Psalm 121 and 135 and prayed. Then he and his father walked from Blantyre to Glasgow to catch the Liverpool steamer. The old man walked back with a lonely heart while his son set his face toward the dark continent. Psalm 121 was also a ground of hope to his mother-in-law, Mrs Moffat. While he set out on his perilous journeys she wrote to him at Linyanti: “my dear son, Livingstone, hitherto I have kept up my spirits, and have been enabled to believe that our Great Master may yet bring you out in safety. But His ways are often inscrutable, and I should have clung to the many precious promises made in His Word as to temporal preservation – such as Psalms 91 & 121; but I have been taught that every petition, however fervent, must be with submission to His will. Unceasing prayer is made for you. When I think of you, my heart goes upwards. Keep Him as the apple of Thine eye; hold him in the hollow of Thine hand” are the ejaculations of my heart!”

In times of difficulty or ease where do you get your help from? As for me:

I look to the hills from where does my help come?

Our help can only come from God Almighty who is the Maker and Keeper and Protector and Sustainer of all things and especially us!

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