The message of Psalm 121 may be summarized in this way: The pilgrim on his journey to the dwelling place of God can have great confidence that Yahweh, the Keeper of Israel, will be his help and will keep him safe and secure because he trusts in Him.
Title (v. la): A Psalm of Ascents (v. la).
I. The pilgrim speaks: By question and answer he identified Yahweh as the source of his help (w. lb-2).
A. As he anticipated his journey through the mountains to Jerusalem, he asked who would be his help (v. lb).
B. He affirmed his faith in Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth, as his help (v. 2).
II. The priest speaks: By describing Yahweh's watchfulness over the pilgrim, he affirmed the pilgrim's faith (vv. 3-8).
A. Assurance: He affirmed that Yahweh is unfailing in His watchfulness over His pilgrim (vv. 3-6).
1. He pointed to Yahweh as an unsleeping Shepherd, who will not allow the pilgrim to slip on the rocky paths (vv. 3-4). 2. He pointed to Yahweh as an unfailing Protector, who will stand in strength beside the pilgrim day and night (vv. 5-6).
B. Blessing: He announced that Yahweh will continue to keep the pilgrim's life from all harm both now and in the future (vv. 7-8).
God is our helper. How does He help us? (1-2)
All of us long to feel safe. We want to know that we are protected from danger. We want policemen protecting our streets so we will feel protected at home. The restaurants we attend have safety inspections so we will feel protected when we eat. The cars we drive have to meet safety standards so we will feel protected in case we are in an accident. We want to feel protected from foreign invaders so we emphasize the importance of a strong defense. But where does our safety really come from? Does it come from our policemen, inspectors, or a strong national defense?
In our text this morning, we read a Psalm that Israelites would often sing while making their yearly pilgrimage to worship in the temple in Jerusalem. For many, this was a long and treacherous trip. The miles were long and the traveler was vulnerable. There were dangers that awaited them on many fronts. They were many things that could go wrong, many bad things that could happen. They had no interstates on which to travel or roadside assistance to call on their cell phones if they were in trouble. They had reason to fear. They longed to feel the same safety and protection that we still long for in our world today. So, they would sing this song.
Psalm 121 was written to remind God’s people as to how He protects them in times of danger. We see this in the first two verses which serve as an introduction. Will I lift up my eyes to the hills, one asks, where the pagan temples could be seen upon the mountain tops? Where does my help come from? The answer is our theme this morning: “My help comes from the Lord”. That word for “help” also signifies protection. God is being pictured as our guardian. The dangers before us may not be the same as the ones they faced, but our unchanging God still protects us from danger. The question then is, how does God protect us from danger? Our text suggests three ways God protects us from danger.
First, we see that God protects us from danger by keeping us from falling (3-4).
For the traveler en route to worship in Jerusalem, there were many dangers. One of those dangers was that of falling. When verse three says that “He will not allow your foot to slip.” A person could fall and sprain an ankle, or break a leg or hip. When was the last time you tried to walk for miles through mountainous territory on a broken ankle? Get the point? For us, this seems minor, but for them, it was a major concern and a very real danger.
I once visited with a couple who were the proud parents of a baby boy, just over a year old. As soon as I entered their home, I noticed that everything about this house was dedicated to protecting their baby. There were plastic plugs in the electrical outlets to keep the baby from seeing what happens when he places his little fingers in them. When they opened their pantry door, there was a small plastic “baby gate” nailed into place, keeping the baby from getting to items that might be harmful for a small child. When you tried to open their cabinet doors, there were small hooks in place to keep the baby from being able to open those doors and reach more harmful things. If you drove somewhere with this couple you would notice that they had a special baby seat to buckle him in, in case he would try to move about. The doors had “child proof” locks that only the driver could unlock. Everywhere you looked, everything about their lives was dedicated, not only to protecting the baby from others, but from protecting the baby from himself. So our Heavenly Father protects us not only from evil in this world around us, but even from ourselves.
How is God able to do this? Verse four says God will neither “slumber nor sleep.” When a person is asleep, they are unconscious, unaware of what is going on around them. Many of the pagans in Old Testament days believed that their false gods occasionally slept and had to be awakened. But this is not so with God. Because He never sleeps nor slumbers, He is aware of every step you take in your life, and is able to help you when your foot would “slip”. He can do this because He is a full time God. Jude 24 says that our Lord “is able to keep you from falling.” Those whom God saves, He also sustains.
Second, we see that God protects us by sheltering us from adverse circumstances (5-6).
Not only did the traveler have to fear the possibility of being incapacitated by slipping or falling, but there was another danger. This was the danger posed by their circumstances.
Verse five says God is our “keeper.” That word in its Hebrew context means “to watch, preserve, support, aid or...keep guard.” What does God guard us from here? The sun and the moon! For the traveler, sun stroke was a dangerous reality. There was also danger if traveling at night. These were the circumstances in which they had to travel. Thus, God is “your shade at your right hand.” He is shade in that He gives relief from the heat of the sun. He is at our “right hand” as that was a symbol of reliability. Just as God sheltered them from their circumstances, He shelters us from ours as well.
Some time ago there was a fascinating story in National Geographic magazine. An explorer had made a tremendous accomplishment. He managed, for the first time in history, to record on video the birth of a panda cub in the wild. The newborn cub could fit in the palm of your hand. The most amazing thing happened after this cub was born. In order to protect the cub from the elements, and to give the cub an opportunity to grow sheltered from the dangers of the outside world, the mother panda spread her enormous body across this tiny cub and did not move for twenty-eight days. She did not eat or sleep at all during this time. Her massive presence remained steadily hovering over this tiny being. So it is with God, as His omnipotent presence hovers over us as a shield from our circumstances in life.
God protects us from our circumstances not only because He is aware, as we saw in our first section, but also because He is always present. The same word which we here see translated “shade” also translates “shadow.” God is like our shadow. Your shadow follows you every moment of the day. There is virtually nowhere to go to escape it. In fact, the only way to hide it from view is to escape the light of day and to retreat to the darkness. When you are walking in the light, the shadow is clearly seen, walking with you, wherever you go. The Lord has promised us “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” If the Lord is there, there is nothing in our circumstances that should cause us to fear, for He is Lord over them.
What are the circumstances in which life finds you now? What are the circumstances that are troubling you? Perhaps the circumstances of your job are difficult and you are struggling in the workplace. Perhaps the circumstances of your family life are stressed, and you are struggling to be the husband or wife God called you to be. Perhaps the circumstances of your health are deteriorating and you struggle just to get up each day. Whatever your circumstances may be, God is your “shade at your right hand.” There is nothing in your circumstances that must rob you of the joy of walking with Christ. You can trust God with your life no matter what your circumstances may be, knowing that He is Lord over your circumstances.
Third, we see that God protects us by defending us against evil (verses 7-8).
Verse seven says, “The Lord will protect you from all evil.” The word for “evil” signifies the evil intentions other people might have.
Possibly the most frightening danger posed to this traveler was not the possibility of falling, or the chance of being stricken by the heat of the sun. It was the presence of those evil persons who might do them harm. There were bandits and burglars who were anxious to make quick riches at others’ expense. The family heading to worship in Jerusalem could often make a good target for their crime because they were likely to be tithing when they arrived and thus might be loaded with considerable wealth. Not only might they steal your possessions, but wouldn’t think twice about taking your life. This was a real danger. But for the child of God, they need not fear, for “He will keep your soul.” This doesn’t mean that evil will never touch us or hurt us. It means that we will be preserved when those who would devise evil against us enact their evil plans.
I wish I could tell you that being a follower of Jesus Christ would make you popular, but it will not. What I can promise is that God will preserve you from the evil that He allows to touch your life. It will not be able to overcome what He intends to do in your life. Isaiah 54:17 says that “no weapon formed against you shall prosper.” God will render them useless, except to accomplish His will. Yes, there will be those who, because of your walk with Christ, will persecute you, attack you, lie about you, and seek to destroy your life. However, the good news is that there is no evil that will touch your life that has not first been filtered through the Almighty hands of God. As the ill intentions of evil men against us pass through God’s hands, God’s protection, and God’s care, what is left can only accomplish His sovereign purpose for us.
How do we respond when evil is devised against us? Jesus makes clear for us what our response should be when men revile us, persecute us, and say all sorts of evil things against us falsely. In Matthew 5:11-12 he tells us “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.” We who know Jesus can rejoice because we know that any evil God allows to touch our life, He allows for our ultimate benefit. We can rejoice because we know that the reward He has for us in return for that evil is great. Yes, we may hurt and we may bleed, but God will be faithful to give to us a joy that we were counted worthy to suffer for Him.
Are you suffering as evil is devised against you now? Take that experience and make it to God a sacrifice. He will use it for His sovereign purpose and He will reward you greatly (see Rev 2:8-11).
The same assurances of protection and safety God offered to those fearful travelers thousands of years ago, God still offers to us today. We need God’s protection now more than ever.
If God has promised to protect His children, then we need not fear the dangers this life presents. We can trust God to keep us from falling for He sent His Son to walk this earth and He did so without ever falling into the trap of sin. We can trust God to shelter us from our circumstances for we follow a Savior who walked upon the water and calmed the most violent of storms. He controls our circumstances as well. We can trust God to defend us from evil because our Lord suffered at the hands of evil. He suffered even to the point of death upon the cross...yet He rose again! If we are to successfully complete the journey which we are traveling, we too must trust God to keep us from falling, shelter us from adverse circumstances, and defend us against evil. He will do so both now and in the future.
Those who sung this Psalm in Biblical days were making a journey. This was no ordinary journey, but a journey to worship and give of themselves to God. Its words would have been meaningless had they not made the commitment to take that first step and go where God was calling them. Embark on the journey to worship and serve God with the confidence that He is your Helper.