Survival

We tend to make people heroes for all kinds of reasons. With reverence we celebrate those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives  in order to protect others. We marvel at those who find courage in the moment to rise to the challenge and force their determination to override their fear. On a lesser note, we make heroes out of sports figures because of their athletic prowess. Some even treat actors as heroes because of the roles they play. And somewhere along the line we forgot to recognize and honor another type of heroic trait that manifests itself in a variety of ways all around us—perseverance. The inspired psalmist, however, did not forget. To the contrary, when writing in Psalm 129, he reflected on Israel’s history and, rather than recounting the exploits of Israel’s heroes, he recalled their collective perseverance due to the LORD’s provision. Israel survived. Overcoming all odds through history, Israel still stood, and they did so because of God.

From their origin in Egypt, Israel had faced oppression and subjugation (Psa. 129:1), but this never defined them because they endured it and survived it (Psa. 129:2). They had suffered much, but the righteousness of God delivered them (Psa. 129:3-4), and so they survived. In the history that followed, they faced opposition from the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the Philistines in their early days, overcoming them with God’s help only to then fall into conflict with the larger nations of Egypt, Syria, Assyria, and then Babylon. And yet they survived. Their oppressors treated them with contempt, but while those empires withered away, giving ground to those that followed and suffering their own humiliation in the process, Israel survived (Psa. 129:5-7). Therefore, knowing this, no one should compromise principle and honor those who oppose God but rather accept the hardship of the moment knowing by faith that, with God’s help, righteousness will endure (Psa. 129:8). 

Most people will never receive a Congressional Medal of Honor. Few people have the skill to play professional sports at all, and only a handful are recognizable superstars. But everyone can persevere.  Few people have gone through life with everything handed to them. In fact, most people have endured far more than you would ever realize at first glance. Some have lost all of their possessions. Some have battled disease. Some live with sorrow daily from the loss of someone close to them. These occurrences happen so frequently that we forget just how significant enduring them truly is. To survive hardship and to endure adversity offers us opportunity to build character in ways that luxury and ease can never do. Difficulties remind us of our weakness and of our need; they should remind us how much we need God.

However, there is another aspect of survival that deserves attention because it matters even more—spiritual survival. Satan uses hardship, stress, and loss to try to weaken and destroy faith. He employs adversity with pinpoint precision, probing for weakness and instilling doubt. He pushes us to the limit of human endurance, working to break our faith. Sometimes he uses others who ridicule our convictions and challenge our commitment. He persecutes in subtle ways and with multiple waves, wearing us down physically and emotionally in order to get to us spiritually. But in this ongoing battle, we do not have to be a hero, because we already have a Hero, Jesus Christ. Therefore, in order to emerge victorious from battle, we do not have to take new ground; we just have to survive. In the early days of World War II, when Nazi Germany was at its peak and before the United States entered the war, Hitler unleashed the Luftwaffe on London with constant attacks—all in an effort to break Britain’s will. But they endured; they stood strong; they survived. They showed others it could be done, and this changed the course of the war. Do not underestimate the significance of survival. When your faith survives all that Satan throws against it, you are a hero.

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Back to Basics

The pursuit of happiness. Those words—inscribed in the founding document of the United States—describe so much of people’s focus in life. Of course, those were also not the original words. The committee of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson originally borrowed John Locke’s group of three: life, liberty, and property. However, due to political and economic considerations, they changed it. This itself has some interesting historical implications, but what I find most interesting is how people usually connect these two without even thinking about it. For most, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of property—the accumulation of things. Today, some have become so disenchanted with this—usually because they do not have many things—that they have come to celebrate living without things. While this has much to recommend it, the fact remains that property of some sort does enter much of life in some way, and therefore it becomes an argument about degree. However, we need not lose our possessions to learn this lesson because God has shown it throughout the scriptures.

Following the Jews return from Babylonian captivity, they began to show greater respect for keeping the Law of Moses, especially in regard to some of the ceremonial aspects clearly laid out in scripture. This included the requirement to journey to Jerusalem for various feast days, such as the Feast of Harvest and Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 32:16), both associated with God’s blessing them with sufficient food to sustain them and maintain their health. As they traveled, they would sing songs written with this in mind, and Psalm 128 was one such song that served that function. Upon their return to the land, they had little wealth but found themselves dependent in practically every way. While certainly a difficult time, somewhat analogous to America’s Great Depression, it helped them focus on what truly mattered, and in the process they discovered that possessions stood much lower on the list than they previously assumed. 

Blessedness, notes the psalmist, has roots in characteristics far more important and enduring than the fleeting trappings of opulence—or even comfort. The best life is the blessed life, and that life is grounded in reverence for God and living according to His precepts (Psa. 128:1). More than that, the psalmist notes the joy and satisfaction of working and thus being able to provide for yourself and, by what follows, others (Psa. 128:2), a practice begun in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15) and enjoined in every covenant (2 Thess. 3:10). God makes happiness available to man through what He commands man to do. Thus, in calling on people to marry, be monogamous, and have children, He did not create some oppressive situation for the wife and children but rather the very best environment for all involved, for everyone’s provision, joy, and well-being (Psa. 128:3). So many people today reject God’s plan for the home and only later discover His wisdom after much self-inflicted pain. But those who respect God will respect His wisdom for their lives as well and reap the benefits and blessings of a happy home for many years (Psa. 128:4). However, God did not create families for isolation but for society too—more specifically, spiritual society. Therefore, when families together embraced the spiritual in returning to Jerusalem to honor God and to follow His will, they brought blessings upon themselves far greater than they probably could have imagined (Psa. 128:5). By coming before God they joined in the greater chorus of families determined to do His will and formed a bond of fellowship extended to heaven and thus provided the foundation for a godly society that would bless their families and the nation for years to come (Psa. 128:6). 

Society has wandered so far from God in seeking prosperity that it has lost sight of the foundation that makes society a pleasant environment in the first place. When we once more give attention to godliness and morality, build strong and committed marriages, and train our children to do the same, we will  accomplish far more good for society than the greatest economic plan in history. The strength of any society lies not in its government or its economy but in the character and godliness of its people, beginning in the home. And that is why we need to get back to basics in America today.

 

A Heritage from the Lord

Though familiar to the reader and often quoted by the preacher, the meaning of Psalm 127 plumbs greater depths than today’s casual acquaintance typically assumes. While the uninspired inscription assigns this Song of Ascents to Solomon, it could just as easily imply an attempt to mimic his style due to an affiliation with his circumstances when the Jews returned from captivity to rebuild the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and the people of God. In fact, this latter formulation fits well the content of the psalm far better than a reference to the third and final king of the United Kingdom. Regardless of the time of the writing, the content itself challenges modern sensibilities as much as those in ancient Israel. 

The opening verse establishes the theme. “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain” (Psa. 127:1). No matter how desperately we may seek security in life—by building a house or trusting in the protection of the government—only the LORD can truly and consistently deliver. No matter how much effort you may put into it yourself—even working yourself to the bone—the comfort of putting your head down at night and sleeping peacefully depends upon the LORD (Psa. 127:2). And while the next section of the psalm appears so different on its face that some have suggested it as a separate and distinct poem, in truth it builds upon the theme of security by contrasting the typical ways men seek it—in building structures and creating alliances—and instead shows how God provides us with security in a way we seldom consider. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psa. 127:3). Rather than changing topics, the author provides a different perspective about security. As he previously emphasized that all efforts are vain unless the LORD provides it, here he draws attention to what the LORD has provided—children as a heritage. That security remains the focus becomes clear by the descriptions that follow. “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psa. 127:4-5). Arrows in the hand of a warrior most certainly imply a means of protection from enemies. More than that, he also refers to “enemies in the gate” with whom those same children speak. Since the gate of the city was the place where the ancient Jews made important decisions and conducted negotiations, he places the children in leadership positions in the community and perhaps even nation as another means of protection.

All of this may seem rather disconcerting considering how people generally use this passage. However, in the flow of the context, the psalm points out that as a man grows older, nothing can protect his interest, his livelihood, and his person like his own offspring, who out of love, relationship, and bond will consider his interests as their own while moving into the ranks of the army and leadership of the community. In New Testament terms, children have the role of taking care of their parents as they age (1 Tim. 5:8) from the depth of appreciation they have for their upbringing, from their respect for what they have provided them in life, and from a love that continues to grow as the children progress from the needy to the needed (Eph. 6:2-3). 

Parents, as we raise our children, everything we do should be designed around the type of adults our children will become. And the type of adults we should most want them to be are those who are a true heritage from the LORD, people who place their faith in God, grow to become productive citizens, and love their parents deeply—enough to care for them, protect them, and provide for them if need be. We have come to trust in retirement, social security, and all kinds of programs to take care of us as we age. As a society, we should begin by raising children who are more than willing to care for us, because no security is better than the love of your children built on faith in God.

Bringing in the Sheaves

The Babylonian captivity shook the confidence of the Jews to the very bone—intentionally so. Their previous arrogance had built up a spiritual barrier so large that they failed to see how far from the LORD they had fallen. Therefore, despite warnings dating back to Moses, despite the wave after wave of foreign invaders taking away evidence of past glory, and despite the reform efforts made in the waning hours of the kingdom, they held out hope for deliverance even when the LORD told them He would not save them from Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, from the original invasion to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem to the ultimate defeat of Babylon at the hand of the Medo-Persian Empire seventy years later, the Jews had generations as captives to adapt to circumstances far different from their previous comfort and hubris. 

As a result, “When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,” the author of Psalm 126 says, “We were like those who dream” (Psa. 126:1). Having spent so many years in oppression, their deliverance seemed too good to be true.   Thus, the aged, who had been taken captive as children, the young, who had known nothing but captivity, and everyone in between laughed from joy and lifted their voices in song with rejoicing so great that others noticed (Psa. 126:2). A people who had neglected all the blessings provided by God in the land flowing with milk and honey finally had come to their senses and proclaimed, “The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad” (Psa. 127:3). Their release and opportunity to return home came to them as suddenly as a far off rainstorm can flood the land upstream and turn a dry riverbed into a life-giving stream (Psa. 126:4). And yet their return had not come in a moment, as some had originally hoped. It had taken decades of humbling sorrow and spiritual renewal to produce the joy of the moment (Psa. 126:5). And this was the most important lesson to learn. The best, most important lessons often are the most difficult on us—painful in the moment, and yet rewarding in the end. That is why, like a farmer sowing seed and waiting on harvest, it is to our benefit to develop patience and endure chastening and discipline in order to reap the harvest of growth and self-discipline and all their attendant blessings in the end (Psa. 126:6). As some translations indicate, these lessons transcend the captivity and have far broader implications. However, as a Song Of Ascent reminding future generations of Jews of a difficult lesson learned the hard way and not to be repeated, the context of captivity offers a depth rooted in Israel’s history that a mere psalm about the benefits of hard work could hardly capture.

 Christians should certainly not wish for the harsh conditions of captivity endured by the Jews in Babylon. However, to the extent that we recognize some of the challenges of living in a vulgar and immoral age, of feeling like outcasts in the land of our birth, and of experiencing a constant sense of rejection and humiliation from a secular society, we should come to appreciate the lessons of patience and humility, of compassion and care, and of virtue and value. For only by responding to the challenges of our day—whatever they might be—with a heart for God will we gain a true sense of appreciation for His blessings. We take so much for granted today. The Jews did in their day too. And that is why we need to learn from them.

True Believers

The situation described in Psalm 125 is specific enough to offer an excellent picture of the challenges facing the author and his companions while generic enough to prevent assigning it to a specific time or incident. The LORD’s people were under threat in some fashion and needed God’s protection (Psa. 125:1-2) because wicked rule had descended on the land God intended for the righteous (Psa. 125:3). Therefore, the psalmist prayed that God would protect the faithful from this threat (Psa. 125:4) and rid the land of all who fell prey to compromise (Psa. 125:5). These themes reflect eternal principles, but the implied circumstances fall within oft-repeated themes in Israel’s history. Indeed, as a Song of Ascent sung as Jewish pilgrims returned to worship at the temple, the psalmist might have reflected upon some particular past event when Jerusalem faced potential attack and yet endured due to faith as the foundation to encourage future generations to remember—as they themselves approached the ancient city—to place their trust in the LORD who had delivered His people in times past and punished those whose faith faltered. Jews familiar with their history most certainly would have recalled the boast of Sennacherib recorded in the Assyrian record that he had shut up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” but that, despite all of that king’s boasting, Hezekiah’s trust in the LORD for deliverance had been rewarded as Isaiah and subsequent events made clear (2 Kings 18:13-19:37). What great encouragement such a reflection would have been to Jews returning to the site of such a deliverance! What faith it must have provoked! What comfort it must have provided! And that is how Christians, as God’s people today, should read and feel it.

While many today look to Jerusalem as a matter of politics, God points people to Jerusalem to remind them of His presence and His promises, both of which far transcend the perimeter of the City of David. For God’s concern lies not in reclaiming territory but in restoring faith, building trust in His people that does not fail in adversity but that abides looking unto eternity (Psa. 125:1; Heb. 11:1-6; 2 Cor. 5:7). Such a trust does not focus on the worldly challenges that ever apply pressure to relent but on the LORD who offers His defense and protection from the enemy to those willing to look to Him in faith (Psa. 125:2; 1 Pet. 5:8; Jas. 4:7-8). While God allows His people to face adversity and challenges to their faith, He Himself does not give ground but keeps His promises. Therefore, it is essential for the faithful to endure, to withstand the pressure exerted by the wicked with faith in eventual victory (Psa. 125:3; 1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Jn. 5:4). There will always be temptation to capitulate, temptation to compromise, and temptation to quit; therefore, the righteous must likewise maintain a heart committed to doing the LORD’s will, having confidence in the LORD’s goodness even in the midst of strife or temptation (Psa. 125:4; 2 Tim. 1:12). Difficult circumstances are a proving ground, revealing weakness of faith in some and building greater faith in others. The LORD will reward both accordingly (Psa. 125:5; Rom. 2:1-11). Therefore, the greater our confidence in Who God is and what God has said, the greater our own faith can be. As He promised protection and peace for Israel long ago, so also the exceeding great and precious promises He has made to the church today rest on the same perfect character of the One for Whom all things are possible and therefore the One who will always deliver (Matt. 19:26; 1 Jn. 2:25; 2 Pet. 3:9).

What If?

What if? These two words can prove exciting or frightening, depending on their context, what follows, and our reaction to those words. What if Hitler had not invaded the Soviet Union? What if someone else won the election of ________? What if modern medicine had not existed for that surgery? What if I had bought stock in Apple in 1997? What if? It can change everything. Sometimes we consider this and grow melancholy while contemplating missed opportunities. At other times we might realize just how blessed our lives have been. However, far too rarely do we consider this question spiritually. Among the section in Psalms containing a series known as Songs of Ascents, Psalm 124 draws attention to this very question. 

If we accept the attribution of the psalm to David, the circumstance most likely in view occurred early during that great king’s reign when the Philistines were still Israel’s major nemesis. After the end of the civil war and the consolidation of the tribes into a united kingdom, David took Jerusalem and established himself in what became known as the City of David (2 Sam. 5:1-12). The Philistines recognized the danger of their position with their most formidable foe in power and deployed an army in the Valley of Rephaim (2 Sam. 5:18). David asked the LORD what to do, and the LORD promised to deliver them into his hand which He subsequently did (2 Sam. 5:19-25). But that brings us back to the psalm which begins, “‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,’ Let Israel now say—‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, When men rose up against us…’” (Psa. 124:1-2). What if? What if the LORD had not been on their side? That is the point of the psalm as the verses that follow make clear. The outcome would have been completely different. They would have lost the battle. They would have been overwhelmed by water. They would have died as in a flood (Psa. 124:3-5; 2 Sam. 5:20). But the LORD provided protection from the enemy, escape from the clutches of a dangerous foe (Psa. 124:6-7). The Creator of the universe made Himself available to help those who served Him (Psa. 124:8). The sublime beauty described by such care astounds. And it once more causes us to consider the opening thought: What if?

What if God did not care for mankind to the extent He has demonstrated from the time of creation? What if God had never communicated His will to His creation? What if God left man to fight Satan on his own? What if God never sent His Son to die on the cross? What if? God has proven Himself so consistent in providing for man’s most important and desperate needs that men take them for granted. As a result, they only tend to question God when they encounter some problem for which they wish God’s intervention instead of appreciating all that He has already done and promised to do. So, what if we spent less time complaining and more time giving thanks? What if we opposed God less and obeyed God more? What if we valued our own opinions less and God’s Word more? What if we dropped our pride completely and embraced truth entirely? What if? It is amazing how different life is depending on whether you seek God’s will first or try to live life on your own. How good could your life be if you just followed God’s will? What if?

Have Mercy

It hurts when I hear people, including some Christians, use the phrase “Have mercy” so cavalierly. After all, it is essentially an appeal to God, whether they realize it or not. And no appeal to God should be made vainly or regarding silly matters of no consequence. Few probably appreciate the origin of the phrase or its true character, but it is important for us to move beyond the loose exclamatory use of these two words and to see them in their true context. Following the Babylonian captivity, an unnamed Jew wrote a series of psalms, each with the heading “A Song of Ascents,” for the children of Israel to sing together as they traveled back to Jerusalem to worship. Each tends to build on the psalms before it, creating a collection that helps transition the mind from the situation back home to preparation for worship in Jerusalem. In the midst of these psalms lies Psalm 123, a brief offering filled with emotion and meaning because it captures how God’s people of all ages live between two worlds—the materialistic world dominated by the prince of the power of the air and the kingdom of heaven in which God Himself reigns. Therefore, this psalm expresses faith in an important way. It looks to the Lord above with a renewed perspective of deep need and with gratitude for His patience, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, and love all the while keenly aware of the world’s enmity toward God’s people and all things spiritual.

The psalmist opens with purposeful longing for God’s attention and protection, but also with an eye to see beyond the earth’s horizon to engage God who is spirit in his cause: “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens” (Psa. 123:1). He remains all too cognizant of his own position upon the earth, and this is essential for any who appeal to heaven. The recognition of the distinction between heaven and earth and the need of man and the power of God lies at the heart of prayer and all appreciation for the attention God offers in listening to His people’s petitions (1 Pet. 3:12; 1 John 5:14-15). But the relationship between man and God matters as we look to Yahweh for help. Indeed, to approach Him as anything other than humble servants who realize that every appeal depends on the gracious character of a loving Master is to miss the essence of what makes the relationship possible. “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us” (Psa. 123:2). There is such longing in this description, a patience and perseverance that only faith can maintain, and this precisely fills the hearts of those dedicated to the LORD with full confidence in His mercy along with the recognition of their great need for it. The world is fraught with trials and tribulation, dangers and difficulties, hostilities and heartache. Nevertheless, God’s mercy abounds. And our confidence in this should permeate our existence to the point of eliminating all doubt. This is essential because of the constant pressure the godless and the faithless of this world will often apply against us. The worldly will despise the spiritual; those who value luxury will ridicule those who value sacrifice; the disdain of the proud in this world will rise up to humiliate those already humbled for their need for God. “Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us! For we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scorn of those who are at ease, With the contempt of the proud” (Psa. 123:3-4). 

Have mercy. Two simple words. Placed in their context, they express such faith in the love of God. And that is how we should think of them—meaningful, heavenly, spiritual. It is not about condemning a casual use of a phrase so much as about calling for higher speech through spiritual thinking. We all need God’s mercy so desperately. So let us appreciate it, and let our speech honor it, and so honor the God who offers it.

A Prayer for Peace

Looking toward the future can be thrilling or frightening depending both on your circumstances and your point of view. If you are a child in December, you look forward to Christmas with an anticipation that brings joy to every moment. But if you are an adult in April, you tend to dread the day you must write that check to the United States Treasury. Perspective matters. Therefore, consider what it must have felt like to be a Jew returning from captivity in Babylon. Imagine all the work over decades that it took under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, including the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, to rebuild the temple after captivity, rebuild Jerusalem from the rubble, and rebuild society in accordance with the Law. This was the challenge for all those who returned from Babylon, and these were their accomplishments after many years of effort. This work—every step of the way—meant facing the ruins of the past daily, opposition and persecution regularly, and then gradually making progress that would mean life could once more return to some sense of normalcy. I have trouble imagining the emotions of those Jews who once more had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, enter its gates, and then worship at the newly constructed temple. Fortunately, we do have to imagine, because a psalmist penned exactly how he felt in Psalm 122:1-9.

The heading that includes “Of David” describes the style rather than the authorship. More important is the heading “A Song of Ascents,” indicating that this would be sung as people once more came from all over to worship. The inspired writer had seen dark times; he knew adversity; and through hard work, he also enjoyed a renewal of success and joy. And this is the kind of perspective we need today about the Lord’s church so that we can move beyond difficulties and begin to build a brighter future. 

We ought to be excited for the future (Psa. 122:1-2). Christians ought to be excited to have the opportunity to gather with the saints and worship God precisely as He desires—every time (Jn. 4:24). God’s people ought to be excited about the work already accomplished and what it makes possible today (1 Cor. 3:6; Mk. 16:15-16). To get to participate in what God has ordained itself should produce energy within (1 Cor. 15:58). Somewhere along the line we began serving less out of anticipation and more out of obligation. It is time to recapture that excitement for what the church is really all about and what a privilege it is to be part of it, and then channel that excitement into what we can build for the future. Christians ought to hope for a better future (Psa. 122:3-5). There is always hope for a better future when we follow the word of the LORD that came forth from Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ and let it govern us, shape our opinions, and change our character (Acts 2:17-47). There is hope for a better future when our worship becomes more about God and less about us (Jn. 4:23) and our enemies become friends because they submit to the King of Kings. Our future will be bright as long as we let Jesus decide what we do instead of trying to force God to accept whatever we do. This is why we ought to pray for the future (Psa. 122:6-7)—to pray for future peace from the attacks from without and for unity within (Jn. 17:15m 29-23). We should pray for future prosperity for the people committed to the church and for the benefit of the whole (Jn. 17:16-19, 24). And throughout it all, we must remain motivated for the future (Psa. 122:8-9)—by Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24) and by God and His purposes.

No matter what we face in the present, the future is there, waiting on us to make something of it. We must do better at visualizing just how good things can be if we are willing to work toward greater goals in the kingdom. We must do more to build a future for the church that will make future generations thankful. We ought to spend far more time praying for the work—specifically, fervently, and daily—instead of seeing it as a given. We must motivate ourselves to fill our lives with all of those things that will make the future bright, because that is what it will take.

The LORD is Your Keeper

In modern America few people show concern over their safety when traveling. Oh, many still say a quick prayer before an airplane takes off, and some might express concern for the reckless drivers they encounter at an ever-increasing rate, but the nature of travel has changed so dramatically that people generally feel safe and secure within the confines of a temperature controlled motorized vehicle capable of great distances and averting problem areas via instructions on a smartphone. Contrast all this with the weary Israelite traveler, returning to Jerusalem to attend a feast, who faced many perils in the process of his journey to worship. Especially after the captivity carried large populations away from Judea to settle in areas far away from the epicenter of their faith, faithful Jews would leave their homes and cover many miles to return to their homeland. Such a pilgrimage included a vast number of dangers inherent in ancient travel. The odyssey itself required physical endurance. The route also could take them through hostile territory, including to some degree Samaria, and areas of pagan influence. More than that, they would find it necessary to watch carefully as they traveled due to the marauders and thieves that camped in strategic locations along major roads, often hiding in the caves within the mountainous countryside. Thus, the concern expressed in the opening of Psalm 121 came from a very real place: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help?” (Psa. 121:1). Faith initiated the journey, as Psalm 120 implies. However, the people would also need great faith to sustain their travels and ensure that they arrived in Jerusalem as planned, and the remainder of the psalm captures this faith in God’s providential role in their safety perfectly.

The psalmist makes an unequivocal statement of faith: “My help comes from the LORD Who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:2). Yahweh, as implied by His name, will be there, and He will help. Moreover, the help He can offer comes with the power of creation behind it. Such a declaration moves far beyond fear and passes timidity to embrace confidence and security. At this point in the psalm, the wording takes an interesting turn. Abandoning the first person declaration of faith, the psalm now moves to third person. While some consider this someone else’s response to the original question, I believe it better represents the psalmist’s faith that the same confidence He has in God should characterize others when they remember His character. The LORD provides the steadiness to secure a defense against any foe’s attack (Psa. 121:3). He remains ever alert and cognizant of His covenant with Israel and all its attendant promises (Psa. 121:4). “The Lord is your keeper” (Psa. 121:5a). He is more than able to care for you, protect you, and guide you, offering constant protection whether from the heat of the sun or the perils that strike at night (Psa. 121:5b-6). He always acts with our best interest at heart. Thus, if there are any doubts remaining, the final two verses surely dispel them. “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore” (Psa. 121:7-8). God extends His protection to cover “all evil.” No evil exists that He cannot counter. His protection addresses your very “soul.” This likely refers to His commitment to protect the whole of our being, but its spiritual implications remain and are indeed profound. Moreover, the protection provided suffers no lapses in time. Every moment you live, God is there for you. 

Jews arriving safely in Jerusalem after a potentially treacherous journey surely had reason to give thanks to God—but really no more than what His people enjoy each and every day. When you place yourself in His hands, the LORD is your keeper. And while that surely offers peace in the midst of a chaotic and sometimes cruel world, it provides even more when considered in terms of  “even forevermore.”

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