I lift up my eyes to the hills…


ben bulben.jpg

Living, as I used to, near Sligo in the North West of Ireland, there was no day that dawned but that we were greeted by the sheer bulk of Ben Bulben brooding over us. The memory recalls a line from Bridget Asher: “This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us, it made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.”

And as C.S.Lewis put it – “All my life  the god of the Mountain has been wooing me.” 

Psalm 121 starts with the same sense of presence and power, with four aspects of that experience of being “wooed” by the “god of the mountain.”

Here’s the song, in all its beautiful simplicity; written perhaps three thousand years ago, and yet still fresh:

1 “I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip –
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm –
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and for evermore.”

First, He MAKES (vv1,2)

If God “created the heavens and the earth,” (as the Bible declares, in Genesis 1:1)  then He is a God of power, wisdom, and glory, and we can have nothing left  to fear. He is the MAKER. The Message puts it like this: “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.”

Israel had become riddled with “high places” where false gods were worshipped, but the true and faithful God-seeker looked beyond the mountain to the god of the mountain. When pilgrims caught sight of Jerusalem, up there in the hills  ( Look at Psalm 87, 125 and 133), they knew that God “dwelt” there in some way, in His sanctuary and provided every resource necessary for them.

And why not? “For He is our maker…

Second, He WATCHES (vv3,4)

He is attentive and observant. The word translated “moved” means “to slip and slide, to stagger, to be shaken.” How easy to sprain an ankle on those rocky paths, but the Lord is concerned about our daily “walk” and three times the Psalmist notes that the Lord keeps, guards and protects our faltering progress. As another Psalm has it: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Ps. 32:8).

And third, HE ACCOMPANIES (vv5,6)

He doesn’t observe from a distance, like a trainer with a stopwatch, but He runs with us, ready to shield us from all harm. This does not mean that we never experience difficulty or danger, or that we never feel physical and emotional pain. The things that God permits to happen to us in His will may hurt us, but they will not harm us. David had many experiences that brought heartache and even threatened his life, but the Lord enabled him to turn those seeming tragedies into beautiful psalms that encourage us today. The Lord at our right hand provides the “shade” that we need (Have a look at Psalms 17, 36 and especially 91).

Whether by day or by night, in heat or cold, whatever the changes might be, the Father’s presence provides all that we need. We need not be afraid of sudden attacks that can come in the day or the night, for “the shadow of the Almighty” covers us  and his is a constant warm embrace.

And fourth, He CARES (vv7,8)

We need not fear life or death, today or tomorrow, time or eternity, for we are in the loving care of the Father. “All evil” means anything that could harm us, but in His grace, He turns into good the things we think are evil. Joseph had to endure the slander and hatred of his brothers, thirteen years of separation from his father, the false accusations of his employer’s wife, and years in prison, all because of his brothers’ sins. But in the end, Joseph was able to say, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”(Gen 50)

The phrase “going out and coming in” refers to the daily bits and pieces of life. The Father is concerned about our tasks and our schedules and even the so-called “minor details” that we too often take for granted. To this day, Orthodox Jews take Deut 6and 11 quite literally and affix small metal boxes containing Scripture portions to the right-hand doorpost of the house, and they touch the box reverently each time they go in and out of the house. These boxes are called mezuzas; the word means “doorpost.” The point is this: as we go in and out of the house, to and fro in the city, and even fly from city to city and country to country, the Father is with us and cares for our every need. “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And His loving care will go on forever (v. 8)

And who minds the journey when the road leads home?

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