When we are afraid of the threats that surround us, where do we turn to for help?
This traveller’s song begins with fear. As the pilgrims travelled to ancient Jerusalem, they looked to the mountains surrounding them and wondered where their help would come from (v1). They asked this question for two reasons: because the hills were where marauding bandits would attack from; and because the hills were also places of pagan worship. Perhaps pagan gods could offer the protection needed.
Our journey through life is equally full of threats and fears, and we’re tempted to look to lots of places for help. Maybe politicians can defend us and improve our situation. Perhaps some job security, or a home and a family, can protect us. But often the places we look to for help turn out to be threats themselves: politicians turn; our homes and livelihood are taken from us; our family homes turn into places of conflict. Where can we turn for help?
What brought these ancient travellers reassurance was knowing that help comes not from the mountains, but from the one who made the mountains (v2). The theme of this song is clear: the phrase ‘watches over’ (also translated ‘keeps’) repeats six times in its eight verses. The God who made the mountains ‘watches over’ his people. He will keep your feet firm when you are on a rocky path (v3), he will protect you from the heat of noonday sun (v5) and from the anxieties of night (v6). I love the image of sleep and slumber (v3-4): our worries often keep us from sleeping, but we can sleep and entrust things to God while we do, because he never sleeps, and he is never ‘slumber-some’. That can take an enormous weight off anxious shoulders.
Jesus himself once said that although we may face many threats, God watches over us so carefully that he even knows how many hairs are on our head. This is not intended as a threat, but a comfort to free us from fear (Matthew 10:29-31) and an invitation to draw near to him on our journey.
PRAYER Thank you God that you are a kind Father who knows me, loves me, and wants to protect me. May I know your presence near me. Please comfort me in my fears and save me from the threats that surround me today. Amen.
A song of ascents.
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.