Hope Beyond The Mountains (Psalm 121:1-2)
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. —Psalm 121:1-2
Two years ago I sat in a room in the Intensive Care Unit and read these verses in the pale morning light as my three-year-old son slept. He had just been diagnosed with stage four cancer.
There was a flurry of activity ahead. Just that week he experienced four general anesthetics and countless tests. Each day came with its own unexpected twists and turns. But in that moment of quiet, the Lord led me to the Psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134). I was encouraged in a moment of hopelessness.
You see, this is what happens when we memorize Scripture. It’s not an easy discipline for most of us. Some of you may be long-time blog readers who are in a faithful and consistent rhythm of Scripture memory. Others (like me) might recognize the value of Scripture memory but struggle with consistency. Still others may just be starting out on the journey, perhaps as a New Year’s resolution.
Before talking about the encouragement we can take from this text, I want to be sure you see the providential preparation of our great God. Many years before that difficult moment in the ICU, God was preparing me through Scripture memory. In August 2009, our church memorized this verse together. The next month, my grandmother went home to be with the Lord and this verse was at the front of my mind. A few years later, a friend and the 40-year-old mother of three girls at our church went home to be with the Lord. This was one of the verses that encouraged the children and families of our church. And in June 2017, my youngest daughter was born and we chose this Psalm as her life verse.
And so, amidst the hum of the IV pump and the beep of the heart rate monitor, God led me to a moment of quiet reflection on the words of Psalm 121. It is the second in the Songs of Ascent. It is thought these Psalms were sung by the people of Israel when they traveled to Jerusalem for feast days. I was—for that moment—transported by the Psalmist to journey among those pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem. Looking up at the mountain of God, looking at the rugged countryside all around, I was desperate for help. With the Psalmist, I was asking, pleading, “from where does my help come?”
Commentators disagree about whether the Psalmist refers to the hills as a place of hope or fear. Maybe we are to see the hills as a place to flee for help, or to think about the pilgrims’ destination—the mountain of God (see Psalm 11:1). On the other hand, hills were hazardous. Robbers and threats may be waiting. Hills were unsafe.
There is a certain beauty in this lack of clarity. Whether we see threats or safety in these hills, whether we sang the song on the journey to God’s mountain or hummed it on the way back home, the answer to the question remains the same.
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Fear not, pilgrim. God is the source of your help. You need not fear. You need not even seek safety in the valley or safety on the mountain. He made them both.
That phrase, “maker of heaven and earth,” has a rich arc through salvation history. We first see it in Melchizedek’s blessing in Genesis 14:19 and Christians still recite it weekly—in numerous languages around the world—as they declare their trust in “God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth” in the words of the Apostles Creed.
As you look to the year ahead, whether you do so with hope or fear, I pray that memorizing this verse prepares you to clearly see God’s help. Beyond the circumstances of life, in good times and hard times, the one who made the universe is your help.
(The Morris family is very thankful that Benjamin successfully completed treatment and is now cancer-free. Throughout this very difficult journey—on the good days, and especially the bad days—the Lord was, and is, the source of their help.)
What are some of the things you are looking to in 2020 as the hills surrounding you?
Are these things cause for hope or fear?
How can you take those things and entrust them—with joy or relief—to God?
How does God being “the maker of heaven and earth” provide particular encouragement to you today?