Date: 12 Mar 2017
Text: Psalm 121
It is said that variety is the spice of life so if that’s true then we’ll get a little spice today as we take a break from 2 Corinthians and spend a few minutes looking at a Psalm. I had advertised last week and really intended to look at Psalm 8 but then last Sunday afternoon I read Psalm 121 and felt that it was such a wonderfully inspiring Psalm that would it provide a much better subject for a sermon.
Although it is only eight verses long this Psalm provides what we all need in our lives each day. We can read about God helping us, watching over us, protecting us from harm and being with us day and night. In doing that the Psalm also provides us with the assurance, confidence and hope that we need in our daily lives. Not bad for such a short Psalm!
When we read through the Psalm we see the main theme standing out like a sore thumb. The Psalmist uses the words “watch” or “watches” five times in order to reinforce the message that God is with us and watching over us in a Fatherly way.
This Psalm is known as a Psalm of ascents which means that it would have been sung as the people walked along. Now, we don’t know the precise circumstances of the Psalm being written or sung but if they were pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem then it is easier to see the people walking along singing this song together as they looked up at the mountains that surrounded Jerusalem.
The Psalmist begins in rather a strange way by asking a question. In Psalm 120 the Psalmist found himself in a dangerous and hostile place. Now, here in Psalm 121 he is probably on the move, looking for a safe haven. As he walks along he looks up to the mountains as if he is seeking help from there. Perhaps he is; perhaps he isn’t. He doesn’t expand on what he sees but it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe that he is gazing thoughtfully at the glory of the mountain; the height of it, the contours of it, perhaps the trees or plants growing on it. Don’t forget that the mountain he is looking at is like every mountain; it was created by God and as such is a wondrous thing to gaze upon.
He obviously has a problem of some description as he asks where his help comes from. This is the same verse quoted by Col James Irwin when he encountered a problem whilst on the surface of the moon. Col Irwin was the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 15 and so was the 8th man to walk on the surface of the moon. Over a period of three days Col Irwin spent many hours on the lunar surface conducting various scientific experiments. On one occasion as he was having trouble assembling an experiment he remembered the opening verse of Psalm 121, his favourite Bible passage. He looked up to the mountains that he could see in the distance and remembered the opening words of 121:1. As he knelt and prayed over the experiment his prayer was answered almost instantly and he was able to solve his problem. In the very next sentence the Psalmist answers his own question. Just as Col Irwin discovered in a very real way, his “help comes from the Lord [God]”, this is the God Who the Psalmist knows is the “Maker of heaven and earth”. Col Irwin was literally on another planet some 238,000 miles from earth and yet God both heard and answered his prayer. If nothing else it illustrates that God truly is the God of the entire universe.
The Psalmist was very conscious of the fact that it was God Who had created the mountain that he was gazing upon and it was God Who provided the help that he needed. Was this just a general question, or did the Psalmist really need help with a problem? Whatever it was the Psalmist knew that if he asked for God’s help God would provide it. The writer of this Psalm trusted God to help him just as David did in Psalm 25:1 when he wrote, “In you, LORD my God, I put my trust”. We too can trust God and seek His help when we have a problem and we can be assured that He will be there to help and provide an answer to whatever that problem may be.
I met an American Pastor and Preacher some years ago by the name of David Hansen. From time to time he would go walking in the woods near his home and he would pray as he walked. His thoughts and prayers eventually came out in a book titled Long Wandering Prayer. David found inspiration by walking and praying in God’s creation; Col James Irwin found inspiration by praying on the moon, part of God’s universe and the Psalmist found inspiration by gazing upon the mountain that God created. I’m sure that we can all find inspiration in similar ways whenever we face a problem and need God’s help. No matter where we go or where we are God is with us. The writer of Psalm 46 assured us of that when he wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
In our world today we are spied on from every angle by the multitude of CCTV cameras that have sprung up here, there and everywhere. It is almost impossible to move without appearing on a CCTV screen somewhere. We are being watched whether we like it or not and that being watched is not necessarily for our benefit but for the benefit of businesses, the security services and the Police.
On a totally different level and for totally different reasons believers are being watched over by God. He is watching over us because He loves us and wants to help and protect us. In 121:2 we read that He “will not let your foot slip” which is a bit of a clumsy way of saying He “will not let you stumble” which is the NLT version. He does that because He cares deeply for us and is anxious to protect us at all times. There is more to that phrase than meets the eye though; so what do you suppose it means? Firstly and most obviously, it may well relate to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when the people needed to tread carefully and walk safely as they made their way along the rocky road. As they walked God was with them every step of the way to ensure that they arrived safely at their destination. Secondly, it could have a metaphorical meaning suggesting that God is with us in our daily walk of faith with Him. He will always be there watching over us to ensure that we remain on the narrow path of faith and are not tempted to wander away to the right or the left. Notice too that the Psalmist tells us that God neither sleeps nor slumbers; I’m not sure what the difference is there although it could mean that He doesn’t sleep for hours on end nor does He doze off for a quick nap! This comment about God not sleeping may have been a bit of a dig at Baal who Elijah had challenged to light a fire under a sacrifice. Nothing happened despite those who worshipped Baal shouting themselves hoarse, dancing around the altar and slashing themselves with swords and spears. Still nothing happened and so Elijah made the rather cutting comment, “Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Needless to say when Elijah called on God to light the fire on the altar despite it being soaked in water, He did so. Our God never sleeps and will always be alert to our needs. He doesn’t sleep because He doesn’t need to rest meaning that we can be assured that He is there, watching over us 24/7.
Do we know that that is happening, are we aware of that? I don’t think we are since God is totally unobtrusive and in so many ways stays in the background. On the other hand the CCTV cameras that monitor our lives tend to be visible as they protrude from buildings or hang on lampposts. However, God isn’t like that, He is there quietly watching over us in a subtle and gentle way.
In 121:5-6 the Psalmist tells us that God will protect us from the sun by day and the moon by night. The first part of that seems fairly obvious; God will provide shade for us from the sun so that it doesn’t harm us in any way. The second part when he refers to the moon is less obvious since in the main the moon can’t harm us in the same way that the sun can. Once again though, the Psalmist could be talking metaphorically. Many at the time the Psalm was written believed that the sun and the moon were deities who could bring harm on the people. The hidden meaning of these two verses could therefore be that God is providing protection from these dangerous deities. Many believers would understand and appreciate that and so would be assured by these words knowing that God was there during the day and during the night to watch over them and protect them under the sun and under the moon.
It was common practice for a protector to stand at someone’s right hand and so we should notice that in 121:5 the Psalmist reminds us that as our Protector, God is our shade at our right hand. David shared similar thoughts when he wrote in Psalm 109:31, “For he stands at the right hand of the needy”, and again in Psalm 110:5, “The Lord is at your right hand”.
Finally in 121:7-8 we see that God will ensure that we won’t come to any harm. That thought surely gives us hope and confidence to know and appreciate that no matter what happens to us God will always be there watching over us and protecting us. I take comfort, confidence and assurance from that phrase at the end of 121:7 that “he will watch over your life”. I’m sure that we all hope to live long lives and so it is comforting to know that God will be watching over us for the entirety of that life, no matter how long it is, rather than just a short space of time; He will always be there when we are young, when we are middle aged and when we are old and infirm.
As if to reinforce that thought, the Psalmist adds in 121:8 that He “will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore”. This is not short term care, this is for all eternity. The phrase reminds me of the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew 28:20 when He said to His disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. Those are wonderful words of assurance and whilst we may not know when the end of the age will come we can be uplifted and reassured that God and His Son will always be there with us, watching over us.
This is a wonderful Psalm of only eight verses. The key words, and the words that appears more than any other, are “watch” and “watches”. God is there for us, watching over us to protect us and help us, to keep us safe from harm, and to keep us on the narrow road of faith. He isn’t a here today, gone tomorrow protector. On the contrary, as the writer to the Hebrews assures us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8). God is a loving Heavenly Father Who will be there with us for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for all eternity or as Jesus puts it, “to the very end of the age”.
I find each and every one of these verses to be inspiring and uplifting; we are never alone for God is always with us. We don’t become believers in Jesus Christ only to find ourselves abandoned to our own devices the very next day. On the contrary from the moment we believe God is there for us to walk beside us and help us every step of the way through our daily lives. Read these verses again at your leisure and I’m sure that you too will be strengthened in your faith and daily walk with Christ.