Where our help comes from

Psalm 121

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Stroble's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

During college, I taped a religious poster on my dorm room wall. Under a photo of a white country church against a green, timbered hill were the words, "I lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help."

I liked the Bible verse, the scene was pretty, and I enjoyed the peaceful reminder of rural home places. But a friend who was knowledgeable in scripture said the poster was theologically incorrect. The caption lacked the question mark after "help," so that the help seemed to come from the hills-from the peace and beauty of nature-rather than from God.

It was a fine distinction, since the poster did include a church, and a landscape is not a far-fetched way of symbolizing, if not God, then our longing for God or a location where we feel close to God. We are also often nostalgic for country churches: we tend to think that when times were simpler, people felt closer to God.

But I'm being too sentimental. Any location may provide a sense of peace. The important thing is the peace of knowing God, which is a gift of the Spirit and includes but transcends beloved places.

Someone once reminded me that the first verse of "The Star Spangled Banner" ends with a question mark: the poet does not yet know if the battle is over and the American flag is safe! We stop singing before we get (from the poem's standpoint) the important news. It is the same with "A Mighty Fortress is Our God": if we only sing verse one, the devil wins. And if we read only the first verse of Psalm 121, we're still helpless. But the next line (partially quoted in the Apostle's Creed) answers: "My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth."

The psalm affirms God's help: God guides our steps, morally and spiritually, but also through power and attention. God never sleeps or slumbers. God shelters us. God's constant vigilance is proved by his protection of his people, Israel.

Psalm 121 reflects a journey to Jerusalem, but its lack of geographic specificity makes the psalm a classic for "the journey," whether the life-journey or the spiritual journey or both. The psalmist promises that the Lord protects us from hazards associated with both the day and the night and with all our comings and goings. A good connection-verse is Colossians 3:3: "Your life is hidden with Christ in God." We may have problems and terrible situations, but God's power surrounds us so that God rescues us from the ultimate power of sin and death.

Compare that promise to the lovely repetition in the psalm: keep, keep, keep, keep. Because God keeps us, we know from where our help comes.

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Our help is in the Lord our God.

God through the Prophet Jeremiah back in the old testament warned the children of Israel about them taking His word for granted.He determined to make confess thus "Truly in vain [is salvation hoped for] from the hills, [and from] the multitude of mountains: truly in the LORD our God [is] the salvation of Israel."(Jeremiah 3:23)

With regards to Paul Stroble's post Oct. 11; may I say that what King David of ancient was talking about in Psalm 121:1 when he made mention of "Hills" was his help does not come from human beings though he will lift up his eyes to them often.God made it that no one would be able to help David but Him.So when David said "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." It was like a search for truth;he then said in verse two(2) "My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth." That means that even if I lift up my eyes to the hills, I still end up with this knowledge that my help comes the LORD,which made heaven and earth.

The point is that we may be pressured to depend on multitude of mountains(human authorities); but finally the trust is: OUR HELP COMES FROM GOD. Therefore when we have tried and tried(as with human nature) to do it our way,we still come to the conclusion that it is not by might,nor by power,but by my Spirit saith the LORD.Visit http://seatedchristianarts.blogspot.com/ , and you will be rest assured that God delights in helping us if we seek Him early.

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