Our Helper in Strife (Psalm 121)

I probably should be studying for Hebrew at this moment, but when I have 12 tabs opened with everything that I need to know, I'll make whatever excuse I can to walk away from the books. And there’s no better distraction than writing!

While I study Hebrew, the Psalms have been on my mind lately. One Psalm that I have continually come back to is Psalm 121. In fact, we sing this Psalm at the beginning of every Hebrew class, but it's beauty has never displayed itself to me until this month. The Psalm opens with a question:

      "I lift up my eyes to the hills.

         From where does my help come?" (Psalm 121:1)

Let's consider the location for a moment, or even put ourselves in the psalmist's shoes. What hills is he even talking about? Imagine a steep path entering the city; this path is filled with robbers, cliffs, and everything in between. That is the very path that an Israelite must take into Jerusalem, and it was so intimidating that it is the context for Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan. If I were a Jew who was taking this path, the only adequate response is "How in the world can I do this?"

But the psalmist doesn't leave us there, because look at his response:

        "My help comes from the Lord,

            who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2).

In the midst of danger, the psalmist looks to God alone for safety. That preposition "from" carries with it almost a connotation of a royal decree; our help finds its source in God and goes out from his royal chambers. Throughout the Psalm, God doesn't allow our feet to move and never sleeps (V.3), shades us (V.4), protects us throughout the day (V.6), and is the very keeper of our life (V.7-8).

That is easy to say, yet when the suffering meets the proverbial road, we may not joyously jump up and down to affirm that. We have an easy time thanking God for the good, but we battle with the bad. If God never sleeps, and he sees me all day, he must really hate me. Where was God when X happened to me?

Uncertainty is not an American invention. We seek God for help, just as the Israelites did. When I sing Psalm 121 in Hebrew, I sing with Jews that were uncertain about several tomorrows for thousands of years.

But the answer does not stop there. The Lord doesn't just see our danger; he involved Himself in it. The Son of God came down, lived amidst our suffering, and suffered himself. And he didn't leave it there. Life is filled with why's and unanswered questions; so many live their lives just so that they may die.

But Christ involves Himself beyond what we could expect. We are not guided by blind chance, but by the God who came among us, died for our failings, and ever lives for us today. Jesus didn't die so that you could feel safe; he died so that you might live forever. Because of that, our only adequate response to life is to follow Martin Luther:

     And though this world, with devils filled,
     Should threaten to undo us,
     We will not fear, for God hath willed
     His truth to triumph through us:
     The Prince of Darkness grim,
     We tremble not for him;
     His rage we can endure,
     For lo! his doom is sure,
     One little word shall fell him (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).