While visiting my family in Winston Salem, NC, Sean invited me to an ‘easy’ hike. We drove about 25 miles to Pilot Mountain State Park. It is the site of a stone formation that juts up from the surrounding area 2500’ into the sky. It is possible to hike a trail that circles the mountain just below its blunt summit, offering amazing views in every direction. That day was amazingly beautiful, a gentle breeze, bright sunshine, and clear skies. Jay, Sean, and I walked the trail, our eyes taking in the glories of the Creation. The hike around Pilot Mountain was a lesson in renewal that can be found in a changed perspective!
Psalm 121 is part of a series of prayers called the Songs of Ascent. We believe that they were sung by the faithful Jews who walked to Jerusalem for holy festivals. The city is on a plateau, higher than the surrounding terrain, thus the ascent. In the 121st the prayer begins this way.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The pilgrims sang of looking up at the hills in front of them. The opening line can be understood in two very different ways in context.
They may have been anticipating their arrival in Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, where they would enter the Presence of God. Perhaps they were just miles out and could see the gleaming walls of the Temple of the Lord. Their joy increased as they thought about the sights and sounds of the worship of the Lord, Who was their Help, the very Maker of the world in which they lived.
Or they may have been asking a question about their true hope. Were their hearts fixed on the God of Israel, the Living Lord? The hilltops of ancient Israel were places of idolatry places of rites to appease the fertility gods, the Baals. (Baals – literally “lords”) In an agricultural society where each year’s crop determined whether you ate or starved, there was a temptation to play to the gods of the hilltops. Those gods were notoriously fickle. They might forgot to send rain, or get distracted from the work of making the fields grow. Trips ‘to the hills’ where sacrifices and sexual rites reminded the gods to make the earth fertile again were not uncommon in that time.
So the Psalmist prays of lifting his eyes to the hills with the question – where does my help come from? Will I allow myself to slip into the worship of idols or will I fix my trust in the Maker of heaven and earth?
In our time, we are not tempted to go to the hilltops to worship nature gods, but we are tempted to lower our sight from the Maker. So the question, where does my help come from, remains important, even as we make our pilgrimage towards our home. We may try to secure ourselves with endless work, building financial reserves, convinced that our dollars will save us. We may pursue achievement piling up the awards and recognition with the hope that our hearts will be filled by the trophies we accumulate. We may give the best of our time to the pursuit of pleasure because we think that the best life can offer is a better meal, another vacation, or a new lover. Who or what secures your heart and soul?
The truth, dear friend, and you know this, is that “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2, NIV) He is not fickle like the Baals. He is not like us at all! He is the Creator, the Beginning and End, of all of life.
Here is the rest of the prayer:
“He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed,
he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”
(Psalm 121, NIV)
Does this mean that faithful Christians will never turn their ankles, never get cancer, never find their marriages troubled? Can we expect that He will exempt us from the up’s and down’s of the economy? No, and if we read it that way, we may eventually lose faith, concluding that God is fickle or forgetful. We may, like those ancients, be tempted to believe that we must assume the responsibility to make Him act, by dancing faster, giving more, or raising the volume of our prayers to attract His attention.
“I will lift my eyes to the hills.” Yes, I like the first understanding of the Psalm best. I will think of the continual Presence of the Lord. Unlike the ancient Jews, we do not have to travel to a temple to know Him. He is ever-present. We need only invite Him to change our perspective, to help us to look past the trouble of the day. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NIV)
As you begin a new week, take time to enter His Presence. There you will find renewal, hope, and purpose in the reminder of His eternal care.
The word from the Word:
“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.
Study how he did it.
Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—
he could put up with anything along the way:
Cross, shame, whatever.
And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item,
that long litany of hostility he plowed through.
That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! ” (Hebrews 12:2-3, The Message)
Fix My Eyes
(For King and Country sings of higher sight!)
Hit rewind click delete
Stand face to face with the younger me
All of the mistakes all of the heartbreak
Here’s what I’d do differently
(I’d) (And) love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for my brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eye eye eyes on You oo oo
Oh oh oh oh on You
I learned the lines and talked the talk
(Everybody knows it everybody knows it)
The road less traveled is hard to walk
(Everybody knows it everybody knows)
It takes a soldier who knows his orders
To walk the walk I’m supposed to walk
The things of earth are dimming
In the light of Your glory and grace
I’ll set my sights upon Heaven
I’m fixing my eyes on You oo oo
Oh oh oh oh on You oo oo
I’m fixing my eyes on You oo oo
Oh oh oh oh on You oo oo
I’m fixing my eyes
Joel Smallbone | Luke Smallbone | Seth Mosley
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