Songs of Degrees – Psalm 121

The LORD – our Help and our Keeper

Having described his distress on the first step (in 120), Hezekiah ascends to the second step, looking for help. Where will he find it? The advice of the world around him would be to ‘look to the hills’. In other words, to the high places and idols set up by men but Hezekiah begins by questioning the truth of this worldview.

‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help?’

(v1)

It is always good to question the truth of our assumptions, and ask if they conform to reality, for this is the measure of truth.

Rabshekah, the Assyrian emissary, who came to negotiate with Hezekiah at the beginning of his 39th year, certainly believed that divine help was absolutely linked with high places. Listen to what he says: ‘What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? … if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?’ (2 Kings 18:19-22)

How sad that almost 3000 years later, the views of humanity have not changed. The world still puts their confidence in the physical, and looks to places for their help; whether it be Lumbini, The Ganges, Amritsar, Mecca, The Western Wall, Lourdes, or Canterbury … to name a few.

Hezekiah knew better! He knew that divine help was not to be found in places, but in a person – a divine person, Yahweh, the true and living God.

‘My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.’

(v2)

Assyria and Babylon both had their gods of wood and stone. These were gods created by men, impotent and silent. But for Hezekiah, his trust was in The Creator, powerful and present, who is able to help.

The events of Hezekiah’s 39th year prove the point. Though Rabshekah came with all that bravado and disdain, secular history confirms the Biblical narrative, that Assyria did not conquer Jerusalem, but left humiliated. The LORD helped Hezekiah, and preserved him in this instance.

He is Able

This is one of countless examples of the ability and willingness of the LORD God to help His creature man, especially His own people. Therefore, we ought not to fear, and this is the very message of the prophet Isaiah, King Hezekiah’s spiritual advisor. Three times in Isaiah 41, the LORD says: ‘Fear not, I will help thee’ (v10,13,14), and in v14 this exhortation and promise comes not just from the LORD, but from ‘thy redeemer’ also. A wonderful pre-incarnate reference to the triune God, Father and Son acting as One.

This redemption help came ultimately with the incarnation, the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, proving Himself to be God, through His ability and willingness to help, not just the people of Israel, but the whole world.

Consider the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15. She comes to the Lord Jesus Christ with a simple request: ‘Lord, help me’ (Matt 15:25). The manner of her approach shows her belief that Jesus is God incarnate, and her faith that He alone could ‘help’. She came and ‘worshipped him, saying “Lord …”.

Would the Lord turn away from such a sincere cry for help because she was a different race? Absolutely not. Our Lord Jesus praises her for her faith and immediately helps: ‘And her daughter was made whole from that very hour’ (v28). Now she, like all of us who have been touched by the hand of the Lord Jesus could say with Hezekiah: ‘my help cometh from the LORD’.

Having known the truth of this, why would we ever turn back to idols? This is what happened after Hezekiah’s death. His son, Manasseh, knowing the reality of God’s help in his father’s day, nevertheless leads the people back into idolatry and to their eventual capture and exile. It makes no rational sense, yet it is an ever present problem, such that the Apostle John concludes his first letter with this warning: ‘Keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5:21)

You see, we all have a moral proclivity to go our own way. For those of us who are Christ’s, the Apostle Paul would describe this side of our nature as ‘the old man’, and exhort us to ‘put off the old man’ and ‘put on the new’ (Colossians 3:9,10). This will lead us into a place a peace and thankfulness, whereby we shall be ‘singing with grace in (our) hearts to the Lord’ (v16), and whenever we sing, or pray, or cry out, the Lord always hears.

He is Attentive

‘Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.’

(v4)

It is a precious thought, that not only is our God willing and able ‘to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16), but He is ever attentive to the circumstances of our lives, and ever conscious of our situations. Indeed, the Lord Jesus would remind His disciples that ‘your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him’ (Matthew 6:8).

This does not mean we need not pray. No, we must pray! First of all, it’s good manners to ask and not just expect. More importantly, it gives us opportunity to commune with Almighty God, to enjoy His presence in our lives, and to consciously walk with Him in our daily lives.

We should never take this for granted, for we don’t deserve this privilege, and it has been given us at tremendous cost. It is only ‘by the blood of Jesus’, that we have ‘boldness to enter into the holiest’ (Hebrews 10:19). ‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebs 4:16).

However, more than simply being attentive and passively responding to our prayers, this psalm emphasises our LORD’s active work in keeping and preserving His own. This is a precious truth and in the closing verses of the psalm it is repeated three times .

He is Active

‘The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.’

(v7,8)

Three aspects of the Lord’s keeping are brought to our attention: 1) He preserves us from defeat by the enemy, 2) He preserves us from despair of soul, and 3) He preserves us from distraction in our walk … ‘from this time forth’.

Beginning in Hezekiah’s day, of primary concern was defeat by the enemy. Two enemies in particular occupied Hezekiah: Assyria and Babylon, but for all their might and magnificence, Hezekiah need not worry.

Whether it was Merodach, whose name was taken from the Babylonian deity and meaning ‘calf of the sun’; or Sennacherib of Assyria, whose name represented their deity, the moon, neither would ‘smite’ (v6) Hezekiah. He knew the LORD to be his ‘shade’ (v5) or shadow. I wonder if it was the very shadow of the temple itself that fell upon the steps of Ahaz? And did it remind Hezekiah of the Lord’s presence overshadowing him in his hour of need, giving him peace of mind, and assurance that the future was subject to His power.

We also see these three aspects of the Lord’s keeping in the New Testament. In John 10, the presence of God overshadowing us is brought to us in a marvellous way. The Good Shepherd says of His sheep: ‘they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.’ (John 10:28,29). He preserves us from evil.

In Philippians 4, rather than being anxious in the face of difficulty, Paul exhorts us to make our ‘requests … known unto God, and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil 4:6,7). He preserves my soul.

Finally, Peter reminds us that there is ‘an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven’, not for those who live good lives, do their best or even seek truth, but for those ‘who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation’ (1 Peter 1:4,5). He preserves our going out and coming in for evermore. What a prospect?

But how do we come into daily enjoyment of these things in the face of trouble and trial? We find the answer both in Matthew 15, in relation to the Lord’s help, and here in 1 Peter 1, dealing with the Lord’s keeping. In both passages the answer is the same. It is one word, easy to say, but harder to practice, especially the older you get – the answer is ‘faith’!

And so, the simple question that this second step in our Psalms of Ascent leaves us pondering is this: do we trust the Lord, at all times and in all circumstances?

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