The Songs of Ascent, Text: Psalm 121, Title: The Lord My Keeper


In Psalm 120 the psalmist looked around in anguish at a world of dishonesty, savagery and war. In Psalm 121 we have drawn near to Zion and the psalmist looks up to his refuge and help. In each of the five triads of Psalms 120-134 there is progress from the sinful world to the sanctuary of God. The psalmist begins with the words of verses 1 and 2, 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. Some have thought the psalm was saying that the help was not in the hills, but in God. That is wrong because for the pious Israelite God is in the mountain. God met with Moses on Mt. Sinai and there delivered His law. The mountain referred to in the psalm is Zion where God had put His name and commanded His worship. You can worship God in your spirit anywhere including the mountains which show his creative power and beauty, but also in the desert or on the sea. This psalm is about a particular mountain where God has established His worship. You cannot find it in the Himalayas, or the Rockies, or the Berkshires, or Alleghenies, or Adirondack’s, or Sierras. Dear friends, as there was one mountain and only one, so there is one Savior and only one and you cannot find hope or worship God by going to the wrong place. As it says in another of these songs, Psalm 125:2, As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore. You can only find this mountain under the sweet sound of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the church. Psalm 24 tells us that to ascend into the mountain of the Lord we must have clean hands and a pure heart. You will not get these any place else. So, having located the source of our help, let us examine together the character of our helper. He is not small, He is not spent, and He is not silent.

I He Is Not Small

God is identified in verse 2 as the maker of heaven and earth. This means that everything that exists, exists by His will and power. It means that everything that moves, moves at His impulse. In Isaiah 46:10 God tells us, I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. In Daniel 4:35 we read, All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Because God created everything out of nothing He is the providential maintainer of all that exists and all that happens. Consequently, if you don’t come to God for help, then you won’t get any help. If your God is not the disposer of all things, then he wouldn’t be much help. In Psalm 121:3-8 the government of God is at the root of all the blessings of His care envisioned, 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. All the things predicated of God in these verses require the most exacting and closest attention to every detail of our existence. He sees you coming and going and he keeps you from tripping and falling. Recognizing the absolute sovereignty of God is essential to true worship.

II He is  Not Spent

God’s strength is manifested in his tireless attention to His people. He does not “slumber or sleep.” Night and day He is caring and protecting. Mountains are a symbol of strength in Scripture. In Matthew 17:14-21, after the transfiguration of Jesus in the mount, they came down, and we read, When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” This is one of the most difficult passages of Scripture, and many people stumble over it. They think it means that the disciples or we ourselves should be able to pray for anything and accomplish anything. We must realize that we cannot pray in faith for anything that we like. In this matter, Jesus was “thinking God’s thoughts after him” and willing his father’s will. That sort of prayer, if asked in faith, will always be answered, for it is praying that God’s will may be done (as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane). We can only move the mountains that God wants removed, not those that we want moved. “Moving mountains” was a phrase used by the rabbis to describe overcoming seemingly impossible difficulties; we must not of course take it in the literal sense. The mountains of Israel are not like the Rocky Mountains. As a born and bred easterner the first time I crossed the plains of Kansas and the Rocky Mountains came into view I was astonished at their immensity. Mount Zion is strong, not because it’s bigger, but because God is in her, Psalm 46:5, God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day, and Psalm 48:3, God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress. God is in the body of Christ in the same way. It is His temple. The strength of the Lord can move large and powerful things that oppose Him (mountains) and protect His people from the same. He is not spent. But we must remember that the Jerusalem of the Psalms fell and was destroyed when the people of Israel stopped trusting in the God who was there. It is not just going to church to worship, but knowing the Lord who speaks there that brings hope and peace.

III He Is Not Silent

He never slumbers. He never sleeps. He is always awake and always hears. ON Mt.Carmel in I Kings 18 Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. After the sacrifices were on the altar the prophets of Baal were up first, and we read in verses 26-29, Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. Then after Elijah drenched the sacrifices, the wood and the altar three times we read in verses  36-39, At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD-he is God! The LORD-he is God!” The word LORD is spelled with all capital letters in the story of Elijah. It should be translated Yahweh, the personal covenant name of the God of Israel as distinguished from all other gods. It is the same in our psalm. Yahweh is your shade from the sun, Yahweh watches over you. Yahweh protects you from harm. This is the God of Elijah and He is not silent. He speaks through His Word and His Word is declared in the fellowship of the church. The psalmist’s song should be ours, lifting up our eyes to the Lord, our help, but we will only do this if we know how great God is, and we will only learn that through worship. Let us go up as the psalmist did and rejoice in the worship of the LORD. Let us not neglect the assembling of ourselves together.