Psalm 121 - From where will my help come?

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A Song of Ascents.
1) I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2) My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

3) He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4) He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5) The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6) The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7) The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8) The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 121
2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A
Proper 24, Sunday between October 16 and October 22, Year C

This much beloved song is frequently turned to in time of crisis or trouble. I remember it as the first scripture read in James Chapel on September 11, 2001, shortly before I headed downtown to see what, if anything, I could do. From where will my help come?

I have heard it in the hospital. At the morgue. In church and synagogue. "I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come"?

It is a staple of faith - the faithful answer of course comes quickly. "My help comes from the Lord..."

But we should not take that help or that faith for granted. The need for help is real. This psalm often invoked at times of threat. There is a lot of language to suggest its origin as a warrior-prayer.[1]   In the Judean hill country, if you were set upon or besieged, help had to come from over the next hill, if it was to come at all.

Of course, in battle, you want the Lord God of hosts on your side. Whether through superstition or faith, we hope for Big Help, supernatural help, for we live in a world of risk and we know the limits of our mortal power.

The psalm's testimony is one of faith in God's past performance, and confident hope in God's continued care and support for those who call upon the name of the Lord.

I look to the hills, because God is my strength. I look to the hills, because God is all-powerful. I look to the hills, and I remember that the Lord is my keeper.

It is probably no accident that the psalm lets us hear other echoes of faith. Cain's failure to be his brother's keeper, contrasted with the faithful keeper we call upon when we say "the Lord is my shepherd."

This Lord is a "keeper," who keeps me from all evil. Who keeps our lives, as a good shepherd keeps their sheep, carefully, watchful, bravely and faithfully.

And perhaps most meaningfully, we hear the way we are called to recall and emulate God's faithfulness. Deuteronomy 28:6 promises that our comings and goings will be blessed. There is an ancient Jewish custom to affix to their doorways the words of Israel's great proclamation, Sh'ma Yisrael. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." It is remembered each time the words of the Shema are touched at the doorway mezuzah and this blessing is both received and offered.

Imagine that. Confidence as close as the nearby hills, as close as your fingertips.

Sharada Prasad CS, Shivling and Meru Himalayan mountain peaks at sunrise Uttarakhand India, August 22, 2014, 05:53am. Used under (CC BY 2.0).

[1] See especially Anthony R. Ceresko, "Psalm 121: A Prayer of a Warrior?", Biblica, Vol. 70, No. 4 (1989), pp. 496-510.

* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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