This is the second Song of Ascents and it is one of the best loved of them all. I have divided my discussion into two parts. Thus, this time I have written about the first two verses. The concluding six verses are discussed in another article.
A Statement or a Question?
This psalm answers the question, from “where does my help come?”
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
Some versions of the Bible translate this verse as a statement. Yet others, like the NIV, above, present it as a question. I prefer the translation as a question; otherwise the two verses can sound contradictory:
My help comes from the mountains;
My help comes from the Lord.
The Beautiful Mountains
I absolutely love mountains. Large or small, a mountain is beautiful to me. In the NIV the term “hills” is used, but in many other translations, “mountains” are mentioned here. Mountains and hills were safe places for people in the ancient world. Battles could easily be lost on the plains. In the mountains, however, people found protection behind rocks and above cliffs. Watchmen could observe the enemy from a further distance, giving people more time to prepare for a conflict. The castles of Europe were like small mountains and they provided much of the same help to villagers of the plain. So, the psalmist looks to the hills and asks, where does my help come from? Naturally, the mountains provided much help, but they could also provide a temptation.
In ancient Israel, the mountains and hills represented a great spiritual danger, as well. While the Jews were commanded to follow no other god but the One True God and to worship neither images nor idols (the first two of the Ten Commandments), they often were tempted to pursue the pagan gods. As this makes no sense to us given their history and relationship with God, we should try to view this from their perspective.
The ancient Hebrews primarily lived off the land, and good growers try new techniques to generate more crops. Farming was not easy (neither now, nor then), and even when a farmer did everything right, he couldn’t control the weather. Thus, when pagan neighbors practiced rituals and proclaimed guaranteed agricultural achievement, the hard working farmer would be faced with temptation.
Since the farmer felt bound to his land, it was hard to leave his fields with his hired workers while he ventured to Jerusalem for more than a week. But, the pagan altars were not as far as the Temple. So the enticement of ascending to these “high places” was strong. He might even have said in his heart, “I will go to worship the Lord, there, but I won’t believe in the pagan gods.” And, thus, compromise would have entered his heart.
This psalm encouraged the pilgrim to find help, not in the mountains (of which there are many), but in the Lord (of whom there is only One) who created the mountains (and everything, else). The psalmist directed the hearer’s gaze toward the Lord. And his words speak to us today: directing our attention toward the Creator of the universe.
From where does our help come?
If we considered the various sources of help that we know, we could compose a list that might include the following:
• Friends and neighbors
• Bank and creditors
• Physicians and therapists
But no matter what or who might be a resource for our needs, we must continue to look to God. He IS the source of all that we have and need. Remember what Paul declared to the Philippian church, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).” Notice that the Scripture promises help with our NEEDS and not all that we WANT. I write this during a financial crisis in which many people have stopped chasing after their WANTS, and yet, there remains prevalent doubt that God will meet even our needs.
Imagine that the ancient Hebrew pilgrim would recite this psalm on his journey. As he would pass places of pagan worship, he could remember these words and they would help him continue in his mission. By the end of his journey, he would look to the mountains of Jerusalem and declare,
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
And we, too, need to remember, that God, who is on heaven’s throne, IS our provider and our protector. If we find ourselves tempted to trust in anything else (whether it is something standard like our jobs or our families or something sinful, dishonest or even criminal) more than trusting in our Heavenly Father, then we need to remember the words of Jesus:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33)
One great difference between pagans and us is that we choose to run after Jesus rather than chase our desires and wants. Take a moment to evaluate the direction in which you are currently running. Then, you should breathe Psalm 121:1, 2 back to God in prayer. You may put them in your own words, if you like. Here’s an example:
“I look to my wallet, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of everything!”
Now, pray in your own manner, remembering from where your help really comes. Add in your prayer the following points:
• Worship and praise God in spite of difficulties…God has not changed, even if our circumstances have;
• Confess sins and weaknesses to God; continue in an attitude of confession and repentance, daily, and ask for His strength;
• Remembering that our help comes from the Lord, ask of God what you need. Ask Him on behalf of others also.
• Protection: especially ask God for wisdom and discernment to make good daily decisions. Ask for his help before temptations attack and to keep you safe from evil.
• Give thanks for all God has done for you, and for hearing your prayer. Along with thanksgiving, ask Him to help you be content in any and all circumstances. Praise Him, again.