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- [00' 00"] Psalm 121 (ESV)
- [01' 00"] A personal question: “Where does my help come from?”
- [08' 32"] A song of ascent
- [10' 10"] God as guardian
- [20' 13"] What’s troubling you?
- [22' 18"] Closing prayer
This is from the ESV version of the Bible, the English Standard Version. And it's entitled, “My help comes from the Lord”.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Nice and short.
A personal question: “Where does my help come from?”?
I remember when I was at primary school. I know it was a little while ago. But I wonder, looking at Martha and Edith particularly, I wonder whether you still have music teachers that come in once a week or every now and again? Do they? They do? Yes? So you've got a teacher, who is not really a teacher at the school, but they kind of come into your school, maybe a few hours a week, or every now and again, and you sing and you play songs and the stuff. Yes. Great. I had a teacher like that. When I was at primary school we had a music teacher, I think they called them peripatetic, they kind of moved around. A peripatetic music teacher who appeared every couple of weeks. And we would sit on the carpet, just by the piano. There’d be a whole group of us on the carpet and we learned to sing. Mr Julian, for 'twas his name; well, that's what we called him because Mr Phillips-Gorse was a bit of a mouthful for a six year-old. We would be taught some rousing hymns and songs such as, “When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old” and “Morning has broken.”
But I was also a child of the eighties and so we sung lots of songs from the sixties. He would teach us lots of Beatles' songs I remember learning, “When I'm sixty four.”. And, of course, “Help!” Now we were allowed to shout the word “Help!” when it appeared in the song and became very excited about this because our teachers were really quite strict at Brompton Infant School and we were never allowed to shout in class. So just to be able to shout one word during a song was a real treat. Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help! You know I need someone. Help! That wasn't very good, was it? Close? Thank you. I'll never make a Beatle.
Psalm one hundred twenty one begins by the writer asking a question: “Where does my help come from?” Or as Sue said earlier, “From whence does my help come?” Which is probably more of a correct interpretation.
Where does my help come from? It's a very, very personal question.
Perhaps it's a question that you have asked before. Who's going to help me do my shopping? When will I get help putting that picture up on the on the wall? I'm not feeling very well and need someone’s help to pick up that prescription. Where will my help come from?
I asked that question about fifteen years ago. I was driving to work and was keen not to be late on this very icy, snowy day. So I thought what would be a short cut down a very steep hill. Which I thought was a bus route and so therefore would have been gritted. As I slid down this long icy road which had not been treated at all, I remember having my handbrake on, my car in reverse and my foot firmly on the brake and still steadily moving forward. Moving the steering wheel ever so gently, my car started to turn. And I ended up parked in the side of a parked car.
In that moment you can imagine me being like the Psalmist, lifting my eyes up to the heavens to the hills, or perhaps more accurately rolling my eyes up in despair.
How am I going to get out of this fine mess?
Little did I know that a lady from church was travelling on a bus, on the gritted bus route. She was on the top deck and could see what was happening. A lady from church, and so she prayed.
At the same moment I spied a police car driving up the main road. And the police car actually stopped for me. They came around and said am I alright? Physically I'm fine.
Soon the police officer asked whether I felt confident driving my car to the bottom of the hill where there's this big main road. Like heck I was. And so the very kindly police officer drove the car from its position in the side of another car. Drove it down the hill and parked it safely. Where had my help come from? The police. But in that moment it felt it was heaven-sent.
Where does my help come from? My help comes from the guardian God who never sleeps, who never tires, who never turns his face away.
Where does my help come from? My help comes from the God who is right near me. Right here. Right now.
In these first two verses of the Psalm the writer is writing in the present tense. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 120, the one before it, is one of complaint, it's a bit of a moan.
Psalm 121 is about comforts and consolation.
God is aware, he is available, he is awake. Lifting our eyes heavenwards we can be satisfied that help is coming.
We know that the hills can't help because we don't know what dangers lurk in them. We know that nature can't help. But we can rely on the God who made them to come through.
This song, Psalm 121, is like a prayer. Trusting, having faith that God will come through in spite of the difficulties that life throws at us. Our confidence can be in the creator God who made the heavens and the earth, the hills and the mountains. It's the same God who, a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Psalm 8, is majestic in all the earth. The one who made children to praise God's name. The one who made the birds and the animals and put mankind on Earth to guard this wonderful creation. And yet this creator God cares about you and about me. He cares about your situation, your circumstances. And mine.
When I feel hopeless and helpless my help comes from the maker of heaven and earth.
A Song of Ascent
You might remember last time I was speaking on the Psalms, a couple of weeks ago, I explained that there are all sorts of psalms. This one is in a series called Songs of Ascent. It's a journeying Psalm. Val-dere, val-dera, with a backpack on my back, kind of thing.
Perhaps spoken or sung as a pilgrim walked towards the holy city of Jerusalem, perhaps to attend a religious festival or a celebration. This psalm may have been written as a hymn or a piece of liturgy, remembered by many people, encouraging them to know God's character. Enabling them to connect with him. And so as journeyers such questions like, “Where does my help come from?” is worth asking. Especially if they are walking through tough terrain in the heat of the day or maybe camping out in the dangerous areas in the moonlight, just waiting to be ambushed by robbers. Setting out on a journey can have its perils.
And we know that life has its dangers — physical, economic, spiritual. And yet this psalm meets us with God's protection, with God's help.
And so these first two verses are in the first person. It begins as a very, very personal query.
God as guardian
The rest of the psalm answers the question posed and declares God's identity as guard, protector or, in the ESV version, keeper. Now I chose to read from the English Standard because it repeats this particular word ‘keep’ or ‘keeper’ or ‘keeps’. The NIV uses a selection of words such as ‘watches over’.
The message speaks of God as guardian.
The ESV repeats this word keeps or keep or keepers just five to six times in five verses and, as I've said before, if there's a repeat in the Bible then I think God wants us to pick it up.
I like to explore what words mean and I'm not an ancient Hebrew scholar… yet. I've just been given a book which is about kind of that thick called — I could have read this because I keep forgetting what it is called … lost it, — an interlinear Hebrew-English Bible. Yes, most of the Old Testament, as you probably know, is written in Hebrew. In this book. There is English text written under the original Hebrew. But it doesn't actually make sense because all the words are kinda jumbled up in English and so, at the side, in the margin, you've got the English translation in English, in understandable English. I've also got a New Testament version in Greek as well and I'm very grateful to Martin for directing me to that.
What I found out in my preparation is that there is no one English word for “one watching over you” or “he will watch over” because it's kind of like one word in Hebrew and lots of words in English. Trying to read the original Hebrew in English whilst trying to make it sound poetic — got to be no easy task.
But the general feeling of this poem, this psalm, is one of blessing. The key word in verses three to eight is keep: he keeps you. And the Hebrew for this word is מָר [š·mār] meaning ‘to hedge around’, ‘to attend’, ‘to protect’, ‘to observe’, ‘to preserve’.
I don't know if anybody around here has done a night shift before, perhaps for work? Got a few nods. Yeah. As somebody who would normally be around and about in the daytime, being awake and alert, at his best at four AM is not one of my strengths. I am a late night person. A bad night watchman might be forgiven for being overcome by sleep. Especially if they just switched shifts. I've got a friend, Steve, who hates changing from day-shift to night-shift. His family hate it even more because he's like a bear with a sore head for three or four days until his body clock is adjusted. This Psalm explains that God is like a night watchman who never sleeps, who never naps, and who is always on guard.
But even more than that. There's a God who promises to keep you.
This guard sees and watches over you as you go on your life's journey, as you return home, as you go out, and as you go in, as you face the dangers of the day and of the night. This is a God who keeps his promises. Who keeps his eye on the world. Who keeps us in the shade of his wing.
This list of promises is not to suggest that those who walk in the shelter of God won't know harm. The Psalmist knows that there is danger lurking. These promises are what one commentator calls “characteristic promises”. These are the sorts of things that God does for those who rely on him.
And those words of blessing and promise evoke God's protection and our awareness of it.
These five verses, that is three, four, five, six, seven, and eight, are like a priestly blessing over and upon the traveller who asks the original question, “Where does my help come?” in verses one and two.
Our God does know how to keep. The God who neither sleeps nor slumbers. The God who will keep our feet from stumbling. It is not promising the absence of pain or failure, but he does promise to defend.
He is our keeper, our shade, our right hand. There is nowhere he is not. Even if we walk in slippery places, he will hold us and so we are encouraged. The Psalmist is encouraged that God keeps us. And, of course, our idea of being kept and God's idea of being kept might be very different. We might think of God keeping us strong or healthy or with enough money or resources now. But God might also think of our eternity as being important. That's not to say that our immediate concern or worry or fear is trivial, because it's not. We know that he is concerned with our daily lives, our activities, our going in and our going outs, the humdrum of life.
But he's also interested in our eternity, where we are going, where we are headed into that future.
And this promise at the end of the psalm is not just a promise to be kept in the present, now. It stretches beyond future and into eternity. God created heaven and earth to shade us by day and by night. The ever-present watchman who guards and keeps and observes is concerned, not only about our present, but with our future and our eternity.
The past? Well, that's in the past. We can't do anything about that. We would be well to remember, and be thankful perhaps, for what's been.
The Psalm, as a journeying psalm, moves us on. It’ a journeying psalm and we go forwards It moves us towards the holy city, to a new celebration, to a higher place to where we are now.
And so as we take each day, each hour, each moment, the God who is is present with us.
Let's take to take time to be present with him. Let’ bask in the knowledge that this creator God is mindful of you. In this moment, as you take the privilege of rest and sleep, something that he can't do, may you know that in it you are protected and watched over and kept.
May you be aware of his grace as you take that rest which he cannot have because he is God.
May he sustain you with his steadfast love.
Perhaps you have trouble resting or sleeping with things on your mind.
Whether your nights are filled with prayer or difficulty, whether they're filled with changing nappies or full of work, may you be filled with all energy and grace for that moment. In those times don't forget him. Look at him any time. In the light or in the night. He constantly keeps you. May each of us sense that peace and security that comes from being kept in God's love.
As we come to communion we remember Jesus and His disciples coming together for the final time. I would imagine that, if they’d thought about it, his friends would have taken a leaf out of somebody else's book. I'm thinking of the man mentioned in Matthew and Mark and Luke who is blind and laying at the side of the road. And Jesus is on a pilgrimage, on his way to Jerusalem. He may have even sang Psalm 121 on the way.
What we do know is that the blind man was in need of help. He needs God in so many ways and so, as he hears Jesus approaching, he shouts, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” He shouts, “Help! I need somebody!” And Jesus bends down and he says, “Friend, what do you want me to do for you?” The blind man simply says, “I want to see.” And Jesus grants him his dear wish.
What’s troubling you?
In your seats you will have seen, or by, around you, you would have seen a slip of paper entitled “What's troubling you now?”
The text on the piece of paper reads, ‘What is troubling you right now? Write something here. We will put it on the Communion Table, inviting God to come into this situation. “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” ’
As we approach the table to share in communion, you may wish to write something that is troubling you. You can bring it to the table, put it in the box. As an offering we can bring this trouble, these troubles, to the foot of the cross. We can bring what is troubling us to Jesus who is aware that we are in need. So, in a moment of silence, you might want to write your trouble, may want to fold it up and bring it, or ask somebody to bring it here, and we will, as we come to communion, we will pray about these circumstances and situations.
[The recording has a minute’s silence here]
Shall we pray?
I lift my eyes and these prayers to the Lord, to the hills. From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth.
Father God, we lift our troubles to you. We ask that you would please come and help. We are reminded of your words as you approached that blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” And we ask that you please give us rest, give us peace, sort out our troubles, as we journey with you. Lord God, we do trust you; we find it hard sometimes. Would you help us to cling to you? Would you be our help in times of trouble? We offer these to you, inviting you to work in those circumstances and situations that we have no control. Thank you for your promise that you will keep us, that you will keep our life, that you will keep our going out and our coming in. From this time forth and evermore. Amen.
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Scripture quotations marked ESV on this page and within the talk are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.