Psalm 121

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 25, 2004


Sometimes fear can paralyze us.  We are afraid to even move because of all the things that could go wrong. We make up all kinds of excuses why we can’t do anything, mostly because of fear:

What if I lose my job and we lose the house?

What if the person I love rejects me?

What if you find yourself at an airport and just, for curiosity’s sake, stick your head inside the door of the airplane and just barely get it out before the door closes, but your tie might get caught in the door, causing you to be dragged up into the air and halfway across the country, choking and gagging the whole way, until the tie finally rips in half and you plunge 50,000 feet, eventually crashing through the roof of a barn and landing softly in a pile of hay, but then the farmer might sue you for property damages, and since you don’t have that kind of money, you’ll have to work on his farm as an indentured servant for the next twelve years. Well, it might happen.

Some of our fears are more real than others, but the truth is we can miss out on a lot of life simply because of fear.

Psalm 121 is a song about dealing with fear.

Psalm 121 – The Sleepless God

A Song of degrees.

degreesma‘alah – what comes up, step; ascent; NASB says “A Song of Ascents”.

We are now in a group of fifteen songs (Ps. 120-134), all of which have this “song of degrees” in the title.

Some have suggested that the title has to do with the music, that perhaps the melody for these songs were sung on higher notes.

Others have suggested that the fifteen songs are related to the fifteen steps in the Temple that a person would climb as they are going from the outer courts to the inner courts. The problem with this is that some of these songs were written by David, and would have been written before the Temple was built.

Most scholars think that these were the songs of pilgrims. Three times a year the Israelites were to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. These were the songs they’d sing as they made their way up the hill from Jericho to Jerusalem. For the most part the songs are short, just the kind of song you’d like to sing as you are breathing hard from making your way up a hill.

:1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

hillshar – hill, mountain

This was thought to be the song that people would sing when they first caught a glimpse of Mount Zion, where Jerusalem was and they made their way up the hill.

The verse ends in a question. Where does your help come from?

Keep in mind, the psalmist is not looking to the hills expecting that the hills are going to help him. The Bible says,

(Jer 3:23 KJV) Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.

:2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.


Where is your help coming from?

Sooner or later we all need help. Sooner or later life gets too tough for us.
It might be in a relationship that has gone sour.
It might be with financial troubles that are too big.
It might be in facing death.
Where do you turn to for help?
Sometimes we look to the wrong things like alcohol, drugs, or sex.
Sometimes we look to good things like friends, but even friends aren’t going to be able to solve all your problems.
God wants us to learn to turn to Him for help.
Even when it looks like we “have it handled” and life isn’t so tough, we still need to turn to God for help.
“I need to remember that my “help cometh from the Lord” not only when seemingly there is no outward help from men or otherwise, but also and especially when all seems to go well with me, —when abundance of friends and help are at hand. For then, surely, I am most in danger of making an arm of flesh my trust, and thus reaping its curse; or else of saying to my soul, "Take thine ease", and finding the destruction which attends such folly.” —Alfred Edersheim.
(Heb 13:5-6 NASB) Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," {6} so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT SHALL MAN DO TO ME?"

:3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:

suffernathan – grant, permit

to be movedmowt – a shaking, wavering

(Psa 121:3 NASB) He will not allow your foot to slip

Keep in mind that the pilgrims are making their way up the mountain. Perhaps they are concerned with the steps they’re making.  Perhaps they’re worried about slipping and falling.

This is a pretty “sure” statement.  Does this mean that none of the pilgrims ever had any problems? And if any of the pilgrims ever had a problem …


Does God make mistakes?

Leo and Sam exited and locked the car in a hurry, forgetting to remove the key, which was in the ignition. Realizing the mistake, Leo asked, “Why don’t we get a coat hanger to open it.” “No, that won’t work” answered Sam. “People will think we’re trying to break in.” So Leo suggested, “What if we use a pocket knife to cut around the rubber, then stick a finger in and pull up the lock?” “No,” said Sam. “People will think we’re too dumb to use a coat hanger.” “Well,” sighed Leo, “we’d better think of something fast. It’s starting to rain, and the sun roof is open!”
I think that sometimes we wonder if God isn’t a little forgetful or perhaps He just doesn’t see all that’s going on.
How can we reconcile this bold statement with the fact that we do go through difficult times?
Daniel and the Lion’s Den

Daniel had a reputation for doing what was good and right.

(Dan 6:4 NLT)  Then the other administrators and princes began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling his affairs, but they couldn't find anything to criticize. He was faithful and honest and always responsible.

These guys didn’t like Daniel, so they tricked the king to make a law saying that it was illegal to pray to anyone but the king.  Daniel knew about the law but decided it was more important to pray, so he still prayed.

He ended up spending the night with the lions. Did God make a mistake?

(Dan 6:19-23 KJV) Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. {20} And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? {21} Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. {22} My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. {23} Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.

I don’t think God made a mistake.

Other people who trusted the Lord and went through difficult times: Joseph in Egypt, David being chased by Saul, Jesus Christ dying on a cross.

“A few years ago I met an old professor at the University. Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said a with funny twinkle in his eyes: ‘I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.’
“This is the great conversion in life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for His return.”

-- Henri J. Nouwen, Out of Solitude, (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1974).

We get to thinking that God has made mistakes when look at the wrong things.
The writer of Psalm 73 had been spending time thinking about wicked people and how prosperous their lives were. He wrote,

(Psa 73:2 KJV) But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.

The important thing is to keep your eyes on the Lord, not on people.

Are there things in your life that you think were “mistakes”?
God wants us to trust Him. Take Him at His Word. He doesn’t make mistakes.
We don’t need to be afraid of taking steps if God is helping you.

:4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel

keepethshamar – to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life

This same word is translated “keep” three times (vs. 3,4,5)

It will also be used three more times, but translated as “preserve” (vs. 7,7,8)

Jacob (also known as “Israel”) used this same word:

Ge 28:20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,

:4 shall neither slumber nor sleep.


God never sleeps

When our son David was very little, like a year and a half, he had a high fever one night and went into a convulsion.  It was probably one of the scariest thing that’s ever happened to us.  We called the paramedics, they took him to the hospital, and worked to get his fever down.  When the kids are sick, it’s kind of hard to sleep.  It’s like that when you love your kids.
Sometimes we get problems or crises that happen in our lives and we say have a hard time sleeping because of all the fear and anxiety.  Who’s going to take care of this problem?
God is.  And He’s always on duty.
He never sleeps, and that means that you can find peace and sleep.
A number of years ago Captain D. commanded a vessel sailing from Liverpool to New York, and on one voyage he had all his family with him on board the ship. One night, when all were quietly asleep, there arose a sudden squall of wind, which came sweeping over the waters until it struck the vessel, and instantly threw her on her side, tumbling and crashing everything that was moveable, and awakening the passengers to a consciousness that they were in imminent peril. Everyone on board was alarmed and uneasy, and some sprang from their berths and began to dress, that they might be ready for the worst. Captain D. had a little girl on board, just eight years old, who, of course, awoke with the rest. “What’s the matter?” said the frightened child. They told her a squall had struck the ship. “Is father on deck?” said she. “Yes; father’s on deck.” The little thing dropped herself on her pillow again without a fear, and in a few moments was sleeping sweetly in spite of winds or waves.

Fear not the windy tempests wild,

Thy bark they shall not wreck;

Lie down and sleep, O helpless child!

Thy Father’s on the deck.

"The Biblical Treasury", 1873.

A weary Christian lay awake one night trying to hold the world together by his worrying, Then he heard the Lord gently say to him, “Now you go to sleep, Jim; I’ll sit up.

-- Ruth Bell Graham, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, p. 44.

If you’re going to stay up all night worrying, do something useful and pray.  Talk to the “Night Watchman” on duty.  That’s what Jesus did.
(Luke 22:39-46 KJV)  And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. {40} And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. {41} And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, {42} Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. {43} And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. {44} And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. {45} And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, {46} And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

Jesus seems to have struggled with knowing that He was going to the cross and die.  And yet as He prayed He was reassured that it wasn’t a mistake.  It was something He needed to do.  He would die for our sins.

:6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

smitenakah – (Hiphil) to smite, strike, attack and destroy

Some of the old commentaries claim that sailors at sea are warned about sleeping on deck at night under a full moon because they could be struck with “moonstroke” and go insane. The Latin word for “moon” is “luna”, and that’s where we get the word “lunatic”.

I don’t think he’s saying that the sun and moon are going to hurt you. He’s saying that we don’t need to be afraid of anything in the daytime or the nighttime because God is watching us.

:8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in


God’s protection

The road to Jerusalem from Jericho was filled with many dangers. When Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, the setting was on the road to Jerusalem, a place where there were robbers to jump the travelers.
God promises to protect His people.
(Isa 27:2-3 KJV) In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. {3} I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
(Isa 41:10 KJV)  Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
(Isa 41:17-18 KJV)  When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. {18} I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
(Isa 43:1-2 KJV)  But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. {2} When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Sometimes God protects us by keeping us out of trouble.
Sometimes God protects us by taking us through the trouble.
King Nebuchadnezzar had an ego problem.  One day he made a ninety-foot tall statue of himself and demanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down to it whenever the band played their music.  Three young men decided that they couldn’t bow to the statue and when the music played, they stayed on their feet.  Nebuchadnezzar got mad and threatened to throw them into a burning furnace of fire.  They replied,

(Dan 3:17-18 NKJV)  "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. {18} "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."

Did God keep them from getting thrown into the furnace?  No.

But God protected them while they were in the furnace.

God wants us to learn to trust Him.
Not always understanding, but still trusting.
Not always seeing what’s up ahead, but still trusting.
(Heb 11:6 KJV) But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
A long time ago there was a little old lady that used to go to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. She was 4’11” and was in her nineties. She had a ministry of traveling around the country speaking and encouraging churches. She drove an old, old Cadillac. When she was speaking in a church in Texas, a fellow came up to her at the end of the service and told her that he owned a fleet of tow trucks and service stations across the country. He gave her his card and offered free auto service anywhere she went. If she had any trouble all she had to do was call him and he’d send out someone to help her. She handed him back the card and said “thank you” but “no”. She knew there might be times when she would call and get a busy signal or perhaps the fellow wouldn’t be home. She had learned to trust in the Lord to take care of her.  He was always there to help. And she intended to keep on trusting in the Lord.
Now the practical side of me shudders when I hear that story. I think, “What would it hurt to keep that card?”  But I have to admit that I don’t think the problem lies with the little old lady. The problem lies with me and my reluctance to trust the Lord like that.
When are a person’s choices in life reckless and presumptuous and when are they faith? I’m not sure I always know the answer to that. But I do know when I’m trusting the Lord and when I’m not.
Are you trusting Him today?