This post is a part of our series of Psalms reflections for Lent.
“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" (Ps. 121:1-2).
Psalm 121, is as Luther says, a psalm “written to exhort believers because it contains the doctrine of faith. However, faith is the recognition of things that cannot be seen and must be hoped for, things that depend on the promise of the word of God.” (Luther's Sämtliche Schriften, Vol. 4, Auslegung Des Alten Testaments; Auslegungen über die Psalmen, St. Louis Edition, Concordia Publishing house. pgs 1781).
To believe is to trust, hope in, and to rely on a promise. In the Old Testament, God promised to come to His people and to bless them where He caused His name to be remembered. When Psalm 121 was written, this very specific place was on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Amid his plight, the Psalmist did not meditate on the grandeur of the Alps or the Rockies but had directed his gaze to the hills of salvation, the mountains that hid the temple from his view. It is thought that this psalm was a pilgrimage psalm that would be sung as the mountains surrounding Jerusalem came into view. The temple is the object of his meditation and the place where the glory of God's name dwelled even when the highest heavens could not contain Him (1 Kings 8:17ff). Where God promised to be for His people, He also promised to come to them with His blessings (Ex. 20:24). It was also there on those hills of salvation in and around Jerusalem that His Son Jesus Christ died for our salvation and rose for our justification. We no longer worship Him on that mountain, but we receive His blessings in Spirit and truth wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, and the Sacraments are administered according to His Word. It is in and through these simple, tangible means of grace that He comes to us and causes His name to be remembered and His victory celebrated.
"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" (vs. 3-4).
He stands, and He vanquishes the foe so that the gates of hell cannot overtake His church
Christ is the cornerstone, the foundation, the proper footing for faith. He is the firm ground upon which to stand. He also does not let your foot be moved but allows you to stand your ground because He takes the field of battle. He stands, and He vanquishes the foe so that the gates of hell cannot overtake His church. He neither slumbers nor sleeps but sits at the right hand of the Father where His enemies become a footstool for His feet. There He intercedes on our behalf day and night. He keeps Israel, He protects the children of Abraham, and He guards the church.
"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" (vs. 5-6).
"The Lord is Your Keeper." Here the Psalmist turns from the whole to the individual. God is the keeper of Israel; Christ intercedes for the church. What is true of the church as a whole is true of the believer as an individual. Jesus Christ died for the whole world and all sinners, but had you been the only sinner in the world, He would have died for you alone. So He does not leave the individual to His own devices but sends His Holy Spirit, the Helper, to sanctify you in the forgiveness of sins. Now you will not wither as you work in His vineyard during the heat of the day, nor will the frost take you by the light of the moon. Your concerns are His concerns.
Had you been the only sinner in the world, He would have died for you alone
"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" (vs. 7-8).
What is said with the picturesque language of sun and moon is now spelled out in plain song. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. Evil is death. Not the death of the mortal body but the eternal damnation of the "second death." "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). He who can destroy both soul and body in hell is not the Evil One, but God who created hell for the Devil and his angels. He is our Lord; He is our salvation. Even in death, He keeps your life so that evil cannot overtake you. He keeps your going out, or all your cares, concerns, work, and labor done to support your body and those closest to you, from this time forth and forevermore. All the work we do, God blesses. Your coming in is the rest He gives; the same rest He blesses you with when the day is done, and the work is over. He watches us here in time and blesses our toil, and He promises these blessings for all eternity.