Psalm 121 – Trusting in God’s Providential Care

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The Psalms of Ascent | Stepping Stones to God’s Heart

“Trusting in God’s Providential Care” (Psalm 121)

“My help comes from the LORD.” (Psalm 121:2)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Stepping Stones to God’s Heart,” and between New Years and Easter we are looking at the fifteen psalms (120-134) known as the Psalms of Ascent. We learned last week that these psalms were sung by those traveling to Jerusalem for the three great feasts. And so these are travel songs, songs for the road, songs for the journey of life. They are called Psalms of Ascent not only because the people were going up to Jerusalem, but because the psalms themselves lead us upwards to God in our own personal walk with the Lord. And it is in this sense that they are stepping stones to God’s heart for our journey and for our life. (Read Psalm 121:1-8 and pray.)

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We all need help at times in life. The Beatles used to sing: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” The commercial for the Lifeline product carries the tagline: “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Where do you go when you need help? Do you call on family? Friends? Dial 911?

It’s good to have a support system in place, but we need to look further than that. Because history and experience teach us that no safety plan, no insurance policy, no security system can keep you absolutely safe in this life. You can follow all the safety rules, take every precaution, exercise and eat well, and things can still go wrong.

And that’s why we need to look to God for our help. It was Ben Franklin who said, “God helps those who help themselves,” but the Scriptures teach us that God helps those who seek his help. None of us are safe until we take refuge in God. (Samuel Cox)

Psalm 121 is a psalm about trusting in God’s providential care. It is a travel Psalm. In fact many families read this Psalm out loud together before going on a trip. Devout Jews recite portions of this Psalm when they leave or enter their homes. They attach a small cylinder called a Mezuzah with some Scriptures in it (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21) to their right door frame. And whenever they leave or enter their home they touch the Mezuzah and recite Psalm 121 verses 5 and 8.

Do you need help this morning? Then this psalm is for you. This is a good one to memorize and have handy for the journey of life. Psalm 121 teaches us three big truths about God’s help and care for you. 1) The Creator is your helper. 2) The God of Israel is your protector. And then finally, 3) the LORD will keep you from all harm. Let’s look at all three of these as we learn to put our trust in God’s providence and care for our lives.

I. The Creator is your helper (1-2)

First of all, the Creator is your helper. Look at verses 1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2) These are beautiful verses of Scripture that have brought much comfort to God’s people over the years. I know many of you have quoted these verses in times of need. And they tell us several things about God and the help that he provides.

   A. Look beyond the mountains to the God who created them
      – Psalm 46:1, 90:2

First of all, they encourage us to look beyond the mountains to the God who created them. The hills in verse one are part of the argument here. Mountains are symbols of strength and stability. They are great in size, long-lasting and unchanging. The creation reflects the Creator. And so the God who made the mountains is even greater in power and strength.

The hills are also upward in direction. We tend to look down when we’re in trouble. Right? Our faces are downcast. Our focus is on our troubles and all our problems down here, and they just tend to drag us down further. But don’t look down. That’s the wrong direction! The hills are a reminder that we are to look up. You must lift your eyes to look at a mountain. But don’t stop there. Are you looking high enough? You must look beyond the mountains to the God who created them because God is higher than all.

Remember these psalms were sung by travelers on their way to Jerusalem, and it is possible they may have sung this Psalm as they were nearing the hills that surrounded Jerusalem. In that case they were not only looking up at the mountains, but they would also have been looking up towards Jerusalem and the temple, the dwelling place of God.

Psalm 46:1 tells us: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) We read in Psalm 90:2: “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2) God is bigger than the mountains and God is before the mountains. We don’t look to the mountains for our strength, but the mountains get our eyes off of our problems and lift our eyes up towards God who can help us in our time of need.

So don’t just look to the hills but look to the one who made the hills. Look past the creation to the creator. As Pastor Josh Moody writes: “Nature is not the solution … it points to the solution.” Look beyond the mountains to the God who created them.

   B. Your help comes from the Maker of heaven and earth
      – Genesis 1:1; Jeremiah 10:12

In verse one the psalmist asks “Where does my help come from?” And in verse two we get the answer: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2) Where does your help come from? Your help comes from the Maker of heaven and earth. God not only made the mountains. He made everything!

This description of God as the Maker of heaven and earth appears three times in the Psalms of Ascent: here near the beginning (Psalm 121:2), once in the middle (Psalm 124:8) and then again at the end (Psalm 134:4). Here in Psalm 121 and in 124 it designates the source of your help, and in Psalm 134 it designates the source of your blessing.

We read in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Jeremiah 10:12 says: “God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” (Jeremiah 10:12) In other words the Maker of heaven and the earth has unlimited power, wisdom and understanding. He has all the resources and more to meet your every need. He’s got the whole world in his hands. And he is your helper.

God is not only the Creator, but he is involved in his creation. The Scriptures teach us that God is involved in every aspect of his creation and that includes you. We call God’s power over all creation his providence. The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us a beautiful description of God’s providence: “God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” (Westminster Confession, V, 1)

What a difference it makes to know that the Creator of the universe is your helper and your friend! How big is your problem today? Now compare it to the Maker of heaven and earth. I think it’s safe to say, “God’s got this.” Gerald Williamson writes: “Because God controls the universe, chance is ruled out, and because it is God who controls the universe, fate is ruled out also.” We live in a world neither of chance nor fate. This is God’s world, and God’s providence means that nothing can happen to you outside of God’s will and providential care.

A husband was leaving on a trip and prayed with his wife before he left: “Dear Lord, please protect my wife and children while I’m gone.” When he finished praying his wife said, “Who do you think protects us when you’re here?” Good question!

What is the source of your help? Psalm 121 tells us it is the Maker of heaven and earth. That’s the first truth we learn from this psalm. The Creator is your helper.

II. The God of Israel is your protector (3-6)

The second truth is this: the God of Israel is your protector. Look at verses 3-6: “He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD watches over you – the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (Psalm 121:3-6) These verses teach us that God is not only the creator of the world but the protector of Israel. And he is your protector as well!

It’s important to note the name for God that is used not only in this psalm but in all fifteen of the Psalms of Ascent. He is “the LORD.” And when you see “LORD” spelled out in all capital letters like that, the Hebrew word is “Yahweh,” which is God’s covenant name. It is a name that speaks of God’s covenant relationship with his people and his faithfulness to them.

The name Yahweh in the Old Testament pointed to God’s covenant relationship with Israel. As believers in Christ you are also in relationship with the LORD. You are part of God’s covenant people, and you can trust God’s faithfulness to you in Christ. When you read the Old Testament and see how God watched out for Israel and took care of them, you can rest assured that he will do the same for you.

The key word in these next verses is the word “watches.” It comes from the Hebrew word “shamar” which means “to watch over, to guard or to protect.” This word shows up six times in verses 3-8. (In the NIV it is translated as “watches over” five times and then also translated as “keep” in verse 7.) If you are in Christ, then he who watches over Israel watches over your life as well. The God of Israel is your protector. He is your body guard. And here in verses 3-6 the psalmist tells us some of the various ways that God watches over you.

   A. He protects you from accidents
      – Psalm 37:23-24

First of all he protects you from accidents, or as verse 3 puts it: “He will not let your foot slip.” (Psalm 121:3) When you build your life on God and his word, you are on solid ground. You have a firm foundation for your feet and for your life. We read in Psalm 37: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24) There are no accidents for those who put their faith in Christ. Everything that happens in your life takes place under God’s providential care.

   B. He never slumbers nor sleeps
      – contrast 1 Kings 18:27

Secondly, God never slumbers nor sleeps. Look at verses 3-4: “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4)

This is in contrast to the pagan gods we meet in Scripture. For example in 1 Kings 18 we read about the prophets of Baal trying to reach their god. When Baal didn’t respond, Elijah teased them: “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27) The implication here is if your god is sleeping when you need him, then you don’t have much of a god, do you?

But our God is always awake. He never falls asleep on the watch. I was a night watchman back in my seminary days, and there were times when I fell asleep on my watch, but not God. He never dozes or nods off. He never even gets distracted. You can pray to him at any time and he always focuses on you and hears you.

And because God never slumbers nor sleeps – that means that you can! Because God is awake, you can sleep. It’s like a child who can’t sleep until their parent promises to stay by their bedside. Then the child trustfully falls asleep knowing their parent is there to watch over them. It’s the same way with God. It doesn’t matter what problem you’re dealing with, you can leave it in God’s hands and go to sleep at night knowing that God never slumbers nor sleeps and he will take care of it. He will take care of you.

   C. He is close beside you
      – Genesis 28:15; Psalm 16:8

God protects you from accidents. God never slumbers nor sleeps. And then thirdly, he is close beside you. Look at verse 5: “The LORD watches over you – the LORD is your shade at your right hand.” (Psalm 121:5)

The hills may be far away in the distance, but God is the shade at your right hand. He is close beside you. David wrote in Psalm 16:8: “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8) God told Jacob in Genesis 28:15: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15)

The Lord is your shade at your right hand. That means God accompanies you every step of the way. He is close beside you.

   D. He protects you at all times
      – Psalm 91:5-6

God protects you from accidents. He never slumbers nor sleeps. He is close beside you. And then fourthly, he protects you at all times. Look at verse 6: “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (Psalm 121:6)

The travelers to Jerusalem faced many dangers along the way. Sunstroke was a real danger during the day, and there were often extreme changes of temperature between day and night. The moon was associated with lunacy, also called “moonstroke.” And of course there was also the danger of bandits and wild animals at night. There were dangers both day and night on the road, but verse six assured the traveler: “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” We read something similar in Psalm 91: “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” (Psalm 91:5-6)

The Hebrew language often uses pairs of opposite words to signify totality (called a “merism”). In other words the phrase using the opposites includes both extremes and everything in between. So when we read that the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night, what this is really saying is that God protects you at all times – both day and night and everything in between. God is present to help you with every problem in your life. The God of Israel is your protector.

III. The LORD will keep you from all harm (7-8)

The Creator is your helper. The God of Israel is your protector. And then finally, the LORD will keep you from all harm. Look at verses 7-8: “The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)

Verses 1-6 were all in the present tense, describing what God does for you. Now in verses 7-8 we are given promises for the future, telling us what God will do for you. And in these verses the psalm moves from giving specific examples to one overriding general principle. The LORD will keep you from all harm. And there are several things we learn from these verses.

   A. He watches over every aspect of your life
      – Matthew 6:13; Luke 21:16-19; Romans 8:28,31,37-39

First of all, God watches over every aspect of your life. That’s what verse 7 says: “The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life.” (Psalm 121:7) The word “harm” here is a word that can mean “harm or evil.” Jesus taught us to pray something similar in the Lord’s Prayer where we ask our heavenly Father: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)

One of the daily prayers I pray for my family is: “Lord, I pray that you will protect my family today from all evil, danger, sickness and harm.” Now that’s not the only thing I pray for them. I also pray for their spiritual growth, that God would grant them victory in their fight against sin, that they would know and follow God’s will for their lives. But this prayer for protection is one of the big ones I pray for them each day. And why do I pray this way? I am praying according to Christ’s model in the Lord’s Prayer and God’s promise here in Psalm 121.

God watches over every aspect of your life. God doesn’t say you will never have problems, but he promises to be with you in your problems, and to turn all your problems to good. We have a whole string of beautiful promises in Romans 8 that assure us God is directly involved in your life and that he is for you, not against you.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Once again these verses do not teach us that you will never have problems or trouble in your life, but rather that evil will never win out, that nothing can thwart God’s purpose for your life, that nothing can separate you from God’s love for you in Christ.

We find a startling example of this in the gospel of Luke where Jesus tells his disciples: “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21:16-19) In other words even in betrayal or death the believer still comes out on top.

God is for you, and therefore no evil, no permanent harm can befall the believer in Christ. You can trust God’s providential care, because God watches over every aspect of your life.

   B. He watches over every transition in your life
      – Deuteronomy 28:6; Psalm 139:2-3

And then secondly in these verses, God watches over every transition in your life. Look at verse 8: “The LORD will watch over your coming and going.” (Psalm 121:8) This is one of the verses that devout Jews recite when they leave or enter their homes. “The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:8)

It’s usually the transitions in life that trip us up, isn’t it? Once we are safe in our routines things usually go pretty smoothly, but it’s the in-between times – the commute, the move, the change of jobs, the change of health, the change of relationships – it’s in the in-between times that we usually struggle.

Deuteronomy 28:6 says if you obey the Lord your God: “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.” (Deuteronomy 28:6) David prayed to the Lord in Psalm 139: “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:2-3)

This is another example of the Hebrew language using a pair of opposites to express totality: your comings and goings and everything in between. So it’s not just the transitions in life, God watches over all the in-betweens as well. Whether at home or school or work or away, whatever you do, wherever you go, you are safe because God is with you.

   C. He watches over you both now and forevermore
      – Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:8

And then we have the wonderful promise at the end of verse 8: “The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:8) God is watching over you now, and he will continue to watch over you forever. Both of those promises are encouraging! If you had to choose one or the other, which would you choose? Now? Or forevermore? It’s a tough choice. But praise God you don’t have to choose. They are both true for the believer in Christ!

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Hebrews 13:8 says that: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) And so God’s promise to watch over you in Christ is true today; it is true tomorrow; it is true forevermore.

The Creator is your helper. The God of Israel is your protector. The LORD will keep you from all harm. And so we move from God as Creator of heaven and earth, to God as protector of Israel, to God as your personal Lord and Savior who projects you from all evil and harm.

CONCLUSION: We are on a journey to God, and Psalm 121 is a wonderful song for the journey. The Maker of heaven and earth watches over every aspect of your life. He protects you from all harm. There are no accidents for those who belong to God.

And that means you do not need to worry or to be afraid of anything. Nothing can happen to you without God’s knowledge. Nothing can harm you under his protective care. Even the worst things that happen to you – whether illness, loss or even death – all these things take place under God’s providential care. God is for you, not against you. He is committed to your good, and you can trust him in all things.

So take comfort in this. Learn to trust God in all things and to look for the good in all the details of life. God cares for you. He will provide for you. He is there to help you. “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)

© Ray Fowler

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