Reflections on Pastor Robbie’s Psalm 121 Message
By Joey Fernandez
People love watching movies about journeys. It’s hard to imagine that a simple story of how one can go from one place to another can sell like hotcakes and be remembered for a long time. But then, whose heart was not gripped by the travels of the Hobbits in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings? Whose eye remained dry when they watched dramatic stories of how a dog found his way home? What makes the journey engaging are the dangers encountered along the way which builds up to a teary-eyed ending. The story is so captivating, that
sometimes, it compels you to watch the movie again and again.
Now, here we are on a journey called COVID-19, where we all travel together. Not all of us will have exciting episodes. I sincerely hope that you have uneventful journeys, enjoying the comforts of home, protected, and provided for, relishing the company of your family while waiting for the danger to pass. However, some of us might have more exciting events than others. I pray that none of you will succumb to the virus or encounter impossible difficulties. Sadly, none of us knows what lies ahead. Like all journeys, the unexpected may just happen, and as difficult as it is to accept, only God knows how it will end.
I pray that we will all be encouraged by Psalm 121 which is described as a song of Ascents: a pilgrim psalm that the people of Israel sang as they journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast. It gave hope to God's people then and it also gives hope to us, God’s pilgrims today as we journey in this life.
The LORD the Keeper of Israel.
A Song of Ascents.
 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
 My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
 He will not allow your foot to slip;
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 will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
 The LORD will *protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
 The LORD will *guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
[v 1-2] Many of the Psalms of Ascents burst with joy and hope. In fact, this Psalm begins with a shout of hope when it says: "I lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come"? This question was not raised in the hope of searching for an answer. Nor was it meant to start with an expression of doubt. Far from it. It begins with a display of confidence as the psalmist himself answers with: "My help comes from God who made heaven and earth". Some of us face challenges this way. I know I do. When sometimes, I am faced with so many seemingly insurmountable tasks, I ask myself: How am I going to accomplish all these? When an avalanche of unexpected but necessary expenses fall upon me, I ask again: Where am I going to get the money to pay for all these? I am challenging myself to approach the problem the biblical way: with confidence that help would come from God, who made heaven and earth by just saying the word. Confidence in God who has the power and wisdom to create a majestic heaven and a beautiful earth is well founded and those who hold on to this truth will never be disappointed. If you are looking for strength in times of uncertainty, this is the Psalm to go to.
God's protection over His people is the theme of this Psalm. A dictionary defines “keeper” as someone who looks after something or someone. Hollywood goes deeper by saying that a keeper is someone who loves you deeply and wants to be with you forever, hence the term "for keeps". The Hebrew Bible uses the term shamar which means, one who watches, guards, and preserves. It also suggests being responsible for someone. All these definitions come together to form the definition that suits the living God. How reassuring it is to read that the all-wise, all-powerful, and merciful God watches over us and preserves us, loves us deeply and wants to be with us forever!
[v3-4] He is no earthly watcher. Many establishments were broken into because the guards were not alert. We watch movies of prisoners who wait for the right time and escape when their guards have fallen asleep. Our Keeper neither slumbers nor sleeps. He is always awake and alert. A Watcher like this needs no rest because He does not tire. He is the source of limitless strength and wisdom. This should give us the confidence to pray to Him for direction to manifest His strength and wisdom even more. This was Israel's confidence. God’s watchful eye was upon them. As they went on their journey, they were aware of the dangers that lay on their way, but God watched over them and directed their every step. (Pr 16:9; Pr 3:6; Ps 119:105; Ps 37:23; Isaiah 30:21)
[v5-6] The protection that God gives does not end as He watches over us. A better reassurance is that he walks beside us on our journey. True, sometimes, one travels faster when he is alone, but the journey is not as burdensome when you have someone by your side. It is difficult, not to mention dangerous to take an evening stroll alone. Can you imagine hiking on a long, rocky mountain trail all by yourself? A long and dangerous solo drive could turn into a delightful trip when someone sits in the passenger’s seat. Somehow, the thought of walking with a friend by your side emboldens you to face the dangers along the way. What a comfort for us to know that God walks with us on our journey. When the long road becomes rough and steep, Christ, our friend walks by our side to give us the boldness that we need to overcome life’s challenges, while allowing us to enjoy the wonders he has placed along the way. Would you fear anything if He walks beside you? Here is what you must do to be certain: obey the command to walk with God. (Dt 5:33; Micah 6:8; Ps 119:105; Ep 2:10; Ga 5:16)
[v7-8] What does God protect us from? The passage lists only a few as examples: A slipping of the foot and the heat of the sun. But a simple slip of the foot along the mountainous path could result to a debilitating injury. Walking under the sweltering heat of the sun during the day could have caused some of them to pass out. The cold night that followed could have been worse. The joy of coming before the Lord in worship could have been quickly replaced by terror as a band of robbers swooped upon them by night. So many dangers, and yet, in faith, the Psalmist declared: “The Lord guards your going out and your coming in”. This involves not just the major challenges, but even the minor daily activities of your life. You can be assured of His providence as you face a life changing job interview or board exam, but you can also be certain of His protection during your short jeepney ride to school or work. (2 Thes 3; Ps 34:7; Is 41:10; Ps 23; Dt 31:6; Pr 18:10; Ps 32:7; Na 1:7; Is 43:2)
This does not mean that no danger will fall upon you. But God will give you the means to overcome any of these dangers. If He allows the danger to occur, it may hurt us, but remember that God is our shelter. Trust that it will all turn out for your good. Your faith will grow as you see His mighty hand at work. King David encountered many dangers, discouragements, and bouts of helplessness, but the Lord turned them all into psalms of praise which encourage many of the weary today. Even if you pray for protection, danger could still fall upon you. For those who go through it, I pray that you will come out of it victorious and have a beautiful story to tell in the end. Take courage and know that God's providence is certain. God’s watchful eye is ever upon you. So, fear not, you are not alone in this journey. Remember who walks beside you.