Do me a favor and please read Psalm 121.
Our psalm today is the second in a series of psalms of ascents that would have been sung or used as the people ascended thru the hills and into the city of Jerusalem. It’s a psalm that helps the singer find comfort as they remember that God watches over his people at all times, no matter where they are or where you go. Whereas the Baals believed that you had to wake-up your God (they were very human in their godly nature), the God of all things, Yahweh, is always watching. He didn’t rest, he didn’t hunger thus take breaks for lunch and dinner, he didn’t sleep, and he never stopped. No vacation, ho holidays, no rest…nothing but watching over his people and protecting them from all harm.
This psalm, while we don’t know who the author is, is pretty simple in its layout. Vs 1-2 are a declaration that in times of need it is only God who is called upon; vs 3-6 speak of harms and issues that can fall upon you during the day and night; and then it closes with verses 7 and 8 as the remembrance of God’s promise to keep you safe.
In essence, this is a pilgrim’s journey song of courage when fear sets in.
Maybe it’s because I listened to a LOT of NPR and maybe it’s because, for whatever reason, they are really pushing The Wizard of Oz this week (I think a new play is coming out) but all the sudden I can hear in my head “Lions, and tigers, and bears…Oh my!” As Dorothy, Tin Man, and the Scarecrow are walking through the dark forest they begin to hear noises – and those noises set in to their hearts and minds and strike fear. What’s in the forest? Who knows…but there are sounds of animals that could harm you! And when you’re in the dark forest what dark animals with sinister ways and hungry mouths could come out to eat you!? In this case, what brought them comfort was singing this song (with Dorothy’s wonderful “oh my!” that was added at the end). What started as a question with fear soon morphed into a dancing song of comfort as their singing took their minds off whatever was lurking in the shadows.
Our psalmist, and their pilgrims, just like Dorothy and her friends (but not really), are heading to a place of hope and comfort. And along the way, and outside the city of hope…the city of God…there are things that could harm them – thus they are struck with some fear. And while we don’t have a whole lot of information on this text I’m personally led to believe that they sing this BECAUSE they are fully aware of the harms that fall upon you during the day as well as night (animals, robbers, heat stroke, colds, etc). They’ve either experienced it before, seen it upon others, heard rumors, or it’s the “unknown” that they need encouragement from. And so as darkness falls or the blazing sun heats down upon their backs – their comfort is found in God. Their fear appears to be in being left alone or abandoned by God and left to the harms of the world. But they know he is always there, always watching, and always protecting. Their singing of this psalm becomes an emotionally-uplifting chant as it raises their spirits as they near the city of God.
The people of God fear that he would abandon and leave them to the terrors of this world. Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow’s fears were those things they could not see but could hear. What are your fears? And how do you push past them? Do you take a page from the Wizard of Oz and find comfort in singing with the hopes of forgetting the very fears that started your song in the first place? Or do you, like the Israelites, lean into God and draw upon his strength and promises as you sing?
I think for most of us, hopefully, we pray. We reach out to God and draw upon his peace as we talk to him, lay it out before him, and take comfort in knowing that he is not only intimately aware of our needs but he is listening to our words, our heart, and our soul. And now that I think of it there really isn’t a difference between singing and praying. As some songs ARE prayers, and some prayers ARE songs.
Whatever it is we do when in times of need for strength, we as Believers find rest in the same God the Israelites declared in Psalm 121. Our help doesn’t come from mountains or trees or rivers – they come from God. They come from the very person WHO MADE those mountains, trees, and rivers. Our peace and comfort comes from the very God who is unlike you and I and doesn’t have to succumb to human conditions like a need for sleep or rest. And no matter what happens during the day or the night our lives are “watched over” by God – both now and forevermore.
So sing, pray, even chant when you need strength! But remember that strength doesn’t come from us or our forgetting our fears while we dance along a yellow brick road. Peace, strength, and comfort, comes from the only God whose hands, eyes, and heart is over our lives.