Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121 is a pilgrim Psalm. It was sung by those who made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast days in the temple. Reference is made here to the hills. These are the hills of the holy city. Jerusalem was built on seven hills, the temple being on one of them, Mt. Zion. In turn, Jerusalem was situated on the highest elevation of Canaan, so that the holy city and the temple could be seen for miles around. And when the pilgrims came into view of temple, they sang this Psalm, the theme of which is found in the first two verses: I will lift (literally, I am lifting) up mine eyes to the hills….”
It is also very important that we too lift up our eyes to the hills as we begin yet another year. As the people of God we are on the same journey that the pilgrims of old made when they went to the house of God in Jerusalem. This is not a journey we make just occasionally or on the Lord’s Day. It is a lifelong journey. Last year we were on that journey, and this year we will continue it. As we make our way on this journey, it is important that we lift up our eyes to the hills, from whence comes our help.
That will express a great longing that we must have this year.
It will also express a trusting reliance that we must have this year.
This pilgrim song expresses first of all a great longing, a longing to be with the Lord in His house.
The temple was God’s dwelling place. God is everywhere present and is not confined to buildings made with men’s hands. Yet, in the cloud of glory, God was present in a very special sense in the temple, so that it was His dwelling place.
God dwelt in the temple as Israel’s covenant God. The whole idea of the covenant is suggested by the name LORD. “LORD” is used in the KJV for “Jehovah.” And “Jehovah” is God’s covenant name. As Jehovah, God had chosen Israel to be His covenant people. In the covenant, Jehovah delighted to live with and bless Israel with all that was good. Israel enjoyed the blessings of God’s covenant especially at the temple. At the temple, God dwelt symbolically in the cloud of glory. At the temple were the altar and the blood of atonement, which was the only basis to approach God and find His blessings. At the temple was the priest, who brought Israel symbolically into the very house of God to receive the blessings of God.
And so the true people of God in the Old Testament found it their delight to go up to the house of God.
That delight and longing is expressed here in this Psalm. As the hills of the holy city came into view, the pilgrims sang, “I am lifting up mine eyes unto the hills.” This was an expression of longing to enter into the house of God once more to enjoy the covenant blessings of His love and fellowship.
This is the longing of every true child of God and must also be ours.
The pilgrims who sang this Psalm serve as a picture of every true child of God who in this life is on a pilgrimage to the temple of God.
Jerusalem and its temple are pictures in Scripture of heaven. The Bible speaks of heaven as the New Jerusalem, as the city of God, as the temple or sanctuary not made with hands. All this indicates that Jerusalem and the earthly temple were only pictures of a heavenly temple in which God will dwell with His people in Jesus Christ in perfect fellowship and friendship.
Every true child of God in this life is on a pilgrimage to that heavenly temple. He is redeemed in the blood of Christ from all his sin and thus enjoys the beginning of God’s blessing in Jesus Christ in this life. But nonetheless, the fullness of God’s blessing and fellowship await him in the heavenly temple. And so his life is a pilgrimage. This world is not his home. His dwelling place is in heaven. He is only passing through. His eyes are lifted up in longing to the hills. He longs for the time that he can stand in the courts of God’s heavenly temple.
Let this also be our life and perspective in this new year.
Let us not focus attention on the treasures and pleasures of the earth but lift our eyes heavenward in eager expectation and longing for the heavenly courts of the Lord.
And let this reflect itself in all our living. A true pilgrim, who is only passing through this wicked world to his heavenly home, does not live as the world lives, does not talk as the world talks, does not dress as the world dresses, does not seek the world’s entertainment culture. His life, conversation, dress, and culture all reflect the longing of his heart and the destination of his life. He is heaven bound. He is eager to enter into the courts of God’s heavenly temple.
Let that be us in this new year and every year.
Only then do we show ourselves to be the redeemed in Jesus Christ.
The pilgrim song we are considering also expresses trust and reliance on the Lord.
The psalmist confesses that the Lord is his help.
The psalmist raises a question, From whence comes my help? His answer? My help comes from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
The word “help” has the idea of surrounding someone, with the purpose of defending him.
This is close to the idea that the Lord is our Keeper, which is repeated several times throughout the Psalm. This emphasizes that the Lord is the One who guards, watches, and preserves His people.
In the Old Testament the Lord was Israel’s Keeper from the vantage point of His temple. The Lord is viewed here as being all-powerful. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. His dwelling place is on the mountains, a symbol of strength. From the height and strength of His holy mountain, the Lord was the Helper and Keeper of His people. He preserved and helped His people in the land of Canaan in the face of all her enemies that posed a constant threat to Israel’s existence and to the covenant that Jehovah God had with her. He also preserved and helped His people as they made their pilgrimages to His house.
And the pilgrims who sang this Psalm confessed that they relied upon this help of the Lord. They confessed that their help came from the Lord. And thus they lifted up their eyes to the hills expecting God’s help and protection.
We must do the same in this new year.
The pilgrimage we are on to the heavenly house of the Lord is perilous, fraught with danger. The devil and the powers of darkness do not want us to reach the destination of our pilgrimage. They hate the Lord our God and His covenant. They seek to destroy the work of God by destroying our faith and the work that God has begun in us. Many are their methods, which we will again encounter in this year. They will distract us with the allurements of sin’s pleasures. They will oppose us as we continue our pilgrimage, thereby to intimidate or discourage us. In times of adversity the devil seeks to work bitterness and rebellion in our soul.
So as we continue our pilgrimage this year we must lift our eyes to the hills, that is, heavenward, where the Lord our God dwells.
We need His help. Of ourselves we cannot overcome the resistance of the powers of darkness. Left to ourselves, we would quickly be overcome. We need the help of someone greater than we, greater than the powers of darkness. Our help comes from the Lord, which made the heavens and the earth. The one who made the heavens and the earth is more powerful than those that oppose us. If He will help, we are safe.
And He will help us. He is our covenant God. As our covenant God He has provided for us a place in His eternal house in heaven. He has done that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Mediator. As our covenant God He will also provide us safe passage through this life, so that we reach our eternal destination. He will do that in His providence, limiting the powers of darkness through the events of history. He will do that by the Word and Spirit, strengthening us so that we may resist the wiles and attacks of the powers of darkness.
Let us in this new year remember this, so that we are not afraid.
Lift up our eyes to the hills, through prayer and seeking His Word, to find the help of our great God.