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I lift up my eyes to the hills

Notes & Transcripts

Climbing

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—

where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 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.

7 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 for evermore.

Do you ever quarrel over what TV programme you will watch?  A few weeks ago my wife and I had as usual sat down to our evening meal pretty much to the accompaniment of the six o clock news – but recently she had taken to switching channels before the local news  to watch “Extreme Dreams” and I had been obliged to watch them battling up the slopes of a volcano in the Atacama dessert.

Most readers of this psalm will think that the author is wondering if his help comes from the hills. Perhaps the prospect of Jerusalem where the pilgrims are heading suggests to him that his strength comes from there?  I want to suggest that he may be looking to the hills with apprehension.  How am I going to make it?  As someone who is notoriously unfit and overweight the thought of even climbing one of our local hills Crook Peak doesn’t appeal any more.  How can I possibly climb it?

In support of my view that the psalmist is anxious about the climb I point out that he goes on to hear a second voice in verses 3-8

3 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.

7 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 for evermore.

This voice speaks about feet slipping (3) the hot sun and the moonlight night – “all harm” (7) and the difficult pilgrimage of “coming and going” (8)

Life can be an uphill struggle.

This morning I have a very simple thought for you :  We may feel that we do not have the strength for what lies before us – but our Lord provides an inner strength that will make it possible for us to cope with the hills of life.

The pilgrims chant this psalm as they approach Jerusalem.  (Indeed I am told that Hebrew passengers sing it as they descend in an aircraft to Jerusalem!   I guess to them it is a psalm of DESCENT!) The Psalm is full of God’s watchfulness.   All the way He watches over me!

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—

where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

In order to expand this thought I want to remind you of three people who climbed up in the strength of God:

·        Climbing for the last time (Moses) 

·        Climbing into enemy territory (Jonathan and his armour bearer) 

·        Climbing to the place of prayer (Elijah)



MOSES – climbing for the last time    Deut 32:48  33:27

48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

….

27 The eternal God is your refuge,

and underneath are the everlasting arms.

It is immensely hard for us to understand how Moses felt about this.   So many great things had happened to him on the mountains of Sinai – but now he must make his last climb – and the mountain stretches before him.

From there he will view the land – but never enter it.    

Will this sour Moses’ relationship with God?

And yet – whilst still looking away to that mountain and knowing all he does about what it means for him – he is able to leave behind a series of blessings in Chapter 33, including those beautiful lines in the promise to Jeshurun:-

27 The eternal God is your refuge,

and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Moses does not harbour resentment in his heart as he approaches his final climb. He has taken time to prepare Joshua his successor.   Moses has a relationship with God that transcends this final disappointment.  He understands the reasons.  But still he has to make this final ascent – to climb for the last time.   How must he have felt?

Whatever our circumstances just now – facing whatever uphill struggle – He who made heavens and earth is the one who provides the SUFFICIENT STRENGTH.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my strength come from?

JONATHAN climbing into enemy territory   1 Sam 14:7-

7 “Do all that you have in mind,” his armour-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

8 Jonathan said, “Come, then; we will cross over towards the men and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.”

11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armour-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armour-bearer, “Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”

13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armour-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armour-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armour-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Throughout history there have been conspicuous acts of bravery.  I’m sure it happens in Afghanistan as I speak.  Jonathan and his armour-bearer make their assault up a steep ravine in the sure knowledge that the enemy is waiting for them at the top.

It seems reckless.  It is a climb into conflict.

And what makes that attack possible?

Jonathan tells us, as he speaks to his armour-bearer:

“Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.”

This hill is steeper but closer – it is rough and inclined – it needs to be approached on hands and feet.

Here is true leadership – for whereas the armour-bearer would normally precede the officer – this time the positions are reversed. 

“Climb up after me. . .”

A new venture – a requirement for leadership – a daring assault – these are the qualities which mark such a climb.

Where does my strength come from?  

the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.

ELIJAH – Climbing to the place of prayer  1 Kings 18:41

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look towards the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ ”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. 46 The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

This is the challenge of prayer.   It is what James refers to when he tells us about Elijah:-

17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

I admit to it – prayer is difficult, prayer is hard.  Real prayer addresses God in the presence of a seemingly hopeless situation and persists.

Elijah has had a mountain top experience on Carmel – but it was not at the summit.

That stretched before him still.

God had answered with fire – Elijah’s prayer then had been answered – but there was another prayer still needed – and this demanded an effort like that of Jonathan – an ongoing plea with God for the promised rain as the hard blue sky stretches every which way across the Mediterranean.

Elijah was a man like us … and he prayed … and he prayed again…

Seven times he sends his servant to see if there is any sign of a coming storm.

Until finally a tiny cloud the size of a man’s hand appears – and Elijah realises the prayer is ended – the rain is coming!

Elijah already stands on the high ground – but not quite at the summit. There is another climb to be made – another effort required.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from where does my help come?

How often life seems like that – a climb that seems to offer on its horizon the summit of achievement – only to realise that another rise is to be climbed!

Where does the strength come from that enables that further resolve – that further effort to claim what God has promised?

God gives the strength – in the same way that he gave Elijah the strength to outrun Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel. . .

I do not know what challenge greets you in your life this morning.

I do not know what effort is being demanded of you to scale a new height or achieve a new goal.

But I do know that the only source of strength to climb is in God Himself.

The mountain challenge rises before me – but God made it all especially that which is over and above these mountains – and He always helps me!

2 My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

Above the hill – the mountain – the obstacle is what God has made, and over which He has power and control.

2 My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

Keep climbing – for He who made the hills and mountains made the heaven and the earth!

MY HELP COMES FROM THE LORD WHO MADE HEAVEN AND EARTH!

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