Tuesday, November 7, 2017

I Will Lift My Eyes to the Hills (Psalm 121)

Psalm 121 is a Psalm of ascents, thought to be sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem for annual festivals. Jerusalem stands on a hill between the coastal plain and the Jordan River valley, so traveling from any direction toward Jerusalem required looking up to the hills.
Being a pilgrim has often been used as a metaphor for Christians passing through our earthly life. Hebrews calls us “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (11:13), with no “lasting city” (13:14).  
Our year in Switzerland was like a pilgrimage with no “lasting city.” The hills we saw daily, however, were a continuous reminder that God’s presence was constant and solidly reassuring, like Psalm 121.  

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
 where does my help come from?           
On the way to many of our destinations in Switzerland, we would round a curve in the road, emerge from a dark fir-lined forest, and feast our eyes on the scene pictured below. These are the incredibly beautiful Bernese Alps seen in the distance. In fact, this scene was visible to my wife Esther every day on her commute to work. It never got old, even though she grew up in Switzerland.

            Psalm 121 was also Esther’s parents’ favorite passage. The mountains were as much a part of them as the mountains were part of the scenery. They were so proud to show me their beauty when I made my first visit to their homeland. They were buried for their eternal rest in the shadow of their beauty.

View from parents-in-law's graves.

            Indeed, seeing the mountains’ rock hard-sturdiness that withstood the ravages of the ages, gave Esther and me confidence to go through whatever we had to face on a daily basis. For us they definitely answered the question: “Where does my help come from?”

My help comes from the Lord,
 the Maker of heaven and earth.
             The Lord, who helps us, is also the Maker of heaven and earth. It is hard to find a place in Switzerland where God’s creation is not in full display. Some of the most magnificent displays of nature in the world are packed into a very small land area the size of the state of West Virginia. Through God’s magnificent creation, we were reminded of God’s glory and presence at every turn.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
            Switzerland is replete with hiking trails. Hiking is one of the most popular activities of the Swiss. Because of twists and turns, steep inclines and descents, is easy to slip while hiking the many trails through the mountains, even if they are well maintained.  Being assured of God’s presence while on such treks is essential. Unfortunately, too often there are reports of serious injuries and even deaths from hikers who have slipped.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel
 will neither slumber nor sleep.
            Our pilgrimage to Switzerland did not include sleeping in the wild exposed to the whims of nature. Even so, we needed to feel assured of God’s abiding presence during our sleeping hours.

The Lord watches over you—
 the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
 nor the moon by night.
            When hiking in the Alps the sun seemed to be fiercer than in the lowlands. Protection from the sun was quite important. Apparently the right hand needed more protection back then because it didn’t have a shield. God’s abiding presence protects us from the elements.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
  He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
 both now and forevermore.

            Not only will God protect you from the whims of nature, but throughout all your life. During our pilgrimage to Switzerland, the mountains that we repeatedly viewed, symbolized this protection for us. Their constant presence, their immutability, their beauty, continually reminded us of God’s enduring presence.  
            Our year is over, our pilgrimage to Switzerland complete. Fortunately we still retain our memories to remind us of God’s unfailing presence with us.

I will lift my eyes to the hills . . .

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