The Book of Psalms

Monday: Unto the Hills


Theme:The Psalm for the Traveler
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded in vivid and powerful ways how the Lord watches over his children.
Scripture: Psalm 121:1-8
All of us have scenes from childhood that we remember gratefully, even if our childhood days were not particularly happy. Mine were. I think back on them with growing thanksgiving as the years go by. Some of the scenes I remember thankfully are when my mother would gather our family together to read Psalm 121 and pray with us before one of the children left home or the family started on a trip. 
He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber…. 
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.
I can close my eyes and see our family seated in a circle in our living room and hear those words now. This was my mother’s psalm for her family. And because so many of those “goings out” and “comings in” were my own, there is a sense in which Psalm 121 became my travel psalm. 
It has been for other Christians, too. David Livingstone, the great missionary and explorer of the then dark and dangerous continent of Africa, read Psalm 121 and Psalm 135, which praises God for his sovereign rule over all things, as he worshiped with his father and sister before setting out for Africa in 1840. His mother-in-law, Mrs. Moffat, wrote him at Linyardi that Psalm 121 was always in her mind as she thought about and prayed for him. 
J. S. Watson, a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy and the successor to Admiral Dewey, who commanded the U.S. fleet in the Philippines, wrote, “My favorite chapter is the Traveller’s Psalm, Psalm 121. The seventh and eighth verses mean more to me than any other.” 
William Edwards was a British magistrate caught in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. His escape after hiding out for months is a thrilling story. He wrote at one point, 
Nothing new has been settled about our plans, and we are much harassed. Heavy guns were firing at Turruckabad today. We know not for what cause, but they reminded us painfully of our fearful proximity to that place where so many are thirsting for our lives. Amidst it all, the psalms are most consoling and wonderfully suited to our cause, especially the 121st: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh our help” [KJV].1
These are only a few of what must be many thousands of instances when, in danger, God’s people have turned to Psalm 121 and found comfort. 
Psalm 121 is the second of the pilgrim psalms, the Songs of Ascents devout Jews must have sung as they made their way to the highlands of Judah, where Jerusalem was located, for the annual feasts. When we remember that there were no real roads in those days, only well-trodden paths across the valleys, along the rivers and over mountain passes, it is easy to imagine how this psalm might have been sung by a hopeful but very weary pilgrim. He has been traveling for days. His feet are sore. His muscles ache. Jerusalem, the end of his pilgrimage, seems very distant. But then suddenly he sees the hills of Judah in the distance, and he breaks into song: 
I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 
Some writers have suggested that this was the traditional evening song for the last encampment of those who would arrive in Jerusalem the next day, noting that the next psalm speaks of the travelers actually “standing” within the city’s walls. 
1These and other such stories are in Herbert Lockyer, Jr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), pp. 622, 623. 
Study Questions:

What are some examples of those who looked to Psalm 121 as a traveler’s psalm? What do you learn from these stories? 
What place does Psalm 121 hold in the Psalter? When was it sung? Why? 

Reflection: What are some psalms you have looked to for comfort? 
Observation: A knowledge of Jewish culture and practice helps us understand the meaning and significance of the psalms.

Study Questions
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