Today’s message is a just a slight detour from our long term series on the Old Testament. We’ve been studying the books in order, but today we consider Psalms 121. In it, we find a Hebrew word that is repeated six times and tells us just where to go to be helped in life’s challenges.
Robin and I’ve had some grandchild duties in the last couple of weeks and I took a vacation day from the office to spend some time with them. So I took the kids to the Clarkson playground, just me, Isaiah my 10 year old, Liana, 5, Jack 4 and Josiah basically 2. So out of the car we went, of course Isaiah is very responsible so I didn’t have to worry about him being okay, but I definitely needed to be concerned about the other three. But it’s the Clarkson Playground, so hey, what could go wrong? The 3 little kids immediately scattered and started playing, but one needed my immediate attention. And I looked up to see where the other little ones had gone. I couldn’t see one. Isaiah said, “he’s over there” and sure enough he was hidden behind some equipment. A few minutes later a similar scenario. I was a little panicked because the child missing from my view easily wanders off. I’m starting to look around playground equipment and didn’t see her. But another grandparent, seeing me panicking said “she’s over here” and sure enough, right where I wasn’t looking there she was. And on and off for an hour or more some version of that played out until I got everyone in the same place and it was time to go home so I herded them, carried one, across the entry road to the car and buckled them in and took them home. Whew! I don’t know how you Moms do that so well.
It was hard for me to just watch over four, really three, grandchildren for an hour and a half. And I needed help to do it. The Clarkson Playground for goodness sake!
Today’s Psalm shows the overwhelming power and ability of God to watch over His people. And believe me, I don’t have anything like His ability to do this and neither do you.
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.
There’s an assumption that this Psalm starts with. And it’s that we need help.
Like sheep. Like little children. We go astray so easily. We turn around and wonder, “how did I get here?” I had such good plans, such good intentions. And I’ve gotten off track or worse. An inescapable fact of life is that we cannot do life alone. We are so limited it isn’t funny. We’re dependent on people, on order in the world, on many factors, but even with all of what’s around us and in us we just don’t have enough. We often find ourselves in tenuous situations.
When you find yourself there and you’re humble enough to admit you need some help, what window do you look through to find it?
Many folks I know look through the Google window for help first. You can find an article or instructional video there on so many subjects, from cooking to car repair to history. It’s crazy how much is out there. But it isn’t a window for help when you’re facing a job loss, a big time health crisis, a difficult family situation or a personal crisis. Sure, you may find some helpful advice from others, but what window can you look through to find Who you really need?
I lift up my eyes to the hills…that’s the Google search.
But where does my help come from? My real help?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
That word for help is a large, strong word. In the Hebrew it’s “Ezer.” It means to help, to defend, to surround for security. Man, that’s the kind of help I need. And His power is that of the Creator, so there’s no one that can challenge Him, no one better to turn to.
Verse 3, though, introduces us to a word that is repeated six times in the original. This word is the focus of this Psalm, but it needs to be our focus too. Because if we cannot really carry ourselves, where do we turn? And if we turn to the Lord, what can we count on from Him? He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
That word “keeps” is the main object of the rest of the Psalm. In the original Hebrew, keeps, keeper, preserve in this Psalm are just one word: Shamar.
It means a few things. First of all, it means to “look with fixed attention.” Second of all, it means to have “defense and preservation” in mind. Third of all, it means to “have active help at the ready.”
Do you have something or someone you care about deeply? Especially if they’re vulnerable, you watch them like a hawk. Years ago I accompanied a friend to China to adopt his and his wife’s daughter. The wife couldn’t go, so I was able to get away and walk with him through the experience. Sometimes this happens, but his agency required that he bring thousands of dollars in cash in new bills, to China for fees. So we split it up into two different fanny packs that we kept with us at all times. How closely do you think I watched my share? Through crowded streets, in public markets and in public transportation?
But think of your little child, the special project at work, your new car. If you know that there is value there, you watch it closely, continually and protectively, providing whatever is needed. That’s what “shamar” means.
Whether we’re worthy of it or not, God puts a value on the human soul, just by watching so closely. We might think we’re rather worthless, but He has chosen to give us value.
In what conditions does God “shamar”, keep and protect, His people? What are the characteristics of this kind of keeping? How does He “shamar” you?
It’s personal. He will not allow your foot to slip.
It’s continual. He who keeps you shall neither slumber nor sleep.
It’s powerful. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night.
It’s there in the presence of evil. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil.
It’s aimed toward the most important part of you, your soul. He shall preserve your soul.
It’s there in all your activities. Your going out and coming in.
It’s both in the present and in the future. From this time forth, and even forevermore.
Wow. That sounds pretty secure. That sounds like what a Heavenly Father would do. Because fathers are present, watchful and attached.
But some of you are saying, yes, great, but what about Christians I know who are struggling. Sickness, death of a child. Something they are going through but you’re wondering how do I reconcile their experiences with this Psalm?
The answer? Evil is present, footslipping mountain paths are in your way, the sun is beating down on you, yes. But God’s promise is to be with you in the difficulties, the trials and the mindnumbing circumstances. He will supply what is needed, carefully watching, guarding, especially your soul, and He will give you the grace and relationship with Him to get through it.
And your soul? He will preserve, shamar, your soul, even if the body is struggling or dying. Sometimes I’ve been asked why someone we love has cancer and is not doing well. Did God fail? They have an opportunity to show the grace of God and the power of God in ways that others can’t. Ralph Galdieri?
So how about we look in the right window. How about we turn to the Lord who made heaven and earth. Because the guarantee is that He will, as a perfect Father, Shamar you. He will surround, protect, pay close attention to and supply what’s needed to carry your soul, the most valuable part of you, to Himself.