Layne McKeel, a senior adult, ventured out of his house during the coronavirus pandemic to get a few supplies at his local grocery store in Georgetown, Tennessee. He’d been shut in for some time, but his disability check had arrived and he needed some food and staples. When he reached the checkout counter, his bill was $173. As he counted out his money he was surprised to find himself thirty-three dollars short. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. It’s an embarrassing moment.
McKeel quickly began grabbing things to put back on the shelf, but the seventeen-year-old cashier stopped him. Her name was iconic — Elizabeth Taylor. Reaching for her purse, the teenager paid McKeel’s total bill out of her own money.
When someone asked her why she did it, Taylor said, “It was all essential stuff… We’ve seen a lot of older people, and they’re all trying to buy groceries and a lot of places have run out of stuff, and so the older people are kind of taking the downfall for that. I just try to give back when I can.”1
Life often catches us short. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves needing help, but we all need all the help we can get, especially in times of crisis. We all need grace — grace that’s more than sufficient.
So many of the psalms are written for pilgrims needing help on the path of life. As we read Psalm 121, we can hear the psalmist crying out,
Lord, I need supplies for my journey. I need help. I need guidance. I’ve lost my way. Can’t You show me the right way to go? Can’t You meet my needs?
In this beautiful psalm of just eight verses, we’re encouraged to trust God even when life gives us what we haven’t asked for. The confidence expressed in Psalm 121 is rooted in the grandeur of the psalmist’s vision of God — the Maker of Heaven and earth, the Lord who can be trusted to help us at every point along the journey, through the sunny passages as well as the darker treks through forests of night. The psalmist lifts his eyes to the hills above and sees the One who is not only the destination of the journey, but also the strength for every step of it.
In spite of all the perils we encounter, the mountainous crags and the desert wastelands, we can trust the Lord. Yes, He is awesome and we feel small and insignificant, but the psalmist assures us that God bridges the gap. He is never too great to care; we are never too small for His caring. The psalm reflects on a God who soothes us in our anxiety and watches over us as a shepherd with his sheep.
As you hold your Bible open to this wonderful chapter, you find these important words in superscription: “A Song of Ascents.” What does that mean?
There are fifteen of these special psalms, the first of them being Psalm 120. In those ancient days, the Israelites would travel to Jerusalem for feast days at the temple. Coming from whatever distant town they called home, the pilgrims would make the long journey by foot, walking with their families and friends and enjoying their holiday travel. They were eager for good times in the Holy City, seeing friends again over the feast and making sacrifices to God. Scholars believe the songs of ascents were written to be sung along the road from the lowlands of Palestine up to Jerusalem.
As the travelers walked up that natural incline, the uphill trek to Jerusalem, they’d sing another of these joyful psalms at each new level. In fact, if you read them in order, you can almost see the stages of the journey, moving onward and upward toward the temple, where the people would arrive for the worship of God. These psalms are the music of the uphill journey.
We’ve seen something of the historical context. But of course these psalms are alive, not limited to ancient history. For us today, the pilgrimage songs become metaphors for our own spiritual journey. Though we don’t often attend sacred feasts in Jerusalem, the road we walk takes us from the lowlands of our present circumstances to the higher place to which God has called us. The songs of ascents contain essential truths for our journey through this life, as we make our way to be with God for eternity. We can quickly grasp their symbolism and find deep encouragement in these little songs.
The Possibilities for Help on Our Journey
The Bible never lies to us by claiming that life is easy. Christianity is no free pass; there are no shortcuts to bypass the essential human experience. But somehow people get that mistaken idea, and when they eventually face trouble — as they always do — they come to the irrational conclusion that the presence of trouble implies the absence of God. A greater mistake cannot be imagined.
God’s Word reminds us that we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land whose roads are filled with hazards. The road is long, weary, and dangerous. It winds through veils of tears and acres of muck and mire; but the long and winding road finally comes to the City of God, the place of joy and feasting. Simply stated, that’s the biblical view of life in the world.
So where can we go to find traveler’s assistance?
We Can Look Around for Help
The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121:1). He has prepared for his journey through the mountains to Jerusalem. As he enters the road, he takes a moment to gaze up to the horizon. He thinks of the miles ahead, the twists and turns and surprises, the old friends and new ones whose acquaintances he will make. He thinks of the dust and the heat, the darkness and the thirsty miles. He admires the graceful line where the mountains embrace the sky.
I’ve always been intrigued by the prominence of mountains in the Bible. Many great things happened on mountaintops: the sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah, the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, the transfiguration of Christ, the message on Mount Olivet, Elijah’s prophetic showdown on Mount Carmel — and, of course, all of history turns on a crucifixion one dark Friday on Mount Calvary. Climactic moments in the biblical narrative always seem to seek higher ground.
You may not live anywhere near the mountains, and you may even prefer the beach as a vacation destination. I must confess that I’m a “mountain man” at heart. I boast with pride to all my friends around the country that I’m twenty minutes away from the mountains and twenty minutes away from the ocean. On a couple of occasions, as I’m quick to point out, I’ve partaken of sea and slope in the same day! Some of us like to show off, you see. I know people who water-ski and snow ski on the same day, just for bragging purposes to impress their friends back east.
But there’s something grand and majestic about mountains. They set the landscape and the people in context. Nothing calms my spirit or helps me to get things in perspective more effectively than a visit to the highest hills. I drive up into the Laguna Mountains and find a special place where I can survey the natural grandeur and reflect on my Creator. If I’ve lost Him in the confinement of the city, I can find Him in the immensity of the peaks. Something about the majesty of mountains invokes the majesty of God.
That happens in the Scriptures too. Listen to Isaiah 55:12:
For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.
Psalm 125:1-2 captures the same idea:
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.
There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe the mountains as a place of blessing, but we know all too well that mountains can also be a place of danger. Rarely does a winter go by that we don’t hear of someone being lost in the mountain terrain. The snow cover cuts off the navigation of outdoorsmen, who cannot retrace their steps out of the wilderness.
In ancient times, mountains were sites of danger and hardship. Their rocks and caves hid wild animals and bloodthirsty bandits. Pagan cultures built their temples in the mountains. Godly pilgrims found a sense of majesty in the high country, but they also found a sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. It was a place of fear and of hope, of danger and of salvation. The Lord God could be sought there, but pagan gods were enshrined there as well.
The psalmist must have thought of these things, reflecting on the many meanings of mountains. He gazed upward at the outset of the journey and said, “I will look to the hills.”
- John Kramer, “Visiting Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucia,” Spain-Holiday.com, June 28, 2018, https://www.spain-holiday .com/Zahara-de-la-Sierra/articles/visiting-zahara-de-la-sierra -andalucia.
Excerpted with permission from Shelter in God by Dr. David Jeremiah, copyright David P. Jeremiah.
* * *
When you’re in a time of trouble, perhaps even now, where do you look? Do you look to the mountains? Where do you particularly find God when you’re in big trouble? And where do you find Him? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily