It became something of a western movie caricature — a family or group of families is moving into new territory and has no military protection. They find themselves in a narrow crevasse, surrounded on both sides by steep cliffs. Then high on one hill, they see a lone Indian scout. All the members of the wagon train are instantly nervous, understanding their plight. Is there anyone to help? From where will their help come. And then, just as they see a large group of Indians quickly making their way down the hill, they hear the trumpet sound of the arriving cavalry (likely led by John Wayne in the movie versions!). Help is on the way…
It is this kind of image that is implied in Psalm 121. This psalm is one of the Ascent Psalms, songs that the Israelites sang on one of their three annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the required festivals. Like the American compatriots making their way westward, so the Israelites likely also looked at their surroundings and recognized their susceptibility — was someone coming to attack them and who would protect them (v. 1)?
Their song not only gave words to their fears, but also reminded them of God’s provision for them. When they were anxious about enemy attacks, what should they remember? When they were concerned about persecution and danger, what should their meditation be? The psalmist identifies three truths that should renew their minds. These truths not only were a comfort to them in their anxiety, but also are wisdom for us in our fears.
Remember God is Creator. He will sustain you (v. 2). Help, the song says, comes from the Lord. The psalmist is not just saying, “God will help you,” but he uses the covenant name of God — Yahweh. In other words, God — the One who has made covenants with you, who cannot abrogate His promises — will help you. Moreover, He is not only the One who has created these covenants, but He has created all things. He has made a particular promise with Israel, and as the maker of all things, nothing is outside of the bounds of His control. And He, the one from whom all things spiritual and physical originate, is the helper of Israel. Here is the nature of God’s help: it is sovereign, personal, wise, and immeasurable. As one writer has said, “The one who is sovereign over every realm is my helper!”
Remember God is a sovereign keeper. He will protect you (vv. 3-6). Six times this psalmist says that God is the guardian. The guardian was normally an ordinary soldier — not so with God; He is a protector unlike any other. Pagans permitted their gods to sleep, but God is not like those ungodly gods — “He does not need to recreate, eat, or sleep. He is always there to ‘help.’ He is the ‘shepherd’ of Israel (cf. Ps 23) who protects, guides, and blesses his own sheep. Regardless of the happenings in life, whether at work or at home, whether asleep or awake, the Lord is ‘there’ to help and to protect” says one commentator.
How does God protect His people? He protects in two ways: He provides protection from falling (v. 3) from personal mistakes and sins (Mt. 6:13), and He provides protection from outward attacks (vv. 5b-6) that may come at any time from any direction. God protects us His people from any influence that may harm them. He is constantly attentive and He is constantly attentive to all the needs of His people.
Remember God is eternal. He will always watch over you (vv. 7-8). Not only does God keep and protect His own now, but He makes a promise about the future as well — The LORD will protect you from all evil. God will protect from all sorts of calamity: evil (sin), distress, misery, and injury. And He will do this eternally. In every activity of life (from time one leaves house until he returns) God watches. God is sovereign over every activity of life (1 Thess. 5:23) for the duration of our eternal lives (Ps. 115:18; 1 Pt. 1:3-9). Because He is eternal, all His promises are eternal, and so His people are not only protected for a moment, but for all time.
So as the Israelites made their way to Jerusalem and found themselves tempted by fear, they were reminded of God their supreme helper — the One who could and would protect when no one else. And the One who protected Israel, is still the One who protects His people today. Are you fearful and looking for help? Then look to the Lord, who is your helper.