I would like to re-introduce you to one of the top 5 best-known Psalms in the bible; the one that starts with the words, ‘I will lift up my eyes to the hills…’
The Title of the Psalm
In most bibles, this Psalm is called ‘A song of ascents’. Those journeying up to Jerusalem for the annual festivals would sing it along with other Psalms. Some scholars believe that its origins date back to the Babylonian exile when the Jews there longed to make the journey home.
However, the word ‘ascents’ can also translate to ‘steps’ and there are two senses in which this can apply to the Psalm. Its structure suggests ascending steps reaching the highest point in the final two verses.
Question or Statement
We can read verse 1 as either a question or a statement. The question would be, ‘do I look to the hills for my source of help?’ Pagan altars were built on hills and so the insinuation is that some people look to these false gods for help. Verse 2 then constitutes an emphatic, ‘No! My help comes from the creator God Jehovah.’
As a statement, verse 1 would paraphrase as: ‘I lift my eyes up to the temple of God on the hills of Jerusalem for my help comes from him.’
Another Way of Seeing Things
Let me suggest another way of seeing things in a manner that you will not find in any commentary or Study Bible that I have ever read… with one exception.
In your minds-eye, be a traveller journeying up to Jerusalem at night. Up ahead of you the Holy City shines in the dark like a lamp on a pedestal. On Mount Moria, one of the five hills of Jerusalem, the temple glows with warm golden light.
Now look even higher into the stary vault of the heavens; up, up, until you come to the very centre of the heavens. From our earthly vantage, the constellations appear to rotate in a slow circle around an axis point. This axis is the bright Polar Star situated in the constellation of Ursa Minor.
On modern astronomy star-charts, this constellation is pictured as a bear with a ridiculously long and curvy tail. However, it wasn’t always so for in Old Testament times it was pictured as a mountain range. This is the Mount of Assembly, The Sacred Mountain of God immortalised both in scripture and Greek, Roman, and Nordic myth.
Just above this mountain is the constellation of Cephus, pictured as a king sitting on a throne. In his hands, he holds a rolled-up scroll and his foot rests on the polar star, the centre of the heavens. No wonder that John the Revelator starts his description of a series of dramatic visions with the words; ‘At once I was in the spirit and there before me was a throne in the heavens with someone sitting on it’.
So, I will lift up my eyes to the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who sits enthroned in the centre of his creation; the one from whom my help comes.
Slipping, Slumbering, and Shading
Verses three, four, and five all evoke vivid pictures and constitute strong assurances. The first is the assurance that God will not let our feet slip on the rocky path of life. The picture evoked is of a person walking up a steep and sometimes rocky path. When we get to the slippery or loose bits then the Lord comes alongside, steadies and holds us up. He is watching over us night and day and he never sleeps on the job.
The second picture, relating to God not slumbering, is of Elijah taking on the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He makes an altar, sacrifices an animal, dowses both the altar and sacrifice with water and then challenges the pagan prophets to evoke their god. If Baal is god, he contends, then he will send fire from heaven. So the prophets start wailing, dancing, cutting themselves, and crying out to Baal to act. No response. So Elijah taunts them with the words: “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). We all know how the story ends: Baal doesn’t show up and Elijah calls on God to act and he does so by sending fire from heaven to consume both the sacrifice and the altar!
The third assurance is that God will be our shade at our right hand. The picture is that of a soldier who holds his shield in his left hand and is therefore unprotected on his right side. So, God prevents us from slipping, watches over us day and night, and protects us as we journey over the sometimes hard and dangerous path of life.
The Highest Point of the Psalm and the Big Question
With this assurance comes a big question, often unspoken, but asked by almost everyone. The question is: ‘Will God protect me from all harm, both physical as well as spiritual, or does his protection only apply to my spiritual life?’ In attempting to answer this, firstly note that the word ‘keep’, used in this Psalm, also translates as ‘watches over’. God certainly watches over us because Jesus said, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). However, the word ‘keep’ also means ‘protect’, so the question is real; will God protect me from physical harm? From considering the full scope of scripture, what Jesus taught and modelled, and the example of biblical characters such as Paul, the answer must be – spiritual protection always and physical protection most times.
Paul’s Take on the Matter
Here is something Paul wrote that sheds light on the subject – Romans 8:35-39:
‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’.
So, Pauls take on the matter is that life is often full of dangers, hardships, and suffering that we need to endure. Despite these things, God will protect the integrity of our spiritual existence and destiny. Paul knew that God had always been with him and had brought him through some very hard patches on his life-road. Paul faced stoning, wild animals, and even failing eye-sight, yet God helped, protected and led him through until he could say: ‘the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Our Default Position
I believe that we should expect physical protection from God when we ask and trust in him. I contend that our default position should be the same as it is when it comes to healing. If someone asks me to pray for and minister healing to them, I do not say, ‘Well, let me first check and see if God perhaps doesn’t want to heal you.’ Jesus never refused anyone who came to him and he is our example. So I pray and minister in expectant trust in God – that is my privilege and obligation and the result is entirely up to him. Just so when it comes to asking for protection.
We ask for and expect God’s protection because we know that he loves us and because we love him. Our dependence on him is an expression of our love for him, for did not Paul describe love as something that ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’? (1 Corinthians 13:7)
So, if you go through tough times you do so knowing that Jesus is with you by his Spirit, that he loves you, watches over you and wants the very best for you. And the best for you is always, and in every situation, to come to know him better, grow to be more like him, and to help others to do likewise. Because he loves us and we love him, we ask for and trust him for protection as we walk the path of life.
If you ever doubt the truth of this, then just think back on your life so far: remember the many times that God has protected, healed, and picked you up. Then give him thanks for this, expect his help in your present situation, and trust him for your future wellbeing.