Over past 15 years, filmmaker Peter Jackson brought JRR Tolkien’s fantasy world to life before our very eyes. The stories of fictional hobbits named Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, amongst a plethora of otherworldly creatures, captivated the hearts and minds of audiences of all ages. The epic journeys told in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy are truly fascinating. At the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, the first in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the reader encounters Bilbo Baggins preparing to celebrate his 111 birthday. Bilbo’s old age, significant party preparations, previous journeys, all in combination with carrying the great Ring has taken their toll on Bilbo. Thus, he states, Why I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” When I recently read this, I had to pause for a moment.
Bilbo had summed up exactly how I feel in this descriptive statement: Why I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” Obviously, the circumstances that caused me to feel this way are different form this fictional character, but nonetheless, I entirely related to that feeling. Schooling, pastoring at Fourth, attempting to spend quality time with family, brought me to a state of feeling very thin, and stretched. Consequently, fears and anxieties abound. My focus is so on the immediate pressures and responsibilities that I’ve lost focus on God.
I’m not alone, though. We’ve all been there or for many of you, you are there. Job insecurities or frustrations. Illness and death with loved ones. Lack of financial security or overwhelming debt. General fears resulting from our turbulent world. Whatever it may be, we all know that feeling of being overwhelmed, tired, and depleted.
In Psalm 121, the psalmist identifies an overwhelming fear or insecurity in his life. He testifies of a repeated gaze to the mountains that seemingly pose a threatening evil or insecurity in his life. Depending on the translation you have, you’ll notice that v. 1 states either “I lift” or “I will lift” my eyes to the hills. This Hebrew verb is probably best expressed as a “repeated” look. Thus, the Psalmist describes repeatedly looking to these mountains and consequently, concludes with a pertinent question that applies to all of us: “Where does my help come from?” We’ve all been in situations where we’ve longed for and questioned the source of our help.
Apparently, the mountains cause concern or consternation, thus he questions where his help will come from. This use of phrase “from where” provides an idea that is uniquely focused on origin or source. So, a possible translation to aid our understanding could be the following, “I repeatedly lift my eyes to the mountains—From what source will my help come?”
The Psalmist resolves his dilemma with an affirmation that the source of his help is in the Lord (v. 2a). The psalmist declares that his help is sourced in Yahweh. Just in case that statement did not bring enough assurance, he qualifies it by adding that Yahweh is the one “who made heaven and earth.” Since the source of help was the issue at stake, the Psalmist declares that maker of these mountains that fostered his anxiety or lack of stability is the source of his help.
Following this statement, there is a grammatical shift from 1st person to 2nd person. Whether the Psalmist is speaking to his audience or an audience is speaking to him, it is not completely sure. What is rather sure, though, is the message of the Psalmist: You’re safe with God
Psalm 121 provides two reasons why we are safe with God
We are safe with God because He supports us (3-4)
God supports us directly (3a)
This may sound obvious or possibly unnecessary, but God directly helps you. Notice the personal pronouns “v. 2—my; v. 3—your, you; v. 5—your, your, your; v. 7—you, your; v. 8— your, your.” God’s help is not distant nor abstract. It is completely accessible and concrete
God supports us carefully (3a)
Yahweh’s help has been noted earlier for its cosmic significance and value (maker of heaven and earth) and now it appears to be noted for its intimacy. The psalmist writes that Yahweh will not allow event the foot to be moved. There’s intimacy to this help that God is giving.
God supports us tirelessly (3b-4)
He is never drowsy
The believer has nothing to be concerned with since Yahweh never experiences weariness. “Not slumber” suggests the urgency of Yahweh’s protection and that he will not grow weary. God’s protective care never has a lapse.
Have you ever stayed up all night to work on a project or to deal with a responsibility? How did you feel the next day? Over the course of studying for my Mdiv, I had several sleepless nights. If I sat still the next day, I would immediately start to drift. We’ve all seen it: the bobblehead syndrome.
He never sleeps
The use of “neither slumber nor sleep” emphasizes that God will never sleep. Also, sleep in contrast with slumber highlights our immediate need in conjunction with our longstanding need for protective care. Meaning, God is not merely concerned with just helping you in a particular moment (foot be moved). God is awake and on guard to help us at all times. This is exactly why we are safe with God.
So far, we’ve seen from Psalm 121 how we are safe with God since God supports us. He supports us directly, carefully, and tirelessly. Next, we encounter our second reason why we are safe with God: because He protects us.
We are safe with God because He protects us (5-8)
The psalmist now emphasizes another truth regarding God: He protects you. Verse 1 makes mention that God helps you but now the emphasis is actually describing the quality of God’s protection. After the psalmist names Yahweh the keeper of Israel, generally speaking, he again intimates the specific care of the keeper: God is the keeper of you, personally.
God protects us entirely (5b)
God is described as providing shade on the right hand of the believer. God’s protection is likened to a shade or shadow that provides coverage from that which harms
God protects us intimately (5b)
By saying that God is the shade on “your right hand,” the Psalmist suggests the nearness of God. Also, God’s right hand seems to be evident in saving acts (Ps. 91; 98; 108). This expression of nearness, seemingly a cultural idiom, is used throughout Scripture to represent nearness (James and John asking Jesus to be at his right hand; Jesus being at the Father’s right hand; Matthew 20:21; Luke 22:69; Psalm 110:1)
God protects us constantly (6)
As the psalmist just mentioned how Yahweh is a shade on our right hand, he now describes what this shade is protecting from. Yahweh’s shade provides a long-standing negation of the sun’s ability to strike the believer. The sun seems to be representing danger or harm as described by its ability to strike the believer. By stating the sun will not strike us by day nor the moon by night reveals that God’s protection covers all types of dangers at all times.
After my dad died, I felt very uncomfortable during the evening. As soon as the sun would set, I felt vulnerable. Without my Dad’s protection in our home, I felt very intimated by the threat of an intruder. However, if I open the night at a friend’s home, their presence accompanied by their parents, brought great relief to my fears. Why? the constant presence of my friends and their parents brought great comfort.
God protects us thoughtfully (7a)
The care of Yahweh is yet reaffirmed but now this time in a slightly different nuance. The psalmist emphasizes that Yahweh’s care is repeated. By saying the Lord will keep you from all evil, the psalmist highlights the ongoing, repeated care of Yahweh, despite circumstances or difficulties. Yahweh protects believers from all sorts of evil. Particularly, this evil is understood as distress or adversity—It seems that this isn’t not necessarily connected to moral evil, but more trouble that would occur under the duress of the sun or moon. Also, this is not a protection from harm altogether but all sorts of different types of harm.
God protects us physically (7b)
Again the repeated care of Yahweh is mentioned in the use of the imperfect but now in reference to the life of the believer. “Life” should be seen as the physical life (Gen 9:5) of the believer. Even though it may be poetic/figurative, the Lord has promised not to allow the foot of the psalmist to be moved. Thus, it would keep in line to have another body analogy, and not necessarily the spiritual aspect of life.
God protects us eternally (8)
Just in case we may draw concern that God is only or merely concerned with our physical body, the use of the imperfect suggests a repeated care from Yahweh and now it is expressed with another idiom. This idiom (going out…coming in) seems to reference a duration of time where troubles could occur. Thus, Yahweh protects us in all times and places. This repeated care is again qualified wither another expression of time (this time…and forevermore). The care is experienced presently and knows no end. God’s care is truly exhaustive.
In the Fellowship of the Rings, Bilbo uses the power of the ring to escape from his present situation to leave all of his troubles behind. Bilbo longs to be like the Elves who sail away to the Grey Havens, leaving behind the troubles of this world. We don’t have that means as a legitimate option. Matter of fact God has ordained difficulties in our lives to produce in us a perfected completeness. So, it’s most likely that this morning was not a revelation of truths that now thoroughly convinced you to feel that you’re safe with God.
Yet, I think it would be fitting to conclude with how we daily remind ourselves that we are safe with God.
How can we be reassured of our safety with God?
Rest in Jesus (John 15:5-11)
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Rehearse the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:7)
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control
Remain in Prayer (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Rely on the Church (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.