Have you ever been ridiculed for your faith? What about being mocked or slandered? Christian pilgrims are like salmon swimming upstream against the current of the world’s culture. Each month 322 Christians are killed; 214 churches and their properties destroyed; 722 forms of violence are committed against Christians (i.e. beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages). According to the Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population live in areas with severe religious restrictions. The U.S. Department of State tells us that Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
What are Christians to do when persecuted for their faith in Christ? The writer of this Psalm reminds us to humble ourselves before the Lord, to look up to Him in prayer as our only source for help and mercy, and to patiently wait as we volunteer our service to Him for His glory and His kingdom.
The posture that pilgrims must demonstrate is humility. This posture shows dependency on God as expressed by the psalmist when he writes: “…as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us.” (Psalm 123: 2b) It does not take much effort to look up. It is the simple movement of your eyes. To be a servant of God is not a position to dread but a place of humility before His presence as his servant.
Next, dependency on God leads us to prayer. It is possible that the writing of this Psalm took place when the post-exilic Jews came back from Babylon to rebuild the Temple of God. Psalm 123:3-4 is a plea to the Lord for grace and endurance. These pilgrims were being scoffed at by those who had taken over the land, sitting back and laughing at the Israelites as they attempted to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Because of their dependency on God through prayer, the pilgrims endure because they know the Lord is on their side.
For the Christian pilgrim today, the same truth applies. Humility is the posture that leads to prayer to the Lord for help in time of need. While scoffers may taunt you, the Lord will give you grace to endure so you may reach the prize of the upward call of Christ as you press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14).
“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” – Psalm 121:1
One of the mistakes people make while traveling is not asking for directions. There have been many intensive negotiations between married couples on trips, mainly because the husband would not stop and ask for directions. Fortunately, we now have the technology to help us via our smart phones or GPS. You just punch in the information of your destination and then click start and the device gives you step by step directions guiding you to your destination.
Similarly, we learn from this Psalm that a weary sojourner wisely looks for help. But where will his help come from as he looks up to the mountains? Eventually he will look to the Lord as his ultimate source for help as he can see in the distance the hills of Zion, the place that the Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, loves more than “…all the other dwelling places of Jacob.” (Psalm 87:2).
Psalm 121 is part of a collection of Psalms (120-134) called “The Psalms of Ascent.” They were given this title as they were selected to aid the worshipping Israelite on his pilgrimage toward God as they went up to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals. This Psalm directs the thoughts of the pilgrim to God as his source of help. Giving him the assurance that Israel’s Keeper will maintain vigilant oversight to protect His people.
There is always risk in traveling. Even today there are the risks of weather, mechanical failure, terrorists, health, and thieves etc. This pilgrim takes the initial step as he looks up to the hills towards Jerusalem and proposes the important question, “Who is going to help me safely journey to my destination?” The pilgrim thus looks beyond the hills and looks to the Lord who created the hills as he writes, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)
This proposes a very important question. As you sojourn through this life, with all its dangers that come along the way, what help do you seek? Do you seek help from the hills or from the One who made the hills? Eventually, when the pilgrims journeyed and could see Jerusalem up ahead on a hill, they knew this was by God’s design. They could see His sanctuary which would provide the help they needed in life. I pray that you will look to the Lord as the One true source for help. He is your Creator. His Word is your spiritual compass to point you in the right direction. His Spirit is your guide. His Son is your hope of salvation. Your help comes from the Lord.