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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Our help is from the LORD
Text:Psalms 121 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Added:2016-11-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 90: 1 – 3, 8

Ps. 1: 1

Ps. 121: 1 – 4

Ps. 91: 1 – 5

Ps. 146: 1 – 3

 

Scripture reading:       Psalm 121

Text:                            Psalm 121

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


My help is from the LORD

Ps. 90: 1 – 3, 8

Ps. 1: 1

Ps. 121: 1 – 4

Ps. 91: 1 – 5

Ps. 146: 1 – 3

 

Scripture reading:       Psalm 121

Text:                            Psalm 121

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

We started this church service with a confession:

 

            “Our help is in the Name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

 

These exact words are found in Ps. 124: 8.   In that psalm David says:

 

“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, let Israel now say, if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive…”

 

There, in Psalm 124, David concludes the psalm with this confession:

 

“Our help is in the Name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

 

In that psalm this confession is made in a context where God has delivered His people from fierce enemies.   Israel’s enemies were far too strong for them.   Only God could help and deliver them.

Only Jahve, the LORD, the Almighty, who made heaven and earth, only He can be trusted as our sure Deliverer.   He alone is our help.

 

Our text, here in Psalm 121, starts with the same confession.   This time we do not read about fierce enemies.   It is still the same confession – our help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth – but this time the confession is made in a context where the psalm speaks about the normal course of our daily life.   

This confession, our help is from the LORD who made heaven and earth, is now applied to every aspect of our daily life.   It is a confession that embraces and captures our whole life – a life under the protection of our almighty God.

The LORD, our God, is with us to protect and deliver us.   It is the application of the covenant promise: I will be your God.

It is a promise sealed by the blood of Christ.   Through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, Jahve, who made heaven and earth, has become our God.

 

The promise applies to all of life.    

The LORD will not allow your foot to stumble.  

The LORD is constantly guarding and protecting you – day and night.   

He preserves your going out and your coming in.   That means: full time, from beginning to end.   “Your going out and your coming in” is an expression in the Hebrew which includes all your endeavours from start to finish.   In all your doings, wherever you go, the LORD will be with you to help and to guard and to preserve you.

 

So then, we are not only dependent on the LORD when we are attacked by vicious enemies, or when we are in great trouble.   Every moment of our life, in all circumstances, we are totally dependent on the LORD.    As we cling to His promise, we may live assured of His nearness and protection, and rest in the all-sufficient care of our almighty God.    

 

I proclaim this gospel to you with the theme…

Our help is from the LORD

 

We will note…

1.      That the LORD is our only help

2.      That His help is unfailing

3.      That His help is all-inclusive

In the first place we note that…

The LORD is our only help

 

The psalm starts with a question:

            “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help?”

The hills or mountains are a natural place for refuge.   David, when he fled for Saul, fled to the mountains.   David also refers to that historical event when he says in Ps. 11: 1:

“In the LORD I put my trust; how can you say to my soul: ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain’?”

Also in other parts of Scripture we read that the mountains were a place of refuge for God’s children, especially in times of war or persecution.   Our Lord Jesus, for example, said to His disciples:

“…when you see the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mt. 24: 16)

To flee to the mountains means, in this context: to seek refuge.

When the psalmist says that he lifts up his eyes to the mountains, or to the hills – as our translation says – it means that he is looking for refuge and safety.  

But immediately he adds that he will not seek his refuge or safety in the mountains, but in the LORD Himself.

 

I will seek refuge, but where will I find it?   “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

He is actually saying: I will not trust in any refuge but the LORD alone.  

He who made heaven and earth – He alone is my help.

 

The LORD – in our translation “LORD” with four capital letters – is a translation of the Hebrew word Jahve.

It is worthwhile to note that this Name, LORD, or Jahve, is the only Name in this psalm by which God is called.   The whole psalm uses only this one name for God: Jahve.

 

The LORD Himself has revealed the meaning of this Name.   By the Name, Jahve, we know Him as our faithful covenant God who keeps His covenant throughout all generations.   It is His memorial Name: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who remembers and upholds His covenant in His unchanging and steadfast faithfulness, as we learn from Exodus chapter 3.

 

This Name, Jahve, is now used throughout this psalm.   In this way we are reminded that the One who made heaven and earth – that is: the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth – is our faithful covenant God.   All the promises of this psalm flow from that covenant which Jahve has made with Abraham and his children.  

 

Dear congregation, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ this covenant is also made with us and our children.   The New Testament clearly states that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham, and that through faith in Christ we became heirs of the same covenant promises which God swore to Abraham – Galatians chapter 3.  

In Christ and through Christ He is our God, and we are heirs of all His promises. 

Jahve, the almighty and faithful God, has made the same covenant also with us and our children.  And that is the starting point of this psalm; the foundation on which the rest of the psalm builds and elaborates.  

When we read this psalm in the light of the rest of Scripture, it also becomes clear that this trust in the LORD, that He is our help, is a trust that excludes all others.  

If anyone trusts in the LORD, then he trusts in the LORD alone.  

Or to say it the other way round: If someone does not trust in the LORD alone, then he does not trust in the LORD at all.

 

The trust in the LORD is a trust that excludes all others.   It excludes the mountains.   It also excludes kings and princes.  It excludes any trust in man.

And thus we read in many parts of Scripture that we should not put our trust in man or in any other creature.

 

“Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help…Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth…” – Ps. 146: 3, 5.

It is a refrain throughout all of Scripture: do not trust in any man or creature; trust in God alone.  

“…Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD…Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD” – Jer. 17: 5, 7.

It is put so strongly that anyone who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength is cursed.   .

Dear congregation, we confess in Lord’s Day 34 that…

“…Idolatry is having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.”

By nature our sinful flesh seeks and invents all kinds of things to put our trust in – “in addition to” the LORD.  

It may even happen in the church if we would start to trust in our numbers, our prosperity, our manpower, our wisdom, or whatever.   It happens when man becomes very important, and God less important; when we forget that He is the almighty Creator of heaven and earth and that we are in ourselves nothing but dust.   We easily imagine that we do have some strength and ability in ourselves, that we are able to deal with the situations of life in our own strength.   But again and again Scripture calls us back to the LORD who is our only help.

And so, also here in Psalm 121, the meaning is not that the LORD is one source of help in the midst of other sources, or even our best help; no, He is our only help.   He, the Almighty, who made heaven and earth; He alone is our help.  

If He is for us, nothing can be against us; if He would withdraw His help, no creature would be able to help us.   Everything depends on Him alone.  

Yes, apart from the LORD all our trust is idolatry.

Dear congregation, in order to confirm us in this undivided trust in the LORD, the psalm now also continues by proclaiming to us how the LORD will remain with us to keep and preserve us unfailingly.  

We note that in the second place, that…

His help is unfailing

 

 “He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.   Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” (verse 3, 4)

Our translation says:

            “He will not allow your foot to be moved…”

We may also translate the Hebrew text:

            “He will not allow your foot to stumble…”  Or: “to slip”.

The meaning is that the LORD will keep you from falling.

We get the same for example in Ps. 17: 5 where David prays to the LORD:

            “Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip.”

The stumbling or slipping of our footsteps is an image which is used in Scripture for departing from the LORSD’s ways, or to fall into sin.

When the LORD keeps our foot from stumbling or slipping, He keeps us from “falling” in the spiritual and moral sense of the word.

Think for example also of Ps. 94 where we read:

“Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence. 

If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up” – Ps. 94: 17, 18

 

Or think of 1 Sam. 2: 9:

 

            “He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness.”

 

This expression, to keep our foot from stumbling, often means: to keep us from falling into sin and destruction which ends in darkness and death. 

 

How then does the LORD keep your foot from stumbling?

 

Congregation, this confession is spelled out in the Canons of Dort, chapter 5: the perseverance of the saints.   The LORD will preserve His saints from utter fall and destruction.   He will preserve us from falling away from Him.  

He will preserve us unfailingly.

 

That does not mean that God’s children will never stumble.   Often we do stumble because of our own sin and stubbornness, or because of our own carelessness when we forget to watch and pray.  But, by the grace of God, God’s elect will never utterly fall.   The LORD will not allow that.   He will, with unfailing care and power, keep our feet from destruction.  

 

Scripture gives us many examples of this.   Think for example of David’s life.   David also sinned, but the Lord kept him from falling away.   The LORD Himself kept his feet on the way.

 

 “He will not allow your foot to be moved.”  He will preserve the course of our life.

He guards your every step on the way.

 

Furthermore, He who guards us in this way, never slumbers.   You do not have to be afraid that something will happen to you while our Keeper is asleep.  

“…He who keeps you will not slumber” – verse 3.  

 

You will remember how the prophet Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal.   All day long they were crying to Baal, saying: “O Baal, hear us!”   And then, at noon, Elijah started to mock them, and said:

 

“Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” – 1 Kings 18: 27

 

Maybe Baal is a bit absentminded, caught up in deep thought.  Or maybe he is asleep!  

Cry a bit louder; maybe you will manage to wake him up!  

But, of course, Baal was nothing but a dumb image without sight or hearing.

 

And then, in contrast to the idol of man’s own imagination, we see how the living God responded there on Mount Carmel.

 

He who made heaven and earth does not sleep or slumber.  You don’t have to be afraid that for one moment you will miss His attention or His protection.      

 

            “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” – verse 4

 

Note the word Israel: “…He who keeps Israel…”

David, or whoever the psalmist might have been, knows himself to be part of God’s covenant people: Israel.   In fact, he claims these promises as his own because he is one of Israel.  

The promises are made to God’s people as a whole, and thus it also applies to each member individually.   God has given these promises to His covenant people Israel, His church in the Old Testament; and whatever God has promised to His church, each believer may also claim for himself.

 

The psalmist is not inventing special promises for himself, but simply believes the revealed promises of God which He made with His people Israel.

 

We already mentioned that the Name “LORD” – Jahve, who remains faithful to His covenant – is the only Name for God that is used in this psalm.   The whole psalm, just as the rest of Scripture, has to be understood within the context of God’s covenant with His people.

 

And, brothers and sisters, we are part of God’s covenant people.   Everyone who is in Christ Jesus has become an heir of the same promises.  

God’s care as our covenant God extends to His whole church.   And if you want to be assured that God will be your Keeper, personally, you have to take your starting point in the covenant which God made with all His people.

I am part of His people, His church; the promise is also for me.

 

In order to assure us that God has a special care for each one of us in particular, the psalmist points us to the promise which God made to the whole people of Israel, and declares God to be the Guardian of His Church.   And from this promise that extends to the whole church, which we all possess in common, each of us may draw personal comfort.  

 

In Christ all God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen”, true and sure.   Each of us may draw, as from a fountain, streams of blessings as we apply all God’s promises to our own life.

 

And that is what the psalmist is doing.   After making the statement in verse 4 that the LORD keeps Israel, he also confirms this promise to each individual:

 

            “The LORD is your keeper…” – verse 5.

 

The Keeper of His Church is also the keeper of each individual member.   And in this way the psalm continues:

 

            “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.” – verse 5.

 

Our translation says that He is “your shade at your right hand”, but the same Hebrew word which is here translated as “shade” may also be translated “shadow”.

When we consider that the text does not speak of a shade over or above us, but a shade next to us, at our right hand, we should rather translate the Hebrew word with “shadow”.  

He does not say here, with this expression, that the LORD is a shade above or over us to protect us from the heat of the sun, but that He is your shadow at your right hand.

 

What does that mean?

 

He is speaking here of the constant closeness of the LORD.   The LORD’s presence follows you as closely as your own shadow.

 

When a small child for the first time discovers his own shadow, and realises that the shadow follows him, it sometimes causes some amusement.   The child may try to run away for his own shadow, or to beat his own shadow on the tricycle, but his shadow will keep up all the way.   Or the child may stand still, watching his shadow, and then suddenly jump to the side to see if the shadow is quick enough to follow his movement.   Or he may try to outsmart his shadow by unexpected movements, but: the shadow never stays behind.

Yes, children sometimes do this, but finally they give up, seeing that it is impossible to get away from your own shadow!  

It is this closeness of your shadow which is now used as an image to illustrate the closeness of the LORD!   He remains with you all the way – unfailingly!

 

Once we understand this image, it provides great comfort.   The LORD, our Keeper, never leaves us; He always remains right next to us at our side, ready to help.

 

How easily we forget this!   How easily do we start to doubt this promise!   When our faith is put to the test we often fail to cling to these promises, and think that maybe the LORD has forgotten us.  

How comforting then to hear the words of the LORD re-assuring us that He will always remain at our right hand, carefully keeping watch, always ready to help and deliver!

 

Brothers and sisters, these promises were not given to sinless people who never stumble.   These promises were given to us, who do often stumble and sin.   The righteous, who keeps God’s covenant and obey His commandments, also stumbles.  

What then is the difference between the righteous and the ungodly?

The difference is not that the righteous never sins or stumbles, but that as often as the righteous sins, he repents, and after stumbling again turn to the Lord, trusting His promises, asking for forgiveness and restoration, and so lives by faith, believing God’s revealed promises.

 

While the ungodly departs from the LORD and rejects His Word, the righteous seeks His help from the LORD.  

Yes, the righteous lives by faith, trusting the Lord, trusting His promises, living by and from these promises.   The righteous confesses: The LORD is my help.

 

Dear congregation, these promises embrace our whole life and includes every aspect of our life from beginning to end.   We note that in the last place, that…

The LORD’s help is all-inclusive

 

            “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”

 

It means that the LORD will protect you day and night.  

It reminds us of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night which the LORD provided for Israel on their journey through the desert.   In the daytime it provided shade to protect His people against the burning sun; at night the pillar of fire provided light and protection.  And so, in the cloud by day and in the fire by night, the LORD went before them, and with them, for their guidance and protection, day and night.

 

His protection will shield all evil from you.   Verse 7:

 

            “The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.”

 

Does it mean that we will experience no evil in this life?   No, we may indeed expect many afflictions and trouble in this life of sorrow.  

 

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” – Ps. 34: 19

 

We will indeed experience many sorrows, but in the midst of all the adversity and hardships and persecutions that God’s children will experience in this world, the LORD will preserve us from all evil.   He will allow only that which serves for our salvation, and will turn all our adversities to our benefit.

In the midst of all your troubles He will preserve your soul.  

 

“The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” – verse 8

 

As mentioned already, the expression “your going out and your coming in” includes all your endeavours from start to finish.   Your “going out” refers to the start of your journey, and your “coming in” refers to your return after the completion of your journey.   It refers to the start and also to the completion of all your doings.   When the LORD promises to preserve “your going out and your coming in”, He promises to preserve you on all our ways from start to finish.  

 

His protection and help is all-inclusive: day and night protection from all evil on all your ways from start to finish!

 

Yes, even forevermore – verse 8.

 

The promise will last, not only a lifetime, but for all eternity.   All these promises will find their everlasting fulfilment in glory where God will be with us as our God, forevermore.

 

His promises are true, now and forever.

 

Brothers and sisters, it is only the LORD, Jahve – our faithful covenant God, the Almighty, who made heaven and earth – will keep His promise.   Let us put our trust in Him, who through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has become our God and Father.

 

These promises of the covenant have been sealed by the blood of Christ.  

Through faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord, we are heirs of these promises – in this life, and forever!

 

Amen.

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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