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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:The Traveller's Song
Text:Psalms 121 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading and Text: Psalm 121 Songs: Ps. 91:1,2, Ps. 25:4; Ps. 121; Hy. 61:1,4,6; Ps. 91:3,4,5
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Last Sunday I preached on two Songs of Ascent: 120 and 133.
This morning we will look at 121, another one of the pilgrim songs that the children of Israel would sing as they made their way from the different part of the land up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals.

What is this one about? It is about how the LORD, who watches over Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps. So, with apologies to Felix Mendelssohn, let me state the theme as:


The LORD, is:

1. Our Creator (vv 1-2)
2. Our Protector (vv 3-6)
3. Our Benefactor (vv 7-8)

1. Pilgrim (let’s call him that again) lifts his eyes to the hills and asks: From where does my help come?His confident answer is: My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

In this, the children of Israel were different from their heathen neighbours. Their heathen neighbours only looked to the hills for help. Pilgrim looks beyond the hills, higher than the hills, to the God who made the hills, the earth, the skies for help–for safety, security, peace, and blessing.

Pilgrim lives in the midst of those who thought that their gods, to whom they had to appeal for help, lived on the hilltops. All Canaanites believed that. Baal was thought to live on the top of Mt. Zaphon in Syria. Mot, the god of death, lived on a mountain in the underworld. The Canaanites had their places of worship on the tops of hills. There they built the altars to their gods; there they constructed their temples and erected their Asherah poles.

Remember Balaam and Balak. King Balak of Moab hired Balaam the witch doctor to lay a curse on the children of Israel encamped on the Plains of Moab. Every time Balaam took Balak to a high mountain. First they went up to the high place of Baal. There they built seven altars and sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. Then they went to the top of Mt. Pisga and did the same. Then to the top of Peor.

When Israel entered the land, they were to destroy all these Canaanite places of worship. The LORD had said: Destroy all [the Canaanite} carved images and … cast idols, and demolish all their high places. (Num 33:52)

The problem was that Israel did not destroy these hilltop Canaanite places of worship. Often they ended up worshipping there as well–some times they worshiped the LORD at the high places; sometimes Canaanite gods; sometimes a mix of both. Even the great King Solomon got mixed up in this syncretistic soup. (1 Ki 3:3) Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. (2 Ki 23:13) … on the south of the Hill of Corruption, Solomon king of Israel … built [altars] for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon.

King Jeroboam established alternative worship on high places at Dan and Bethel.

This was a problem throughout the history of Israel, even to the time of exile. The Prophet Ezekiel accused the people in exile of having eaten at the mountain shrines and looking at the idols there.

And so the question was relevant and pertinent for Pilgrim: "I lift up my eyes to the hills–does my help come there?" From the false gods? The Canaanite gods? The syncretistic melange of so many?

Today we could ask: Does my help come from the social welfare system? Or from a labour union? Or from myself? Or from some mixed up faith wherein I trust God a bit, myself a bit, and the political or social structures of the world a bit?

Pilgrim's answer is: No. My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

The heathen deified heaven and earth. They worshipped the earth and especially the heavens.

Pilgrim confessed: The LORD is the Maker of heaven and earth. He said: I believe in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

That is your confession too, is it not? God is the God of your existence. He created you. He created all things. The universe. He, the LORD, the God who created all things, entered into covenant with you. Five times the special covenant Name of God–the LORD–is used in this Psalm. In that covenant he promises to be your helper.

In the OT God promised help to the righteous, the poor, the widow, the fatherless. The Psalms speak about God helping in the various circumstances of life: illness, personal distress, dismay.

God shows us perfect help in our Lord Jesus Christ. Reading through the gospels, so often you read about Jesus helping people. (Mat 9:36) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus helped those who needed help. When the people saw what the Lord Jesus was doing in their midst–preaching the good news, forgiving sins, healing the sick and raising the dead then (Luke 7:16) They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." As young Mary, newly pregnant with the Son of God, said in her song: (Luke 1:54) He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful…. The Lord Jesus has helped us, has he not? He is our Helper, is he not?

2. Our Maker who helps us is also our Protector. (vv 3-6)

These verses speak about God's care over the whole church. Pilgrim speaks here about Israel, the whole people of God. The LORD watches over his people. The same word "watches" is used three times in vv 3, 4 & 5.

You know how it is if someone asks you to watch something. You are sitting at the airport, and someone asks you to watch his luggage while he goes to buy a magazine. You cannot take your eyes off that guy's luggage. You feel a great sense of responsibility for you would hate it if someone stole it while you had promised to watch it.

Of, you are babysitting a friend’s child for a couple hours. You do not let the child out of your sight.

So the LORD watches over his church. He does not slumber. He will not sleep.

The heathen gods were sleepy gods. You remember when Elijah had his final showdown with the Baal prophets. When Baal would not respond, (1 Ki 18:27) Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened."

Generally, the heathen thought it was safer to have their gods asleep most of the time: "Let sleeping gods lie." The gods were dangerous and should only be awoken in times of great emergency.

But not Israel's God! Not our God. He slumbers not nor sleeps.

Do you ever think about that, children? You get tired; you go to bed; you sleep. Maybe a long time–ten hours. All that time, God is awake watching over you. You wake up and stretch, and God is still there, wide awake, watching over you. Over you, personally.

You see, there is a shift from v. 4 to v. 5. In v. 4, Pilgrim says that the LORD watches over Israel (the whole people of God). In v. 5 he says that the LORD watches over you (it is in the singular).

God is a protective shade at your right hand. You dwell in the shelter of his wing. That means you have someone to go with you through life's pilgrimage. Life has highs and lows. Some of you are high and some of you are low. Through all the highs and lows, God is at your right hand. As Psalm 16:8 says: I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Because of the LORD's nearness at your right hand, the sun and the moon will not harm you.

Again, we need to read this in the unfortunate heathen context Pilgrim lived. Everyone in the ANE, in one way or another, worshipped the sun and moon. When Israel entered Canaan, there was a city called "Beth Shemesh." That means "House of the Sun." Likely it was a place where the Sun was worshipped. Since Canaanite religion was definitely rated triple-X, this House of the Sun was probably not much different from the House of the Rising Sun, the brothel in New Orleans made famous through song by countless pop musicians in the 1960s.

The LORD warned Israel not to worship the host of heaven when they entered the land. (Deu 4:19) And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars--all the heavenly array--do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping them.

Israel did fall into the evil trap of worshipping the sun and the moon. King Manasseh appointed pagan priests who led the people to worship the sun and moon, the constellations and all the starry hosts of heaven.

The pagans had a love-hate relationship with these "gods." They needed the sun for life. But when the sun caused drought and beat upon the people with unrelenting heat, they grew scared of the sun. They thought it was angry at them. It was harming them by day. And if bad things happened at night, they thought the moon-god was angry. That the moon was striking them at night.

Pilgrim say: that is not so. The LORD is the Maker of heaven and earth. The sun and the moon do not have a separate existence. God created them. He is the Creator of all things.

Day or night, whether you are walking in the sunlight or sleeping in the moon shadows, the LORD God will take care of you. Each of you, personally.

3. The Lord is our Creator, our Protector, and, thirdly, our Benefactor.

Vv 7 & 8 look to the future. The same verb is used in these verses–the verb "to watch." It is used three times in vv 7 & 8. The Hebrew word behind "will keep you" in v. 7 is the word for watch.

The same word is used again (six times all counted in this Psalm). But now, in these verses, the tense changes to the future. In the verses 3-6 Pilgrim spoke about what God did for his people in the past and does for them in the present. In the verses 7 & 8 he speaks about what he will do for them in the future.

And what will he do? He will keep you from all harm. God is not promising you a cushy life; rather, He is promising you a well-armed life.

He promises that he will watch over your life. That is a promise for the future.

The LORD will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore. Today and tomorrow.

We live in a very mobile society. We travel a lot. The Lord promises us His protection.

Does that mean that we will never fall and hurt ourselves? Or be involved in a MVA? That we will never fall ill?

No, of course not. That's not what Pilgrim means. What Pilgrim means is that with the LORD watching over us, with us living in His shadow, living under his gracious and sovereign providence, nothing really bad can ever happen to us. As we confess in Lord's Day 10: God, in his providence, still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by His fatherly hand. And so: We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love; for all creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.

No bird of the air falls to the ground outside of God's will. Not a hair of your head goes missing outside of the Father's will.

Day by day, in your coming and going, God is bringing you to the end of your pilgrimage. We are all pilgrims. We are all headed for Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem which is coming to us from above. Here we have no fixed address. Our citizenship is in heaven.

And in the mean time, we have a Shepherd, a guardian, a keeper–our Lord Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. He keeps us safe. He leads us and guides us on our pilgrimage.

Trust in Him. Don't look to the false gods of this life. Don't be scared by the things of this life. Trust your Lord Jesus. Trust your heavenly Father. Trust the Holy Spirit.

For your God, your covenant LORD, is your Creator, Protector and Benefactor. He watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. George van Popta

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