On the day we were to visit Jerusalem during my first trip to Israel, up we went in the bus from the Dead Sea at 1,400 feet below sea level to Jerusalem at 2,700 feet above sea level.
Unexpectedly, our guide stopped the bus on the side of the road.
He instructed us to get out of the bus and as we stood at the side of the road, he read Psalm 121. He emphasized that there are 14 Psalms of Ascent. (In most Bible translations the phrase A Psalm of Ascent is listed at the beginning of each of these Psalms).
They are called Psalms of Ascent for an obvious reason – no matter how you approach Jerusalem – you go up.
Our guide read Psalm 121 saying that it was his favorite Psalm of Ascent. I agree with him, and also list it as one of my favorite Psalms of all 150 Psalms. Recognizing the geography of the ascent to Jerusalem, Psalm 121:1 makes sense.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (ESV).
All 14 of the Psalms of Ascent are short. Some scholars believe these Psalms were collected into their own hymnal (or small scroll) and sung by pilgrims as they walked up the mountains to Jerusalem.
Psalm 121 is a song of “sing and repeat.” A self-appointed worship leader would sing verses 1 and 2 and then those within listening distance would sing verse 3. The worship leaders would repeat verses 1 and 2 with the congregation then singing verse 4 – and so on through the Psalm.
Sort of like singing a campfire song. Someone starts the refrain, and everyone joins in with the chorus.
Take a moment to read Psalm 121 this way. Verses 1 and 2 then verse 3. Verses 1 and 2 again then verse 4. Verses 1 and 2 again then verse 5… until the end of the Psalm.
You are reading the Psalm the way it was sung thousands of years ago.
The Psalm uses imagery from a journey through difficult terrain:
He will not let your feet be moved (v. 3).
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night (vv. 5-6).
A great message for us during difficulty!
We are to serve the Lord, wherever He leads. Our journeys will have danger, need resources, and can bring anxiety.
It is good to know that…
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (v. 8).