Many Christians look forward to going to conferences or camps year after year. There is a familiar journey, with anticipation building as landmarks are passed along the way. Finally there is the joy of seeing old friends and listening to cherished teachers. For the ancient Hebrew, going to the temple for feasts must have been something like this, yet for them the journey was likely far more difficult than our annual journeys are for us. Psalm 121 is a “Song of Ascents” that many of them would have sung as they traveled, and it gave them the hope that the Lord preserves His people throughout their pilgrimage.
In order to get to Jerusalem, many Israelites had to walk hundreds of miles. They had to pass through valleys and dry places, alongside cliffs and past caves. They walked through wilderness areas where there were predators and bandits. Many would come by way of the paths along the Jordan River valley, which meant they later had to climb thousands of feet to get to the temple. As the psalmist considered that difficult climb, he wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?” (v. 1). It is a question for anyone facing a journey, a trial, or even death itself. Where does your help come from? How will you get through this day?
The right answer is found in the next verse: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” This line is really a tremendous confession of faith. The hills were big, the challenges sobering. Yet the psalmist confessed that his help came from Jehovah, the truly existing God, who keeps all His promises and who is the Maker of the heavens and the earth. He is the Lord of the hills and the valleys. This is a firm profession of faith in almighty God.
In many Reformed churches, this truth, as it is echoed in Psalm 124:8, is the opening of every church service. “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” It is often called the votum, which means “vow.” It is not a phrase to take lightly or to recite mechanically. It is an appropriate confession of God’s people as they start a week, and it ought to be our confession as we draw ever nearer to the heavenly throne of Jehovah. Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). In the person and finished work of Christ, who has ascended to the true Holy of Holies, we find our help and our hope. Even more, He has promised to send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, for the advantage of His disciples (John 16:7).
Those who confess this help have a great hope. It is poetically illustrated by the Lord’s care for pilgrims in the rest of Psalm 121. The Lord sustains, watches over, protects, and preserves His children. Though many would face dangers, and all eventually would die, the psalm ends with an eternal promise: “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Ps. 121:8).