I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
There are several theories as to why the Psalmist would lift his eyes to the hills at the beginning of this prayer. The hills are high, drawing his gaze heavenward. The hills are beautiful, reminding him of the glory of God and his creative power. The hills represent God’s provision and faithfulness in bringing the Israelites to the promised land. The hills around Jerusalem provide fortification, helping the psalmist feel secure in the defensibility and preservation of the holy city.
But the theory I find most compelling is… the hills are the “high places” where pagan altars were built and idols were worshiped.
Let me rewind a bit. Psalm 121 is one in a set of prayers known as the Song of Ascents (Psalm 120-134). Scholars believe these psalms were sung by pilgrims making their way into Jerusalem for the high holy feasts. The journey into the city was steep, rocky, hot, slow-going, and often dangerous – not an easy trek for people who lacked an REI or even just sturdy hiking boots.
It would be tempting to wonder if the pilgrimage was worth it; tempting to look to something else, something nearer, for their comfort and provision; tempting to worship something a bit more convenient. How very tempting then to lift their eyes to the false gods in the hills and wonder, “From where does my help come?”
Idol worship is as much a temptation for the modern Christian as it was for the ancient Israelite. We may not have pagan altars in the hills, but we certainly have them in our hearts. If you want to know what the idols are in your own life, all you need to do is complete this sentence:
I lift my eyes to the ______.
Husband’s return from work?
Kid-free beach trip?
Glass of wine?
Eight hours of sleep every night?
It is so tempting, and so easy, to look to something nearer, temporary, convenient, and false to act as a band-aid to our daily stressors and challenges. Luckily, the Psalmist gives us the antidote to this poisonous thinking. He asks and answers, “From where does my help come?”
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
In just two verses, the psalmist manages to move us from temptation and doubt to right relationship with the Lord – affirming God’s personal care (“myhelp”) and God’s omnipotence. When the circumstances of our journeys overwhelm us and the thought of quitting God’s call for something easier appeals to us, we must remember that our identity is first and foremost dependent on God. We have nothing and are nothing except that the creator of all things created and loved us.
Skipping to the final two verses:
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
After opening with the emotionally driven temptation to seek out false gods, the Psalmist closes with a statement of fact: our God is utterly reliable. He is one who keeps you. He keeps you in your moments of doubt. He keeps you even when you lose your temper with your children. He keeps you when you learn your husband is staying late at the office and you need to cancel plans with friends and put your kids to bed alone. Again. He keeps you when your car fails and your basement leaks and your computer refuses to turn on. He keeps you even in moments when you lift your eyes to the hills (or the ice cream, or the shopping, or the…) and wonder from where your help comes.
In our daily lives, it is inevitable that we will look to something other than God and wonder if that thing will bring the satisfaction and the rest we desire. But as St. Augustine (a man who self-admittedly knew quite a lot about idolatry) famously prayed in his Confessions,“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” In moments of temptation, follow the wise example of the Psalmist and reorient yourself to the Lord – affirming who He is and who you are because of Him. You are one who is kept by the creator of the universe.
No hills necessary.
Danielle Hitchen is the founder of Catechesis Books and the author of the Baby Believer board books – a set of concept books designed to introduce very young children to the core tenets of the Christian faith. She desires to create beautiful books to help parents have better faith conversations with their children.
Her professional background includes communications consulting, radio production, event planning, and non-profit and church administration. Danielle is a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University where she earned her B.A. in Humanities. She resides in northern Virginia with her husband and two (soon to be three!) children. You can find learn more about her books at www.babybeliever.com and follower her on Instagram and Facebook @catechesisbooks.