Where Is Our Hope?

1I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

I have the privilege of sharing God’s Word with you following a significant week in the life of our country. This past Tuesday, as you all know, the presidential election was held. The election brought to a close a campaign that seemed like it would never end, a campaign where the two major candidates seemed to hit one low after another.

In a poll of likely voters taken just shortly before Election Day, both Clinton and Trump were given extremely high unfavorability ratings. ABC had the poll produced, and it reported on the findings: “Clinton is seen unfavorably by 60 percent of likely voters…a new high. Trump is seen unfavorably by essentially as many, 58 percent…Marking the depth of these views, 49 percent see Clinton “strongly” unfavorably, and 48 percent say the same about Trump — unusual levels of strong sentiment.” Unusual levels of strong sentiment in what has been a very unusual election cycle.

Perhaps one of the main reasons for the strangeness of this past election is that our country has gone through a major cultural shift of late. A lot of things have changed, and one of those things is that Christians, in general, are not as well thought of as we have been in the past. In years past we have felt more at home in this country. We have been able to grow somewhat comfortable holding to our beliefs without much serious challenge from society at large. In the America of days gone by, and particularly in the Bible Belt of days gone by, calling yourself Christian was the norm. It was a culturally accepted badge of honor.

But with the way things have been, in the past, we were in a dangerous place. With great cultural acceptance comes great danger. Our story bears some parallels to that of the Israelites in the Old Testament, in that, when things were going well for the Israelites, they often took their eyes off of God. They put their hope in their wealth. They put their hope in earthly peace and comfort. And they put their hope even in their government. God gave them rulers, He gave them kings, and over and over again those leaders disappointed them. Over and over again their leaders let them down.

No matter how our election this year had turned out, no matter what the results have been, it would still have been evidence that we cannot place our ultimate hope in sinful men, sinful women. Trump cannot save. Clinton cannot save. Sinful men cannot save sinful men. There’s not a person on this earth who can fix all our problems, because there’s not a person on this earth who is not a sinner.

Now, certainly we should care who our leaders are in this country. We should care what happens in our nation in the days ahead. But, in this context of the day and age we live in, the one question I want us to consider this morning is: Where is our hope? Where is your hope? Where is mine?

In his commentary on Psalm 121, W.S. Plumer writes: “It is a great mercy when God teaches us that there is no help for us in man.” When we are tempted to place our hope in an election, in a sinful candidate, we must remind ourselves of this truth.

The Psalm we are looking at today is all about the one that we can place our hope in. The one who is our help. The one who rules over all elections, all presidents, all kings and queens, and all nations. It is a Psalm about the living, reigning King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It’s about our God. And that is why I rejoice at the chance to share this Psalm with you.

Psalm 121 is presented in the Bible with very little historical context. We don’t know who wrote this Psalm. It may have been David, but God hasn’t told us. We also don’t know what circumstances the Psalmist is facing as he writes. There are few specifics given here. We know so little about the context, but in a way that’s a great thing. Since God doesn’t give us more details, since He doesn’t give us more context here, we can very easily apply this Psalm to any context we find ourselves in, to any circumstances we find ourselves facing. Whether we are facing fear about the future, or we’re struggling with illness, either our own or that of someone who’s dear to us, or whether we’re facing employment challenges, financial challenges, internal struggles with sin, with the sinful flesh that clings so closely – whatever our lives look like today, and whatever they look like tomorrow, this Psalm is for us.

The Psalm begins, in verse 1, with a reflective question. The Psalmist writes:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come? (Psalm 121:1)

Where do we look for help? To where do we lift our eyes?

John Calvin, commenting on this passage, understood this idea of looking to the hills to indicate looking to whatever is great or excellent in the earth. Looking up to the highest of earthly heights in our search for help. He says, “although all the helps of the world, even the mightiest, should offer themselves to us, yet we ought not to seek safety anywhere but in God.” Where do we look for safety?

As Americans who are very wealthy compared to much of the world, we are in great danger of looking to our wealth, looking to material things for help and for safety. The foundation that we seek to hold us up, that we seek to hold up our lives, is too often shaky, unstable ground. We can place our hope in a foundation that is shifting sand, and all the while we think it’s rocky ground. Without even knowing it, our hope is easily placed in retirement plans, or in steady income, in houses, cars, food in our pantry, good health. None of these are bad things. But they are bad things to build our lives on. No matter how much of them we obtain, they still make a bad foundation to hope in. We often build our lives on these things, and yet, they are all ultimately outside of our control. They are here one minute, and gone the next.

All of the things that we have in our lives. All of these luxuries, these comforts, they are all intended to point us to the one who is greater than them. They are to point us to the one who made them, and who gave them to us. All the highest, most excellent things in the world, they are to point us to God. I think that’s what happens with the Psalmist here. He looks to the hills, he looks to the majesty and glory of earthly beauty, and it points Him to the Creator. It points Him to the source of all glory and beauty. He says:

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. (Psalm 121:1-2)

There are five truths about God we’re going to look at in this Psalm. Five truths about God that compel us to worship, that compel us to place our hope in Him above all others. There is a common theme that binds these truths together, and that common theme is that God is our Keeper. The beginning of verse 5 says, “The Lord is your keeper.” And in addition to that, the word “keep” or “keeps” is also used in verse 3, verse 4, twice in verse 7, and once more in verse 8. God is our keeper.

The world we live in is full of sin. Full of what seems like chaos. Full of darkness. Where do look for help, where do we look for deliverance, when we’re longing for relief? Where can we find true and abiding hope? We can find it in God, who not only is capable of keeping us, but who does keep us. So much so that He calls Himself our Keeper.

So as we go through this list of five truths about God, think about them in the context of God being our keeper. This is the kind of keeper we have.

First, the one who keeps us has made heaven and earth. We saw this already in verse 2, which says:

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:2)

What kind of power must you have to create heaven and earth? And yet, it was not a big task for God. He didn’t have to strain Himself to do it. He simply spoke. “Let there be,” He said. “Let this happen,” “let that happen.” Over and over again He spoke, and out of nothing, creation was born. This mighty God is the one our help comes from.

all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens. (Psalm 96:5)

In other words, all those things we make idols out of, false gods out of, they can’t do for us what we need! They can’t save, they can’t deliver, they can’t give us what they promise. But compare them, in all their worthlessness, to God. He made the heavens! If there is anyone who can give us what we need, it is the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

The second truth we see about our God, our Keeper, is that He does not slumber or sleep.

3He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:3-4)

The most powerful person on earth still has to sleep every night. Throughout history, one of the best ways to overthrow a powerful ruler was to do it when they were at their most vulnerable – when they were sleeping. God does not sleep. His care for us is unceasing. He watches over us 24/7 without exception. He is with us 24/7 without exception.

You may remember the showdown that the prophet Elijah had with the prophets of Baal on Mount Camel. They each were going to offer a sacrifice to their god, and call on their god to set that sacrifice ablaze with fire. This was to see which was the true god, which was the most powerful god.

26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:26-27)

A couple verses later it says of the prophets of Baal:

29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:29)

Our God never sleeps or slumbers. He pays attention. He knows everything that ever has happened and everything that ever will happen in our lives. And He is non-stop taking care of His children.

The third truth about God we see in our passage, is that He rules over the sun and moon, over day and night.

5The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night. (Psalm 121:5-6)

The sun is one of the most incredible wonders of God’s creation. And yet even the sun, with its scorching heat, and its blinding light, cannot strike those who are hidden in the shade of the Lord.

This word in verse 5 translated “shade” is used several other times in the Psalms. One great example is Psalm 36:7, which says:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

In the shadow of God’s wings we are safe. Safe even from the most powerful of forces.

The fourth truth about God our Keeper: He is the conqueror of evil, and sustainer of life.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life. (Psalm 121:7)

This verse is a wonderful verse. A wonderful promise. And yet, this verse may bring to a head some doubts or questions that have been building in us as we’ve gone through this Psalm. What I mean is, we’ve read things like: “He will not let your foot be moved.” Probably not talking about our physical feet, right? But even in a spiritual sense, has anyone here ever slipped, stumbled, or struggled in this life? Or more than that even, has anyone ever turned on the Lord for a season? Ignored Him, rebelled against Him? I think we all have. So how can it say that He won’t let our feet be moved?

Or what about another verse. Verse 6: “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” Now, we live in Texas. We know what 110 degree summers are like. What happens in those summers when we spend time outdoors? The sun strikes us. It burns us. How does this verse make sense?

We read those things, and then we come to verse 7.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life. (Psalm 121:7)

Have we been kept from all evil?

The second part of the verse, our lives being kept, that’s happened. So far at least. All of us here are alive in a physical sense. But that hasn’t stayed true for everyone who’s read this verse. It’s not true for everyone who has clung to this passage. So, as nice as these things sound, some of us may be questioning here, doubting here.

Maybe we understand that verse 3 isn’t talking about us being moved or slipping in a temporal sense. Yes we may stumble and slip and fall temporarily, but in an eternal sense God keeps us through all of that. He keeps His children.

Maybe we understand that verse 6 isn’t saying we’ll never get a sunburn. It’s saying God is sovereign over sun and moon, and so they can’t do us any harm outside of His will.

Those two are a little easier to understand. But what about verse 7? How can we understand verse 7 to be true? We have to look to the cross of Jesus.

This world is full of evil. And God hates evil. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was likely the most evil act in all of history. But, it was also the moment when Christ conquered all evil. When He took something wicked, and He made something glorious and God-honoring out of it. This is what He does with us. The evil that we see, and that we experience, is all evil that has been conquered by Christ. And because it’s been conquered by Christ, any evil done to us is used, by God, to serve us and to do us good. All evil done to us, all evil that we face, is used for our good by the one who keeps us.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28)

In Genesis 50:20 we see Joseph, a man who suffered much because of the evil actions of others. He says to his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

God has conquered evil. And as such, anything and everything evil that comes our way, God does us good with it. He keeps us, He preserves us. He keeps our life. We have eternal life with Him.

I once heard David Platt share the story of a Romanian pastor named Josef Tson. Because of his faith and ministry, Josef was interrogated by six men. Listen to what this pastor said to his interrogators. He said:

What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me. . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God.

Recounting his story, Tson says:

During an early interrogation I had told an officer who was threatening to kill me, “Sir, let me explain how I see this issue. Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Here is how it works. You know that my sermons on tape have spread all over the country. If you kill me, those sermons will be sprinkled with my blood. Everyone will know I died for my preaching. And everyone who has a tape will pick it up and say, ‘I’d better listen again to what this man preached, because he really meant it; he sealed it with his life.’ So, sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder than before. I will actually rejoice in this supreme victory if you kill me.” After I said this, the interrogator sent me home. Another officer who was interrogating a pastor friend of mine told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.” I stopped to consider the meaning of that statement. I remembered how for many years, I had been afraid of dying. I had kept a low profile. Because I wanted badly to live, I had wasted my life in inactivity. But now that I had placed my life on the altar and decided I was ready to die for the Gospel, they were telling me they would not kill me! I could go wherever I wanted in the country and preach whatever I wanted, knowing I was safe. As long as I tried to save my life, I was losing it. Now that I was willing to lose it, I found it.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life. (Psalm 121:7)

Our God has conquered evil. And He is Lord over all. This is the final truth we see in Psalm 121. It is that He is forever sovereign over our going out and our coming in.

The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8)

It is as though the Psalmist has built to a crescendo with this final verse. He has talked about God’s power in so many different ways. And now he sums it all up by saying God will keep our going out and our coming in. In other words, whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever may be happening to us, God is there, and He is keeping us. He is doing that now, and He will do it forevermore. This is the God we serve. This is the God who is our Keeper.

So what can we do when we have presidential candidates with high unfavorability ratings? What can we do when things in this world disappoint us? When we’re facing evil on all sides? What can we do? We can look to the one our help comes from. We can look to the one who will not let our feet be moved. We look to the one who keeps us.

That is what Jesus did in His time on earth. Throughout His whole ministry, Jesus was looking to the Father, lifting His eyes to the Father, walking with the Father. In Gethsemane, He looked to the Father and said “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” On the cross where He unjustly took our blame, where He bore our wrath, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Jesus was preserved in the face of evil. Though He died, He rose again. His life was kept. And in all that He experienced, all the suffering He endured, our Lord had these same promises, that we’ve looked at, to cling to. He had Psalm 121 to cling to. He could recite these words as a prayer to His Father. He probably did recite these words. And now He is the one in Heaven, answering our prayers. He is the one who hears us when we recite this Psalm ourselves. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet now He is the Great High Priest interceding for us.

He is the Lord. May we put our hope in Him.

1I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121)