Psalm 121: More than “good thoughts”

Psalm 121

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.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

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.

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.

Sand dune Wallflower-#1 | Mercer Botanical Garden | March 2023

One of the podcasts I occasionally listen to is hosted by an atheist. He’s not the in-your-face kind. He doesn’t make a point of it. But it’s clear that he has no space in his world view for any kind of god. He’s not even an agnostic as far as I can tell. He’ll talk about thinking good thoughts toward someone who’s having a difficult time. He’ll send out holiday cards to some of his patrons. But I don’t think he actually calls them “holiday” cards. After all, that would imply that there is something holy behind the celebration of the season or day.

This psalm directs us to a very specific, well-identified, and named God: the LORD (יהוה‎). This is the name God revealed to Moses when he sent him to Egypt with the message to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” The name may well be thought of as expressing the essential (existential?) reality of God’s existence. He is the One Who Is. His name is I AM that I AM. This is beyond René Descartes’ I think, therefore I am. There is no therefore necessary to God’s existence. He is. Self validating. Needing no one to acknowledge him. Needing to answer to no one. By his own assertion being. God is. The LORD is God.

But there’s way more to this than God’s self-validating existence. For God did not have to do anything in order to be. He did not need to create heaven and earth. But he did. He did not need to care about our feet being held steadfast. He didn’t need to keep us, provide for our shade, or bless our going out and coming in. But he has promised to do that. What’s more, he doesn’t do all this anonymously. He has revealed himself to us by name. We can call on him by name.

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of someone insinuating that he knows you by using your name in a familiar way. Whether unsolicited sales calls, or slick used car salesperson, it can be quite a turn-off. When you have and use someone’s name you are seeking to leverage a relationship in some manner or another.

We dare not try that with God. Take a look at the account of the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:11-20). Or consider Jesus’ answer to those who claimed, “Lord, Lord! Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name…” Jesus responds, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 17:21-23)

Jesus promises, however, that when we call on God in his name, he hears us. A humble cry reaches the heart of God, and he delights to be known by us. Our help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth, redeemer of lost and broken sinners, friend of repentant sinners, and keeper of our lives who has taken on human flesh. He is known as Jesus whom we confess as Lord. When we call on God in Jesus’ name we are not simply having good thoughts. We are connecting with the King of the Universe from whom help will surely come.

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