Remember those great cowboy movies of old? Just when all hope was gone, the calvary would come riding over the hills, guns blazing. Nowadays, the calvary is more likely to take the shape of one man, coming in like Rambo with machine guns in each hand and rounds of bullets strapped across his chest.
This form of “deus ex machina”, God from the machine, has been with us since the early Greeks when one of the gods would swoop in to set everything right. Write yourself into a corner with no way to save your hero or heroine, just bring in a god, or the calvary, to save the day.
The writer of Psalm 121 is looking to the mountains for help in this well-known psalm of trust. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence does my help come?” (1) He goes on to answer his own question, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (2) The mountains aren’t going to save him. Eugene Peterson in The Message translates this passage as, “I look up to the mountains, does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” (1-2)
The psalmist knew the mountains weren’t going to come to his rescue. However he may have felt the need to clarify this. Early tribes looked at the sun and moon and thought they were gods. Mountains, rivers, streams were considered dwelling places for gods.
Mountains held a special regard in the eyes of the Hebrew nation. Moses spoke to God upon Mount Sinai. Mountains were places of worship, not just for Hebrews, but also for other religions. In the New Testament, Jesus is transfigured upon a mountain and goes to the Mount of Olives to pray.
Palestine is a hilly area. It was natural for the Hebrews to shelter at the foot of a mountain. Looking upon the mountains inspired them to think of the creator of all the earth. And what is the nature of this God?
- Just as the mountains never sleep, our God never sleeps. “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.” (3-4)
- God protects from the heat of the sun. “”The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.” (5-6) God provides shade, not a small feat in a desert land.
- Finally, this God whom we worship, protects us from evil and watches over our comings and goings. “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 for evermore.” (7-8)
When rescued from trouble we can confuse the mechanism for our rescue with the true source. We may credit our doctor for saving our life when confronted with illness, but God works through the hands of doctors and other people. When in trouble we may pray to God to send help, but this help may come in the form of human hands, or a calvary.
The writer of this psalm is aware of this. He has either been rescued himself or witnessed a rescue, from what, we don’t know, but he recognizes it was God’s doing.
Has God ever rescued you? I’d love to hear about it.