Keeper of Israel: Reflections on Psalm 121
Imagine that early this morning you and some of your friends left the comfort of your homes to begin a long and often arduous journey. Underfoot, stones invade your sandals; you and your friends must watch for larger ones that could threaten your balance. As you walk, you glance to the right and to the left — rocks, hills and mountains are everywhere. Your gaze is continually drawn to the horizon, to the skies, to the mountains, as you hope for a glimpse of your destination. There are no maps, no compasses, and no Fodor’s guides. It is a route you’ve traveled before.
The way up to Jerusalem is both marvelous and treacherous for you, the pilgrim traveler, as you anticipate your arrival at the Temple to worship God. When you finally reach that point, you and your fellow travelers will join countless others, all chanting from a group of Psalms (121-134) known as the Songs of Ascents.
These psalms are filled with words such as go up,” “look up,” “mountains,” “Mt. Zion,” “watchmen” and “dwelling place.” They paint a picture of people who are traveling to meet their God at a special time in a special place for a special purpose.
Today, these songs are part of the Psalter as we know it; they are also part of the synagogue service. They have special meaning for messianic believers both in Israel and around the rest of the world. They speak of God’s incredible provision of safety and security. As this edition of Havurah concentrates on updates from believers who are dwelling or have dwelt in the land of Israel, these psalms are powerful reminders of the fact that though times may be tumultuous, God’s promises of protection are sure because of who He is.
Our Creator Cares
We can see this particularly in Psalm 121, which depicts a traveler that apparently needs help as he journeys to worship the Lord. In verses 1 and 2, the psalmist says:
I will lift up my eyes to the hills
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Notice he asks a rhetorical question, and then provides the answer. The traveler looks around and says to himself, “The God of creation is a sure thing. I see His power displayed in the world around me. I know that I can trust Him.” This kind of trust is reflected in the articles in this edition and it should be reflected in our own lives.
When we feel unsure of our path, when we’re aware that we need help for the present, we need to look up and see what God has already done for us. We can look at God’s Word and behold its surety and eternality. We can admit to ourselves, “The way is difficult, I need a guide, God is my helper. He created me and He created all this. He will help me from going astray.”
He Is Always Awake and Aware
The traveler goes on and recognizes that he is not the only one God is protecting. In verses 3 and 4 he says:
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
He notes again with assurance that God keeps His people. The traveler must have felt at times that he was about to slip on the path. Like him, we sometimes are in danger of losing our sure footing. We stumble, yet God keeps us. The traveler knows that he won’t lose his footing as long as he depends on the Lord. His ability to stay on the path—and ours—comes from how well we depend on God and not on our own agility and balance.
The traveler points out that God is our sleepless Guardian, the Keeper of Israel. He created His people and He never loses sight of them. With this confidence, the traveler pushes on into the noonday sun.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
Those who have been in the Middle East know that the noonday heat can be unrelenting. This must be what the traveler is experiencing. It has become unbearably hot and any shade is a godsend for it protects from sunstroke as well as derangement. The day gives way to night, which evokes fear of its own. The brilliant moonlight casts eerie shadows. As the traveler and fellow pilgrims press on into the darkness, they see watchmen in the distance, but it’s also a struggle to keep one’s footing in the dark. The pilgrims reassure each other with the belief that God knows their struggles. He is a shield from the trials of the day and the testings of the night. He will be with us when we lie down and when we rise up; when we go out and when we come in. As long as we, the children of Israel and those who follow Him, keep our hearts focused on Him in worship with our feet walking towards Him on the path He has chosen for us, God will keep us.
What does it mean, “to keep”? The Hebrew word shomer communicates that God does not merely observe us; He undertakes to protect us. He concerns Himself intimately with us. We can have the confidence that God knows all and that He protects. No matter how the trials of life may heat up, no matter what catastrophes might befall us, God can be our Rock, the One who gives us strength to keep going out and coming in. No matter what grotesque shadows may fall across our path, we have a guiding light. Unlike the worldly watchmen who tire and fall asleep and who have no real power to save, God never stops watching, never stops caring.
Many of us have tried to prepare ourselves for every contingency. Yet no matter how high the SPF of our sunscreen, no matter how many protective layers we put on, life will sometimes burn us. We need the one who is the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings to be our shelter and our shield.
Preservation—Past, Present and Future
The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.
As God preserves us from external dangers, like the sun and the cold, so His loving care also keeps us from the evil of sin that threatens to invade our soul. We need to be kept, not only from the obvious sin of immorality, but from the temptation to sin through things like fear, gossip and doubt—all of which can poison our souls. God is diligent to convict us and to show us a better way.
Again, God takes note of our situation whether we are going or coming. Like a mother who watches over her children, both protecting and delighting, so our God watches over us as we march onward. He has near vision and far vision. He doesn’t see some things above the lens, and others beneath it. He is above all circumstances of life and so He sees it all—all the time, from every perspective, going and coming, backwards and forwards, in the past and in the future and right now. He preserves and He keeps.
We can trust in God as our Protector for the unseen, the rocks that cause us to stumble, the obstacles that cause us to doubt and the scorching trials we encounter. We can trust Him because His caring is eternal. It is for now and forevermore. His very Name, “Keeper of Israel,” assures us that what we entrust to Him will be kept.
As you read the following articles from some of our dear friends in Israel, they, like the psalm, should remind you that God is our ever-present help wherever we are.
Young Adult Ministry
Melissa Moskowitz has been a part of Jews for Jesus since 1976. She was born and raised in the Bronx and came to believe in Jesus while in college. Throughout her 40 years of service with the ministry, she's had the opportunity to use her giftings in youth and young adult work; in publications; through photography; and for the past 16 years in young adult ministry. Currently living on the west side of Los Angeles (to be closer to her grandson), Melissa maintains a monthly Shabbat fellowship for young adults and other events for the LA young adult community. A new initiative for the LA branch that Melissa is spearheading is ArtShareCollective/LA, a visionary community of Jewish believing artists who desire to use their creativity for the Gospel.