My family took lots of road trips when I was a child. To pass the time we'd eat, play games and sing songs. Later in life, when mom and dad would put my sister and me on the jet-plane to go to college, we'd play and listen to 8-Track tapes of the Bill Gaither band, "I'll Fly Away."
Ancient Israel didn't have jets or cars. They mostly traveled by beast or on foot. But they had songs for their travels too. Psalms 120-134 are called Songs of Ascents, and were likely used by pilgrims on the road to the Jerusalem Temple Mount: Psalm 121 begins by reminding the traveler of where they're headed and why (verses 1-2): "I lift up my eyes to the mountains--where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
We've sometimes begun longer car trips with prayer, or even asked others to pray for "traveling mercies." On one trip we turned back because of heavy snowfall in a mountain pass. On another, floods wiped out a bridge we needed to cross. On another the sky turned pitch black at noon and we were pummeled with hail and blinding rain in a thunderstorm. We also seek to stay awake at the wheel, stay on the road, and avoid the carelessness of other drivers.
Psalm 121 orients the traveler to trust that the Maker of heaven and earth "watches over." The phrase appears five times in verses 3-8: "He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you--the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm--he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."
"Watch over" is almost like another name for God!
The August before I began college, I spent three days camping in solitude on the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's upper peninsula. I had a plastic tarp, a small fire, a sleeping bag, a stenographer's notebook and pen, no food but plenty of fresh water. I also had a small Bible and little else to do but read it, take short walks, pray and write a few letters to mail later. I read the entire books of Psalms and Proverbs. Psalm 121 stood out to me. I could sleep alone in the open air, because the Maker of heaven and earth doesn't doze off and watches over me.
Other psalms disorient us with complaints, but they also reorient us toward trust toward the Maker of heaven and earth. The risen Lord Jesus is wakeful and near, watching over us, even in the dark places of our journey. Where are you headed this week, and at what place are you camped?
Pastor Jim Byrne
The faithful presence