For some reason it’s painful to admit that I’m not a handyman. Sure, I have taught myself how to fix some things around the house. But, I have also created a lot of messes. The bottom-line issue has almost always been to save money. Time is usually less expensive for me than hiring a trained professional. So, I have been motivated to figure it out myself, or find convenient and cheap advice. My do-it-yourself plumbing jobs and electric wiring projects, therefore, have rarely been completed without mishap. Yet I’ve had just enough successes to keep me feeling “I’ve got this one.”
The writer of Psalm 121 said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” This is an ageless question. Where should we look when we need some help? We all require it, regardless if we admit it to ourselves or not. Whether it’s how to fix the bathroom faucet from dripping, or how to climb out of a massive hole of credit-card debt, or what to do with the confusing questions surrounding identity, purpose, sexuality, past, future, etc. Sooner or later we all ask ourselves, “From where does my help come?” How we answer greatly determines where we end up down the road. The source we seek help from today will either create greater messes or lead us toward a life-giving, peaceful future.
What do the “hills” have to offer?
The Psalmist’s natural inclination was to look to the surrounding hills for support and guidance. This initially doesn’t make sense to my 21st Century mind. But when I recall that in ancient Israel there were mini worship centers called high places sprinkled throughout the land, it becomes a little clearer. These altars were more convenient than traveling all the way to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. And since they were rogue sites, not really answering to any real spiritual authority, over time they absorbed the worship practices of local Canaanite deities. Yahweh worship got muddled with the practices of ancient pop culture.
Ultimately, the “hills” were where a person went to find aid and answers on their own terms. They had a more comfortable, “hip,” and broad-minded feel than Yahweh’s seemingly strict and narrow commandments. The local gods and goddesses came across as more accommodating in receiving the people’s worship and spiritual loyalty.
Yet, the ancient prophets of Israel were explicit: the Temple of Yahweh was where God’s Spirit manifested. It was THERE they were to worship, their sins to be forgiven, and God’s intervention in their lives accessed. Having ONE location and ONE source was an important way Yahweh distinguished Himself from the pantheon of powerless deities the local people worshiped.
The difference between good and evil kings of both Israel and Judah was often determined by how they dealt with these high places. The leaders who had them torn down and directed the people back to the Temple were the ones that displayed a humble respect for God’s place in Israel’s history and society. Those who encouraged high-place worship, or even ignored it’s practice, were leaders remembered as the ones that contributed to the corruption and downfall of the nation.
Do I look to the “hills”?
The question for the 21st Century Jesus follower is, “Where are my high places?” We all have them. They’re where we naturally go for guidance, particularly for convenient and easy answers that don’t disrupt the rhythm of our life too much. Let’s face it. Seeking God can expend a great amount of energy, rattle schedules and social engagements, as well as create some awkward moments, and just be down-right difficult. And to top it off, we don’t always hear or get what we want. Our modern-day “hills” on the other hand can be fashioned to fit our personal preferences and make our spirituality work for us.
I believe that each generation has had their trendy go-to “high places.” I suppose there can be as many as there are people on the earth. It can be Public Opinion or Pop Culture. The more cerebral among us might find themselves regularly cruising the “hills” of Rationality or Science for help and guidance. There are also the “isms” that draw a broad spectrum of worshipers: Nationalism, Socialism, Capitalism, Liberalism, and Conservativism to name a few. Even Personal Feelings have become a favorite “place” to retreat as the final authority on what is right or wrong.
Positive aspects for each of the above can be argued. But it’s when we go to any one of these ahead of, or instead of, God that we sooner or later find ourselves drifting from Him and His word. Our present-day “high places,” like the ancient ones, are often more convenient than faithfully seeking the Almighty, and they provide nice, quick-access answers (albeit short-sighted) to the dilemmas we find ourselves in. To put it bluntly, even today our “hills” are doorways to idolatry.
I lift 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.
Psalm 121 (ESV)
Which one of our “hills” can match what the LORD promises, to do and be for us as we look to Him? These “high places” all make their own promises to us. But they are at best temporary, and ultimately empty. Granted, there is a price for making God our first and primary source of help. He demands every part of us, mind, soul, and body. However, as we surrender ourselves completely to Him, He offers Himself completely to us. Just look at what Jesus has already given.
I will still need to call on a professional plumber to fix my water lines. And professional counselors can be helpful for other struggles. Yet, God is the One who is the source of all help that lasts. And as Jesus followers, we save ourselves much futility and grow in wisdom by going to Him first.