Why did David lift his eyes to the hills? A new perspective on an old question

hills of judea 1Psalm 121:1 says in the King James, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. But David’s help didn’t really come from the hills, of course. Verse 2 says: My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

Because of that confusion, later versions changed the punctuation. The ESV says, 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.

 That makes it a little clearer, but it doesn’t answer the question. Why did David lift his eyes to the hills?

hills of judea 3I remember growing up hearing the answer that the hills represented strength, and God was strong. And I accepted that answer, and maybe it’s right.

But one time when I was reading Psalm 121, I began to think about David’s life.

It appears that David wrote this psalm after he was king, which means it was after he had spent a lot of time in those hills, the ones to which he was lifting his eyes.

What had happened in those hills?

For years, maybe as many as ten or fifteen years, he had hidden in those very hills, from a maniacal king who was dead-set on killing him.

hills of judea 2When David lifted his eyes up to the hills, he didn’t just see a beautiful view. He saw his life flash before his eyes. He remembered moving from one hill to another, from one cave to another, hiding in the back of a cave while the king slept in the front, working his way around one side of the mountain while the king and his army marched inexorably around the other side.

When David looked at those hills, he saw despair and grief and darkness and hopelessness.

But when he looked at those hills, he saw something more. He saw protection. He saw deliverance. He saw safety in the cleft of the Rock. In those hills, David knew the presence of God.

When David became king, he wanted to remember that even in the darkest places, God was still there, leading him, protecting him, fulfilling the promise He had given him when he was a youth, even when it seemed impossible.

hills of judea 4He wanted to remember, even as he sat on a throne, that the same Lord who had helped him when he was hiding in the hills—even in the times when he couldn’t perceive God’s help—would be helping him still.

Lift up your eyes to your own “hills.” What are your own hills? They are your time of greatest darkness and despair, when it seemed that God had forgotten you, but when afterwards you could look back to see that He was really holding you. He was there.

hills of judea 7

For Joseph of the book of Genesis, the “hills” he looked to might have been a memory of his years in the dungeon, waiting for the purposes of God to be fulfilled. And they were, far beyond his imagination.

For the apostle Peter, the “hills” he looked to might have been a memory of his faltering and failing when he followed Jesus as a disciple, knowing that Jesus loved him and protected him and eventually filled him with His Holy Spirit to do miracles and preach with power.

For Jesus, the “hills” He looked to were the cross of Calvary that He had to endure for the joy that He knew was set before Him on the other side.

For a friend of mine, the “hills” she may look to might be the days when she despaired that she would ever recover from the effects of horrific sexual abuse, only to see later that the Lord Jesus was walking with her through her healing journey to the other side.

For me, one set of “hills” I would look to would be a time of darkness when, spiritually speaking, I couldn’t see my hand before my face.  But then seeing the Lord bring me out to the other side and show Himself strong and manifest Himself to me.

What are your hills? Are you in them now, crying out for God to be there with you in the darkness and hiding and fear? Are you feeling like He has abandoned you?

Don’t lose heart. Hold on to hope. Trust Him to finish what He has started.

There will come a day when you’ll lift your eyes to those hills and say, “See those hills right there? Those, right there. They are the place of my greatest despair and grief and darkness and hopelessness.”

And then you’ll say, “But they are also the place of my greatest protection and deliverance. They are the place I was kept safe in the cleft of the Rock. They are the place I began to know the presence of God.”

hills of judea 6

Psalm 121

A Song of Ascents.

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.

 

 

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Dianne Couts
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Dianne Couts

See those hills? You can die there. But, through God’s grace, I survived and it is good to be reminded from whence I came. Thanks, Rebecca.

Heidi Smid
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Heidi Smid

I did a study a few years back on the Psalms of Ascent, which include this psalm. This particular one was spoken as they were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the hills were dotted with altars and idols and vendors hawking various things to sacrifice to these false gods. So looking up into the hills meant knowing that they would have to traverse that territory in order to meet with their God on the other side. The hills were also treacherous in the desert – dry, cold, windy. It was the first time I’d heard this perspective! The hills were frightening to the Israelite pilgrims, and so as they looked to them with dread, they remembered where their help comes from as they cross – from the one who made these hills.

healingInHim
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healingInHim

I’ve just discovered your blog via ACFJ. Have purchased the book you co-authored with Jeff Crippen.
This post resonates strongly with me. So blessed to have someone like you articulating my heart…. “Don’t lose heart. Hold on to hope. Trust Him to finish what He has started.”

Aston Senior
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Aston Senior

Many years ago, my school teacher gave me another view as to how this is to be read. Itis punctuated as follows: “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills? From whence commeth my health? My health commeth from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

She pointed out that the heathens would place their idols on the highest point so that they could look towards their god(s) from any where that they found themselves. It was a reference point as to where their god and thus their help was situated. They could then face him/her and worship them.

David is mocking them in the first statement. He sarcastically ask if he is expected to look towards the highest point for his salvation. Next he asks them where do they think his help and salvation lies. Finally he answers that he looks to God who made not only the hills ( the earth) but the heavens also. His God is all around, as he has stated in
Psalm 139:7-14. He is everywhere, not fixed to one spot.

This has been the best explanation that I have ever received of this, I believe, misunderstood piece of scripture.

Sharon Odio
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Sharon Odio

So beautifully said! If you haven’t already done it, search for the song “TOTAL PRAISE” performed by Steve Green or the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir on YouTube. I sing it every time I get a glimpse of the foothills and mountains around us. Now, after reading your blog, this Psalm will have even more meaning. I’ve spent some very precious times in “the hills” with the Lord and He is GOOD!