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Unto the Hills

by Tim O'Hearn

"I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth."
(Ps 121:1-2, KJV)

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth."
(Based on several modern translations)

The two versions of the verses above seem to carry two different ideas about where the psalmist looked for help. The translation of 1611 seems to say that the writer considered God to be a god of the hills. This was the thought of the servants of the Syrian King, ben-Hadad (I Kings 20:23), and was the attitude that caused God to destroy him. So can it also have been the attitude of a psalmist inspired by God? The twentieth century versions do not carry this idea. They do, on the other hand, seem to include an unnecessary phrase. The whole reference to the hills seems to be meaningless in relation to the rest of the psalm.

Living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, dominated by Sandia Peak on the east, one is constantly lifting "my eyes up to the hills." Every day is affected by the "moods" of that magnificent escarpment. It is easy for me to consider one travelling to or living near Jerusalem starting a praise of God by referring to the hills. A believer is constantly reminded of God's creative power just by looking upward. Perhaps this was what the psalmist had in mind. I look to the hills and see the hand of God. It is this same God who is my helper, my shade, my protector. Thus, the introductory statement as translated by most today is the motive force behind the poet's following rhapsody on God.

The King James Version of this passage is not totally lacking in merit, however. Even if the writer did not believe God was just "a god of the hills; but he is not a god of the valleys," (I Kings 20:28) that does not mean he did not look to God in the hills for his help and strength. Zion—the mountain of God, the place where God chose to put his dwelling place among men, the holy city. Surely every Jew, at least after the construction of the First Temple, looked unto the hills for their help. Even Daniel, so far away that he could no longer see the hills, prayed to God "toward Jerusalem." (Dan 6:10) Did he, perhaps, have this psalm in mind often as he prayed. It would certainly have been appropriate to his circumstances.

Whether we look to Zion, literally or figuratively, as the dwelling of God; or whether we look to the nearest mountains to remind us of God's might, we should also remember the conclusion the psalmist drew. We should keep in mind the rest of the psalm.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 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. 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 on and forevermore.