This psalm describes the journey each believer makes through life as he travels to the heavenly city. The psalm has two speakers. Verses 1 and 2 are in the first person singular and verses 3 to 8 are in the third person. We should picture a group of travellers making their way along the road and looking up to the hills. One of them sings or says the words of verses 1 and 2, and then the others with him respond with the words of verses 3 to 8. The obvious lesson from this dialogue is the necessity of fellowship.
The first speaker
When he looked at the hills, the speaker was not admiring the scenery. Instead he was concerned about two common details of life. The first was his sense of danger because the hills were the hiding place of bandits; the second detail was his observance of pagan temples and statues because they were built on high places. The hills were permanent reminders of (1) his need of God’s protection and (2) his worship of the true God. Therefore, he says: ‘My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.’
We face dangers as we travel. There is the danger of our culture with all its false gods of pleasure, politics, and prosperity. There are the false religions increasing in size around us. They seem so powerful when contrasted with ourselves. What can we do? We should do what the psalmist did and turn our eyes of them and look unto the Lord.
The other speakers
His companions on the journey now contribute to the conversation and continue speaking about the way God helps his people as they journey through life.
First, they note that God will be their guardian. He will function in this way both when the pilgrim is on the move and when he is at rest. We can imagine a traveller having to avoid holes in the road or rocks left by landslides. As we journey we are always facing situations where we might fall into temptation or into sin. It is wonderful to know that the Lord is so concerned about us that he takes note of where our next step will be.
God, the guardian of his people, does not sleep. The allusion here is to the practice of travellers placing guards round the encampment during the hours of darkness. Even if they chose the best guards, there could never be a sense of total security. How different it is with the Lord! Each of his people can rest secure, knowing that God is in charge of their protection.
Second, they note that God will be their refreshing protector. He is like a shade from the heat of the sun or from the cold of the clear, moonlit skies at night. Travellers had to take rest at noon from the strength of the sun; they needed shade at night to keep warm. God does not merely provide a shade, he is the shade. What a wonderful reality that is. In the heat of the day, the heavenly Shepherd provides his pilgrim people with rest of soul by reminding them of who he is and what he has done and of the joys that are ahead of them.
Third, they note that God will be their permanent and their comprehensive protector (vv. 7-8). There will never be a time when God will not be protecting them (their going out and their coming in) and there will never be a situation in which God cannot help them.