Mountains

This truth tells me, likewise, the meaning of these mountains to which “I have raised mine eyes” and “from where my help shall come” [Psalm 121:1]. These mountains are my fixed foundations, the everlasting hills of my hope. Let these mountains ever serve, too, as bulwarks to my soul. Let me look upon them always. May the eyes of my soul never stray from gazing toward these mountains, because upon them “the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”

Indeed, let me, even now, turn my thoughts to these godly mountains of my deliverance. Let me think of high Moriah, the mountain where the Lord provides. Let me climb with Abraham and wood-bearing Isaac to the altar of sacrifice. Let my help come to me, too, from mighty Sinai, in covenant and Law. Let me ascend with Moses and Elijah to stand before Your face. Likewise, Lord, make me ever mindful of the mountain where You dispel satanic thought with the keen sword of Deuteronomy. Oh, suffer not that handsome blade to sleep within my hand. Again, in blessed assurance, let my help come from the mountain where You proclaim blessed the poor in spirit. And kindly count me, Sir, among their number. Yet again, may my help come to me from the holy mountain where “such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son'” (2 Pet. 1:17). With Simon, make me contemplate the glorious cloud, and with the Sons of Thunder. Oh, most certainly, let my help be established on forlorn Golgotha, whose dark ninth plague foreshadows, for three hours, the earthquake and the slaughter of the Firstborn. With Your Mother, let me stand, and the close companions of her sorrow. Ah, but let my help, too, be found on that mountain from which the Eleven are sent forth to make disciples of all nations, for how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who proclaim peace and bring good tidings. And now let my help come to me from mystic Nebo, where I may gaze, as the morning mist begins to clear, across the green, tree-lined Jordan to my wide inheritance. May I not perish, I pray, amidst the sons of Ammon, nor the children of Moab. And at the last, dear Lord, let me stand with John on that great and high mountain, to see the great city, Holy Jerusalem, descending down from heaven, her light like a most precious stone, like a jasper clear as crystal, and with streets of gold, like transparent glass. That city is the final Israel, whose Guardian “neither sleeps nor slumbers.” And until that day, Lord, teach me always to raise my eyes to these mountains, “from where my help shall come.”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 242-243.

The Center and Sanctifier of Culture

In the psalm’s [117] context, this diversity of the nations and the peoples is not limited simply to an evangelistic program. It is particularly related, rather, to the praise of God, or worship; ethnic identity must receive a liturgical as well as an evangelistic form, for it is properly in worship that a people’s culture is centered and sanctified. “Praise the Lord, all you nations” is a command weighted with immense significance for a people’s poetic language, music, architecture, art, and other cultural expressions.

And why do the nations (ethnoi) and the peoples praise the Lord? “For His mercy (eleos) is confirmed upon us, and the truth of the Lord abides forever.” When St. Paul quotes the first half of our psalm in Romans 15:11, it is in support of his large argument “that the Gentiles (ethnoi) might glorify God for His mercy (eleos)” (15:9).

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 233-234

Idol Factories

In contrast to God [who does what He pleases, Psalm 115:3], what can men, on their own, do? They can make idols. In fact, left to themselves, making idols is exactly what they will do. These idols he calls “the work of men’s hands”…That is to say, idolatry is the only thing that the children of men, left to their own devices, can do. Once again, then, we continue the theme of man’s utter weakness contrasted with God’s omnipotent activity: “Not to us, but to Your name give glory.”

The psalmist seems to enjoy meditating on the futility of these idols, “the work of men’s hands,” for he spends considerable effort in describing their impotence. Using the mystical number seven, a standard biblical symbol of perfection, he goes on to tell what these idols cannot do: (1) “They have mouths, but they do not speak;” (2) “Eyes they have, but they do not see;” (3) “They have ears, but they do not  hear;” (4) “Noses they have, but they do not smell;” (5) “They have hands, but they do not handle;” (6) “Feet they have, but they do not walk;” and (7) “Nor do they mutter through their throat.” There you have it. These idols, “the work of men’s hands,” are perfectly imperfect. They are infinitely nothing; there is simply no limit to their imperfection and nothingness.

… The silence of the idols becomes the unending silence of eternal loss. Those who make them become like them.

The children of men, therefore, must not put their trust in the works of their own hands, which are destined to perish with them. Where, then, put our trust? “O Israel, trust in the Lord…O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord…You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 227-228.

The Arm of God

God’s salvation is not simply a thing announced, but a “wrought” reality. In saving us, God truly does certain deeds, “wondrous things,” by which we are redeemed. God saves man by the forceful intrusion of His holiness into man’s history. God’s arm is a metaphor of this irrupting redemptive holiness. In the “wondrous things” of the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, God’s arm invades the processes of human destiny with the outpouring of His own life. Man’s life is thereby given access into the incorruptible life of God. …

The substance of the Gospel, then, is not some theory about God or even some set of norms by which man is to live. At root, the Gospel has absolutely nothing in common with even the highest religious speculations, such as those of the Upanishads, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Lao Tzi, or the Buddha. In the strictest possible sense, beyond all human reckoning or expectation, the Gospel is a “new song,” a radically different voice on the human scene. It is the revelation of God’s holy arm taking charge of man’s history. It is that redemptive, holy activity by which “He has shown strength with His arm.” It is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 193-194.

Always Appropriate

Whether in temptation or calm, says Abba Isaac, whether in fear or reassurance, whether in pain or pleasure, joy or sorrow, there are no circumstances in life when it is not supremely proper to pray: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.” This prayer, he goes on, should never be absent from our lips. …

After stating that this formula–“O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me”–had been handed down through the Egyptian monastic tradition from its most ancient fathers, with a view to attaining purity of heart and constant prayer, Abba Isaac continues: “Not without reason has this verse [Psalm 70:1] been selected from out of the whole body of Scripture. For it takes up all the emotions that can be applied to human nature and with great correctness and accuracy it adjusts itself to every condition and every attack. It contains an invocation of God in the face of any crisis, the humility of a devout confession, the watchfulness of concern and of constant fear, a consciousness of one’s own frailty, the assurance of being heard, and confidence in a protection that is always present and at hand, for whoever calls unceasingly on his protector is sure that He is always present. It contains a burning love and charity, an awareness of traps, and a fear of enemies.”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 137-138.

Death Is No Friend

Death is sin rendered visible. What we see death do to the body, sin does to the soul. Death is the externalizing of sin. Death is no friend. Apart from Christ, the Bible sees death as the realm where God is not praised. As the bitter fruit of sin, death is the enemy; indeed, it is the “last enemy,” says 1 Corinthians 15:26. When the psalmist, then, prays for deliverance from death, he is talking about a great deal more than a physical phenomenon. Death is the “last enemy,” the physical symbol of our sinful alienation from God: “For in death there is no memory of You; in the grave, who will give You thanks?”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 12.

Near and Far

The movement from “far” to “near,” which is the whole business of prayer, is a great deal more than a mere psychological experience. It has to do, rather, with the mystery of redemption: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). It is not a matter here of our “feeling far off.” Our feelings on the point are futile and unreliable. It is not a feeling but a fact that without Christ, we are far off, and the anxiety of heart, mentioned here as characteristic of our being far off from God, is well-founded: “At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). …

Our true hope is founded, then, not in the native aspirations of the human spirit but in the redemption wrought by the God to whom we say in our psalm [61]: “For You have become my hope.” Our Christian hope is described as “a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:19), and of the man who has this hope our psalm [61] says: “He will live forever in the presence of God.”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 119-120.