Is God Asleep? – Psalms of Ascent #5

Does it often seem like God is asleep at the wheel?  Like He is not relevant to the real problems we face in the world?  Today we continue on the Psalms of Ascent, a liturgy used in ancient Israel to prepare for worship at the annual festivals in Jerusalem.  While not part of the Ascent, Psalm 119 precedes it, praising the law of God in the longest chapter of the Bible, and the Ascent begins in Psalm 120 with God’s people living in a world that remains broken even with a perfect law.  In the last post of this series, I wrote that Psalm 121 “asks us to take our eyes off of the world around us and look upward for our hope.”  Verses 1 and 2 say:

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.

As these pilgrims looked to the hills, what did they want to find?  Did they expect to find a better group of people?  No, they brought their community with them on the long journey, along with all their baggage.  Did they travel in search of a better law?  No, they had the law God had given them.  Did they travel to Jerusalem to give penance for not keeping the law?  No, they came to find real help for real problems that exist within themselves and in their communities. This help could only come from the LORD.

Then verses 3 and 4 say:

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.

Why does the Psalmist need to say this?  Because even God’s people can doubt that He is interested and cares about tangible problems.  When we focus on our circumstances, on the people around us, or even on God’s holy law, we can miss the power of God.  It can seem like God is asleep.  Like He is not relevant.  The Old Testament prophet Elijah mocked the powerlessness of the Canaanite storm god Baal in 1 Kings 18:27 – “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”  We don’t say this out loud, but sometimes we wonder where our own God is.  If we don’t take the time to intentionally look for Him, it’s easy to think He is asleep.

In these Psalms, God calls us to worship in a central place as a reminder that no matter what the world looks like, He is awake and at work in the midst of very real problems.  In ancient Israel, sacrifices were offered at the temple as a sign of Jesus’ future sacrifice, which provided reconciliation with a God who requires justice, which is our deepest need.  After making the perfect sacrifice, Jesus rose again to give us power to love our neighbor, meeting their needs.

Pilgrims didn’t go to Jerusalem to pay God a visit, then leave him behind when they went home.  They went because God provided a way to remind them that He was always with them in the places they came from, but if they don’t take the time to be reminded, they remain discouraged in their circumstances.  Likewise, on our Sabbath day of rest, we remind ourselves that He is never sleeping, but has been working for the salvation of His people since the very beginning of creation.  His people are the very people we congregate with.  People who are not saved by Psalm 119 and find themselves participating in a Psalm 120 world.  People whose circumstances tell them God is asleep, and who need help with their Monday to Saturday problems.

Here we come to perhaps the most difficult point. Elijah’s mocking is also echoed in criticism of the church today, both from those inside the church and outside.  Where is God in the midst of real problems?  What does God offer above laws and rituals that cannot perfect us?  The pilgrims also could have criticized the other pilgrims.  Those arriving in Jerusalem certainly had among them people who thought the law was the answer.  There were also those who went to practice their religious rituals, check the box, then get on with their lives as they saw fit.  Sometimes the church looks little different than the circumstances we find ourselves in where we live, but that’s nothing new.

The LORD calls us to Him and gave these Psalms to let us know that He is not asleep, no matter what it may look like to us.  The world will more clearly see God as their help when His people lift their eyes up to the hills, go to Him in public worship, and bring back His help to their communities.  This is how they will know He is not asleep.

Therefore, the liturgy of the Psalms of Ascent points us beyond all laws, doctrines, traditions, and institutions, to the help that comes to us from the sacrifice of Jesus, foreshadowed at the temple in Jerusalem:

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.

This post continues a series on the Psalms of Ascent. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here.

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