The psalmist often cried out for help, and many passages in Psalms point to the comfort and deliverance David received from Jehovah, the God of Israel. David’s confidence in the power and character of God has inspired and encouraged believers throughout the ages. Psalm 121, especially the first two verses, is a good example of the God who helps His own.
What Does This Verse Mean?
Psalm 121 has been called the “Soldier’s Psalm” because its eight verses were possibly penned during a time when David found himself struggling or pursued in battle. Others call this psalm the “Traveler’s Psalm,” believing David may have written it during a perilous journey. Either way, the psalm relates to dangers one might encounter in the world, and the need to trust in God’s providential care. David clearly looked beyond these dangers to the Lord God who cared for him. The entire psalm speaks of God’s intimate care over the land of Israel and its people, but verses one and two are more personal — David’s statement of confidence in his God.
Verse one can be read in several ways. In the most common version, David looks toward the mountains — perhaps deep in thought in the midst of a struggle — and asks, “Where does my help come from?” Some people read the verse as one long question, as if to say, “Shall I lift up my eyes to these strong mountains; does my help come from there?” In other words, should I look to the powers and resources of the earth to come to my aid? But David looks beyond the hills to their creator. God existed long before the mountains were formed (Psalm 90:2).
In verse two, David testifies to the true source of his help: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” In English, the word “help” can mean simple assistance, but in the Hebrew—the root word is ‘ezri—it’s more like living under the watchful eye of one who secures protection. David looked to Jehovah Ezer, the Guardian of Israel. He knew the Creator would help him in His own time and way, and would be sufficient for his need.
Psalm 121 is the second of the fifteen psalms (120-134) labeled “Songs of Ascent.” These songs were sung by those traveling to Jerusalem for Jewish feasts, a journey that led upward toward the holy city; so perhaps the hills or mountains David referenced were where the temple was built — the holy hill of Zion, Mount Moriah. This would be an even grander theme: God’s help comes from His holy presence!
Is It True That God Only Helps Those Who Help Themselves?
Some people believe God is not involved in the affairs of mankind. He is thought to be aloof and uncaring, leaving people to fend for themselves. Ancient deism, an unbiblical belief, taught that God made the entire universe, and then left it to function on its own.
A more caring, modern concept is that God is there and somewhat involved in His creation, but He limits help to those who “help themselves.” The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is reportedly attributed to an English politician in the 1600s — later quoted by Benjamin Franklin in 1736 in Poor Richard’s Almanac. It is not a biblical concept.
The Bible, in fact, teaches the opposite! While it’s true that God does not want His children to be lazy, and they need to be obedient and cooperate with Him in His will, God is a helper for the helpless and needy — those who cannot help themselves (Isaiah 25:4). People are all helpless when it comes to salvation, but God provided the help that is needed. Because people are powerless to save themselves, Christ died as the substitute for sinners (Romans 5:6). But God also helps believers in their daily lives.
How Is God Our Helper?
Verse two has likely been quoted by many Christians as they encounter trials or confusing difficulties. It is great comfort to know that God is the believer’s helper. The Message Bible translates “help” as “strength” — perhaps because the mountains are symbols of strength. Although God’s help may give strength, His help is more than that.
Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God helps by giving refuge in the midst of battles and trials. He is the believers' safe place, always ready to strengthen them when they feel weak or afraid. When people sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” what they’re saying is, the Maker is in control, and He has unlimited power and resources to help. Jeremiah said God founded the world by His wisdom and the heavens by His understanding (Jeremiah 10:12). As a child of God fears Him — living in reverent awe of His holiness, obeying Him, and determining to bring Him honor — that person will find godly wisdom and insight (Proverbs 9:10).
Christians today often say, “God’s got this!” Nothing happens outside of God’s loving, providential will and care. In the rest of Psalm 121, David shares more information about how God helps His people. He watches over them, protecting them from accidents (v. 3). God’s people are on solid ground. Those who delight in Him may stumble, but they will not “fall” without remedy, because they are upheld by His strong hand (Psalm 37:23-24). Unlike pagan gods, the God of the Bible does not “fall asleep on the job” (1 Kings 18:25-27; Psalm 121:4). The Lord is always awake — always actively involved in His children’s lives.
David says God helps us as “shade” at our right hand (v. 5). A soldier often carried his shield in his left hand, and the right side was exposed and vulnerable. David saw God as the One who would provide a protective shade — another shield — against potential harm. In a similar way, God is close beside His children, watching over them so they will not be overwhelmed or shaken (Psalm 16:8).
God is the believer’s protector, guarding day and night (v. 6) both now and into eternity (vv. 7-8). He grips the believer’s hand and says, “Do not fear, I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13). He knows everything and watches over every activity and transition in believers’ lives (Psalm 139:2-3). He gives peace of mind, guidance, rest, joy, encouragement, and so much more.
Why Is God Such a Powerful Helper?
God is powerful to help because He is the Maker and sustainer of heaven and earth. Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). All things were made by Him, culminating in His creation of man and woman. It makes sense that the One who created people can best help them.
The Scriptures teach that every member of the Trinity is a source of help. First, Jehovah God was known to help His people from the beginning, recorded in Genesis. The Israelites recognized how blessed they were to have the powerful LORD as their “shield and helper” (Deuteronomy 33:29). Throughout the psalms, God’s people recognized their God was the mighty Helper of Israel. The prophet Isaiah suggested many things that God’s people might fear, but then the prophet told them not to be afraid because God was with them: “I will strengthen you, I will help you,” God said—twice in 13 verses! Isaiah emphatically declared that the Sovereign LORD helped him.
Second, Jesus’ three-year ministry was filled with examples of helping others. He helped through teaching and encouraging, through many wondrous miracles, and through His prayers for those who followed Him. Jesus told His disciples He would ask the Father to give “another Helper” (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7)—a statement that suggests His own helper role. As believers today study the life of Christ, they are helped by His example.
Third, the indwelling Holy Spirit is the believer’s helper—teacher, comforter, advocate, and counselor. He convicts of sin, and as believers are in fellowship and partnership with Him, He produces good fruit in their lives (John 16:8; Galatians 5:22-23). He strengthens with power (Ephesians 3:16). When believer do not know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes before God on their behalf (Romans 8:26-27).
Can We Trust God to Help Us at All Times?
When believers get into tough situations — especially when the struggle and pain feel so overwhelming — it’s natural to call out to God for help. Psalm 34:1 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” That is a wonderful truth. But does that mean God will always deliver, always help?
In circumstances when bad things happen to the righteous, people ask, “Why would a good, all-powerful God allow this to happen?” It’s not always an accusation; often it is simply a desire to understand. “Why didn’t God stop the pain; why didn’t He help me?” It’s nearly impossible, humanly speaking, to understand great disasters in life. Part of the answer is that in this fallen world, every person is under the curse of sin, and sinful people do sinful things.
But also, God is God and His children are not. The believer may never understand this side of eternity the countless tragedies, like a child’s murder, genocide, or painful disease leading to death. The key is to remember that the Sovereign God’s ways are higher than man’s ways (Isaiah 55:9), and there is more involved in suffering from heaven’s perspective.
Believing this is not escapism. Rather, in this world of questions and shadows of sin where we may not understand God’s purposes, the believer can still choose to trust His heart and place confidence in His holy character and providence.
Romans 8:28 teaches that God can bring about good for His beloved ones from any situation. Sometimes Christians will see that good on earth, but other times, the good will only be understood in heaven. The Bible also teaches that God, in His sovereign purposes, sometimes uses “afflictions” to draw believers back to Himself and produce good fruit in and through them (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75; Hebrews 12:5-11). This may not be the kind of help a Christian would ever ask for, but God knows the help of affliction may be needed to make His children more like His Son, Jesus, and prepare him or her for heaven.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Shuang Paul Wang
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.