“I lift up my eyes to the mountains
where does my help come from?”1
Two of the most powerful tools of abusers are to isolate, and to confuse. Or, really, to disrupt our capacity to hear from others, from our innermost self, and from God. Their goal is for their own voice to become the source of our knowing, that they define reality for us according to their designs. Who can possibly help us? As another psalmist says, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”2
Others have gone before us. Whatever this poet was thinking about, their song is so relevant to abuse:
I call on Yahweh in my distress,
and he answers me.
Save me, Yahweh,
from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.
What will he do to you,
and what more besides,
you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom bush.
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.3
This psalm comes from the Songs of Ascents, or “Pilgrimage” psalms. They are a treasure. (We ran a series on them a little while ago.) Most likely the Songs of Ascents were sung by those who were leaving foreign lands, on pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem. Fifteen psalms, sung in order. At the beginning of that pilgrimage – a pilgrimage from a place of danger to a place of sanctuary – is this song. When we read it in the context of abuse, it speaks of leaving the source of harm.
“I call on Yahweh in my distress”. On the one who calls himself, “I am”. Who is all powerful, all knowing, all wise. There are many other names for God, but the poet chose this one. To be honest – it’s my favourite. It was frequently used by people in the Bible in their personal pleas and prayers.
Here is an invitation, in times of distress, to call on the most powerful, wise, caring person one can possibly think of. To be saved from lying lips, from the never-ending deceit and aggression. It reminds me of the cry of the Jews:
In the path of your judgments,
Yahweh, we wait for you;
your name and remembrance
are the desire of our soul.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.4
Longing, for him to come.
This psalm is the start of a pilgrimage to a place of sanctuary. It is not the end. It is possible that it was sung on the evening before leaving, or perhaps at the point of departure. Either way, soon enough the mountains come sharply into view.
As I write, I’m thinking of someone I know who has not yet made the choice to leave abuse. I think I understand. They have spoken with much distress about the mountains, and I fear their heart fails when they consider the cost.
As we lift our eyes to those mountains, they could well seem insurmountable. When we are faced with people who are committed to doing harm, the danger is real. The mountains are real mountains. The author of Psalm 11 seems to get it too:
“For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.”5
Where is God in this?
There is that beautiful picture, from the Lazarus story, of Jesus and his relationship with those around him. He and his friends loved each other. When he eventually left them, they ached. He was their friend, advocate, comforter, counsellor, teacher. They trusted him and did not want him to leave. And one of the last things he did before ascending to heaven was breath his Spirit into them. One like him. A friend.