He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. Psalm 18:33
Have you ever heard of the phrase “a mountain top experience”? Perhaps you’ve had one yourself—a moving spiritual experience or close encounter with God. Maybe we use this particular metaphor of the mountaintop because nothing surpasses a mountain in height, and the sheer awe of standing atop one echoes the emotions of a “spiritual high.” Or perhaps the phrase originated more Biblically from encounters with God’s glory atop mountains: Moses speaking face to face with God on Mount Sinai or when three of the disciples witness Jesus transfigured, emanating the glory of God.
Focusing exclusively on that particular but common metaphor for a mountain, I’ve realized that I’ve entirely missed the powerful symbolism of another kind of mountaintop experience in Scripture, that of the deer standing on the mountain heights:
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
I’m taken back to some time I spent in the Rockies. I remember being at Glacier National Park and seeing Mountain Goats. Granted, they are far less graceful than whatever species of deer David or Habakkuk had in mind, but their cloven hooves allow them to do something remarkable. They can walk peacefully along high ledges, scale steep cliffs, even scamper up slopes of scree. They are agile and sure-footed.
Were I to stand on such precipitous heights feeling the wind gusting against my back, I am sure I’d be clinging to the rock, terrified for my life. But not these creatures.
Their Creator has fashioned their feet to be able to confidently tread on such heights.
He can transform your feet too.
We like to think of our Good Shepherd as leading us to safe, quiet waters, to the comfort of the green pastures; and indeed, He graciously gives us times of refreshing and restoration when we need them. But life has never been all beauty and ease. That same Shepherd walks with us through the darkest valleys, and He can guide our steps even on the treacherous heights.
When you find your path in life unexpectedly leads you to these difficult, frightening heights, we can learn from both David and Habakkuk.
Both men are facing real dangers, disheartening and frightening situations, but rather than despair, they turn to God.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails,
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk’s resolve to rejoice in God in the midst of desolation and famine amazes me. In an agricultural society, bare fields are even worse than bare cupboards. There is no hope for the foreseeable future. Struggle and pain stretch forward to the horizon. Habakkuk moves His eyes away from the problem and settles them on his Savior. Doing so doesn’t eradicate the problem and the pain, or somehow trade in the dusty fields for the luscious pastures. Such problems are indeed a frightful cliff, yet the act of praising God and focusing on Him enables Habakkuk to tread on those terrifying heights, imparts to him strength for the journey.
What about David… were his “heights” anything like Habakkuk’s? If we start at the beginning of chapter 18, we quickly see that his “heights” were just as overwhelming. He wasn’t staring at a future of famine and lack, but he stares straight into danger and possible death. Verses 4 and 5: The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
Like Habakkuk, David turned to God. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (v 6). The remainder of the Psalm is a vivid account of how God moves supernaturally on David’s behalf, causing David to proclaim:
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
Wouldn’t we all like for God to sweep away the barren fields, brush away the problems, perform a rescue operation as we scale the heights and instead set us beside the calm waters and cool grass? Certainly He does that at times, He hears our cries of distress and delivers us. But sometimes, instead, He makes our feet like the feet of a deer and enables us to tread on the heights.
Today I breathe a prayer for you… if you are standing trembling on the heights, I pray that God Himself would be your strength. That you would not fall and stumble as you traverse this path. That He would keep your way secure…even this way along the rough terrain. That He would make your feet like the feet of a deer and enable you to stand steady and tread on the heights.