Summary: Psalms 121


The famous English deist, Anthony Collins of the 17th century, met a plain countryman one day while out walking. He asked him where he was going. “To church, sir.” “What are you going to do there?” “Worship God.” “Is your God a great or a little God?” “He is both, sir.” “How can He be both?” “He is so great, sir, that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; and so little that He can dwell in my heart.” The unbeliever Collins later declared that this simple answer from the countryman had more effect upon his mind than all the volumes which learned doctors had written against him. T (from Illustrations of Bible Truths # 918)

Ps 121 is the second song of a series of songs called Song of Ascents that begin in the last chapter, Psalms 120. There are 15 such songs from Psalms 120-134. They are also variously called Gradual Psalms, Songs of Degrees, Songs of Steps or Pilgrim Songs. Four of them (Ps 122, 124, 131 and 133) are linked in their ascriptions to David, and one (127) to Solomon. Many scholars believe these psalms were sung by the worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16) or were songs of the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem. They are characterized by brevity – only Psalm 132 has more than ten verses, by a key-word, by repetition. More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful. (Wikipedia)

Some suggested David was the author of Psalm 121, others attributed it to an unknown traveler, a soldier and mariner (Robert Hawker), or a captive Levite (Calmet).

Who do you turn to or talk to when you are down or defeated? What is the cause of troubles in your life? How does the Lord help His people or children when they are troubled? Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

The Lord is Your Support: None is As Superior (vv 1-2)

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

A Google image says, “Be strong enough to stand alone, to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask it.”

Do you ask for help regularly, reasonably, rarely, reluctantly or regrettably? Here are some reasons:

“I don’t ask for help because....

People always seem to let me down.

People don’t completely understand me

I seem like I’m weak or stupid. (Other feelings: fear, embarrassed, rejected, judged, less capable, shame)

It’s just easier for me to do something than to explain it to someone else.

I’m too proud to admit I don’t know.

I can do it better or faster.

I don’t want to bother or burden others

I’m afraid no one will help me

I am too shy

I am the leader

A song of ascent is a song that goes up, mounts up or rises up, to the temple steps or mountain range. It can be called a mountain song, hill song or cliff song. No matter what, it is an uphill attempt to uplift, uphold and upbuild the person or pilgrim. The early KJV begins with the remarkable interrogative form in the footnote: “Shall I lift up mine eyes to the hills? Whence should my help come?” The singer is weighed down by difficulties, disappointments and doubts. It is for the weary, the worried and the weak.

The verb “lift up” (nasa) has been translated in the newer NASB translation with words associated with “lift” 131x, with “carry” 119x, with “bear” 85x, with “bring” 23x, with “raise” 18x, with “forgive” 14x, with “borne” 14x (as in “airborne”), and with “exalt” 13x. The action is aimed upward, skyward, northward, heavenward, airward, not backward, downward, inward, southward or wayward. It implies the vertical or upper transfer, transport and transformation of our troubles.

In the Song of Ascents (Ps 120-134) the Hebrew phrase “mine eyes” (v 1) make a glaring impression. In the somewhat similar Psalms 123 the psalmist lifted up “mine eyes” to Him who dwells in heavens, replacing “mountains” with “heavens.” More than just the place, the motif of “mine eyes” reflects the attitude of the person (Ps 131:1, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty”) and his perseverance (Ps 132:4, “I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids”). Eyes refer to one’s sight, outlook, vision, viewpoint or focus. The contrast is to be downhearted, downfallen or downturn.

The Old City of Jerusalem from about 3800 feet above sea level. The city itself is about 2400 to 2500 feet above (Mediterranean) sea level.

Help is recorded 11 times in the Psalms and it is strictly from the Lord and none other and it is mostly associated with strength ((Ps 20:2), shield (Ps 33:20, 89:19, 115:9-11), deliverance (Ps 70:5) and hope (Ps 146:5). It is most needed when faced with despair, dread and doubt. Have you asked for help on street directions, candy crush or household chores or items? Asking for help is considered weak in high school because people are too proud, too private or perfectionist or personal to ask for help. Sooner or later we need to ask for help no matter how rich, resourceful or reluctant you are, especially when you are aging, ailing, or alone. No help is too much, as I found out when my wife was sick, in pain and without strength. I asked for help to find a cane seat, a wheelchair and rides. There is no self-help, self-belief and self-determination in the first place because you are not self-owned, self-made or self-existing.

The exact phrase “made heaven and earth,” not “created heaven and earth,” appears only in Psalms (Ps 115:15, 121:2, 124:8, 134:3, 135:6, 146:6). It implies that nothing is too hard, small, trivial, complicated or inconvenient to Him. Why do we ask the Lord for help? Because we can obtain answers, alternatives or assurances from Him.

The Lord is Your Safeguard: None is As Strong (vv 3-6)

3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. (Psalm 121:3-6)

President Lincoln was once told by an associate, “I am very anxious that the Lord should be on our side.” “Oh,” said Mr. Lincoln, “that does not give me the least trouble in the world, sir. The only question is whether we are on the Lord’s side. If we are on the Lord’s side, we are perfectly safe.” (from Illustrations of Bible Truths # 582)

From the top “eyes” (v 1) the psalmist turns to the bottom “foot” (v 3). The foot is for standing, stability and support, not stumbling, swinging or sprawling. The verb “slip” is otherwise translated as “moved” or “shaken.” The truest literal meaning is a bar (Num 4:10) or a staff (Num 13:23) or yoke (Nah 1:13). Why is a bar, a staff or a pole or a stick is synonymous for moving? In the old days, as in the days of Joshua, the twelve spies carried a cluster of grapes upon a staff (Num 13:23) as evidence of their quality of the fruits. The “staff” is therefore synonymous with moving. Foot is singular, not even one of the two would slip.

There are five terms stated in the negative from verses 3-6. There are two “never” (al) in verse 3 - NOT let your foot slip…will NOT slumber. The second part tells of three lesser but regular Hebrew negations in three S (KJV) – NEITHER slumber, NOR sleep (v 4), NOT smite (v 6) will not harm you. The Lord is able, aware, alert and attentive to our needs, not absentminded, aging, aimless or aloof. Sleep means inactivity, unconsciousness and exhaustion. Slumber is technically less than sleep, it is dozing, snoozing, napping. Slumber is consciousness not completely but partially lost.

The verb “harm” means kill (Gen 4:15), smite (Gen 8:21), beaten (Ex 5:16), punish (Lev 26:24), slain (Num 25:14), stricken (Prov 23:35), wounded (Jer 30:14 ). It does not mean we do not have our share of insults, injuries and irritation.

The sun causes sunburn, heat stroke, and skin cancer. A few months ago we received news that a coworker had headache and chest pain and fainted after a tennis match. His hands were trembling and he was carried in an ambulance to the hospital. Praise the Lord he had a sun stroke and not a stroke!

Also, I met a neighbor for dinner a day before Mid-Autumn Festival Day and she said she was careful of her health. I asked her what she had, and she said she had lupus. I asked, “Isn’t that had to do with the moon? She said, “No, with the sun.” She told about a trip to Turkey and Israel organized by her church. Many urged her to go but she could not go because t required a lot of outdoor living. More than 90% of people with lupus have skin rashes, often triggered by exposure to the sun.

A full moon, on the other hand, can cause a person with a good night’s rest to feel faint sluggishness (How the Moon Messes with Your Sleep, TIME July 25, 2013).

The Lord is Your Savior: None is As Steadfast

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)

The students of a rabbi approached their teacher with a deep concern about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of darkness, they requested the rabbi to counsel them. The rabbi suggested that they take brooms and attempt to sweep the darkness from a cellar.

The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised his followers to take sticks and to beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out evil.

When this likewise failed, he counseled them to go down to the cellar again and to protest against the darkness by shouting at it. When this, too, failed, the rabbi said. “My children, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a candle.” The disciples descended again to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! the darkness had been driven out.

From eyes at the top to foot to at the bottom, the Psalmist ends with the soul deep inside. The most repeated word in Psalm 121 is the verb “keep,” five times throughout (vv 4, 5, 7 twice, 8), climaxing in verses 7 and 8. Grammatically the first two and the last three “keep” are different in verb form. The first two are what we called participles that turn into people (keeper), time or methodology. The last three are the main verbs without qualifying.

The Lord will keep us from all evil (KJV), not harm, as in NIV. The first occurrence of the phrase “all evil” hearkens to the story of Jacob who blessed Joseph, thanking God for keeping him and his family from all evil (Gen 48:16). The highest priority of God is to keep you from all evil. Why? Because the devil can harm the body but not the soul (v 7) that belongs to God:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (KJV, Matt 10:28).

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (KJV, 1 Thess 5:23)

The soul is not the body or brain but the being or breath in the Old Testament.

What does it mean to “keep” in the Psalms? Keep in some translations is translated as preserve (KJV), protect (NASB) and guard (Ps 121:8). It means enduring, remaining. In English we have phrases such as keep up, keep fit, keep going, keep quiet, keep calm, safekeeping, goalkeeper and peacekeeper. It means updated not outdated, present and not past, lasting and not lapsed, current and not chronicles. It means not only to have but to hold and honor, not only watch but watch over, not only possess but to preserve.

The verb “harm” means kill (Gen 4:15), smite (Gen 8:21), beaten (Ex 5:16), punish (Lev 26:24), slain (Num 25:14), slain (Deut 1:4), stricken (Prov 23:35),

wounded (Jer 30:14 ). It does not mean we do not have our share of insults, injuries and irritation.

When we trust in God our troubles do not vanish or vaporize. God’s job is not to keep you out of trouble or keep you safe from trouble. The Lord’s job is not to keep you from trouble but to keep you from evil, evil from motivating you, menacing you and mastering you, that our mind, mouth and moments are not sourced and swallowed by evil because evil or the devil is the source of trouble. One of the two leading cops (Harvey Dent) in an episode from Gotham reveals why he compromised with the bad guys: “You tell yourself, ‘I'll just do this one bad thing. All the good things I'll do later I'll make up for it.’ But they don't.”

The relationship of God or the Lord with evil in Psalms is summed up in four verses:

The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. (Ps 34:16)

Ye that love the Lord, hate evil (Ps 97:10)

He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. (Ps 112:7)

Conclusion: God wants to establish a permanent and not a passing relationship with His people, a pleasing and not a pretentious with Him, not a short relationship but stable relationship with Him. His purpose is to calm and comfort His people and children. One thing I have learned in life is, Never be too proud to ask for help. The second things is, Know who and where to turn to for help. Third, hang on, help is on the way.