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Psalm 121

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Lord the Keeper of Israel
 MT Intro
A Song of Ascents
God the Help of Those Who Seek Him A Liturgy of Blessing The Lord Our Protector The Guardian of Israel
121:1-4 121:1-2 121:1-2 121:1-2 121:1-2
  121:3-4 121:3-4 121:3 121:3-4
      121:4-6  
121:5-8 121:5-6 121:5-6   121:5-6
  121:7-8 121:7-8 121:7-8 121:7-8

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 121:1-4
 1I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
 From where shall my help come?
 2My help comes from the Lord,
 Who made heaven and earth.
 3He will not allow your foot to slip;
 He who keeps you will not slumber.
 4Behold, He who keeps Israel
 Will neither slumber nor sleep.

121:1-8 All of the verbs are imperfects. They denote ongoing and continual Divine care and protection.

There is a possibility, depending on how many speakers there are in this Psalm, that in Ps. 121:3 the imperfects are used in a jussive sense (i.e., prayer requests, NJB, NET).

121:1 "I will lift up my eyes" This is imagery denoting how a person trusts (cf. Ps. 123:1; 141:8).

▣ "to the mountains" Notice it is plural, which may denote

1. creation, cf. Ps. 87:1

2. the temple on Mt. Moriah (i.e., plural of majesty, see Special Topic: Moriah)

3. imagery of strength, stability, and longevity

4. protection (cf. Ps. 125:1-2)

5. if the MT intro., "songs of ascent" means pilgrim songs on the way to Jerusalem, then to see the hills of Judah meant they were close to the temple

6. it is possible it was meant to be a contrast to Ba'al worship done on the high places (cf. 2 Kgs. 23:4-14). Some looked to the fertility gods but the faithful followers looked to YHWH alone. See Special Topic: Monotheism.

 

▣ "From where shall my help come" Psalm 121:2 makes it obvious that the help is not a physical mountain but the God of creation (cf. Ps. 121:2) and covenant (cf. Ps. 121:4).

121:2 "the Lord" This is the covenant name for Deity—YHWH. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

▣ "Who made heaven and earth" This refers to the physical creation of this planet (cf. Ps. 102:25; 115:15; 124:8; 134:3; 146:6). This is an allusion to Genesis 1.

Notice how YHWH is characterized.

1. Creator, Ps. 121:2

2. Sustainer, Ps. 121:3a,51

a. individual, cf. Ps. 121:7b,8

b. corporate, cf. Ps. 121:4

3. vigilant observer, Ps. 121:3b

4. shade, Ps. 121:5-6 (see Special Topic: Shadow As a Metaphor for Protection and Care)

5. perpetual keeping (the verb, BDB 1036, KB 1581, is used in Ps. 121:3,4,5,7 [twice], and 8).

 

121:3 "foot to slip" This is common Hebrew imagery which

1. speaks of a godly life as a clear, straight, level road/path/way (cf. Ps. 139:24)

2. speaks of evil as a deviation from the clearly marked (i.e., revelation) path of God or a stumbling on the path

 

▣ "will not slumber" God is always watching

1. His creation

2. His people

Not like Ba'al, who sleeps, cf. 1 Kgs. 18:27; Ezek. 6:13; 18:6,12,15. It is possible "sleep" was a metaphor for YHWH's inactivity (cf. Ps. 7:6; 44:23; 73:20; 78:65). However, in His time He does act for His people.

Psalm 121:4 repeats this same truth in a corporate sense. God has a plan for Israel. See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 121:5-8
 5The Lord is your keeper;
 The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
 6The sun will not smite you by day,
 Nor the moon by night.
 7The Lord will protect you from all evil;
 He will keep your soul.
 8The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
 From this time forth and forever.

121:6 This is imagery for

1. military attack

2. demonic attack (see Special Topic: The Demonic in the OT)

Notice the phrase "protect/keep from all evil" in Ps. 121:7a. It is surely possible that this phrase is a Hebrew idiom for all problems.

121:7 "He will keep your soul" What a wonderful promise of individual care and protection! He is "with" and "for" faithful followers. We are not alone and our life has purpose!

121:8a This is Hebrew imagery for God's watchful care over all of the life of His faithful followers (cf. Deut. 28:6; 139:1-6).

Notice the typical Hebrew way of using two opposites as a way to include all.

1. heaven - earth, Ps. 121:2

2. sun - moon, Ps. 121:6

3. in - out, Ps. 121:8

 

121:8b There is surely an element of eternity in this verse, as there is in Ps. 23:6. The afterlife is veiled in the OT but the progressive revelation of the NT clarifies the truth!

▣ "forever" See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. To what mountain or mountains does Ps. 121:1 refer?

2. Why is God as creator mentioned in this Psalm?

3. Explain the OT imagery of Ps. 121:3a.

4. Why is Israel brought into this Psalm in Ps. 121:4? How does the corporate aspect of protection and care apply?

5. Explain the imagery of "shade" in Ps. 121:5b

6. To what does "all evil" of Ps. 121:7a refer?

7. Is there a reference to the afterlife in Ps. 121:8b?