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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 121

Verses 1-2

1. The source of help 121:1-2

The psalmist lifted up his eyes to the hills around Mt. Zion as he traveled to a feast there, evidently from some lower part of Canaan. As he did so, he reflected on the source of his help. He also reminded himself that his help was the God who had made those hills, along with the whole heaven and earth (cf. Psalms 124:8). This was the God he was traveling to worship at the temple on Mt. Zion.

Verses 1-8

Psalms 121

This psalm directed the thoughts of the pilgrim to God as his source of help. It gives assurance that Israel’s Keeper will maintain vigilant oversight and protect His people.

Verses 3-4

"Allowing the foot to slip" was an appropriate imagery depicting a pilgrim who walked toward the temple over sometimes treacherous terrain. The imagery means God would keep His people stable and upright in their manner of life. Even though travelers sometimes journeyed after dark, God would never stop watching out for his worshippers.

“Unless the psalmist addresses an observer (note the second person singular forms in Psalms 121:3-8), it appears there are two or three speakers represented in the psalm, depending on how one takes Psalms 121:3. The translation [in the NET Bible] assumes that speaker one talks in Psalms 121:1-2, that speaker two responds to him with a prayer in Psalms 121:3 (this assumes the verbs are true jussives of prayer), and that speaker three responds with words of assurance in Psalms 121:4-8. If the verbs in Psalms 121:3 are taken as a rhetorical use of the jussive, then there are two speakers. Psalms 121:3-8 are speaker two’s response to the words of speaker one." [Note: The NET Bible note on Psalms 121.]

Verses 3-8

2. The assurance of help 121:3-8

Verses 5-6

Yahweh would guard His people as an animal keeper protects his charge. He would protect them from hostile influences that the blazing Palestinian sun represented. He would not allow danger to overtake them by day or by night.

Verses 7-8

The Lord is the Protector of His people. He guards their lives from all evil influences. He protects them when they go outdoors and when they return indoors, namely, always. Moreover He will provide this protection forever.

"Did believers never suffer from sunstroke or fall into the hands of bandits? It is apparent that while the psalm speaks of such blanket protection, the pilgrim must understand that everything that invades his or her life is under God’s watchful care and providence. The spirit of the psalm is to evoke trust in Yahweh, the Keeper of the pilgrim, and the Keeper of Israel, the Maker of heaven and earth. Often things that happen in the life of the pilgrim would not be his or her choice. But the psalm is not pointing in this direction. The direction is upward, toward God. The believer must recognize that life is a gift from God, the Giver of life. The pilgrim can rest confidently, knowing that God’s glory will prevail, and that justice . . . and righteousness . . . will ultimately rule." [Note: David G. Barker, "’The Lord Watches over You’: A Pilgrimage Reading of Psalms 121," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:606 (April-June 1995):180-81.]

This psalm is a comforting reminder of God’s continual protection from harm and danger of all kinds. It is especially appropriate for travelers to remind themselves of His watch-care.

"In spite of the perils of one’s pilgrimage, the believer can exercise trust in the Lord. God is neither too great to care, nor are God’s people too insignificant to be noticed. This quiet psalm reflects on God who quells the anxiety of the pilgrim’s heart, who watches over him or her with a shepherd’s gentleness and a guardian’s vigilance, and who gives thoughtful benediction to one’s daily routines." [Note: Ibid., p. 181.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 121". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/psalms-121.html. 2012.