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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 121

Verse 1

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

The pilgrims' even-song as they caught the first sight of the hills (Psalms 121:1) round Jerusalem. In Psalms 122:1-9 they reach a further stage-namely, the gates of Jerusalem. In Psalms 121:1-2 Israel speaks; in Psalms 121:3-8 she is addressed by the Spirit in the Psalmist. Thrice Yahweh is called "He that keepeth Israel." Also in the conclusion thrice it is said "the Lord shall keep." The Hebrew for "keep" ( shaamar (H8104)) alludes to Samaria-the Psalmist thus making that dreaded name suggest confidence. The 'sliding foot' symbolizes danger; the "shade," protection; the sun-stroke and the moon-stroke, the trial; Israel's 'going out and coming in,' the undertaking in hand-the rebuilding of the temple.

A Song of degrees. The Hebrew here is not, as in the other psalm titles, of, but 'FOR lª- ascents,' implying the object for which these psalms were sung-namely, yearly goings up to the great feasts at Jerusalem.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. The hills to which the pilgrim looks as the quarter whence help is to come, are those seen in the distance surrounding Zion (Psalms 125:2; Psalms 68:16), the Lord's chosen seat on earth. Compare Psalms 24:3; Psalms 25:1; Lamentations 3:41; Psalms 123:1; Psalms 141:8. It is not the hills that give the help (Jeremiah 3:23, note), but the Lord, whose seat is on Zion omens them (Psalms 3:4; Psalms 14:7; Psalms 20:2; Psalms 43:3; Psalms 87:1-2; Exodus 15:17). Hengstenberg thinks that the Hebrew [ mee'ayin (H370)], "whence," is always interrogative; and that the question does not express doubt, but gives occasion to the joyful answer in Psalms 121:2, 'Whence cometh my help? My help (cometh) from the Lord,' as in Psalms 120:3-4; Psalms 24:3-4. But Joshua 2:4 favours the English version.

Verse 2

My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth - and who has at command, therefore, inexhaustible means of help for His people (Psalms 115:15). They who have such a Helper need never despair, however dark may seem their circumstances.

Verse 3

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. The Hebrew negative [ 'al (H408)] is here subjective, expressing the hope of the speaker-`I trust He will not suffer thy foot to be moved, (and that) He that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Verse 4

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The terms in which the pilgrims committed themselves to Yahweh's care before going to rest the last evening of their journey. The Hebrew negative [ lo' (H3808)] is here different from that in Psalms 121:3, and is objective, asserting as a fact about to be manifested before the world (what in Psalms 121:3 was a hope) that "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." The "behold" points to a patent fact. If man's conceptions were not so gross, it would not have been needful to remind us that 'Yahweh slumbers not.' This whole psalm is a commentary on God's promise to Jacob (Genesis 28:15), the representative of all Israel, his posterity - "Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places where thou goest." A slip is easily made in a hilly country like Canaan, and is often attended with danger; so it forms the image in Psalms 121:3 of sudden falls, temporal and spiritual. From such falls the pilgrim believer truth to be 'kept.' None of Israel's enemies, it is true (Isaiah 5:27), "slumber nor sleep;" but what fear should that cause us, seeing that Israel's Keeper 'neither slumbers nor sleeps.' Hengstenberg reverses the translations-`shall neither sleep [ nuwm (H5123)] nor (even) slumber' (fall asleep) [ yaashen (H3462)]. Usage hardly supports him. Buxtorf favours the English version.

Verse 5

The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade. "Thy shade," thy protecting shelter: a natural image to pilgrims suffering under the sun's intense heat in the East. Compare Numbers 14:9, margin.

Upon thy right hand - the position best adapted for defending the person. As the adversary stands at the right hand of him whom he would destroy (Psalms 109:6; Zechariah 3:1), so the Lord 'is upon the right hand' to save (Psalms 16:8; Psalms 109:31). He will assist Israel now in building the temple in spite of the Samaritan interruptions. The contemporary, Zechariah 3:1-10, has the same image in reference to the same event as this psalm, (notes, Psalms 120:1-7.)

Verse 6

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The sun shall not smite thee by day - with heat.

Nor the moon by night - with cold. The moon, as 'ruling the night' (Genesis 1:16), has all the influences associated with night attributed to it. Compare the words of Jacob, to whom Psalms 121:4-5 allude (Genesis 31:40; Jeremiah 36:30). Moreover, the moon has a most hurtful effect on those who sleep under its beams. Day or night, no real and lasting hurt shall befall God's people.

Verses 7-8

The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in. The thrice-repeated "shall preserve," or 'keep thee,' attests the greatness of man's unbelief, which needs so frequent assurances. The 'going out and the coming in' express the beginning and the completion of undertakings. Drawn from Deuteronomy 28:6.

From this time forth, and even forevermore - cf. the Lord Christ's promises to the spiritual Israel, Matthew 28:20.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 121". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/psalms-121.html. 1871-8.