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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 121

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Verses 1-2


This psalm sings of the LORD as the great assurance of those who go their way in faithfulness to Him. That is why His Name is repeated so often. This makes it clear that there is no one so secure as the one who expects his help exclusively from Him. He is the Creator of heaven and earth and the Keeper of His people Israel, of the faithful thereof. The LORD will always keep them in all circumstances.

The journey of the chosen people of Psalm 120 begins in dangerous and hostile territory. It is the journey of a sheep among a pack of wild, hungry wolves (cf. Matthew 10:16). What does a person need in such a situation? Is there even a possibility of survival? And then a pilgrimage all the way to Jerusalem? Psalm 121 is about what someone who goes on a pilgrimage needs: the LORD’s guarding.

In this psalm we find a threefold testimony that the LORD is the Keeper of Israel and a threefold testimony that the LORD will keep them. Since the Keeper is the LORD, the Creator of heaven and earth, He will bring His sheep safely to Jerusalem right through the pack of cruel wolves.

The Creator

This second “Song of Ascents” (Psalms 121:1) connects closely to the previous one, in which the faithful is in trouble. In the previous psalm, the believer looks around anxiously; in this psalm, he looks up confidently for help to make his way to Jerusalem. ‘Help’ means protection, support, guidance and blessing. For this, the pilgrim in faith lifts up his eyes up to the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. That may be far from him, but in the midst of it the LORD dwells (Psalms 125:2; cf. 1 Kings 8:46-Ephesians :; Daniel 6:11).

The situation of these pilgrims resembles a threatening situation for King Hezekiah, who many believe is the composer of the songs of ascents. Hezekiah was threatened by Sanherib, the king of Assyria (Isaiah 36:1). Hezekiah’s princes thought of help from Egypt (Isaiah 36:6). Could Egypt help? If the army of Egypt were to come, they would come from the surrounding mountains.

No, Hezekiah was not to look to the mountains. He had to look further, his help had to come from even higher up (Psalms 123:1). Therefore, he went into the temple and spread the threatening letter of Sanherib before the LORD (Isaiah 37:14). In doing so, he said what the psalmist says here, “My help [comes] from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalms 121:2).

Mountains are a picture of earthly powers. The pilgrim realizes that his help comes not from earthly powers, but from the LORD (cf. Jeremiah 3:23). He realizes that his help is from Him alone. This is not difficult when he sees in Him the Creator of heaven and earth (cf. Psalms 115:15). Could He, Who created and sustains all things, not also care for him? Of this he is convinced.

God is not a local or national god, like the idols of the nations, but the God of heaven and earth. He, Who created and sustains everything, also knows the way of the God-fearing pilgrim and will help him to go that way. All the difficulties that he may encounter on his way come from the God Whom he is going to meet in Jerusalem. Therefore, those difficulties are under His control.

During the period prophetically spoken of in the psalm, God is totally denied and man is idolized. It is a period when the eternal gospel is proclaimed by an angel flying in the midst of heaven. This gospel is: “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Revelation 14:6-Judges :).

Given the current development of our society, by that time the theory of evolution will have been generally accepted as fact. This means that the message that God created the heavens and the earth is denied. That is why God sends that angel to remind all people wherever they live on the earth – that is why that angel flies in midheaven, everyone on earth can see and hear him – that He is the Creator.

Verses 3-8

The Keeper

In these verses we hear, as it were from the sanctuary, the response to the faith confidence expressed by the faithful in Psalms 121:1-Exodus :. The faithful is assured that the Keeper will not allow his foot to slip (Psalms 121:3). In this verse there is the word “not” twice. It is a double underlining that what is written in this verse will never, ever be allowed by the Keeper. He will support him in every step he takes (Job 31:4). God the Creator is mighty to keep from wavering and stumbling (Jude 1:24).

The Keeper will not slumber, He will not slacken in His vigilance for him for a moment. This is very different from what happened with the idols. Elijah at the time scoffed at the Baal: “Perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened” (cf. 1 Kings 18:27). This Keeper will not lose sight of him, nor will He watch him indifferently as he makes his way to Jerusalem, a way fraught with dangers. He will accompany him with the utmost personal attention and be closely involved with him. His Keeper has even counted the hairs of his head and not one hair of it will be lost (Luke 12:7; Luke 21:18; Acts 27:34).

With the call “behold” (Psalms 121:4) the attention of the faithful is emphatically drawn to the Keeper as the One “who keeps Israel”, His people. There is no slackening in His keeping. There is no dozing and therefore no falling asleep. He will neither slumber nor sleep, but will watch over His property, His chosen people, without interruption. His people are His “personal property” (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6).

In Psalms 121:3-Numbers : it is not yet entirely clear Who the Keeper is, at least His Name is not yet explicitly mentioned. Only in Psalms 121:5 is His identity revealed: it is the LORD. It could have been, for example, an (arch)angel. What does someone need on a very dangerous journey? A keeper or a personal bodyguard. And who is this bodyguard? What can he do? He must always be vigilant. There must not be even a moment of slumber. Slumbering is an expression for a soldier who is not vigilant during his service (Isaiah 5:27).

If the keeper of Israel was an (arch)angel (cf. Exodus 32:34; Daniel 10:21), a demonic angel prince might have been able to stop him (Daniel 10:13). Now that the LORD Himself has taken on the task of bringing Israel safely to Jerusalem, what seemed impossible before is now possible. Yes, everything is possible for those who believe. If the LORD is with us, who can be against us? He promises a safe arrival.

As He is the Keeper of His people (Psalms 121:4), so He is of the believing remnant. Twice in this verse it is said that the LORD Himself keeps His own. He is to them “your shade on your right hand”. He is as close to them as a shadow is to a person. He is also as inseparable from them as a shadow is from a person. They may walk in His shadow, which means that He keeps and protects them (Psalms 91:1; Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 49:2), in contrast to earthly powers (cf. Isaiah 30:2-Leviticus :). That He is on their right hand means that He supports them with His strength. It is the place where the defender stands (Psalms 109:31).

His care for them is there day and night, when the sun shines and when the moon shines (Psalms 121:6). He shields His people from the dangers of the day and from the dangers of the night (cf. Genesis 31:40; Psalms 91:5-Joshua :). All the circumstances in which His people may be on their journey to Jerusalem are in His hand. He will provide them with everything they need (Isaiah 49:9-2 Samuel :).

Even the evil that surrounds them, their enemies, is in His hand (Psalms 121:7). He will “preserve them from all evil”. That is the evil of sin and the evil of tribulation. He will also keep their soul, which is strained by the opposition of the wicked, in His hand, so that they will not succumb in their soul (cf. Philippians 4:7; Hebrews 12:3).

The LORD takes full responsibility for their entire journey (Psalms 121:8). He guards them when they are “going out” to travel. He guards them up to and including their “coming in” the promised land, when they have arrived at their final destination (cf. Deuteronomy 28:6). “Going out and … coming in” is an expression that summarizes the whole of life (John 10:9).

And even there, in the place of blessing where they are then, He continues to guard them. He will guard them when they are “going out” of their house, for example to go to the temple, and He will keep them when they go back and are “coming in” their house again. He does it “from this time forth and forever”. This means, that now the LORD Himself is going along (Exodus 33:14-Esther :), the psalmist is going to begin his long, dangerous journey with confidence.

The application for us: Having seen ourselves in the light of God and also having seen the world in its true character in that light, we set out on a journey to the Father’s house, the dwelling place of God. On our pilgrimage we may count on His constant nearness and care and may we come to know Him as our Keeper.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 121". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-121.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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