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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 121

Verses 1-8


This “Song of the Ascents”—a title slightly varying from that of each of the other Gradual Psalms—is as suitable as any for the Israelite’s use when not leaving his home for the earthly Jerusalem, but only meditating on the circumstances and prospects of his spiritual progress, especially when life is drawing to a close; but its beauties are more apparent if we regard it as bursting from the lips of the pilgrims as after their long, weary, and dangerous march, in spite of Mesech and Kedar, though not yet beyond their reach, they come at last in sight of the mountain range of Moriah and Zion. O joyful! Yonder is Jerusalem! There is the sheen of the Temple! Our journey is nearly over! Jehovah is appealed to by the Church or saint in the first three verses, and in the remainder answers and confirms His believing people.—The Caravan and Temple.


(Psalms 121:1-4)

Wherever the devout Hebrew wandered, and whatever might be his condition, his eyes turned towards the mountain heights of his native Judea. In the distance those heights assumed the appearance of one vast mountain, on which there was a particular eminence that arrested the gaze of the eager worshipper, as if held by the spell of an irresistible fascination. This was Mount Zion, the consecrated hill of the Lord—the foundation on which He had built His Church, and the symbol of its permanency—the charmed circle of divinest manifestation—the central fountain from which streams of blessing have issued for the healing of the nations. As the mountaineer, pressed and worsted in the conflict, fled to his native hills for refuge and defence, so the suffering Israelite sought comfort and protection from Him “whose righteousness is like the great mountains.”

I. That the soul is often placed in circumstances of distress

Suffering is the commonest, yet most mysterious, feature of our human life. None are exempted. Heaven has no dispensations to grant to special favourites. Whatever differences there may be in mental endowments, wealth, or social position, there is, among all the descendants of Adam, an unavoidable, all-levelling communism in suffering. Apparent and numerous as may be the physical sufferings of mankind, there is a depth of mental distress of which the outer world knoweth not, and with which a stranger may not intermeddle. The hope deferred that maketh the heart sick; the collapse of undertakings that have cost days and nights of anxious thought and devoted labour; the wounds inflicted by unjust and mean insinuations, or by words barbed with envy and dipped in the venom of a heartless cruelty; the nameless pang of disappointment occasioned by the faithlessness of one we trusted, and to whom we knew not how far we had surrendered our heart till he flung it from him a pierced and bleeding thing—all these, and infinitely more, are hidden from the great world outside; they are beyond its power to assuage, or even to appreciate.

II. That in every time of distress Jehovah is an ever-available Refuge.

1. His power is unbounded. “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” The Creator of all can succour and defend all. The great forces of both worlds are under His control. He restrains their malignant, and multiplies their beneficent, ministries. However complicated our straits and pungent our grief, His power is all-sufficient. With such a refuge despair would be madness.

2. His defence is invincible. “He will not suffer thy foot to be moved.” The sliding of the foot is an emblem of misfortune frequently used, and a very natural and suggestive one to the dweller in the Hebrew mountains, where a single slip of the foot was often attended with great danger (Psalms 38:16; Psalms 66:9). The foundation on which the believer rests—the Divine power and goodness—is immovable, and while fixed on this basis his foot shall not be moved. The giddy whirl of pleasure; the artful devices of the tempter; the sombre tempest of calamities will, alike, be powerless to harm while he is circled by the Divine defence.

3. His vigilance is unwearied. “He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Sleep is necessary to repair the waste occasioned by toil. It is an indication of weakness and limitation. All mundane creatures sleep. God never sleeps. He knows no weariness. To Him there is no night; the darkness and the light are both alike to Him. Nothing can escape His eye. No enemy can secrete himself unnoticed; no ambush can surprise Him. The sentinel may slumber at his post; the steersman at the helm; the mother by the sick-bed; but God never slumbers. He is never exhausted; never inattentive to the condition of His people, or the wants of the universe.

III. That the most signal manifestations of Divine help are realised in the sanctuary.

“The hills from whence cometh my help.” On those hills the Temple stood—the pride of the Hebrew, the marvel of the ages. There Jehovah localised His presence; there the ineffable glory hovered; there the people held sublime communion with their God; there were witnessed the brightest visions of His face; there were realised the strongest consolations of His love. The fondest, dearest memories of life cluster around the experiences of the sanctuary. The sad heart has there lost its burden; joy has been raised into a purer passion; the holy resolution been confirmed; and the future lit up with the kindling radiancy of hope. Who can estimate the loss to the worshipper of a single careless neglect of the service of the sanctuary!

IV. That the soul is delivered from its distress only as it turns to Jehovah.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.” Help is not to be found in man. We cannot look to idols, or to the mighty, who, like hills, fill the earth, and raise their heads towards heaven. Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from these hills (Jeremiah 3:23). When all human help fails, with God nothing is impossible. To brood over our distress is to increase it. Our greatest distress comes when we wander farthest from God, and vanishes when we turn again to Him with a sincere heart.


1. Distress is never far to seek.

2. The Divine Refuge is open for all.

3. To receive timely help be always in your place in the sanctuary.


(Psalms 121:5-8)

A celebrated traveller—after an absence of three years, during which he had walked across the continent of Africa from east to west, through vast regions never before trodden by the foot of the white man—recently received an enthusiastic welcome home. As he approached the quiet Kentish village where he had spent his boyish days, his first act, before entering his much-loved home, was to pass through the portals of the church where his aged father ministered, and, humbly kneeling, offer his devout thanksgiving to that God who had watched over and preserved him in all his wanderings. Among other appropriate Scriptures, this Psalm was read. It was a touching scene! Many hearts heaved with emotion, and many tears were shed, as the reader, in trembling accents, uttered the words, “The Lord is thy keeper. The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coining in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” It was a graceful and fitting acknowledgment of that Divine Goodness which had safely conducted the weary, sun-burnt traveller through all the perils of his great and adventurous journey. We should be ever ready to acknowledge and adore the Gracious Power that shelters and protects us every moment. Observe—

I. The Divine protection is ample and efficient.

I. It is ample. “The Lord is thy shade.” He surrounds His people, and guards them at every point of attack. Without His encompassing shadow they are exposed to the fierce onslaught of numberless enemies, and must become an easy prey to their violence. Where the danger is greatest, there the Divine shade is thickest. The foe must be able to pierce the invulnerable, and conquer the invincible, before he can touch the feeblest saint who is sheltered by the wings of God.

2. It is efficient. “Upon thy right hand.” The right hand is the organ of action, either in aggression or defence. If that is paralysed, man is shorn of his main strength. As the enemies of God’s people are ever standing at their right hand to frustrate all their efforts in well-doing, so Jehovah is at their right hand to encourage and sustain those efforts, and restrain their enemies. At the point where the forces of evil most thickly concentrate, there the Divine protection operates most powerfully.

II. The Divine protection shields from the most open assaults. “The sun shall not smite thee by day.” To the inhabitants of the East, where the fierce rays of the sun are sometimes fatal in their effects upon the incautious traveller, these words would have a special significance. They also indicate figuratively the open dangers which threaten God’s people every day, and the flagrant, cruel, persecuting hatred of their most furious enemies. “Dangers stand thick through all the ground;” but God is present to defend. The worker in the dismal mine, the traveller by road, or rail, or sea, the toiler surrounded by the most destructive materials, is alike under the shadow of the Divine protection.

III. The Divine protection guards from the effects of the most secret treachery. “Nor the moon by night.” The moon is the ruler of the night; and everything belongs to it which happens during its reign, so that it is not necessary to trace all the evils of the night directly to the influence of the moon. The Lord will protect from all the subtle and invisible attacks of the wicked, though they come upon His people as silently and unseen as the penetrating cold of the moonlight night. He sees the approach of the least suspected danger, estimates the force of the subtlest influence, smiles at the treachery of His enemies, and disconcerts their cleverest combinations. The Divine Sentinel never slumbers. He can never be outwitted by the cunning of the most malicious.

IV. The Divine protection is a defence against every evil. “The Lord shall preserve thee from evil: He shall preserve thy soul.” He protects from the evil of sin and of suffering. He turns away the evil that is feared, and alleviates and sanctifies the evil He permits. He will preserve the life (the soul) of His saints in war or peace—when the weapons of destruction hurtle through the air, or when disease silently sheds around its noxious poison. He will keep the soul from doing evil, cleanse it from all pollution, and invest it with a purity immaculate and fadeless.

V. The Divine protection is realised amid the active duties of life.

“The Lord shall preserve thy going out.” The good man is directed in the beginning of his undertakings, and shielded by the Divine presence during their active prosecution (Deuteronomy 28:3-6). He is safe wherever his duties carry him—in the workshop, the street, the busy mart, on the restless sea, or in strange and distant countries.

“In foreign realms and lands remote,

Supported by Thy care,

Through burning climes they pass unhurt,
And breathe in tainted air.
When on the dreadful tempest borne,
High on the broken wave,
They know Thou art not slow to hear,
Nor impotent to save.”


A moment comes when there shall be the last going out—the ebb of life when the soul shall go out with the tide, to return no more! Then shall it be enfolded with the Divine protection, and preserved in endless bliss.

VI. The Divine protection overshadows the rest and quietness of home. “And thy coming in.” Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. The Divine protection is not less exercised in the conclusion of any undertaking than in its commencement. Evening brings all home; and the weary one, after the toils and dangers of the day, enjoys the peace and rest of his home all the more because he knows he is encircled by the Divine guardianship. And when the shadows of life’s eventide gather round him, he fears not. The Lord will preserve his coming in—his tranquil entrance into the heavenly home!

VII. The Divine protection is unremitting. “From this time forth and even for evermore.” He is the continual portion and defence of all who trust in Him, in all places, at all times, in all actions, in life, in prosperity, in adversity, in death, in time, in eternity. No evil shall befall them to endanger their present and ultimate good. The safety of the Church and of every individual member is insured.


1. Offer grateful praise for the protection of the past.

2. Fear not the most furious assaults of the enemy.

3. Put all your confidence in the Divine Protector.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 121". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.