Psalm 121: A Song of Ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
This past week in Sunday School, we took a break from our study in Revelation (sorry I haven’t had any summaries from that study posted!) to look at Psalm 121. This is a Psalm of Ascents, which means that it was likely sung by Israelites as they walked up the mountain into Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts and celebrations of worship to the Lord.
Vv. 1–2: We first see that the psalmist is looking up into the hills, asking where his help comes from. It’s important to remember this is probably being sung as the people traverse the hill up into Jerusalem to worship the Lord. They are walking in the hill country, and it is in the hills that people in this culture worshipped idols. Perhaps the thought was that the higher you are, the closer to the gods you are. When the psalmist asks this question, he asks it ironically. His help is not found in the hills he sees, where others may even be worshipping false gods. No, instead, his help comes from the one who made the hills, from the one who made the heavens and the earth, meaning everything that exists! There’s no greater helper than that!
Vv. 3–4: The next stanza describes this help in a little more detail First, the Lord—his (and our) Helper—will not let your foot be moved. This is another way of saying he won’t let you slip or stumble. To one walking up a mountainous dirt road, this would be a pretty good promise to take literally. But there is also a symbolic meaning here. In life, the one who trusts in the Lord will not slip. He goes on to say that the Lord never slumbers or sleeps, meaning that we can always count on Him to be with us. There is never a time when the Lord is caught off guard by what we are going through, and there is never a time when he fails to be attentive to us.
Vv. 5–6: The third stanza speaks of the Lord as being your keeper and providing shade and protection. I imagine that to those living in a hot and dry, and in some places desert, climate, shade would be tremendously valuable. As they’re climbing this hill, or as the work outdoors throughout the year, shade is an asset. It was the closest thing they had to air conditioning. By saying this, the psalmist declares that God will give blessing and protection to those who trust in him.
Vv. 7–8: The final stanza moves beyond physical protection and blessing and points to spiritual protection: “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” There may be a double meaning here—the word translated “evil” can also mean “harm” or “calamity.” Given the following phrase, this meaning is likely to be in mind, but possibly also encapsulates the spiritual harm, or evil. When we belong to the Lord—when we trust in Jesus as our only source of life and salvation—he protects us from evil, or spiritual ruin.
As we closed in Sunday School, we talked about how we need to be careful about how we understand this passage. Much like a proverb, this is a song declaring something that is often the case for those who trust in the Lord. It’s important to remember that this is not a promise that life will never bring problems. This is not a promise that life will be easy or trouble-free. In fact, Jesus tells his followers that the path we are called to walk is a difficult one, and there will be much tribulation. But what this psalm does teach us is that even in the difficulties; even in the heartbreak, the confusion, and the pain; we can trust that the Lord is with us. He is our helper. He is our shade. He is the one who keeps our feet secure, and the one who never slumbers or sleeps. Even in the darkest times and the lowest valleys, we can trust that the Lord is with us every step of the way. What a blessing that is to know our helper is the Creator of the universe!