New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 121:1

A Song of Ascents-
Or 'degrees'. Hezekiah’s response to being granted another 15 years of life was to edit and produce the Songs of Degrees, so named after the degrees of the sundial. Four of the 15 Psalms were by David, one by Solomon; and the other 10 it seems Hezekiah wrote himself but left anonymous. These ten Psalms would reflect the ten degrees by which the sun-dial went backwards. The point to note is that Hezekiah taught others in an anonymous way in response to the grace he had received. True preaching reflects a certain artless selflessness. These songs of ascents were presumably also intended to be sung by the exiles as they returned to Zion, and then every time they went up to Jerusalem to keep a feast. But there is no evidence this happened. For they didn't return in the kind of faith implied in these Psalms. The plural "ascents" would then be an intensive plural referring to the one great ascent, to Zion. Much of the language of these Psalms is typical of David's language when under persecution by Saul. But the Psalm was reapplied to Hezekiah, and then to the exiles on their return from Babylon, and then by extension to all God's people on their journey zionwards.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?-
"The hills" may be an intensive plural referring to the great hill of mount Zion. But the hills were associated with idolatry and the high places. David and subsequent users of the Psalm may have meant that they looked not to the hills but to Yahweh, the creator of heaven and earth (:2).

Psa 121:2

My help comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth-
So often, the fact Yahweh is creator is presented as a reason to trust Him for help. To minimize His creative power through faithless scientific theory simply takes away our grounds for personal faith. 

Psa 121:3

He will not allow your foot to be moved-
The idea is that the restoration was to be permanent, and never again would Israel go into captivity and have to leave Zion.

He who keeps you will not slumber-
Note the progression from "me" (:1,2) to Israel (:3-5). David saw his sufferings as being bound up with those of Israel; those who hated him hated Zion, those who blessed him blessed Zion, and God's salvation of Israel was being expressed through God's deliverance of him in the daily vicissitudes of life; as God had chosen Zion, so He had David His servant; David's joy was Zion's joy, and her exaltation would be David's  (Ps. 51:18; 69:35; 87:2; 106:5; 121:3,4; 125:1; 128:5; 146:10; 149:2). This is how we are to make sense of suffering- by understanding that it plays a role in the salvation of others, and is part of a wider nexus of Divine operation. We suffer so that we may be able to minister the comfort we receive to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Job likewise came to realize that his sufferings were not so much for his personal maturing, but for the teaching and salvation of the friends.

God had allowed the feet of His people to be moved out of their land, but the intention was that this was to be temporary, and their return would be a witness to the Gentiles amongst whom they lived- leading them to join in and also come to Zion in penitence and faith. And then He would not again allow their feet to be moved from their land (s.w. Ps. 66:9).

Psa 121:4

Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep-
The statement that God will not "rest" for Zion's sake (Is. 62:1) must be understood in the context of the faithful at that time urging God not to "be still" [same Hebrew word translated "rest"] for His people (Ps. 83:1; Is. 64:12). This is an allusion to Boaz not being at rest until he had redeemed Ruth and Naomi. God is not at rest, He is not distant from us; and yet His people in Babylon felt that He was. It's no wonder that we are tempted to feel the same. Yet we must give Is. 62:1 it's full weight- God is answering the complaint of His people by stating that no, He will never rest for them. In this same context we read that He that keeps Israel will "neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). The fact that God will never 'hold His peace' for His people's sake (Is. 62:1) means that we should likewise not 'hold our peace' for them (the same Hebrew is used in Is. 62:6). In our prayers for them, we are to give God no rest (Is. 62:7).

We note that the confident statement that Yahweh doesn't slumber nor sleep for His people was disavowed by the exiles, and perhaps by David too in his low moments in Ps. 44:23: "Wake up! Why do You sleep, Lord? Arise! Don’t reject us forever". To accuse God of sleeping seems as inappropriate as the disciples' demand for the Lord Jesus to awake from sleep because His apparent sleeping showed that He didn't care that they perished (Mk. 4:38). He did of course care for their perishing. He gave His life for that.

Psa 121:5

Yahweh is your keeper, Yahweh is your shade on your right hand-

The songs of ascents, part of the restoration Psalms, are relevant to any ‘ascent’ or ‘going up’ to the Lord’s house. They are full of reference to God’s eternal purpose with Jerusalem and the temple. It seems to me that they may have been re-written under inspiration with reference to God’s people returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. “The Lord is thy keeper…the sun shall not smite thee by day…” (Ps. 121:5,6)- reference to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, but also to God’s miraculous keeping them on the desert journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, without a guard from the Babylonian authorities.

Psa 121:6

The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night-
The exiles were comforted that as the pillar of cloud and fire protected Israel on their journey to the promised land, so God would be with them in returning from exile. Not being smitten by day nor night is the language of Ps. 91:6 [see note there]. They were to follow the path intended for Joshua, and earnestly believe they could participate in the restored kingdom of God. There is allusion to the belief that there was some demonic power in the moon; hence Ps. 91:6 LXX "from ruin and the demon of the midday". Whatever belief in demons the people held, the simple truth was that God destroyed the wilderness generation; all was under His absolute control. There is no radical evil in the cosmos.  

The reference is as in Ps. 105:39 to how God "spread a cloud for a covering, fire to give light in the night" to Israel leaving Egypt. And He would have done the same to the exiles leaving Babylon. The sensitivity of God is revealed here. The cloud kept the heat of the sun off them in the day time, and the fire kept them warm at night when the temperatures plunged in the desert. This same care was potentially available to the exiles; but most didn't even want to make the journey, and remained in Babylon. These promises are therefore reapplied to the new Israel (Rev. 7:16), As Yahweh provided a pillar of fire to give light in the night to His people in the wilderness, so Israel were to arrange for a fire to be burning throughout the night in the tabernacle. They were to give light in response to God’s giving light to them

Psa 121:7

Yahweh will keep you from all evil; He will keep your soul-
As discussd on :6, the "evil" may refer to their wrong understandings of cosmic evil. The Lord Jesus never actually stated that demons don't exist; rather did His miracles demonstrate that God was so far superior to their power, that effectively they didn't. And the same logic is being used here.

Psa 121:8

Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in-
The idea may be that the regular pilgrimages to Zion to the keep the feasts (cp. Ps. 122:1), going out and coming in, were envisaged as now being eternally established. We note "going out and coming in", and not the other way around. The implication is that Zion was to be the actual abode of the worshipper, even if he only came in and out for a brief period three times / year.

From this time forth and forever-
This could imply that "forever", eternity, was seen as beginning with the coming in to Zion. The restoration of the exiles could potentially have been the time of the reestablishment of God's Kingdom on earth; but that possiblity was precluded by Israel's lack of faith and repentance. We can begin living the eternal life now, in that we can now act as we shall eternally. We shall be eternally appreciating, trusting, loving and praising God's Name, just as He keeps us noth now and eternally- and we can begin those experiences with Him right now. This is an Old Testament form (also in Ps. 113:2; 115:18; 121:8; 125:2; 131:3) of the Lord's teaching as recorded in John's Gospel, that we can have and live the eternal life right now. We have that life not in the sense that we shall never die, but in that we can begin living and being now as we shall eternally live and be.