The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 121

Psa 121:1


THEME: Jacob's "going out and coming in" (Gen 28 -- esp vv 13,15; Gen 31; 32; etc). // to return of captives after defeat of Sennacherib's army.

HILLS: These are the "hills" or "mountains" of Israel, made sacred by God's promises. An exile on the Mesopotamian plain, looking toward the southwest, would dimly see the Holy Land as a range of mountains. As Daniel in captivity prayed toward Jerusalem (Dan. 6:10) in a later day, so the exiles in Assyria turn their eyes and hearts toward the mountains of Israel. They look for help, not superstitiously to the actual mountains, but to the Lord who made the heavens and earth (v. 2), and who chose Zion for His resting place (Psa. 122:4; 125:2; 132:13; 134:3).

(NT) If this is an intensive plural for the great mountain, Zion, then here is a picture of Christ in Gethsemane. No help, but only hatred, would come to him from that source. From that source would only come those who would arrest him. So in Gethsemane his help came from the Lord which made heaven and earth (v 2; Melchizedek's phrase: Gen 14:19).

"Isaiah refers to the practices associated with the prevalent idolatry, and hints at wooden or stone images in the thickets, votive offerings on trees, brick altars, stones for libations, tables for feasting, broth of abominable things, obscene practices, human sacrifices, and spiritualism" (FSDS 108). There are many "mountains" of idolatry -- more in our modern world than we usually remember -- but only one true mountain of hope -- Zion, around which cluster in faith the one true church of the firstborn (Psa 122:1-4; Heb 12:22,23).

Psa 121:2

There is, for Hezekiah, no reliance on other gods or even on the treaty with Egypt, but only on Jehovah: "With him [Sennacherib] is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help and to fight our battles" (2Ch 32:6-8).

THE LORD, THE MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH: "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Psa 127:1). "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?" (Psa 118:6; Heb 13:6). Man builds "hills" and towers and mighty cathedrals; he carves images of wood and stone; but the Lord made heaven and earth, a vastly superior work. "The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands... Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord. Hath not my hand made all these things?" (Act 7:48-50).

Psa 121:3

HE WILL NOT LET YOUR FOOT SLIP: Cp Psa 66:9. In Palestine, with rough mountains and rocky passes, a traveler may easily lose his footing. Thus, God's people are compared to roes, harts, hinds: surefooted upon mountains (Song 2:17; 8:14; Hab 3:19).

(NT) He who moved the earth on its foundations (Mat 27:51), as a token of His indignation at the despite done to His Son, cares for his nailed feet and will not suffer them to be moved!

HE WHO WATCHES OVER YOU WILL NOT SLUMBER: Ct 1Ki 18:27: "Peradventure your god is asleep and cannot hear you."

Psa 121:4

SLUMBER... SLEEP: Contrast the Assyrian army in Psa 76:5,6. In the famous scene enacted upon mount Carmel, Elijah chides the priests of Baal: "Peradventure your god is asleep and cannot hear you" (1Ki 18:27). But the one Creator of heaven and hearth fainteth not, neither is He ever weary (Isa 40:28). In this is the hope of His people.

(NT) Intermittent drowsiness... deeper sleep. Ct the disciples in Gethsemane.

Psa 121:5

THE LORD WATCHES OVER YOU: As shepherd over flock (Psa 23:1; Eze 34:11). Cp God's promise to Jacob in Gen 28:15,20.

SHADE: Allusion to the sun-dial of Hezekiah, the original "degrees"?

YOUR RIGHT HAND: Psa 16:8; 109:31; 110:5.

Psa 121:6

THE SUN WILL NOT HARM YOU BY DAY: The sun is often a fiery trial in the lands of the Bible (Jon 4:8; 2Ki 4:19), and thus a vivid symbol of oppression (Rev 7:16). But to the righteous their God is a shelter from the cruel rays of persecution. He is "a great rock in a weary land" (Isa 32:1,2), and a "shield" (Gen 15:1). Though His people sojourn among barbarians, yet by faith they dwell in the secret places of the Most High, and they abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psa 91:1; cp Psa 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7). And as they began their pilgrimage home, these words would be a special comfort to them (Isa 49:10).

(NT) The unnatural darkness at the crucifixion (Luk 23:44).

NOR THE MOON BY NIGHT: It was a common fear in ancient times that prolonged exposure to the moon might be harmful mentally. But this may simply refer to the bitter and injurious cold of the eastern nights. In his role as a shepherd for Laban, Jacob was "consumed" by the frost of night (Gen 31:40; cp Jer 36:30).

The Assyrian destruction (Isa 37:36) happened under a Passover full moon (Isa 26:20,21; 30:29; 31:5), as did the Egyptian destruction (Exo 13; 14).

(NT) Jesus was not smitten under the moon, because he was dead by sunset!

Psa 121:7

THE LORD... WILL WATCH OVER YOUR LIFE: It was at this same time as the destruction of Sennacherib's army, that the king was given his life back again (Isa 38:5,6).

Psa 121:8

COMING AND GOING: "Thy going out and thy coming in" (AV) might be: (a) the frequent crossings, during the last week, of the Kedron; (b) his death and resurrection; (c) the first and second advents; and/or (d) his ascension and second coming.

BOTH NOW AND FOREVER MORE: Such is magnificently true concerning both Jacob (the promises) and Hezekiah (his faith), but it is especially true of Messiah, the Lord of Life.

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