World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
121. Psalm 121
1I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains:
From whence shall my help come?
2My help cometh from Jehovah,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 aHe will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
He that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4Behold, he that keepeth Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5Jehovah is thy keeper:
Jehovah is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6The sun shall not smite thee by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7Jehovah will keep thee from all evil;
He will keep thy soul.
8Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in
From this time forth and for evermore.
3. He will not suffer thy foot to stumble: he who keepeth thee will not slumber. 4. Behold! he who keepeth Israel will not slumber nor sleep. 5. Jehovah is thy keeper; Jehovah is thy defence 6363 The Hebrew word is צל, tsel, “a shadow;” and hence it has been supposed that the words, “thy shadow at thy right hand.,” are a figurative expression, referring to the protection afforded by the shade of a tree against the scorching rays of the sun, or to the custom which prevails in tropical climates especially, of keeping off the intense heat of the sun by a portable screen, such as an umbrella or parasol. The word is often put for defense in general. Compare Numbers 14:9; Isaiah 30:2; Jeremiah 48:45 on thy right hand.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to stumble. Here the Prophet, in order to recall the faithful to the right path, and to defeat the influence of all the allurements which are wont to distract their minds, affirms that whatever advantages worldly men are accustomed to desire or hope for from the world, true believers will find abundantly and at hand in God alone. He not only attributes power to God, but also teaches that He is so affectioned towards us, that he will preserve us in all respects in perfect safety. As often as the power of God is extolled, there are many who immediately reply, It is very true that he can do such and such things if he is so inclined, but we do not certainly know what is his intention. In this passage, therefore, God is exhibited to the faithful as their guardian, that they may rest with assured confidence on his providence. As the Epicureans, in imagining that God has no care whatever about the world, extinguish all piety, so those who think that the world is governed by God only in a general and confused manner, and believe not that he cherishes with special care each of his believing people, leave men’s minds in suspense, and are themselves kept in a state of constant fluctuation and anxiety. In short, never will the hearts of men be led in good earnest to call upon God, until a persuasion of the truth of this guardianship is deeply fixed in their minds. The Psalmist declares that the purpose for which God is our keeper, is, that he may hold us up. The Hebrew word, מוט, mot, which is here used, signifies both a sliding or falling, and a trembling or staggering. Now, although it often happens that the faithful stagger, yea, are even ready to fall altogether, yet as God sustains them by his power, they are said to stand upright. And as amidst the many dangers which every moment threaten us, it is difficult for us to get rid of all anxiety and fear, the Prophet at the same time testifies, that God keeps watch unceasingly over our safety.
4. Behold! he who keepeth Israel will not slumber nor sleep.
A notion was prevalent among the heathen, that their gods sometimes slept, and were not then conscious of the wants of their worshippers. Elijah thus addressed in irony the followers of Baal, 1 Kings 18:27:
“Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing,
or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth,
and must be waked.”
Very different was the character of the guardian of Israel. He relaxed not his watchful care over his people by indulging in light slumbers during the day, nor even by sleeping in the night, when the tired frame of man seeks and demands repose. To recall each individual to the consideration of the common covenant, he represents the Divine providence as extending to the whole body of the Church. In order that each of us for himself may be assured that God will be gracious to him, it behoves us always to begin with the general promise made to all God’s people,. This form of expression, he will not slumber nor sleep, would be improper in other languages, according to the idiom of which it should rather be, He will not sleep, yea, he will not slumber: but when the Hebrews invert this order, they argue from the greater to the less. The sense then is, that as God never slumbers even in the smallest degree, we need not be afraid of any ham befalling us while he is asleep. The design of the Prophet is now obvious. To persuade true believers that God has a special care of each of them in particular, he brings forward the promise which God made to the whole people, and declares God to be the guardian of his Church, that from this general principle, as from a fountain, each might convey streams to himself. Accordingly immediately after, (Psalm 121:5,) addressing himself to each in particular, he repeats, Jehovah is thy keeper, that no person might hesitate to apply to himself that which belonged to the whole community of Israel. Besides, God is called a defense at the right hand, to teach us that it is not necessary for us to go far in seeking him, but that he is at hand, or rather stands at our side to defend us.
6. The sun shall not smite thee by day. By these forms of expression the Psalmist magnifies the advantages which result to us from our having God present with us; and, by the figure synecdoche, under one particular, he declares in general that the faithful shall be safe from all adversities, defended as they are by Divine power. The language is metaphorical, the cold of night and the heat of day denoting all kind of inconveniences. The sense then is, that although God’s people may be subject in common with others to the miseries of human life, yet his shadow is always at their side to shield them from thereby receiving any harm. The Prophet does not, however, promise the faithful a condition of such felicity and comfort as implies an exemption from all trouble; he only, for the purpose of assuaging their sorrows, sets before them this consolation — that being interested in the Divine layout, they shall be secure from all deadly harm; a point which he unfolds more distinctly in the following verses, where he tells us that God will so keep his own people from all evils, as to maintain their life in safety. The statement in the text before us is indeed general, but he afterwards specifies the chief parts of human life.
8. Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in. The sense is, Whatever thou shalt undertake or engage in during thy life shall come to a happy and successful termination. God no doubt directs by his Holy Spirit the, deliberations of his servants; but it appears to me, that this passage is rather to be referred to prosperous issues. If, however, any one would give it a more extended meaning I have no objection. It is enough for me to embrace that sense which is indisputably certain and solid, That God will be the continual guide of his people, so that stretching out his hand to them he will conduct them according to their hearts’ desire from the beginning even to the end. Farther, it is of importance to mark the reason why the Prophet repeats so often what he had briefly and in one word expressed with sufficient plainness. Such repetition seems at first sight superfluous; but when we consider how difficult it is to correct our distrust, it will be easily perceived that he does not improperly dwell upon the commendation of the divine providence. How few are to be found who yield to God the honor of being a keeper, in order to their being thence assured of their safety, and led to call upon him in the midst of their perils! On the contrary, even when we seem to have largely experienced what this protection of God implies, we yet instantly tremble at the noise of a leaf falling from a tree, as if God had quite forgotten us. Being then entangled in so many unholy misgivings, and so much inclined to distrust, we are taught from the passage that if a sentence couched in a few words does not suffice us, we should gather together whatever may be found throughout the whole Scriptures concerning the providence of God, until this doctrine-” That God always keeps watch for us” — is deeply rooted in our hearts; so that depending upon his guardianship alone we may bid adieu to all the vain confidences of the world.