The Book of Psalms

Tuesday: Unto the Hills


Theme: Trusting in the God Who Keeps Us
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded in vivid and powerful ways how the Lord watches over his children.
Scripture: Psalm 121:1-8
As we noted in yesterday’s study, some writers have suggested that this psalm was the traditional evening song for the last encampment of those who would arrive in Jerusalem the next day. All this is pure speculation, however. Other scholars have suggested that this was a song for those living in Babylon who could only see the far-off hills of Judah in their imaginations. But that is speculation, too. What is not speculation is the marvelous spirit of tranquil trust in God that the psalm breathes from beginning to end. It is this that makes Psalm 121 such a strong discipleship song for pilgrims of all times and all countries. In the first of these songs the disciple was starting out from Meshech and Kedar, two symbols for the unbelieving world. In this psalm we find him turning his eyes toward heaven, expressing trust in God. 
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher and evangelist of the nineteenth century, wrote that Psalm 121 “is several steps in advance of its predecessor, for it tells of the peace of God’s house, and the guardian care of the Lord, while Psalm 120 bemoans the departure of peace from the good man’s abode, and his exposure to the venomous assaults of slanderous tongues. In the first instance his eyes looked around with anguish, but here they look up with hope.”1
Protection by God, under the watchful eye of God, is the dominant idea in the psalm. In the Hebrew text, only one word is used for what our versions translate variously as “watches over,” “preserves” and “keeps.” That word (shamar) is used six times. It is found twice in the second stanza (vv. 3, 4), once in the third stanza (v. 5), and three times in stanza four (once as “keep” and twice as “watch over,” vv. 7, 8). 
Who are the speakers in the psalm? The “I” and “my” of verses 1 and 2, versus the “you” and “your” of verses 3-8? As we might expect, quite a few commentators argue over various cultic interpretations in which an individual Israelite is answered by a priest, or travelers answer one another in antiphonal fashion, or even a father addresses a son who is starting out on a journey.2 It is probably best to think of this as an internal dialogue of the psalmist with himself. We have a good example of that in Psalms 42 and 43: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? … Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him” (Pss. 42:5, 11; 43:5). 
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3b, Psalms 120-150 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 14. 
2Leslie C. Allen offers the most complete summary of these views (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21, Psalms 101-150 [Waco, TX: Word, 1983], pp. 152, 153). 
Study Questions: 

Why is Psalm 121 called a strong discipleship song for pilgrims? How does it compare with Psalm 120? 
What are the various interpretations of the identity of the speaker of this psalm? 

Reflection: Where are you in terms of your spiritual pilgrimage—at Psalm 120 or 121? 
Prayer: Ask God for comfort and for wisdom to handle situations that cause you fear and anxiety.
Key Point: Protection by God, under the watchful eye of God, is the dominant idea in the psalm.
For Further Study: To learn more about our need to trust in the Lord, download and listen for free to Stephen Nichols’ message, “Trusting God’s Sovereignty.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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