Psalm 121: The Keeping God

Psalm 121: The Keeping God

This life is filled with many trials and hardships. Satan and his minions would tempt us away from God and His Word. An unbelieving society would assail us, persecute us, and call us traitors to our own species. They may even throw us in prison or kill us for having the audacity to hold fast to the Word of Christ. The pandemic lockdowns have even brought with them actual persecution during corporate worship gatherings, eerily reminiscent to the setting of this psalm of ascent. Yet the confident assurance of the psalmist must be ours. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear, because He is with us and keeps us for all eternity.

Wandering eyes are bad harbinger in Scripture. From the opening chapters of Genesis, when Eve looked at the tree and saw that it was good for food and “a delight to the eyes,” humanity’s false reliance on sight is a consistent theme. From Lot to David, whenever an individual sees that something appeals to their sense of sight, sin and disaster follow closely behind. The opening line of Psalm 121 then should immediately strike us with an impending sense of disaster. This sense is exacerbated by the object of the psalmist’s gaze: the hills. Written to be sung on the march to Jerusalem for worship, the worshippers were quite literally passing through a valley of the shadow of death. Vandals and thieves inhabited those hills, lying in wait for the estranged traveler to traverse those hidden and treacherous roads alone. They would jump out from the many hidden places to attack and steal. The road to Jerusalem was a dangerous way. The listeners to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, who was attacked in this very manner, would have understood the situation perfectly. So when casting one’s eyes up to the mountains, the natural question is exactly what follows: where does my help come from?

The answer of the psalmist is immediate and definite. The Lord is his help, the Lord who is Creator of all things. The contrast is sharp: the thieves may inhabit those hills, but it is the Lord who made them and who commands their very existence. The psalmist expresses swift confidence that he has nothing to fear on his journey to worship, because the God that he worships is the maker of heaven and earth. But this confident assurance is not mere comfort for the psalmist; it is polemical. Notice how the personage switches from first to third: “He will not let your….” The psalmist’s profession of faith is not merely personal but is instructive for all those who walk the same path. The psalmist almost wills that his readers and singers express the same trust that he displays. But what further evidence does he provide for the recipients of his message?

The psalmist highlights two truths about God by using two images: sleeping and shading. In verses 3-4, the psalmist reminds the listener that God doesn’t sleep.

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