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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 121

 

 

Verses 1-8

Psalm 121

A Song of degrees

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,

From whence cometh my help.

2 My help cometh from the Lord,

Which made heaven and earth.

3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:

He that keepeth thee will not slumber.

4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel

Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is thy keeper:

The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

6 The sun shall not smite thee by day,

Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:

He shall preserve thy soul.

8 The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in

From this time forth, and even for evermore.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Composition.—The Poet lifts his eyes to the mountains, upon which is Jehovah’s seat, with the assurance, that from thence protection from all that can imperil body and soul, and help in every situation of life, will be vouchsafed him by the almighty and eternal God, who is not only the Creator of the world, but the Keeper of Israel, and who never grows weary in His activity and care. The change of persons is probably to be regarded as a poetical figure. A responsive song between a single voice ( Psalm 121:1; Psalm 121:3), and the believing Church ( Psalm 121:2; Psalm 121:4), with the words of the Priest in ( Psalm 121:5-8), in support of such trust (Olsh.), is not definitely indicated. The confidence of trust is expressed already in Psalm 121:1 b, without the need of taking the sentence relatively (the German, English and Dutch Bibles) against the prevailing usage of מֵאַיִן (yet comp. Joshua 2:4).

The question is not one of uncertainty or doubt, but is a figure of speech.

The particular situation of the Poet cannot be discovered. It is not even to be assumed with certainty that he was in exile, or on a festival journey. For the mountains to which he lifts his eyes are not any high places whatever in the world (Calvin et al.), from which help was expected, or the mountains within his present range of vision (Amyrald, Geier, J. H. Mich.), or those of Palestine, which the homesick exile beholds in fancy (De Wette), but those of Jerusalem, or of Zion ( Psalm 87:1; Psalm 125:2; Psalm 133:3) as the dwelling-place of God and the place whence help proceeds ( Psalm 3:5; Psalm 14:7). But there is nothing to show whether the Poet was in Jerusalem itself, or in its vicinity, or at a distance. The conjecture of an allusion to Samaria, in the sixfold repetition of the catchword שׁמר (Hengstenberg, Hitzig), is too bold, since the guardianship of Jehovah is the fundamental thought.

[The second member of Psalm 121:1, Should be an interrogative sentence as explained above.—J. F. M.]. It is by no means admissible to obliterate (Rosenm, De Wette) the distinction between the subjective negative אל ver3, and the objective לֹא, Psalm 121:4. [Perowne: “The Psalmist turns to address himself. First he utters the wish that God’s watchful care may be extended to him, and then the conviction that the Keeper of Israel, He who has been the God of his fathers, who has led the nation through all its eventful history, doth not, will not, cannot, slumber or sleep, comp. Psalm 132:4, 1 Kings 18:27; Isaiah 5:27; Job 7:20.”—J. F. M.]. By the exclamation: behold! ( Psalm 121:4), the assurance, that the Keeper of Israel cannot sleep, is still further supported. As the seed of Abraham, Israel could appropriate to itself the promise of Genesis 28:15, so much the more confidently. No climax, however, is to be sought (Calv. Geier, J. H. Mich.), in the two verbs. On the contrary the former is the stronger, meaning literally: to snore. (Hupfeld). The strengthening of the expression is effected by the accumulation of synonyms.

Psalm 121:5-6. The shade is an image of protection ( Numbers 14:9; Psalm 91:1); and this figure has something peculiarly attractive to the Oriental, even when not a traveller. It occurs here as preparing the way for the mention of the Sun, which immediately follows, but has not a physical and local meaning=over thy right hand (Luther) or: lying towards thy right hand, that Isaiah, towards the south, or protecting on the sunny side (J. D. Mich, Muntinghe). This is plain, if we consider that the injurious influences proceeding from the sun and moon are introduced only as representative of dangers by day and night, against which the ever-watchful God grants protection. But a real phenomenon of nature lies at the foundation of the figure. Recent travellers of scientific culture report expressly, that hurtful influences upon the human frame are not only everywhere ascribed to the moon by popular belief, but that effects similar to those manifested in sun-stroke, are produced by the moonbeams. There is no reference, therefore, to coldness by night as contrasted with the heat of the day, Genesis 31:40; Jeremiah 36:30 (Hengst, after Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Calvin, Geier, et al.), nor is the moon introduced for the sake of the poetic parallelism (Hupfeld) הִכִּהto smite, of the destructive beating of the sun ( Isaiah 49:40), upon plants, causing them to wither ( Psalm 102:6), and upon the head ( Jonah 4:8), resulting (Del.) in the symptoms of sunstroke ( 2 Kings 4:19, Judith 8:2 f.). [Delitzsch: “Many years ago I heard a clergyman elucidate this passage from his own experience. While he was ascending a peak of the Riesengebirge, the moonbeams smote upon him so strongly, that he was compelled to shield his eyes with leafy twigs. And not long since I heard from Texas, that sleeping in the open air when the moon shines was in that country frequently followed by dizziness, mental aberration, and even death.” Other accounts from Batavia are given by De Wette and from the East generally by Ewald. Many expositors, however, understand by the smiting of the moon, the cold that is felt during the night, as being contrasted with the heat of the sun, comp. Genesis 31:39; Jeremiah 36:30 (Hengst. et al.) De Sacy remarks: “they say sometimes of intense cold, as of intense heat that it is burning.” “The Arab also says of snow and cold as of fire, jahrik, it burns.” (Delitzsch). The same usage was noticed by Defoe, who, in Robinson Crusoe, makes Friday utter the same exclamation during his first experience of snow.—J. F. M.].

Psalm 121:8. The going out and the coming in do not denote specially going abroad and returning home, in the beginning and completion of any undertaking (Hengst.). but the whole life, and its occupations (Hupfeld, et al.). This is proved by the usage of the expression in many passages [Perowne: “Comp. Deuteronomy 28:6; Deuteronomy 31:2; 1 Samuel 29:6, etc. The threefold expression: ‘shall keep thee... thy soul... thy going out and thy coming in,’ marks the completeness of the protection vouchsafed, extending to all that the man Isaiah, and that he does. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.”—J. F. M.].

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Men have not only to expect confidently help from God, they must also pray for it, and are permitted to resort trustingly to Him.—What consolation is contained in the reflection, that the Creator of the world is not only the God of Revelation, but also the eternal Keeper of His Church, and of each of its members!—God neither confines His help to time and place, nor is limited in it by any creature whatever, nor directs it to any exclusive sphere of bodily or spiritual need.—God is our Keeper in everything; but do we at all times place ourselves rightly under His protection?

Starke: In time of need, our ruined nature is sorely inclined to seek help in those objects which can render none.—As mountains are a natural stronghold, so are God’s protection and assistance our more than natural mountain and fortress.—Thou troubled child of God, dost thou doubt that thou shalt be preserved? If God preserves the heavens and the earth which He has made, should He not also preserve thee?—God has a watchful but loving and merciful eye upon His children, He sees from afar all misfortune, and can avert it in time.—If the soul is lost, all is lost; Satan is continually laying his snares for it; do thou then pray the more fervently; O Lord! keep my soul!—The most important changes of a man’s life, are his entrance into the world and his departure from it; in both the Divine preservation is indispensable.—Thou hast God’s promise, so do thou, O fellow Christian! appropriate it believingly to thyself in every undertaking.—Frisch: Distress teaches us men to look around for help. But it is to be lamented that the timid heart does not know how to compose itself and seek it in the right place.—Help does not come to men from the place whither the flesh looked for it, but whither the soul of David turned to receive it.—Umbreit: All the acts of the pious are performed under God’s protection, whether abroad or at home.—Guenther: The departure from life, and the entrance into the eternal abodes of safety, are the goal of life, the first of all cares, and the highest of all joys.—O Lord! we are all travellers through life; we would also be true pilgrims.—Taube: The guardianship of God over the whole life, over time and eternity.—Huyssen: The hope of the Christian in the dangers of war.—Diedrich: God’s Church is exhausted here and encompassed by dangers; our comfort Isaiah, that God will guard us His inheritance, and lead us home to Himself.

[Matt. Henry: It is infinite wisdom that contrives, and infinite wisdom that works the safety of those, that have put themselves under God’s protection.—Those must needs be well kept, that have the Lord for their Keeper. If by affliction they be made His prisoners, yet, still He is their Keeper.—He shall prevent the evil thou fearest, and sanctify, remove, or lighten the evil thou feelest. He shall keep thee from doing evil, 1 Corinthians 13:7, and so far from suffering evil, as that whatever afflictions happen to thee, there shall be no evil in them. Even that which kills shall not hurt.—He will keep thee in life and death, thy going out and thy going on while thou livest, and thy coming in when thou diest, going out to thy labor in the morning of thy days, and coming home to thy rest, when the evening of old age calls thee in. Psalm 104:20.—J. F. M.].

 


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 121:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-121.html. 1857-84.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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