Psalm 121sn Psalm 121. The psalm affirms that the Lord protects his people Israel. Unless the psalmist addresses an observer (note the second person singular forms in vv. 3-8), it appears there are two or three speakers represented in the psalm, depending on how one takes v. 3. The translation assumes that speaker one talks in vv. 1-2, that speaker two responds to him with a prayer in v. 3 (this assumes the verbs are true jussives of prayer), and that speaker three responds with words of assurance in vv. 4-8. If the verbs in v. 3 are taken as a rhetorical use of the jussive, then there are two speakers. Verses 3-8 are speaker two’s response to the words of speaker one. See the note on the word “sleep” at the end of v. 3.
A song of ascents.sn The precise significance of this title, which appears in Pss 120-134, is unclear. Perhaps worshipers recited these psalms when they ascended the road to Jerusalem to celebrate annual religious festivals. For a discussion of their background see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 219-21.
1 I look uptn Heb “I lift my eyes.” toward the hills.
From wheretn The Hebrew term מֵאַיִן (me’ayin) is interrogative, not relative, in function. Rather than directly stating that his source of help descends from the hills, the psalmist is asking, “From where does my help come?” Nevertheless, the first line does indicate that he is looking toward the hills for help, probably indicating that he is looking up toward the sky in anticipation of supernatural intervention. The psalmist assumes the dramatic role of one needing help. He answers his own question in v. 2. does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,tn Heb “my help [is] from with the Lord.”
the Creatortn Or “Maker.” of heaven and earth!
3 May he not allow your foot to slip!
May your protectortn Heb “the one who guards you.” not sleep!tn The prefixed verbal forms following the negative particle אל appear to be jussives. As noted above, if they are taken as true jussives of prayer, then the speaker in v. 3 would appear to be distinct from both the speaker in vv. 1-2 and the speaker in vv. 4-8. However, according to GKC 322 §109.e), the jussives are used rhetorically here “to express the conviction that something cannot or should not happen.” In this case one should probably translate, “he will not allow your foot to slip, your protector will not sleep,” and understand just one speaker in vv. 4-8.
4 Look! Israel’s protectortn Heb “the one who guards Israel.”
does not sleep or slumber!
5 The Lord is your protector;
the Lord is the shade at your right hand.
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
or the moon by night.sn One hardly thinks of the moon’s rays as being physically harmful, like those of the sun. The reference to the moon may simply lend poetic balance to the verse, but it is likely that the verse reflects an ancient, primitive belief that the moon could have an adverse effect on the mind (note the English expression “moonstruck,” which reflects such a belief). Another possibility is that the sun and moon stand by metonymy for harmful forces characteristic of the day and night, respectively.
7 The Lord will protect you from all harm;
he will protect your life.
8 The Lord will protect you in all you do,tn Heb “your going out and your coming in.”
now and forevermore.
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