Psalm 121 – “Guarantee/Blessing of Divine Protection”

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I. Outline

1a. Superscription
1b-2. Affirmation of confidence
3-8. Words of assurance (Blessing)

II. Comment

This psalm is the second of the 15 shir hama’alot, the “songs of ascent” (v.1a).  This means that it was probably associated with pilgrims at or on their way to the Temple. The psalm contains two parts: (a) vv. 1-2 are an Affirmation of confidencerecited by an individual, and (b) vv. 3-8 are Words of assurance directed to him, most probably said by a leader or a group of officiants. The message of the psalm is encouraging: do not worry, God will protect you.

While it isn’t clear where or when it was said (there is no mention of Zion or the Temple), Ps. 121 seems to be associated with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This might be the meaning of “I turn my eyes to the mountains” in v. 1, i.e. it is a reference to the Judean hills the pilgrim is ascending or has already ascended. The long pilgrimage journey is likely the topic of the blessings:  “He will not let your foot give way” (v.3), “By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night” (v. 6), and “The LORD will guard your going and coming now and forever” (v. 8). Yet, Allen points out how these verses might be referencing the burdens of daily life back home (compare v. 8 with Deut 28:6).

In terms of literary features, the psalm is “framed” by the word bo “to come” in vv.1,8. The key word shamar “protect” appears 6 times in the psalm’s 8 verses, and the word yanum “dozing” in vv. 3-4 is associated with military guards (cf. Isa 5:27; 56:10; Nah 3:18).

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