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Songs of Ascent- Psalm 121

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posted on Sep, 10 2021 @ 05:06 PM
Cards on the table. The Psalms are not really my thing. Even in poetry, I prefer narrative to lyric. So while I’m looking at this group of Psalms, I won’t rely entirely on my own conclusions. I’ll separate out my own observations (in this first post) from what I find in commentaries and add in the later posts..

Psalm 121

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?” (v1)
Modern translations add the question mark to the second half of the verse, with the implication that the question is answered in the next verse; “… from the Lord who made heaven and earth”.

In the traditional translation, the second half of the verse explains the first. I lift my eyes to the hills, because I’m expecting help to come from the hills.
I think the old version makes rather more sense. Why else would the speaker be looking into the hills? There’s no reason to think he would be expecting danger from that direction. The God of Israel had a reputation amongst other nations as being “a god of the hills” (1 Kings ch20 v20); that was his base, that’s where he would be most formidable. So “my help comes from the hills” is another way of saying “my help comes from God”. It is the equivalent of saying “from heaven”.

And I notice, looking ahead, that Psalm 123 opens with “To thee I lift up my eyes”, which implies that “I lift up my eyes to the hills” is an equivalent. The eyes are being lifted for the same purpose in both cases.

The rest of the psalm describes how much the Lord helps us.

“He will not let your foot be moved” (v3).
I take this to mean “He will not let your enemies shift you from the home
you occupy, not by an inch.”
Anyone who has read history will be tempted to see an image of opposing lines of soldiers trying to push each other back, in the days before guns became a serious factor. From the Greek hoplites (always edging to the right to take advantage of their neighbour’s shield) to the “push of pike” of the English Civil War. But there are no other allusions to battle in this psalm, so that image is probably a red herring.

“He will neither slumber nor sleep” (v4). Another poetical redundancy.

The Lord keeps us. “The Lord is your shade on your right hand” (v4)
They need shade because the heat of the sun is dangerous. That is illustrated by the story of the child who died after a day spent in the reaping fields, saying to his father “Oh, my head, my head!” (2 Kings ch4)

“On the right hand” is just another way of saying that he is a helper, a regular Biblical expression.
There’s no need to get over-ingenious here, and say- “If the shade is on the right, then the noon sun must be on the right, so he must be facing east.”

“The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night” (v6).
In the first book of the Iliad, the sun-god Phoebus Apollo is angry with the Greeks, and he responds by sending a flood of arrows into the camp, which cause an outbreak of plague. The logic behind this image may have been “We know that sunlight is responsible for heat-stroke, so it must be responsible for other diseases as well”. That is probably how Apollo became a god of healing. If he caused the disease in the first place, then people should ask his help in getting it cured.

In another psalm, the sun and the moon are both associated (by implication) with the arrows of pestilence;
“You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrows that fly by day
Nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (Psalm 91 vv5-6)
So I suggest that this verse means “the Lord will protect you from pestilence and other diseases, known by medical science to be caused by the light of the heavenly bodies”.

The last two verses offer four examples of “total help”.
“The Lord will keep you from ALL evil” (v7).
“He will keep your life”- that is, the whole of your life.

“The Lord will keep your going out and coming in” (v8)
“Coming in and going out” is a Biblical expression meaning “everything you do”.
As in “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” Deuteronomy ch28 v16).
We are told that “all Israel and Judah loved David, for he came in and went out before them” (1 Samuel ch18 v16). That is, his life was in the public eye.
Moses told the people “I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I am no longer able to go out and come in” (Deuteronomy ch31 v2). That is, his active life was over.
The same usage even comes into the teaching of Jesus, when he says the sheep “will go in and out and find pasture” (John ch10 v9), There’s a confusing association with the “entering by the door” image, which is part of the same sentence, but they’re really separate pictures.

“From this time forth and for evermore”- for all time.

[Special note for grammatical pedants. That “from whence” has been carried over from the AV translation. Strictly speaking, in modern terms, the “from” is redundant, because “whence” means “from where”. Just as “reticent” means “reluctant to speak”, so the “he was reticent to speak”, which I keep seeing, involves another redundancy.

Yet the psalms ought to be translated into reasonably poetical speech, and poetical speech may require redundancies for the sake of the sound and rhythm. Another good example is the following sentence (one of Cranmer’s, of course) which I used to hear in church services;
“Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, walking from henceforth in his holy ways; draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort, and make your humble confession to almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.”
As a boy, I used to ask myself “Why are those last three words there? Where else can we kneel, except upon our knees?”
But as a writer, I recognise that those last words are necessary for the rhythm. Without them, the rolling sentence comes to a very abrupt halt, instead of trundling gently into the full stop at the end.]

posted on Sep, 10 2021 @ 05:08 PM
The above are my own independent thoughts on the psalm. Having got that far, I will now open up Weiser’s commentary bought a couple of years ago, discover (probably) a number of insights which haven’t occurred to me, and add them here.

“The calm and comforting assurance of an unshaken trust.”

He takes the modern view that the first verse is “an anxious question”. This involves finding danger in the hills, and he does try hard, assuming the speaker to be starting out on pilgrimage; “It may be the very thought of the perils of a journey through a mountain range, with its steep paths, ravines and gorges, the hiding-places of wild beasts and robbers, which makes it hard for him to bid farewell, so that he anxiously looks out for help.”

[Are the mountains of Israel really as physically harsh as that, or is he projecting from the Alps? On the other hand, my English mind may be projecting in the other direction, because the word “hills” carries overtones for me which may be cosier than the Palestinian reality.]

He says that the traditional translation, which he traces back to Luther, “does not accord with Hebrew linguistic usage”. [But the Biblehub Interlinear version does not add a question mark either.]

He also counts v3 as a prayer; “May he not suffer your foot to slip”, which is “a reference to the perilous way which the imminent journey entails”. The responding promise does not begin until v4.

I still think the modern approach misses the point of “he is a god of the hills”. Only lowlanders think the high ground is threatening. His explanation fails if the “pilgrimage” theory is not valid, and if the road is really so difficult then the idea of communal singing on pilgrimage is certainly a fantasy. People would be travelling in breathless smaller parties.

The creation of the world is not just an event in the past. The Creator-God continues to act, in a dynamic way, in order to help us. The individual’s trust is based on belonging to a people whom God has already been helping. Or would you prefer that last statement un-paraphrased?
“The character of the history of his people as HEILSGESCHICHTE makes him to realise that the saving will of the Creator-God is also directed to him personally, and thus he comes to trust in his care in all circumstances.” [That German word is normally translated “salvation history”.]

He gives the same explanation that the moon was regarded as the cause of diseases, “a belief which is still popularly held in Palestine today”.

He interprets “come in and go out” as “may he walk with God, and, guided by him, safely return home again”.

posted on Sep, 10 2021 @ 05:08 PM
Or, alternatively, Matthew Henry.

There are some, he says, who take the first line as a question; “Shall I lift up my eyes to the hills?” He thinks a negative answer is meant, or the translation might be “I will lift up my eyes above the hills”, because he thinks of “the hills” as representing the powers of this earth.

Like Weiser, he understands “keeper” as “shepherd”, an important point which I did not notice.

“The right hand is the working hand; let them but turn themselves dexterously to their duty, and they shall find God ready to them, to assist them and give them success.”

The reference to the sun and the moon may be taken as “I will keep them night and day”.
It may also be taken figuratively; We will not be hurt by the open assaults of our enemies, which are “as visible as the scorching beams of the sun”, nor by their secret treacherous attempts, “which are like the insensible insinuations of the cold by night”.

“The going out and thy coming in”; all our journeys, outward-going or home-bound.
Also referring to “going out to thy labour in the morning of thy days, and coming home to thy rest when the evening of old age calls thee in”.

posted on Sep, 10 2021 @ 05:42 PM
The 10 commandments were given to Moses on the mountain. The transfiguration of Christ occurred on a mountain or hill as well. Christ's customary camping spot when in Jerusalem was on the Mount of Olives. He went there right after the Last supper. The help didnt come up there that night though. Judas, and a group of jerks armed with clubs and swords did. I guess in a way Im glad they did. It had to be done, and He was the only one that could do that for us

posted on Sep, 10 2021 @ 05:45 PM
a reply to: visitedbythem
Yes, indeed, and of course Zion is a mountain. The israelites were hill people.

posted on Sep, 10 2021 @ 07:44 PM
And.... Remember the King of Salem, who was both King and High Priest?

I just figured out this year the exact place Salem was located..... I was amazed. I had never realized it was right there.

posted on Sep, 12 2021 @ 09:00 AM
a reply to: visitedbythem
The name "Moriah" is also worth looking up. Found in two different verses- are they the same place?

posted on Sep, 12 2021 @ 09:01 PM

originally posted by: DISRAELI
a reply to: visitedbythem
The name "Moriah" is also worth looking up. Found in two different verses- are they the same place?

Yeah, I believe they are. Im going to look back through my youtube video history to see if I can find the video that had all the information and diagram It was Dr. Barnett that presented it ( DTBM) Pretty amazing. They know right where it was. They still dont know for sure who Melchizedek was, although many suggest it may have been Shem. Jeru- Salem.........

Here is something else interesting I just discovered. Very interesting. Noah was still alive when Abraham was born. In fact Abraham was about 48 when Noah died. Abraham was a pagan at the time, and they surely never met.

This is why I like your posts. Im always looking for information, and different perspectives and viewpoints, on scripture Ive read. I tend to miss things at times.

Strange occurrence: Immediately after reading your post, a video came up in my feed on Psalm. It included the reading of at least a had dozen of them including 121. It felt like God was speaking through his word. He wanted me to see your post and the video.

Ive increased my Bible study and prayer time over the last year or so.
Still working on my pride over here, among other things. Put me in your prayers please. God bless!

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