PSALM 121 OVERVIEW.
TITLE, ETC. -- This bears no other title than "A Song of degrees". It is several steps in advance of its predecessor, for it tells of the peace of God's house, and the guardian care of the Lord, while Psalm 120 bemoans the departure of peace from the good man's abode, and his exposure to the venomous assaults of slanderous tongues. In the first instance his eyes looked around with anguish, but here they look up with hope. From the constant recurrence of the word keep, we are led to name this song "a Psalm to the keeper of Israel". Were it not placed among the Pilgrim Psalms we should regard it as a martial hymn, fitted for the evensong of one who slept upon the tented field. It is a soldier's song as well as a traveller's hymn. There is an ascent in the psalm itself which rises to the greatest elevation of restful confidence.
Verse 1. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. It is wise to look to the strong for strength. Dwellers in valleys are subject to many disorders for which there is no cure but a sojourn in the uplands, and it is well when they shake off their lethargy and resolve upon a climb. Down below they are the prey of marauders, and to escape from them the surest method is to fly to the strongholds upon the mountains. Often before the actual ascent the sick and plundered people looked towards the hills and longed to be upon their summits. The holy man who here sings a choice sonnet looked away from the slanderers by whom he was tormented to the Lord who saw all from his high places, and was ready to pour down succour for his injured servant. Help comes to saints only from above, they look elsewhere in vain: let us lift up our eyes with hope, expectance, desire, and confidence. Satan will endeavour to keep our eyes upon our sorrows that we may be disquieted and discouraged; be it ours firmly to resolve that we will look out and look up, for there is good cheer for the eyes, and they that lift up their eyes to the eternal hills shall soon have their hearts lifted up also. The purposes of God; the divine attributes; the immutable promises; the covenant, ordered in all things and sure; the providence, predestination, and proved faithfulness of the Lord -- these are the hills to which we must lift up our eyes, for from these our help must come. It is our resolve that we will not be bandaged and blindfolded, but will lift up our eyes.
Or is the text in the interrogative? Does he ask, "Shall I lift up mine eyes to the hills?" Does he feel that the highest places of the earth can afford him no shelter? Or does he renounce the idea of recruits hastening to his standard from the hardy mountaineers? and hence does he again enquire, "Whence cometh my help?" If so, the next verse answers the question, and shows whence all help must come.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. "A Song of Degrees." -- It has been ingeniously pointed out that these "degrees" or "steps" consist in the reiteration of a word or thought occurring in one clause, verse, or stanza, which in the next verse or stanza is used, as it were, as a step (or degree) by which to ascend to another and higher truth. Thus in our psalm, the idea of "my help", expressed in Psalms 121:1 , is repeated in Psalms 121:2 . This has now become a step by which in Psalms 121:3 we reach the higher truth or explanation of "nay help", as: "He that keepeth thee will not slumber," the same idea being with slight modification reembodied in Psalms 121:4 . Another "degree" is then reached in Psalms 121:5 , when "He who slumbers not" is designated as Jehovah, the same idea once more enlarged upon being (the word occurring twice in Ps 121:5) in Psalms 121:6 . The last and highest degree of this song is attained in Psalms 121:7 , when the truth implied in the word Jehovah unfolds itself in its application to our preservation, which, with further enlargement, is once more repeated in Psalms 121:8 . Perhaps some internal connexion might be traced between all the fifteen Psalms of Degrees. At any rate, it will not be difficult to trace the same structure if each of the psalms "of Degrees", making allowance for occasional devotions and modifications. --Alfred Edersheim, in "The Golden Diary", 1877.
Whole Psalm. -- According to Psalms 121:1 this psalm was designed to be sung in view of the mountains of Jerusalem, and is manifestly an evening song for the sacred band of pilgrims, to be sung in the last night watch, the figures of which are also peculiarly suitable for a pilgrim song; and with Psalm 122, which, according to the express announcement in the introduction, was sung, when the sacred pilgrim trains had reached the gates of Jerusalem, and halted for the purpose of forming in order, for the solemn procession into the Sanctuary, Ps. 134...
The idea is a very probable one, that the psalm was the evening song of the sacred pilgrim band, sung on retiring to rest upon the last evening, when the long wished for termination of their wandering, the mountains of Jerusalem, had come into view in the distance. In this we obtain a suitable connection with the following psalm, which would be sung one station further on when the pilgrims were at the gates of Jerusalem. In this case we find an explanation of the fact, that in the middle point of the psalm there stands the Lord as the "keeper" of Israel, with reference to the declaration. "I keep thee", which was addressed to the patriarch as he slept on his pilgrimage: and in this case also "he neither slumbereth nor sleepeth" is seen in its true light. --E.W. Hengstenberg.
It has been said Mr. Romaine read this psalm every day; and sure it is, that every word in it is calculated to encourage and strengthen our faith and hope in God. -- Samuel Eyles Pierce.
Verse 1. -- I will lift up mine eyes, etc. Since we, being burdened with the effects of worldly pleasures, and also with other cares and troubles, can by no means ascend to thee that art on the top of so high a mountain, accompanied with so many legions of angels that still attend upon thee, we have no remedy, but with thy prophet David now to lift up the eyes of our hearts and minds towards thee, and to cry for help to come down from thee to us, thy poor and wretched servants. --Sir Anthony Cope, in "Meditations on Twenty Select Psalms", 1547.
Verse 1. -- I will lift up mine eyes, etc. In thy agony of a troubled conscience always look upwards unto a gracious God to keep thy soul steady; for looking downward on thyself thou shalt find nothing but what will increase thy fear, infinite sins, good deeds few, and imperfect: it is not thy faith, but God's faithfulness thou must rely upon; casting thine eyes downwards on thyself, to behold the great distance betwixt what you deserve and what thou desirest, is enough to make thee giddy, stagger, and reel into despair. Ever therefore lift up thine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh thy help, never viewing the deep dale of thy own unworthiness, but to abate thy pride when tempted to presumption. -- Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), in "The Cause and Cure of a Wounded Conscience".
Verse 1. -- The hills. There can be no doubt that in Palestine we are in the "Highlands" of Asia. This was the more remarkable in connection with the Israelites, because they were the only civilized nation then existing in the world, which dwelt in a mountainous country... The Hebrew people was raised above the other ancient states, equally in its moral and in its physical relations. From the Desert of Arabia to Hebron is a continual ascent, and from that ascent there is no descent of any importance, except to the pains of the Jordan, Esdraelon, and the coast. From a mountain sanctuary, as it were, Israel looked over the world... It was to the "mountains" of Israel that the exile lifted up his eyes, as the place from whence his help came. --Arthur Penrhyn Stanley.
Verse 1. -- The hills, from whence cometh my help. See no riches but in grace, no health but in piety, no beauty but in holiness, no treasure but in heaven, no delight but in "the things above." --Anthony Farindon.
Verse 1. -- From whence cometh my help. The natives of India used to say that when Sir Henry Laurence looked twice to heaven and then to earth he knew what to do.
To Heaven I lift mine eye,
To Heaven, Jehovah's throne,
For there my Saviour sits on high,
And thence shall strength and aid supply
To all He calls His own.
He will not faint nor fail,
Nor cause thy feet to stray:
For him no weary hours assail,
Nor evening darkness spreads her veil
O'er his eternal day.
Beneath that light divine
Securely shalt thou move;
The sun with milder beams shall shine,
And eve's still queen her lamp incline
Benignant from above.
For he, thy God and Friend,
Shall keep thy soul from harm,
In each sad scene of doubt attend,
And guide thy life, and bless thy end,
With his almighty arm.
--John Bowtiler, 1814.
Verse 1,2. -- Faint at the close of life's journey, a Christian pilgrim repeated the line, --
"Will he not his help afford?"
She quoted it several times, trying to recall the song in which it occurs, and asked that the once familiar hymn, part of the voice of which she caught, might be all fetched home to her mind again; and she was greatly refreshed and comforted when we read at her bedside Charles Wesley's spirited paraphrase, beginning, --
"To the hills I lift mine eyes,
The everlasting hills;
Streaming thence in fresh supplies,
My soul the Spirit feels.
Will he not his help afford?
Help, while yet I ask, is given:
God comes down; the God and Lord
That made both earth and heaven."
--Edward Jewitt Robinson, in "The Caravan and the Temple", 1878.
Verse 1-3. --
Look away to Jesus,
Look away from all!
Then we need not stumble,
Then we shall not fall.
From each snare that lures,
Foe or phantom grim.
Safety this ensures,
Look away to him!
--Frances Ridley Havergal.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. -- The window opened towards Jerusalem.
- The hills we look to.
- The help we look for.
- The eyes we look with.
Verse 1. -- Whence cometh my help? A grave question; for,
- I need it, greatly, in varied forms, constantly, and now.
- In few directions can I look for it, for men are feeble, changeable, hostile, etc.
- I must look above. To Providence, to Grace, to my God.