Psalm 121 is a Song of Ascents. It speaks of God’s help, protection, and vigilant watchcare. Some scholars suggest that pilgrims sang this Psalm en route to Jerusalem and its Temple.
121:1 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come?
121:2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
When the psalmist felt threatened by danger he lifted his eyes to the mountains and beyond to the One who created the mountains. The question asked in verse 1 is answered in the verses that follow. He acknowledged that his help came from the Lord, not from the mountains.
121:3 He will not allow your foot to slip; he who keeps you will not slumber.
121:4 Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord, unlike man, is a reliable source of help. He gives sure footing when the path is narrow and treacherous. He is always on watch. He never slumbers nor sleeps like human sentries. Recall that Elijah accused Baal of sleeping when he challenged Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:27).
It’s easy to lose sleep when we are experiencing difficulties. Those are the times we lie in bed staring at the ceiling as millions of anxious thoughts race across our minds. We play out dozens of scenarios as we long for a solution to our very present troubles. As a consequence, we become increasingly tired and our perspective and patience slowly ebbs away. We long for the peaceful sleep known to children.
The good news is that we can sleep because God is always awake. The Psalmist offered an important message to those who long for sleep in the midst of anxious times (Ps. 121:3b-4) — God never sleeps, slumbers, or naps. God is awake when we are asleep. When we find ourselves in the middle of difficult circumstances, we should turn things over to God when we go to bed because He will be awake all night anyway! We must learn to trust the Lord in the brightest day and in the darkest night. Only then will we be able to say along with David, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
121:5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
121:6 The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Psalmist believed that the Lord offered protection from the elements, particularly the debilitating effects of sunstroke and moonstroke. Some scholars suggest that the psalmist had in mind God’s protection from the heat of the sun by day and the sudden cold that came at night. The psalmist was familiar with the effects of the hot sun on man and beast. And, he was familiar with the effects of the moon. The ancients thought moonstroke to be harmful. In fact, the word lunatic, used to describe the insane, came from this belief (see Matt. 17:15).
Verse 6 defines the scope of God’s protective care — it continues both day and night. In Hebrew literature, a way of expressing totality was by naming a pair of opposites (“sun” and “moon” or “day” and “night”) to include everything between (see Ps. 91:5-6). These opposites may also suggest the known and seen dangers of the day and the unknown and unseen dangers of the night. God stands ready to protect us around the clock. He watches over us in the daytime, protecting us from dangers we can see. And, He watches over us in the night from dangers that we cannot see.
121:7 The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The Lord offers protection from evil (see Matt. 6:13). This is not a reference to a cushioned life, but to a well-armed one. The word “all” stresses the scope of God’s protective power and care.
121:8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.
The Lord offers protection through daily life. C.H. Spurgeon commented, “None are so safe as those whom God keeps; none so much in danger as the self-secure.” God’s vigilant care should inspire confidence. We can face all of life’s issues with confidence because God is always on the job. He never falls asleep. He never abandons His post. He never grows tired or weary. The great Creator of the universe personally watches over and helps His own.