My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
Exposition of Psalm 121
Vs. 1 The psalmist begins with a question: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” Commentators differ, but as far as it stands I see this as a rhetorical question; the answer is implied. It’s implied by the first part, when the psalmist says “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains.” By saying he will lift up his eyes to the mountains, he aims to communicate the kind of help and the kind of helper he has in mind. In order to understand this, you must keep in mind the literary genre of the Psalms. The Psalms are Hebrew poetry. One of the features of Hebrew poetry is that everyday things are loaded with meaning - God-given, Spirit-inspired, meaning. Literal earthly things, like mountains, hills, and rocks are treated as symbols and pointers to extra-earthly realities, especially things pertaining to God. Consider for example Psalm 125:1-2: “Those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” The psalmist lifts up his eyes to the mountains, for they remind Him of God. Even as the mountains cannot be moved (by men), God cannot be moved. As the mountains abide forever (relative to other things), God abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so God encloses, encircles, and enfolds His people.
Vs. 2 In any case, rhetorical or not, the psalmist quickly answers his own question in verse two, removing all doubt: “My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”
The confidence expressed in this psalm is not abstract; it’s personal. The psalmist does not merely say that God is able to help; he says God is His help. He does not merely suggest God’s capacity to help, he appropriates, through faith, that God is His helper. [The great Reformer Martin Luther said the Christian faith consists in pronouns. By this he meant it is not enough merely to say Christ died for sinners; to be a Christian means being able to say, Christ died for me. In relation to our psalm, the point is this: true faith means being able to say God is my helper, my keeper.]
But now, what ground does the psalmist have for believing that God is his help? Very simple: God is not only the psalmist’s Creator, but the psalmist's “LORD.” The word LORD here is not just any name for God; it is Yahweh in Hebrew, God’s covenant name. The psalmist is in covenant with the Maker of heaven and earth. And just because he is in covenant with God, he is sure and certain that all is well with his soul. For God does not break His covenant, His oath. God cannot lie. He has promised to be a God to those who fear Him, the savior and protector of those who call on His name. The covenant faithfulness of God grounds the psalmist’s hope.
Vs. 3-8 A significant thing happens in verse three...two things, really. First, notice how the psalmist was speaking of himself in verses one and two, but starting in verse three to the end of the psalm a shift takes place. Now in verse three he starts talking about others; namely, all those who are in covenant with God. Look at the contrast: in verses one and two he says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” But starting in verse three he begins to speak to all God’s people: “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” God’s covenant faithfulness is wider than the psalmist; it embraces and looks after others. God’s providential care is not just individual, it is corporate. God is not only the keeper of individuals as such, but the keeper of His people as a whole. God is my keeper à God is your keeper à God is our keeper: Israel. The psalmist is no lone ranger; he recognizes that to be in covenant with God is also to be in covenant with all those who share such confidence in God. This is instructive for us in many ways. We live in a day when people think they can love and serve God all on their own. They don’t need to gather together with the people of God, uniting their voices with others in prayer and song, corporately attending to the preaching of the word, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, fellowshipping with one another, looking after each others needs, carrying each others burdens, etc. This is far from the truth. The church, the body of Christ is one of the means God uses to help and keep us. I believe it was Ambrose (or was it Augustine?) who said, “He who does not have the church for his mother, does not have God for his Father.” He spoke truly. It is for good reason that God's people confess those words towards the end of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints…”
Second, notice how the psalmist moves from declaring the fact that God is the keeper of His people (in verses 1-2), to explain what it means to say God is His people’s keeper (in verses 3-8). God so watches over His people that He superintends their every movement: He won’t allow them to slip, (verse 3). God’s watch over His people is without intermission: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (verse 4).” He so watches over His people that he even controls the environment for their good: “The Sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night (verse 6).” He so watches over His people that no evil can overtake their soul and imperil their salvation: “The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul (verse 7).” In short, the Lord so comprehensively watches over His people that He governs and directs the whole course of their lives: “The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever (verse 8).”
God leaves nothing to chance; chance is a figment of the secular imagination. God is our help; chance is helpless. Thou shalt have no other God, chance included.
Our God, our help in ages past,
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Before the hills in order stood,
Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
A thousand ages in Thy sight
The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Like flowery fields the nations stand
Our God, our help in ages past,