Exposition - Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher - Works Upon This Psalm
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.
Verse 2. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and
earth. What we need is help, --help powerful, efficient, constant: we need a
very present help in trouble. What a mercy that we have it in our God. Our hope
is in Jehovah, for our help comes from him. Help is on the road, and will not
fail to reach us in due time, for he who sends it to us was never known to be
too late. Jehovah who created all things is equal to every emergency; heaven and
earth are at the disposal of him who made them, therefore let us be very joyful
in our infinite helper. He will sooner destroy heaven and earth than permit his
people to be destroyed, and the perpetual hills themselves shall bow rather than
he shall fail whose ways are everlasting. We are bound to look beyond heaven and
earth to him who made them both: it is vain to trust the creatures: it is wise
to trust the Creator.
Verse 3. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved. Though the
paths of life are dangerous and difficult, yet we shall stand fast, for Jehovah
will not permit our feet to slide; and if he will not suffer it we shall not
suffer it. If our foot will be thus kept we may be sure that our head and heart
will be preserved also. In the original the words express a wish or prayer,
--"May he not suffer thy foot to be moved." Promised preservation should be the
subject of perpetual prayer; and we may pray believing; for those who have God
for their keeper shall be safe from all the perils of the way. Among the hills
and ravines of Palestine the literal keeping of tim feet is a great mercy; but
in the slippery ways of a tried and afflicted life, the boon of upholding is of
priceless value, for a single false step might cause us a fall fraught with
awful danger. To stand erect and pursue the even tenor of our way is a blessing
which only God can give, which is worthy of the divine hand, and worthy also of
perennial gratitude. Our feet shall move in progress, but they shall not be
moved to their overthrow. He that keepeth thee will not slumber, --or "thy keeper
shall not slumber". We should not stand a moment if our keeper were to sleep; we
need him by day and by night; not a single step can be safely taken except under
his guardian eye. This is a choice stanza in a pilgrim song. God is the convoy
and body guard of his saints. When dangers are awake around us we are safe, for
our Preserver is awake also, and will not permit us to be taken unawares. No
fatigue or exhaustion can cast our God into sleep; his watchful eyes are never
Verse 4. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber
nor sleep. The consoling truth must be repeated: it is too rich to be
dismissed in a single line. It were well if we always imitated the sweet singer,
and would dwell a little upon a choice doctrine, sucking the honey from it. What
a glorious title is in the Hebrew--"The keeper of Israel, "and how delightful to
think that no form of unconsciousness ever steals over him, neither the deep
slumber nor the lighter sleep. He will never suffer the house to be broken up by
the silent thief; he is ever on the watch, and speedily perceives every
intruder. This is a subject of wonder, a theme for attentive consideration,
therefore the word "Behold" is set up as a waymark. Israel fell asleep, but his
God was awake. Jacob had neither walls, nor curtains, nor body guard around him;
but the Lord was in that place though Jacob knew it not, and therefore the
defenceless man was safe as in a castle. In after days he mentioned God under
this enchanting name--"The God that led me all my life long": perhaps David
alludes to that passage in this expression. The word "keepeth" is also full of
meaning: he keeps us as a rich man keeps his treasures, as a captain keeps a
city with a garrison, as a royal guard keeps his monarch's head. If the former
verse is in strict accuracy a prayer, this is the answer to it; it affirms the
matter thus, "Lo, he shall not slumber nor sleep--the Keeper of Israel". It may
also be worthy of mention that in verse three the Lord is spoken of as the
personal keeper of one individual, and here of all those who are in his chosen
nation, described as Israel: mercy to one saint is the pledge of blessing to
them all. Happy are the pilgrims to whom this psalm is a safe conduct; they may
journey all the way to the celestial city without fear.
Verse 5. The Lord is thy keeper. Here the preserving One,
who had been spoken of by pronouns in the two previous verses, is distinctly
named--Jehovah is thy keeper. What a mint of meaning lies here: the sentence is a
mass of bullion, and when coined and stamped with the king's name it will bear
all our expenses between our birthplace on earth and our rest in heaven. Here is
a glorious person--Jehovah, assuming a gracious office and fulfilling it in
person, --Jehovah is thy keeper, in behalf of a favoured individual--thy, and a
firm assurance of revelation that it is even so at this hour--Jehovah is thy
keeper. Can we appropriate the divine declaration? If so, we may journey onward
to Jerusalem and know no fear; yea, we may journey through the valley of the
shadow of death and fear no evil. The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. A shade gives
protection from burning heat and glaring light. We cannot bear too much
blessing; even divine goodness, which is a right hand dispensation, must be
toned down and shaded to suit our infirmity, and this the Lord will do for us.
He will bear a shield before us, and guard the right arm with which we fight the
foe. That member which has the most of labour shall have the most of protection.
When a blazing sun pours down its burning beams upon our heads the Lord Jehovah
himself will interpose to shade us, and that in the most honourable manner,
acting as our right hand attendant, and placing us in comfort and safety. "The
Lord at thy right hand shall smite through kings". How different this from the
portion of the ungodly ones who have Satan standing at their right hand, and of
those of whom Moses said, "their defence has departed from them". God is as near
us as our shadow, and we are as safe as angels.
Verse 6. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon
by night. None but the Lord could shelter us from these tremendous
forces. These two great lights rule the day and the night, and under the
lordship of both we shall labour or rest in equal safety. Doubtless there are
dangers of the light and of the dark, but in both and from both we shall be
preserved--literally from excessive heat and from baneful chills; mystically from
any injurious effects which might follow from doctrine bright or dim;
spiritually from the evils of prosperity and adversity; eternally from the
strain of overpowering glory and from the pressure of terrible events, such as
judgment and the burning of the world. Day and night make up all time: thus the
ever present protection never ceases. All evil may be ranked as under the sun or
the moon, and if neither of these can smite us we are indeed secure. God has not
made a new sun or a fresh moon for his chosen, they exist under the same outward
circumstances as others, but the power to smite is in their case removed from
temporal agencies; saints are enriched, and not injured, by the powers which
govern the earth's condition; to them has the Lord given "the precious things
brought forth by the sun, and the precious things put forth by the moon, "while
at the same moment he has removed from them all glare and curse of heat or damp,
of glare or chill.
Verse 7. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil, or keep
thee from all evil. It is a great pity that our admirable translation did not
keep to the word keep all through the psalm, for all along it is one. God not
only keeps his own in all evil times but from all evil influences and
operations, yea, from evils themselves. This is a far reaching word of covering:
it includes everything and excludes nothing: the wings of Jehovah amply guard
Iris own from evils great and small, temporary and eternal. There is a most
delightful double personality in tiffs verse: Jehovah keeps the believer, not by
agents, but by himself; and the person protected is definitely pointed out by
the word thee, --it is not our estate or name which is shielded, but the proper
personal man. To make this even more intensely real and personal another
sentence is added, "The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:" he shall preserve thy soul,
--or Jehovah will keep thy soul.
Soul keeping is the soul of keeping. If the soul be kept all is kept. The
preservation of the greater includes that of the less so far as it is essential
to the main design: the kernel shall be preserved, and in order thereto the
shell shall be preserved also. God is the sole keeper of the soul. Our soul is
kept from the dominion of sin, the infection of error, the crush of despondency,
the puffing up of pride; kept from the world, the flesh, and the devil; kept for
holier and greater things; kept in the love of God; kept unto the eternal
kingdom and glory. What can harm a soul that is kept of the Lord?
Verse 8. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming
in from this time forth, and even for evermore. When we go out in the
morning to labour, and come home at eventide to rest, Jehovah shall keep us.
When we go out in youth to begin life, and come in at the end to die, we shall
experience the same keeping. Our exits and our entrances are under one
protection. Three times have we the phrase, "Jehovah shall keep", as if the
sacred Trinity thus sealed the word to make it sure: ought not all our fears to
be slain by such a threefold flight of arrows? What anxiety can survive this
triple promise? This keeping is eternal; continuing from this time forth, even
for evermore. The whole church is thus assured of everlasting security: the
final perseverance of the saints is thus ensured, and the glorious immortality
of believers is guaranteed. Under the aegis of such a promise we may go on
pilgrimage without trembling, and venture into battle without dread. None are so
safe as those whom God keeps; none so much in danger as the self secure. To
goings out and comings in belong peculiar dangers since every change of position
turns a fresh quarter to the foe, and it is for these weak points that an
especial security is provided: Jehovah will keep the door when it opens and
closes, and this he will perseveringly continue to do so long as there is left a
single man that trusteth in him, as long as a danger survives, and, in fact, as
long as time endures. Glory be unto the Keeper of Israel, who is endeared to us
under that title, since our growing sense of weakness makes us feel more deeply
than ever our need of being kept. Over the reader we would breathe a
benediction, couched in the verse of Keble.
"God keep thee safe from harm and sin,
Thy Spirit keep; the Lord watch o'er
Thy going out, thy coming in,
From this time, evermore."
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 Ps
121:1, is repeated in Ps 121:2. This has now become a step by which in Ps 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 Ps 121:4. Another "degree" is then reached in Ps 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 Ps 121:6. The last and highest degree of
this song is attained in Ps 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 Ps 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 Ps 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
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
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.
Verses 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
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.
Verse 2. My help cometh from the Lord. I requite to
remember that my, help cometh from the Lord, not only when seemingly there is no
outward help from men or otherwise, but also and especially when all seems to go
well with me, --when abundance of friends and help are at hand. For then, surely,
I am most in danger of making an arm of flesh my trust, and thus reaping its
curse; or else of saying to my soul, "Take thine ease", and finding the
destruction which attends such folly. --Alfred Edersheim.
Verse 2. Maker of heaven and earth, and therefore mighty to
help. --James G. Murphy.
Verse 3. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved. The
sliding of the foot is a frequent description of misfortune, for example, Ps
38:16, Ps 66:9, and a very natural one in mountainous Canaan. Where a single
slip of the foot was often attended with great danger. The language here
naturally refers to complete, lasting misfortune. --E.W. Hengstenberg.
Verse 3. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved. A man
cannot go without moving of his feet; and a man cannot stand whose feet are
moved. The foot by a synechdoche is put for the whole body, and the body for the
whole outward estate; so that, "He will not suffer thy foot to be moved", is, he
will not suffer thee or thine to be moved or violently cast down. The power of
thine opposers shall not prevail over thee, for the power of God sustains thee.
Many are striking at thy heels, but they cannot strike them up while God holds
thee up. If the will of thine enemies might stand, thou shouldest quickly fall;
but God "will not suffer thy foot to be moved". --Joseph Caryl.
Verses 3-8. There is something very striking in the
assurance that the Lord with not suffer the foot even of the most faint and
wearied one to be moved. The everlasting mountains stand fast, and we feel as
if, like Mount Zion, they could not be removed for ever; but the step of man--how
feeble in itself, how liable to stumble or trip even against a pebble in the
way! Yet that foot is as firm and immoveable in God's protection as the hills
themselves. It is one of his own sweet promises, that he will give his angels
charge over every child Of his, that lie come to no harm by the way. But, oh,
how immeasurably beyond even the untiring wings of angels is the love promised
here! that love which engages to protect from every danger, as a hen gathereth
her chickens under her wings. In the hours of occupation and hurry, in the
conflicts and perils of the day, in the helplessness of sleep, in the glare and
heat of the noonday, amid the damps and dews of night, that wakeful eye is still
over every child for his good. Man, indeed, goeth forth to his work and to his
labour till the evening; but alike as he goes forth in the morning, and as he
returns in the evening, the Lord still holds him up in all his goings forth and
his comings in; no manner of evil shall befall him. And oh! what a sweet
addition is it to the promise, "He shall preserve thy soul". It is the very
argument of the apostle, and the very inference he draws, "The eyes of the Lord
are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry", --"He neither
slumbereth nor sleepeth", --and then he asks, "Who is he that will harm you, if
ye be followers of that which is good?" From the very dawn of life to its latest
close, even for evermore, "He will preserve thee from all evil; he will preserve
thy soul." --Barton Bouchier.
Verses 3, 4, 5. A great practical difficulty is to find a
keeper who will remain awake during the whole night. The weariness of those
who keen a faithful watch, and their longing for day during the tedious lonely
hours of darkness, is alluded to in a graphic and beautiful figure of the
"My soul waiteth for the Lord
More than keepers for the morning,
More than keepers for the morning."
The usual method adopted to secure due vigilance is to require
the man to call out loudly, or to blow a whistle, every quarter of an hour...
Yet, notwithstanding all precautions, as soon as sleep falls on the tired camp,
it is too often the case that the hireling keeper lies down on the ground, wraps
around him his thick "abaiyeh", or cloak, and, careless of his charge, or
overcome with weariness yields himself up to his drowsy propensities. Viewed in the light of these facts, how full of condescension
and cheer is the assurance of God's never ceasing care--
"He who keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he who keepeth Israel
Doth not slumber or sleep.
Jehovah is thy keeper."
While the services of the keeper constitute at all times a
marked feature of life in Palestine, they are perhaps more needed when
travelling through the country than at any other time. Then, when the moving
camp is nightly pitched in strange fields, it becomes absolutely necessary to
apply to the nearest authorities for a nocturnal guardian, before one can safely
lie down to rest. Now this Psalm 121 being one of "the Songs of Degrees, "was
probably composed to be sung on the way to Jerusalem, as a pilgrim hymn, when
the Israelites were coming up annually to keep the three great feasts. As a
journeying psalm, it would therefore have peculiar significance in its allusion
to the keeper by night. --James Neil, in "Palestine Explored,"
Verses 3, 4. When one asked Alexander how he could sleep so
soundly and securely in the midst of danger, he told him that Parmenlo watched,
Oh, how securely may they sleep over whom he watcheth that never slumbers nor
sleeps! --From "The Dictionary of Illustrations," 1873.
Verses 3, 4. A poor woman, as the Eastern story has it, came
to the Sultan one day, and asked compensation for the loss of some property.
"How did you lose it?" said the monarch. "I fell asleep", was the reply, "and a
robber entered my dwelling". "Why did you fall asleep?" "I fell asleep because I
believed that you were awake". The Sultan was so much delighted with the answer
of the woman, that he ordered her loss to be made up. But what is true, only by
a legal fiction, of human governments, that they never sleep is true in the most
absolute sense with reference to the divine government. We can sleep in safety
because our God is ever awake. We are safe because he never slumbers. Jacob had
a beautiful picture of the ceaseless care of Divine Providence on the night when
he fled from his father's house. The lonely traveller slept on the ground, with
the stones for his pillow, and the sky for his canopy. He had a wondrous vision
of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, and on which angels were seen
ascending and descending. And he heard Jehovah saying to him, "Behold, I am with
thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest." --N.
Verse 4. It is necessary, observes S. Bernard, that "he who
keepeth Israel" should "neither slumber nor sleep", for he who assails Israel
neither slumbers nor sleeps. And as the One is anxious about us, so is the other
to slay and destroy us, and his one care is that he who has once been turned
aside may never come back. --Neale and Littledale.
Verse 4. Slumber. Sleep. There is no climax in these words,
as some have supposed. Etymologically, the first is the stronger word, and it
occurs in Ps 76:5 6 of the sleep of death. In this instance there is no
real distinction between the two. Possibly there may be an allusion to the
nightly encampment, and the sentries of the caravan. --J.J. Stewart
Verse 4. He... shall neither slumber nor sleep. This form
of expression, he will not slumber nor sleep, would be improper in other
languages, according to the idiom of which it should rather be, He will not
sleep, yea, he will not slumber: but when the Hebrews invert this order, they
argue from the greater to the less. The sense then is, that as God never
slumbers even in the smallest degree, we need not be afraid of any harm
befalling us while he is asleep. --John Calvin.
Verse 4. He that keepeth Israel. With an allusion to Jacob,
who slept at Bethel, and to whom the promise of God took this form, "And,
behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou guest": Ge
28:15. --Aben Ezra, quoted by H.T. Armfield.
Verse 4. Shall neither slumber nor sleep. Man sleeps; a
sentinel may slumber on his post by inattention, by long continued wakefulness,
or by weariness; a pilot may slumber at the helm; even a mother may fall asleep
by the side of the sick child; but God is never exhausted, is never weary, is
never inattentive. He never closes his eyes on the condition of his people, on
the wants of the world. --Albert Barnes.
Verse 4. A number of years ago Captain D. commanded a
vessel sailing from Liverpool to New York, and on one voyage he had all his
family with him on board the ship. One night, when all were quietly asleep, there arose a sudden
squall of wind, which came sweeping over the waters until it struck the vessel,
and instantly threw her on her side, tumbling and crashing everything that was
moveable, and awakening the passengers to a consciousness that they were in
imminent peril. Everyone on board was alarmed and uneasy, and some sprang from
their berths and began to dress, that they might be ready for the worst. Captain D. had a little girl on board, just eight years old,
who, of course, awoke with the rest.
"What's the matter?" said the frightened child.
They told her a squall had struck the ship.
"Is father on deck?" said she.
"Yes; father's on deck."
The little thing dropped herself on her pillow again without a
fear, and in a few moments was sleeping sweetly in spite of winds or waves.
Fear not the windy tempests wild,
Thy bark they shall not wreck;
Lie down and sleep, O helpless child!.
Thy Father's on the deck.
--"The Biblical Treasury,"
Verses 4, 5. The same that is the protector of the church in
general, is engaged for the preservation of every particular believer; the same
wisdom, the same power, the same promises. "He that keepeth Israel" (verse 4),
"is thy keeper" (verse 5). The Shepherd of the flock is the Shepherd of every
sheep, and will take care that not one, even of the little ones, shall perish. --Matthew Henry.
Verse 5. The Lord is thy keeper. Two principal points are
asserted in these previous words.
1. Jehovah, and Jehovah alone, the omnipotent and self existent
God, is the Keeper and Preserver of his people.
2. The people of God are kept, at all times and in all
circumstances, by his mighty power unto everlasting salvation; they are
preserved even "for evermore." In the first particular, the divinity of the
great Keeper is declared; and, in the second, the eternal security of his people
through his omnipotence and faithfulness. This was the Psalmist's gospel. He
preached it to others, and he felt it himself. He did not speculate upon what he
did not understand; but he had a clear evidence, and a sweet perception, of
these two glorious doctrines, which he delivered to the people... This
character, under the name of Jehovah, is the character of Christ. Just such a
one is Jesus, the Shepherd of Israel. He says of himself to the Father, "Those
that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the Son of
Perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled." ...From what has been
premised, it seems evident, that the keeper of the faithful is no other than
Jehovah. This the Psalmist has proved. It appears equally evident that Christ is
their Keeper and Preserver. This he hath declared himself; and his apostles have
repeatedly declared it of him. It follows, therefore, that Christ is truly and
essentially Jehovah. All the sophistry in the world cannot elude this
conclusion; nor all the heretics in the world destroy the premises. And, if
Christ be Jehovah, he is all that supreme, eternal, omnipotent being, which
Arians, Socinians, and others deny him to be. --Ambrose Serle, in "Hora
Verse 5. Keeper. Shade. The titles of God are virtually
promises. When he is called a sun, a shield, a strong tower, a hiding place, a
portion. The titles of Christ, light of the world, bread of life, the way, the
truth, and life; the titles of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of holiness, of
glory, of grace, and supplication, the sealing, witnessing Spirit; faith may
conclude as much out of these as out of promises. Is the Lord a sun? then he
will influence me, etc. Is Christ life? then he will enliven me, etc. --David
Verse 5. Thy shade upon thy right hand. That is, always
present with thee; or, as the Jewish Arab renders it, "Closer than thy shadow
at, or from thy right hand." --Thomas Benton, in "Annotations on the Book of
Job and the Psalms," 1732.
Verse 5. Thy shade. In eastern countries the sun's burning
rays are often arrows by which premature death is inflicted; and when the
Psalmist speaks of Jehovah as a shady covert for the righteous that imagery
suggests the idea of the "coup de soleil" or sunstroke as the evil avoided.
--J.F., in The Baptist Magazine, 1831.
Verse 5. Shade. The Hebrew word is tsel, "a shadow, "and hence it has been supposed that the words,
"thy shadow at thy right hand, "are a figurative expression, referring to the
protection afforded by the shade of a tree against the scorching rays of the
sun, or to the custom which prevails in tropical climates especially, of keeping
off the intense heat of the sun by a portable screen, such as an umbrella or
parasol. The word is often put for defence in general. Compare Nu 14:9; Isa
30:2; Jer 48:45. --James Anderson.
Verses 5-8. How large a writ or patent of protection is
granted here! No time shall be hurtful, neither "day nor night, "which includes
all times. Nothing shall hurt, neither sun nor moon, nor heat nor cold. These
should include all annoyances. Nothing shall be hurt. "Thy soul shall be
preserved, thy outgoings and thy comings in shall be preserved." These include
the whole person of man, and him in all his just affairs and actions. Nothing of
man is safe without a guard, and nothing of man can be unsafe which is thus
guarded. They should be kept who can say, "The Lord is our keeper"; and they
cannot be kept, no, not by legions of angels, who have not the Lord for their
keeper. None can keep us but he, and he hath promised to keep us "for evermore."
Verse 6. The sun shall not smite thee. hrh of the sun signifies to smite injuriously (Isa
49:10), plants, so that they wither (Ps 102:5), and the head (Joh 4:8), so that
symptoms of sunstroke (2Ki 4:19; Jud 8:2 seq.) appear. The transferring of the
word to the word is not zeugmatic. Even the moon's rays may become
insupportable, may affect the eyes injuriously, and (more particularly in the
equatorial regions) produce fatal inflammation of the brain. From the hurtful
influences of nature that are round about him the promise extends in verses 7,8
in every direction. Jahve, says the poet to himself, will keep (guard) thee
against all evil, of whatever kind it may be and whencesoever it may threaten;
he will keep thy soul, and therefore thy life both inwardly and outwardly; he
will keep thy going out and coming in, i.e., all thy business and intercourse of
life... everywhere and at all times; and that from this time forth even for
ever. --Franz Delitzsch.
Verse 6. The sun shall not smite thee by day, etc. A
promise made with allusion unto, and application of that care which God had over
his people, when he brought them out of Egypt through the wilderness, when he
guarded them from the heat of the sun by a cloud by day, and from the cold and
moistness of the night and moon by a pillar of fire by night. --David
Verse 6. Nor the moon by night.
The moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
--William Shakespeare (1564-1616), in "The Midsummer
Verse 6. Joseph Hart in one of his hymns speaks of some who
"travel much by night." To such this promise is precious. --Biblical
Verse 6. Nor the moon by night. The effect of the moonlight
on the eyes in tiffs country is singularly injurious... The moon here really
strikes and affects the sight, when you sleep exposed to it, much more than the
sun, a fact of which I had a very unpleasant proof one night, and took care to
guard against it afterwards; indeed, the sight of a person who should sleep with
his face exposed at night would soon be utterly impaired or destroyed. --John
Carne, in "Letters from the East," 1826.
Verse 6. Nor the moon by night. In the cloudless skies of
the East, where the moon shines with such exceeding clearness, its effects upon
the human frame have been found most injurious. The inhabitants of these
countries are most careful in taking precautionary measures before exposing
themselves to its influence. Sleeping much in the open air, they are careful to
cover well their heads and faces. It has been proved beyond a doubt that the
moon smites as well as the sun, causing blindness for a time, and even
distortion of the features. Sailors are well aware of this fact; and a naval
officer relates that he has often, when Sailing between the tropics, seen the
commanders of vessels waken up young men who have fallen asleep in the
moonlight. Indeed, he witnessed more than once the effects of a moonstroke, when
the mouth was drawn on one side and the sight injured for a time. He was of
opinion that, with long exposure, the mind might become seriously affected. It
is supposed that patients suffering under fever and other illnesses are affected
by this planet, and the natives of India constantly affirm that they will either
get better or worse, according to her changes. --C.W., in, "The
Verse 7. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil.
Lawyers, when they are drawing up important documents, frequently conclude with
some general terms to meet any emergency which may possibly occur. They do this
on the principle, that what is not in may be supposed to be intentionally left
out. In order to guard against this inference, they are not content with
inserting a number of particular cases; they conclude with a general statement,
which includes everything, whether expressed or not. A similar formula is
inserted here. It is of great Importance, that the feet of travellers be kept
from sliding, as they pursue their journey. It is of great importance, that they
be preserved from heat by day, and from cold by night. But other dangers await
them, from which they require protection; and lest the suspicion be entertained,
that no provision is made for these being surmounted, they are all introduced in
the saving and comprehensive clause. No matter what may be their character, no
matter from what quarter they may appear, no matter when they may nome, and no
matter how long they may continue, the declaration covers them all. Divine grace
changes the nature of everything it handles, and transforms everything it
touches into gold. Afflictions are overruled for good; and the virtues of the
Christian life are developed with unusual lustre. "The Lord shall preserve thee
from all evil." --N. McMichael.
Verse 7. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil, etc.
It is an absolute promise, there are no conditions annexed; it honours God for
us simply to believe it, and rest on the Lord for the performance of it. As we
view it, what have we to fear? The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, his word is
immutable. Jesus preserves body and soul, he is the Saviour of the body as well
as of the soul. --Samuel Eyles Pierce.
Verses 7, 8. The threefold expression, "shall keep thee...thy
soul...thy going out and thy coming in, "marks the completeness of the
protection vouchsafed, extending to all that the man is and that he does.
--J.J. Stewart Perowne.
Verses 7, 8. It is of importance to mark the reason why the
prophet repeats so often what he had so briefly and in one word expressed with
sufficient plainness. Such repetition seems at first sight superfluous: but when
we consider how difficult it is to correct our distrust, it will be easily
perceived that he does not improperly dwell upon the commendation of tile divine
providence. How few are to be found who yield to God the honour of being a
"keeper", in order to their being thence assured of their safety, and led to
call upon him in tile midst of their perils! On the contrary, even when we seem
to have largely experienced what this protection of God implies, we yet
instantly tremble at tile noise of a leaf falling from a tree, as if God had
quite forgotten us. Being then entangled in so many unholy misgivings, and so
much inclined to distrust, we are taught from the passage that if a sentence
couched in a few words does not suffice us, we should gather together whatever
may be found throughout tim whole Scriptures concerning the providence of God,
until this doctrine--"That God always keeps watch for us" --is deeply rooted in
our hearts; so that, depending upon his guardianship alone, we may bid adieu to
all the vain confidences of the world. --John Calvin.
Verse 8. The Lord shall preserve. The word "shamar" imports
a most tender preservation; from it comes "shemuroth", signifying the eyelids,
because they are the keepers of the eye, as the Lord is called in the verse
preceding--shomer Ishrael, "the keeper of Israel". If the lids of the eye open,
it is to let the eye see; if they close, it is to let it lest, at least to
defend it; all their motion is for the good of the eye. O, what a comfort is
here! The Lord calls his Church "the apple of his eye": "he that toucheth you,
touches the apple of mine eye". The Church is the apple of God's eye, and the
Lord is the covering of it. O, how well are they kept whom "the keeper of
Israel" keepeth! The Lord was a buckler to Abraham, none of his enemies could
harm him; for his buckler covered him thoroughly. The Lord was a hedge unto Job;
Satan himself confessed he could not get through it, howsoever many a time he
assayed it, to have done evil unto Job. . . . But seeing this same promise of preservation was made before
(for from the third verse to the end of the Psalm, six sundry times, is the word
of keeping or preserving repeated), why is it now made over again? Not without
cause; for this doubling and redoubling serves, first, for a remedy of our
ignorance. Men, if they be in any good estate, are ready to "sacrifice to their
own net, "or "to cause their mouth to kiss their own hand, "as if their own hand
had helped them: thus to impute their "deliverance" to their "calf, "and
therefore often is this resounded, "The Lord, " "The Lord." Is thy estate
advanced? The Lord hath done it. Hast thou been preserved from desperate
dangers? Look up to the Lord, thy help is from on high, and to him let the
praise be returned. Secondly, it is for a remedy of our natural diffidence: the
word of the Lord in itself is as sure when it is spoken, as when it is sworn; as
sure spoken once, as when it is oftener repeated; yet is not the Lord content to
speak only, but to swear also; nor to speak once, but often, one and the
selfsame thing. The reason is showed us by the apostle, that hereby he may
"declare to the heirs of promise the stability of his counsel." Heb 6:1 Ge
21:32. As Joseph spake of Pharaoh his vision, "It was doubled, because the thing
is established by God, and God hasteth to perform it"; so is it with every word
of the Lord, when it is repeated; it is because it is established, and God
hastens to perform it. --From a Sermon by Bishop Couper, entitled "His
Majesties Coming in," 1623.
Verse 8. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy
coming in. All actions being comprehended under one of these two
sorts, "going out" to more public, and "coming in" to more private affairs; or
again, "going out" to begin, and "coming in" at the end of the work. But by this
expression may here perhaps be more particularly signified that God would
protect David, even to the end of his days, whenever he marched out with his
armies, or brought them home. --Thomas Fenton.
Verse 8. From this time forth, and even for evermore. He
has not led me so tenderly thus far to forsake me at the very gate of heaven.
HINTS TO THE VILLAGE PREACHER
Verse 1. The window opened towards Jerusalem.
1. The hills we look to.
2. The help we look for.
3. The eyes we look with.
Verse 1. Whence cometh my help? A grave question; for,
1. I need it, greatly, in varied forms, constantly, and now.
2. In few directions can I look for it, for men are feeble,
changeable, hostile, etc.
3. I must look above. To Providence, to Grace, to my God.
Verse 2. The Creator the creature's helper.
1. God is his people's "help."
2. He helps them in proportion as they feel their need of his
3. His help is never ill vain. "My help cometh." not from the
earth merely, or the skies, but "from the Lord, which made heaven and earth".
Isa 40:26-31. --G.R.
Verse 3 (First clause). The preservation of saintly
character the care of the Creator.
Verse 3. Comfort for a pilgrim along the 'mauvais pas' of
life. We have a Guide omniscient, omnipotent, never slumbering, unchanging.
Verse 3. He that keepeth thee will not slumber.
1. The Lord's care is personal in its objects. The keeper of
Israel is the keeper of the individual. God deals with us individually.
(a) This is implied in his care of the church, which is composed of individuals.
(b) It is involved in the nature of our religion, which is a personal thing.
(c) It is affirmed in Scripture. Examples; promises; experiences. "He loved me, "etc., etc.
(d) It is confirmed by experience.
2. The Lord's care is unwearied in its exercise: "Will not
(a) He is never unacquainted with our condition.
(b) He is never indifferent to it.
(c) He is never weary of helping us. We sometimes think he sleeps, but this is our folly.
--Frederick J. Benskin, of Reading, 1882.
1. The suspicion--that God sleeps.
2. The denial.
3. The implied opposite--he is ever on the watch to bless.
Verse 4. He keepeth Israel,
1. As his chief treasure, most watchfully.
2. As his dearest spouse, most tenderly.
3. As the apple of his eye, most charily and warily.
--Daniel Featley, 1582-1645.
Verse 5. The Lord Keeper.
1. Blessings included in this title.
2. Necessities which demand it.
3. Offices which imply it, --Shepherd, King, Husband, Father,
4. Conduct suggested by it.
Verse 5 (last clause). God as near us, and as indivisible
from us as our shadow.
Verse 5. The Lord is thy keeper, not angels.
1. He is able to keep thee. He has infinite knowledge, power,
2. He has engaged to keep thee.
3. He has kept thee.
4. He will keep thee. In his love; in his covenant, etc., as
his sheep, his children, his treasures, as the apple of his eye, etc.
Verse 5. The Lord is thy keeper.
1. Wakeful: "Will not slumber."
2. Universal: "Thy going out and thy coming in:" "From all
3. Perpetual: "Day:" "night: ...evermore."
4. Special: "Thy:" "Israel." --W.J.
Verse 6. The highest powers, under God, prevented from
hurting believers, and even made to serve them.
Verse 6. Our Horoscope.
1. Superstitious fears removed.
2. Sacred assurances supplied.
1. Personal agency of God in providence.
2. Personal regard of providence to the favoured individual.
3. Special care over the centre of the personality-- "thy soul."
Verse 8. Who? "The Lord." What? "Shall preserve thee."
When? "Going out and coming in from this time forth." How long? "For evermore."
What then? "I will lift up mine eyes."
1. Changing--going out and coming in.
2. Unchanging--"The Lord shall preserve," etc.
WORKS UPON THE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIRST PSALM
In "Letters on Spiritual Subjects . . ." by SAMUEL EYLES PIERCE...
London: 1862, Vol. I., pp. 359-370, there are "Some Observations on the Hundred
and Twenty first Psalm."
In "Meditations on Twenty select Psalms," by Sir ANTHONY COPE,
Chamberlain to Queen Katherine Parr. Reprinted from the edition of 1547; ...By
WILLIAM H. COPE, M.A. 1848, there is a Meditation on this psalm.
See also List of Works upon the Gradual Psalms, in notes on