The Protector of Pilgrims - Psalm 121

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Under the Old Covenant faithful Jews made regular trips to Jerusalem. There were three annual feasts or festivals and so three times a year Jews from all around would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts in the city of God. As they would travel, they would often sing; and over time there came to be a set of fifteen songs that provided the soundtrack for the trip.

These fifteen songs, were actually psalms and they have been grouped together in our Bibles. Psalms 120-134 are known as Songs of Ascents because they were sung as pilgrims ascended the hills to Jerusalem.

While not all of the songs were written with this trip in mind, some of them were – and Psalm121 is one those psalms. It’s written about the journey to Jerusalem, the difficulty of the trip and the need for help; but it’s actually a song of encouragement: Those who travel to the city of God can know that God is their help and their protector for the journey.

A Song for Us – Pilgrim’s on a Journey

It makes sense that this is a song that was sung by people as they went on their journeys to Jerusalem, but it is also a good song for us. We too are a people on our way to a city. As we travel there are dangers and troubles along the way, but this psalm is a reminder of the presence of God and of His protection of His people. 

The Traveler’s Concern and Confidence (121:1-2)

  • A question of concern (v. 1) – As this traveler begins his trip to Jerusalem, he looks at the hills ahead and recognizes his need. This is a difficult and potentially dangerous trip. He’s looking toward the city of God, but he’s also aware of the threats along the way, and so he asks the question – where does my help come from?
  • A statement of confidence (v. 2) – While this traveler is certain of his need for help, he’s also certain of who he can go to for help. He is confident in the help of the Lord (Yahweh). And the Lord is a capable helper because He’s the Lord and creator of all things. The One who made the hills is the One who is ready to help those who are traveling through the hills (Psalm 124:1-5, 8; Romans 8:31-32).

The Response of a Good Friend and Counselor (121:3-8)

  • A change of voice – From verse 2 to verse 3 there’s a change of voice from the first person to the second person. This literary device makes is seems as though the speaker changes. One way to read this is that the traveler has a friend who hears his question and his statement of confidence and adds his own words of confidence in the God who helps and keeps His people.

You can trust the Lord’s protection – He is always awake and attentive (vv. 3-4)

  • He will keep you from falling (v. 3a) – The journey to Jerusalem wasn’t easy and the roads weren’t always smooth, but the psalm reminds us of God’s help – He will keep His people from falling.
  • The keeper (protector) never sleeps (vv. 3b-4) – The word keep (protect) is used six times in the psalm. God is the One who keeps His people and His keeping can be trusted at all times because God is always awake and attentive – He never sleeps.
  • Application – There may be times when God seems silent, but He’s always there and active. He’s never asleep.

You can trust the Lord’s protection – Nothing will harm you by day or night (vv. 5-6) 

  • Protection from the weather – A trip on foot exposes a person to whatever the environment brings – but God is the protector of His people. He’s their shade from the sun and their safety in the night. He’s always present and always protecting.

You can trust the Lord’s protection – In all of life, now and always (vv. 7-8)

  • A change of tense – Between verses 6 and 7 there’s a change from the present tense to the future tense. The psalmist wants us to know that the presence and protection of God aren’t only for today, but for all the days ahead.
  • From specific to general – These final verses make it clear that the promises of God’s protection aren’t limited to this particular trip to Jerusalem and its’ dangers. The Lord will keep you from all evil – He will keep your whole life, now and forever (Romans 8:38-39; Psalm 23:4-6).
  • Conclusion – The point of the psalm is not that the journey of faith will be easy – but that God will be present and that He will keep His people.