Putting the pieces together … Psalms 120-124

I thought it might be helpful to take a brief respite and review how Psalms 120-124 sound a harmonious song to our Helper.

The Shepherd’s Field

Psalm 120

Though distressed by circumstances absent of peace (shalom), we call to the Lord who answers our cries.

To whom do our cries rise? To the Helper of Psalm 121 …

Psalm 121

Because our help comes from the Maker of the heavens and earth, who is our keeper (guard) we can be confident that He will keep (6x) us forevermore.

Psalm 122

The proper response of we who seek help from our Keeper is to give thanks to the name of the Lord, longing for worship and satisfaction in a peaceful, New Jerusalem, the place where our God dwells.

Psalm 123

But while waiting, we continue to lift up our eyes to the Lord our God, the One in the heavens, and ask for His grace when confronted with the contempt of the proud.

Psalm 124

Our Helper is none other than the Maker of heaven and earth. Blessed be the Lord who is for us and gives us victory.

Sea of Galilee

Psalm 124

The next Song of Ascents claims to be another psalm of David. But in this case, unlike Psalm 122, the psalm does not begin with a personal expression by the speaker. Rather, Psalm 124 reflects the hopes of the community, as David calls upon Israel to remember what Yhwh has done for them when they encountered difficult situations.


The poet begins with a type of parallelism that will be seen in other Songs of Ascents where a portion of a line is repeated with different complementary lines. Note how vv. 1–2 are designed:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us …

Megiddo 009

Such a poetic technique arouses the attention and curiosity of the reader by highlighting the theme of the psalm. The focus of the writer falls upon the presence of Yhwh with Israel, and he calls upon the reader’s to consider their fate if Yhwh were not on their side. They were Yhwh’s people and as such he was their hope as other men rose before them as enemies.

Yet, vv. 1–2 are incomplete sentences. They are merely setting the stage on which Yhwh’s work on behalf of Israel might be rehearsed in vv. 3–5, which serve as the complement to the sentence in v. 1:

then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone the raging waters.[1]

Although far removed from the actual events during the time of Moses, Israel is invited to remember the texts of the Pentateuch concerning how their enemies would have easily gained victory over them and the waters of the Red Sea would have easily swept over them if it had not been for the help of Yhwh.[2] He was “for” them, and therefore they enjoyed victory. Of Yhwh’s mighty work in the past, they should now speak (v. 1). The psalmist joins the chorus of the rest of the Hebrew Bible in its emphasis that Yhwh’s deliverance in the past serves as an example of his work in the present and future.

Tel Dan

So in response, David says in v. 6, “Blessed be the Lord.” This is the only occurrence of the phrase in the Songs of Ascents, but it plays an important role in the Psalter as a whole. The phrase appears at the seams of the Psalter as part of the doxologies that close each portion of the book.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen. (Ps 41:13)

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (Ps 72:18–19)

Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen! (Ps 89:52)

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord! (Ps 106:48)

Throughout the Psalter, meditation on and singing about Yhwh’s mighty deeds serves as a clarion call for his people to bless his name (see especially 72:19). As the Priestly Blessing ensures the people of Yhwh’s blessing upon them, so the Psalter calls upon them to respond with the appropriate act of praise/blessing. The phrase is also present in the last verse of the psalm following the Songs of Ascents as part of its taking up several important elements of the Songs:

Blessed be the Lord from Zion,
he who dwells in Jerusalem! Praise the Lord! (Ps 135:21)

Yhwh deserves to be spoken well of because of his personal care on behalf of his people, especially because of his presence with them. In this, Ps 135:21 echoes the teaching of the psalm at hand, which lauds Yhwh because of his presence with his people. This joins the chorus of the Songs of Ascents as a whole as they focus on Jerusalem/Zion as the place where Yhwh dwells. And this means something hugely significant for the welfare of his people. So vv. 6–7 continue:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped!

Using the imagery first of prey and then of a bird escaping from a net, the psalmist paints a practical picture of the deliverance Yhwh provided. In doing so, he again uses the literary device of step parallelism with the term “snare,” focusing attention of imminent danger from their enemies.

The conclusion to the psalm in v. 8 continues the psalmist’s intention of connecting his petitions to Psalm 121. First, just as the lifting of the eyes toward the mountains produced the certainty of Yhwh’s help, so here the theological conclusion is that help for God’s people was “in the name of the Lord.” The name Yhwh reminds his people that he is there with them; he is their covenant God who is loyal to his promises. Second, and integral to the author’s conclusion, Yhwh’s fidelity can be trusted because he is none other than the one “who made heaven and earth.” The speaker of Psalm 121 was certain that his “help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” So with this echo, the song ends by bringing the argument to its proper conclusion: Yhwh is on their side (vv. 1–2) as their helper (v. 8). Moreover, plots by mere humans (v. 2) are no match for help stemming from the maker of heaven and earth (v. 8).[3]

In looking back to Yhwh’s past deliverance as hope for his future redemption, Psalm 124 serves as an appropriate complement to Psalm 123. In Psalm 123, the psalmist lifted his eyes to the one enthroned in the heavens, waiting patiently for Yhwh to show his mercy to the community. This psalm likewise uses language reverberating with Psalm 121. While waiting for the grace requested, Psalm 124 reminds Yhwh’s people of how he came to their rescue in the nick of time, broke the snare, and provided their escape. Yhwh’s people can bless him because he is their deliverer, and they can be confident in his name because he is enthroned in the heavens (123:1) and is the maker of the heavens and earth (124:8).


[1] Note also the repetition in vv. 4, 5 of the phrase “would have gone over us,” which is highlighted by means of step parallelism. In fact, the author has produced somewhat of a chiasm with these verses, also repeating “waters.”

[2] The Psalter often returns to the Lord’s victory at the Red Sea both as a demonstration of his power and a call for God’s people in the present to trust him.

[3] On this inclusion, see Allen, 165.

Psalm 123

Like the three previous Songs of Ascents [see previous posts on Psalms 120, 121, 122], Psalm 123 opens in the first person singular, meaning that an individual is speaking using “I” or “me.” Also, like Psalms 120 and 121, the psalm does not identify the speaker. In these cases, they are written as expressions of any of the faithful who are personally committed to Yhwh and find themselves on a journey to meet with him. But, like the speakers in the previous psalms, the unnamed speaker of Psalm 123 is addressing a prayer to Yhwh because of a precarious situation. In this case, as vv. 2–3 make clear, the speaker joins with the congregation as one seeking the grace of Yhwh, and about this request, they are desperate.


So the poet begins: “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” As is readily apparent, there is somewhat of an echo here with Ps 121:1–2 both in the lifting of the eyes and in the use of heaven(s).[1] In Psalm 121, the psalmist expressed confidence in lifting the eyes to the mountains because help was coming from Yhwh, who is the maker of heaven and earth. Here the psalmist directs an address to Yhwh in a personal way (“to you”) but then identifies the object of that gaze as the one who sits in the heavens. He is both the one who made the heavens, and he is the one who dwells above mankind in the heavens, perhaps metaphorically speaking. Thus, lifting the eyes is the certain posture of the one who directs his or her attention to Yhwh.[2]

Elsewhere, the Psalter describes Yhwh as the one dwelling in the heavens (among other places, such as 11:4) in Ps 2:4, where the one sitting in the heavens cannot but laugh at those who would dare try to usurp him and his king. But much in the same way that Psalms 1 and 2 laid out a definite relationship between Yhwh and the righteous versus Yhwh and the wicked, so here the speaker does not find a God who scoffs at him, rather, the speaker looks with hopeful expectation at this God.caesarea-051.jpg

The poet further describes what is meant by the lifting of the eyes and the significance of such by making an analogy in v. 2a: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.”

And the psalmist’s point is driven home by a clear use of repetition in the parallelism throughout vv. 1–2. Consider the following (my translation for clarity sake):

To you I lift my eyes.
Like the eyes of servants to the hand
Like the eyes of a maidservant to the hand
Thus our eyes to Yhwh, our God.[3]

The you of “to you” in v. 1 has now been identified as (1) the one who is enthroned in the heavens and (2) Yhwh our God. Yhwh, the covenant God, is both the majestic king of the heavens and the personal God of Israel. As such, the writer pens a request by the people reasonably founded upon their knowledge of Yhwh as the mighty King of heaven and the personal God of his people.

With their God properly identified, the congregation commits to lift their eyes to Yhwh their God “till he has mercy upon us” (v. 2b). They long for grace, and they are confident that Yhwh has the ability and desire to bring it about. They will not turn their eyes until he does it. They desire mercy so intently that the author uses step parallelism (or anadiplosis) once again to focus the reader’s attention upon it. V. 2 ends with the phrase “he has mercy upon us,” and v. 3 begins with the imperative, “Have mercy upon us.” What is more, the imperative is repeated, “Have mercy upon us.”

Mt of Olives 023

But why do they need the grace (or mercy) of Yhwh? According to v. 3b, because “we have had more than enough of contempt.” The people of Yhwh feel satiated with the sins of those with whom they dwell (see also Psalm 120). Although there is not a specific setting that is described here, it seems that the psalm is intended to fit any situation in which the people of God are the object of contempt.

Moreover, 3 of the 4 (Hebrew) words of v. 3b are repeated in v. 4:[4] “Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.” The writer echoes a complaint of Asaph in Psalm 73.

While waiting for worship and satisfaction in a peaceful, New Jerusalem (Psalm 122), the people of God ought to continue to lift up their eyes to the one who dwells in the heavens and to ask for his grace.[5] David will reflect on this, as well, in the Psalm 124.


[1] As such, Pss 121 and 123 form a kind of parenthesis around the center of this third of the Songs of Ascents, namely, Psalm 122. It should be noted that 121:1 uses the yiqtol; 123:1 the qatal.

[2] A good example of this is also seen in Dan 9:3: “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and please for mercy….” The first phrase is not the same, but note how the face is being turned toward the Lord looking for mercy.

[3] Psalm 122 also spoke of “our God” (122:9). These are the only 2 occurrences of this phrase in the Songs of Ascents. It occurs also in Ps 135:2 in the phrase “house of our God,” which only occurs in Ezra-Nehemiah.

[4] With the other being implied (“for”).

[5] Zenger, 468 believes that Pss 123 and 124 form a unit: “Dass JHWH seiner Fürsorgepflicht nachkommt, wird freilich im folgenden Ps 124 feierlich proklamiert. In dieser Hinsicht bilden Ps 123 and Ps 124 eine kompositionelle Einheit.”

Psalm 122

The significance of Jerusalem stems from the presence of the house of Yhwh in its midst. In this Song of Ascents, David will express excitement that should be inherent to any who go to Jerusalem, for the thrones of the house of David and house of Israel’s God reside there. As such, this psalm perpetuates the hope in a restored Jerusalem and a restored Davidic kingdom. Moreover, the psalmist provides the ways by which the reader can respond to this hope, namely, by praying for the peace of the city of peace.

AlthougSONY DSCh there is some disagreement on attributing the psalm to David,[1] the title at least expects the reader to hear the speaker as David.[2] Thus, when the psalm opens, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”, the “I” and “me” should be understood as David. This provides an interesting perspective for the psalm, because the psalm reflects on the importance of Jerusalem for both the worship of the people at the house of Yhwh and the judgment that would take place in the house of David. The psalm highlights the importance of the house of Yhwh by virtue of a literary device called inclusion, whereby the psalm opens with a reference to the house of Yhwh (v. 1) and closes with it (v. 9). Yet, during the lifetime of David, only the kingdom was residing at Jerusalem. The house of Yhwh had not yet been built, and the city had not yet taken on the status of “the city.” As a result, the psalm takes on a note of anticipation and hope for the fulfillment of what Yhwh had promised to David. In other words, David could only hope to go to the house of Yhwh in Jerusalem as an anticipation of a future fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7). This fact accentuates the larger scheme within the Songs of Ascents in which after the exile, the Songs interpret eschatologically the promises made to David.


In the greater context of the Psalter, this psalm (1) joins the resounding voice of expectation for the coming King and (2) provides an important hermeneutical clue for a proper reading of the Songs of Ascents. The former has been established in the Psalter by Psalms 1 and 2; the latter will be confirmed among other places in Psalm 132, a psalm about David and his kingdom. Subsequent readers, then, join David’s hope for God’s faithfulness to these promises, specifically in establishing a kingdom of David’s Son in a peaceful, worshiping Jerusalem.

V. 2 elucidates our understanding of v. 1 as David’s anticipation of going to the house of Yhwh in Jerusalem: “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” Moving from singular to plural brings corporate implications to the psalmist’s words. Joy can be found by the congregation as they simply stand within Jerusalem’s gates.[3] On the one hand, the help and security hoped for in Psalm 121 at the hands of Yhwh, their keeper, would be tangibly realized in Jerusalem’s walls and spiritually enjoyed by the presence of God in her midst. On the other hand, joy in Jerusalem would also be found in the presence of the monarchy, as vv. 4–5 make clear.

Once again, the writer connects vv. 2 and 3 through step parallelism, where v. 2 ends with Jerusalem and v. 3 begins with it. The first person hope and recollection of vv. 1 and 2, respectfully, gives way to a general description of Jerusalem’s importance and status among the nation.[4]

First, Jerusalem is described as being “built as a city that is bound firmly together” (v. 3). This is another difficult verse to understand or translate exactly, but the focus seems to be on the compactness or security of the city as it was built. Thus, the poet highlights the hope that comes as being found within the gates of this well-built, secure city.

Mt of Olives 012Second, Jerusalem is described as the place “to which the tribes go up” (v. 4). The place to which the nation would go to worship Yhwh was anticipated in Deuteronomy 12; it was confirmed to be Jerusalem at the end of 2 Samuel. Interestingly, v. 4 uses the verb for “go up” that is also used within the titles of the Songs of Ascents. The general conclusion can therefore be made that these songs were perhaps intended to speak of the congregation’s going up to Jerusalem. At the same time, this may have not just a physical understanding of returning to Jerusalem as part of the nation’s responsibility during the feasts, but it may also join in the larger hope of the Psalter for the culmination of David’s kingdom by the Son, in whom the nation and the nations will find their refuge (see Ps 2:12).

However, the immediate purpose for going up to Jerusalem is to fulfill a decree that Israel was to be a nation that came to Jerusalem for the purpose of giving thanks to Yhwh. V. 4 speaks of Jerusalem as the city “to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” The pattern established for God’s people was to travel to the central location where Yhwh would be worshiped. Although not specifically decreed in a particular passage, this expectation of giving thanks was centered on “the name of Yhwh,” a phrase that is often used of David’s and Solomon’s building of a house “for the name of Yhwh” (see e.g. 1Kgs 8:17; 1Chr 22:7).

Third, Jerusalem was the place where thrones of justice were established. V. 5 states, “There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.” By using poetic parallelism in which the first line is further described by the second, the thrones for judgment are identified as the thrones set up for the house of the David. Here, David anticipates a series of kings, a series of thrones, as part of his house. An important responsibility of those who would sit on those thrones is to administer justice (see Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11). In the prophetic promises regarding the kingdom of David and his sons, Jerusalem would be the place where Yhwh judges the nations (see e.g. Isaiah 2). This continues the pattern that David sees established in his days and in the days of his sons.

In that David describes in vv. 3–5 the security, the true worship, and the administration of justice to be found in Jerusalem, this provides the proper basis from which to make the requests of vv. 6–7:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!”

David beckons the readers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and he provides the words that they should pray.[5] For Jerusalem to be this haven of rest, it must be characterized by peace, a theme that has already been established in the Songs of Ascents (see e.g. 120:6–7). As such, Psalm 122 joins the chorus of reflection on the Priestly Blessing in expressing peace from Yhwh as specifically related to Jerusalem and the security (or perhaps prosperity) that she provides.

David closes his psalm with two commitments. First, in v. 8 he calls upon himself to speak: “For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’” Peace in Jerusalem will mean security not just for the future of his kingdom, but also for those who are his brothers and friends. Second, in v. 9 he calls upon himself to seek the good of the city: “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” So David, the king, commits himself (1) to promote peace and (2) to work for the good of Jerusalem. Moreover, he focuses on those who populate his kingdom and the house of Yhwh, the God who is personally related to David’s people (“our God”).

In essence, then, Psalm 122 gives us a clearer picture of the expectations of the Davidic kings and of the Son of David to come. There existed (and would exist) a close relationship between the king and the worship of Yhwh at Jerusalem in the house of Yhwh. Both the king and the congregation would work toward that end. The former would administer justice as part of a reign that promoted peace and goodness; the latter would pray for the peace of the city within which they would gives thanks to the name of their God. Thus, the hope that David had in the establishment of the central sanctuary of worship and justice becomes the hope of all who subsequently read this psalm. “To pray for the peace of Jerusalem (v.6) is to pray for the coming of the Promised Seed of David, the Messiah.”[6]


[1] For example, a couple Hebrew manuscripts do not contain it, as well as the Septuagint and Targums.

[2] Zenger points out that Psalm 122, the middle psalm in the first 5, has a reference to David in the title, as does the middle psalm in the last 5 (Psalm 132). Moreover, the title of Psalm 127 refers to Solomon.

[3] Zenger, 458: “Dass der Psalm nicht den Gottesberg Zion als den mythischen Thronsitz des Weltkönigs JHWH, sondern die Stadt Jerusalem mit dem ‘Haus JHWHs’ in seiner Mitte beschreibt, ist typisch für seine nachexilische Entstehung.” That the psalm does not describe Zion, the mountain of God, as the mythical throne of the king of the world, Yhwh, rather the city of Jerusalem with the “house of Yhwh” in its midst, is typical for its post-exilic origin.

[4] Zenger, 458: “Der zweite Teil V 3–5 nennt drei Gründe, die die Stadt Jerusalem zu einer besonderen Stadt und zum ‘Realsymbol’ der Gegenwart JHWHs in einer feindlichen Welt machen.” The second part in vv. 3–5 gives three reasons that make the city of Jerusalem a significant city and the “real symbol” of the presence of Yhwh in a hostile world. He goes on to say that Jerusalem was not just any city of Israel, rather took on the title of “the city,” especially in post-exilic texts (see 1Kgs 8:44, 48; Jer 8:16; Lam 1:19; 2:12; Ezek 7:23; 9:4, 9; Mic 6:9).

Zenger, 460: “Nur wenn und insofern JHWH selbst Jerusalem ‘baut,’ kann und wird es seine ‘Stadt-Funktion’ erfüllen können.” Only when and if Yhwh himself “builds” Jerusalem can and will it be able to fulfill its “city-function.”

[5] Although the repetition of the words “peace” and “secure/security” can be seen, an element of the poetic artistry is missing in the English. Six of the ten words in the verse have the consonantal sounds “sh” and “l” in order. This has been observed by Allen, 158, as a play on the name of Jerus(h)alem, describing here as a city of peace (see Hebrews). Zenger, 452, also notes the alliteration and assonance in vv. 6–9.

[6] Sailhamer, 218.

Psalm 121

In vv. 1–2, Psalm 121 begins with an individual in need of help, in much the same way that Psalm 120 expresses the plea of an individual in dire circumstances. Yet, unlike the previous psalm, here the psalmist declares a desire to look to the mountains and recognize whence personal help comes.[1]

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View from the Mt. of Olives

Eyes Lifted to the Creator (vv. 1–2)

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Once again, as in 120:6–7, the poet binds these two verses together with step parallelism. The final word of v. 1 (“my help”) becomes the launching point for v. 2 (“my help”).[2] As such, the first two verses focus on identifying the psalmist’s help, namely, Yhwh, the Maker of heaven and earth.[3] The psalmist’s help comes from the covenant, creator God. The one who is there with the speaker is the same one who demonstrated his power by creating all things. The writer’s “hope is not in the mountains (v.1), but in the One who made the mountains.”[4] In another of the Songs of the Ascents, the congregation as a whole will echo this claim: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (124:3).

SONY DSCAs the Creator, Yhwh has the authority and ability to do what the psalmist claims in the rest of the psalm, as it moves from a first person wish to a description of Yhwh’s work on behalf of the one addressed as “you” in the next six verses.

Your Keeper (vv. 3–8)

The remainder of the psalm focuses on Yhwh’s relationship to Israel as her protector. In vv. 3–5, Yhwh is described as her “keeper,” while in vv. 7–8 the psalmist expresses confidence that Yhwh “will keep.” As discussed in the comments on Psalm 120 (part 2), there is a close relationship between the Songs of Ascents and the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24–26. The use of the word for “keep” in Psalm 121 highlights this connection (“Yhwh bless you and keep you”).[5]

Poetically, the author has used the verb “to keep” to structure the parallelism of these verses. In vv. 3–5, there is a 3-fold use of the verb as a participle (“the one who keeps”). In vv. 7–8, the root is again used as an imperfect verb (“he will keep”). What is more, v. 5 makes two statements about Yhwh, placing his name in first position, as also occurs in vv. 7, 8. Structurally, then, this leaves v. 6 as the odd man out. However, in v. 6, the poet uses another literary device that is not readily obvious in English versions. The structure of the verse could be shown like this:

A          By day
B          the sun
C         it will not strike you
B’         and the moon
A’         by night.

This is a common Hebrew poetic device known as chiasm, which is frequent in the Psalter but otherwise not used in this psalm. Normally, the focus of the chiasm is the middle element(s), which in this case would again be on the personal protection that Yhwh offers an individual, a theme upon which the psalm brings focus. This is true because Yhwh is not just the protector of Israel (v. 4: “he who keeps Israel”); his protection extends to the individual, as the constant repetition of “you(r)” indicates. Ten times in these six verses the psalmist uses a singular form of “you”:

  • He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. (v. 3)
  • The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. (v. 5)[6]
  • The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. (v. 6)[7]
  • The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your (v. 7)[8]
  • The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (v. 8)

Far from being an impersonal creator, Yhwh is a personal protector.[9] And this is a message that the psalm sounds like a constant drumbeat, reminding the readers (or hearers) of Yhwh’s protecting hand.


Summarizing the message of the psalm: For the psalmist and also for subsequent readers, confidence in help comes from embracing these facts:

  1. Help comes from Yhwh, the one who is present, who is there, and is in covenant with Israel.
  2. Help comes from the Creator of all things, the all-powerful God.
  3. Help comes from the one who, therefore, has the ability to keep (or protect) Israel. V. 4 is the only verse in vv. 3–8 that is not personalized to “you.”
  4. Help comes from the one who personally protects those who are his.
  5. Yhwh’s help extends from the present into the eschaton.

As such, the individual can take these second-person truths to his or herself; the “you” can become “me.” At the same time, the declarations of vv. 7–8 regarding Yhwh and the protection that he offers are by no means just hoping that he will protect. Rather it seems that these verses declare something that Yhwh does as part of who he is. In v. 7 and v. 8, the name Yhwh is given first position in the sentence, meaning that what is being said in these verses is stated about Yhwh.[10] They could be translated as follows:

As for Yhwh, he will keep you from all evil.
As for Yhwh,[11] he will keep your soul.
As for Yhwh, he will keep your going out and coming in.

Yhwh provides protection and preservation. Moreover, because Yhwh is the maker of heaven and earth (v. 2), he by authority and ability is one who can fulfill his promised protection. As such, this psalm gives an important commentary on (or exposition of) the Priestly Blessing: Saying “Yhwh bless you and keep you” is not just an empty saying expressing a petitioner’s wish. No, it is a blessing based on the unchangeable nature of their creator, covenant God. In other words, these are not just powerful wishes but divine promises of such blessings. Furthermore, according to the psalmist, Yhwh’s personal protection extends from the present into the eternal future (v. 8 “from now until forever”).[12] The psalm, in keeping with the theme of the Songs of Ascents, interprets the Priestly Blessing as extending from creation to the eschatological rebuilding of the Davidic kingdom.

The reader can thus look with certainty toward the Keeper of Israel as the journey toward Jerusalem, the city of David, continues. The adjoining of Psalm 121 with Psalm 122 highlights this connection. Going to Jerusalem is a good thing because the house of Yhwh and the throne of David are there. Therefore, the peace sought by the speaker of Psalm 120 and the hope sought in the protection of Yhwh of Psalm 121 find their answer in the journey toward Jerusalem of Psalm 122.



[1] There is much disagreement over how this verse should be understood. Do the mountains represent a source of danger? Are the mountains seen negatively as sanctuaries of foreign gods? Are the mountains to be seen positively as the place where God is enthroned (123:1)? Is the reference to the mountains of Jerusalem or mountains along the path back to Jerusalem? I think the volitional use of the imperfect in v. 1 helps determine the intention. The psalmist expresses desire to lift his eyes to the hills, which appears to me to be a positive intention. Why would someone express desire to lift one’s eyes to an imminent threat? Perhaps Allen, 150 has an adequate translation: “I look up to the mountains to see where my help is to come from.”

[2] The English word order doesn’t allow this to be conveyed adequately. A more literal translation might be, “From where does it come, namely my help. My help comes ….”

[3] Zenger, 439, writes: “Die in Ps 121 gegebene Kombination von Schöpfungstheologie (V 1–2) und Geschichtstheologie (V 3–8)—deren Interdependenz ist typisch für das Gesamtkonzept der Priesterschrift—begegnet ebenso in Jes 40–55!” The combination of creation theology (vv. 1–2) and theology of history (vv. 3–8)—whose interdependence is typical for the entire program of the Priestly strand—is encountered as well in Isaiah 40–55!

[4] Sailhamer, 218.

[5] Quote Liebreich here on Psalm 120.

[6] This verse needs more explanation.

[7] This verse needs more explanation.

[8] The clearer statements of v. 7 shed light on the metaphorical ones in vv. 5–6.

[9] Note the interplay of the personal name of Yhwh and his designation as Creator in v. 2.

[10] Specifically, we have examples of compound nominal clauses in which the statements about Yhwh are nominalized.

[11] Although not there, it is implied in the parallelism of v. 7.

[12] The phrase “from now until forever” occurs in the Songs of Ascents in 125:2 and 131:3. The only other places it occurs are Pss 113:2; 115:18; Isa 9:6 [7]; 59:20–21; Mic 4:7. Each of these passages shares other connections with the Songs of Ascents. Interestingly, in Mic 4:7, it is Yhwh reigning on Mount Zion “from now until forever,” which echoes a theme inherent to the Songs of Ascents, as well. Mic 4:7 follows the clear eschatological hope of a return to a restored Zion where Yhwh dwells (quoted from Isaiah 2). It includes the phrase “the last days” (4:1), giving it eschatological implications. The context of Isaiah 9:6 also complements the Songs of Ascents in that it speaks of the king who sits on the throne of David “from now until forever.” This should be highlighted in the comments on 131:3, where Psalms 131–133 bring the role of David to attention. Also, Zion, a theme of the Songs of Ascents, appears in the context of the Isaiah 59 passage. Finally, the passages in Psalm 113 and 115 occur within the context of a call for blessing Yhwh.