Tom Lowe


Psalm 121: Jesus Will Keep Me Safe (KJV)

Theme: God’s Protection of His People


1 {A Song of degrees.} I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved2: he that keepeth3 thee will not slumber.

4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.



As we have seen, this series of psalms was probably written in the days of Hezekiah when the Assyrian army was threatening Judah and Jerusalem. They could have been adapted later for use by the exiles returning from Babylon. They could have been used by the pilgrims in their annual journeys to Jerusalem to participate in the feasts of the Lord. One can picture the Lord Jesus as a boy of twelve singing out these songs as he and his parents made their way to the holy city. We can picture Him, too, singing them with His disciples on the occasions when they went up to Jerusalem.


Safety is something about which the pilgrims would be especially concerned as they traveled on the roads through the hill country. A pilgrim could stumble and hurt himself, or someone might suffer sunstroke, or a chilly night of camping out might give someone a bad cold. There was always the possibility of robbers swooping down. But the message of the psalm applies to God’s pilgrims today and gives us the assurances we need as we travel through this life.


In this study we are going to picture Hezekiah, shut up in Jerusalem, awaiting the onslaught of the invader. Humanly speaking, the situation was desperate, and a psalm such as this might well have been composed to match it. There are at least two speakers in the psalm. In the first two verses the singer is looking for help and is encouraging himself in the Lord. In the remainder of the psalm the speaker is being answered by another, one who points him with unwavering finger to an omnipotent God. In any case, here is a psalm to turn to when shadows deepen and the future looks bleak.


There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to assigning an author to this psalm but the most popular notion is that the author is either David or Hezekiah.  


Psalm 121 is the second in a series of fifteen psalms, all of which have the inscription, “a song of degrees.” 1 Bible commentators have been divided over what that expression means―see Psalm 120 for several possible explanations.


Obviously, all of the above views cannot be correct. Naturally, that leads to the question, “What degrees?” Only one set of degrees is mentioned in the Bible; those related to the sundial of Ahaz. When King Hezekiah was deathly ill, his unrelenting prayer was answered and he was given a fifteen year extension to his life. He was also given a sign by the prophet Isaiah as proof that he was going to recover. The shadow on the sundial of Ahaz went back by ten degrees. On recovering from his sickness, the king said: The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD” (Isaiah 38:20).





Scripture: Psalms 121:1-8 (KJV)



{A Song of degrees.} I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.


Most commentators are agreed that this rendering should be changed. It is not that the psalmist thought his help would come from the hills, already occupied by the Assyrians. Those hills, up until very recently when Hezekiah had instituted his religious reforms, had been scenes of idolatrous worship. The high places of Baal had crowned them; wicked rites had been enacted there. There was no help in the hills.


As the pilgrim draws near to Jerusalem, and it makes no difference if he comes from the north, east, south, or west, he will have to go through hills. Those hills were impressive enough. Jerusalem was enthroned on them, surrounded by them. All that Jerusalem had was hills. The Tyropoeon valley, the Kidron valley, and the valley of Hinnom cut through the environs of the city, leaving it cresting or commanding a half dozen hills. The city stood on a rocky plateau 2550 feet above the level of the Mediterranean and 3800 feet above the level of the Dead Sea. But there was no help in those hills.


The singer lifts up his eyes to the hills to drink in their scenery and to fill his mind with a thousand memories of sacred history hammered out on them. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills,” he says, “Whence cometh my help?” He lifts up his eyes higher than the hills. We must not be contented with merely looking at the hills―but must look above and beyond them, for earthly assistance is not enough. So he looks up to the mountains, all of them holy places. Men have always sought for help from the heights. Mountains have been viewed as meeting places with Deity because they constituted thresholds by which Deity could step down to earth.


It is not the awe-inspiring hills that strengthened his resolve to resist the demands of Sennacherib. He looks higher than the hills to the All-Sufficient Helper.




My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.


There was a Helper; the God who made those hills has an inexhaustible abundance of help. Had Isaiah the prophet already shared with Hezekiah those words that later found their way into his book? O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” (Isaiah 40:9-12).


The king standing there on the high walls that surrounded his city would see those hills. He would think to himself, that God, his God, had made them. His God had a mighty hand, a hand that could pick up mountains and swing them to and fro in His scales. Despair is madness in anyone who has such a God to help him. So why be afraid of Sennacherib?


The Lord was his king, the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord who could take all the vast reaches of space, the enormous distances between the stars, and billions upon billions of light years―the Lord could take all those inconceivable distances and, anthropomorphically speaking, hold them between His little finger and thumb. What a God! What a King! Why should he fear a human King, even one as great and terrible as Sennacherib? Sennacherib had taken on the living God of Israel, the God in whom Hezekiah trusted. That was Hezekiah’s defense. This ends the first segment of the psalm. Now comes the response.




 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved2: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.


He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:

The Lord knows how easy it is for us to slip, or for “thy foot to be moved.” This is a cautious statement. It can be rendered “May He not suffer (allow) thy foot to slip.” This clause is not meant to engender a false security but to encourage a steady trust in the faithfulness of God. No inadvertent misstep or overwhelming temptation can destroy the trusting and obedient soul (1 Cor. 10:135). The Lord who keeps His people is never off guard.


The king has taken a bold stand and for that reason he is clearly in danger. A single slip, one false step, might destroy him. Moreover, he needs divine shepherding care, the deep concern of one who is alert, on the watch, and who stays awake on his behalf, feeling responsible for him.


No other nation that has defied the Assyrians has lasted long, and the vengeance meted out by the conqueror was swift and marked by chilling savagery. The singer hopes that God will not allow the king to slip, now that he has taken such a stand. He takes courage in the fact that the Lord knows how easy it is for us to slip. We all know how often we have second thoughts after making some bold commitment to God.


he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

The Lord knows how easy it is for us to fall asleep. It is so easy after having made some commitment to God, to settle down and get nothing done after all. The king would have to stay awake now, and so, the desire is voiced that God might keep a watchful eye on him; He “will not slumber,” nor will He overlook or neglect anything that is necessary for thy preservation.




Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep4.


At this point the psalmist recovers himself and takes his stand on higher ground. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). This is said about Israel’s foes (Isa. 5:27); but it is more true of Israel’s God. God is not like a human lookout, likely to fall asleep at his post. There is really no need for such a prayer―as though God could get tired. The Hebrews tell us this is not a subjective desire; this is objective certainty. A God who has everlasting and unlimited energy is not likely to need an afternoon nap, so we can forget the problem of weariness. We humans get tired, but God never does, His watchful eye is on his people.


He that keepeth Israel” is one of the most enduring titles of Israel’s God.



The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.


The LORD is thy keeper:

We are vulnerable on all sides. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand” (121:5). The right hand is the sword hand. The singer sees God taking His stand on the king’s right hand, so that his right hand, his sword hand, might be unencumbered and free to at the point of strength defend the king on all sides. Hezekiah was going to need a defense like that once the Assyrian army was drawn up around the city’s walls.


Our weakness is offset by God’s strength. He deliberately takes up a position from which He can defend us, no matter from which quarter the attack comes. Our keeper is not only on the throne looking down on us, but He is at our side to shield us from all harm. This does not mean that obedient believers never find themselves in difficulty or danger or that they will never feel physical and emotional pain. The things that God permits to happen to us in His will may hurt us but they will not harm us. David had many experiences that brought heartache and even threatened his life, but the Lord enabled him to turn those seeming tragedies into beautiful psalms that encourage us today.


And we never know where the attack will come from―sometimes from our families, sometimes from a friend. Sometimes an enemy attacks along the line of our weakness, which he knows only too well; sometimes he attacks at the point of strength.


Because we are all vulnerable, we all need the Lord to stand on our right hand with His right hand outstretched to defend us no matter from which quarter the attack comes.


the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

“Shade” is a metaphor for protection from the scorching heat, like Jonah’s gourd. God is a sun (Ps. 84:11) and He is also a shadow from the heat (Ps. 91:1; Isa. 25:4). Day and night our Father is with us to shelter us from that which could harm us.


“Upon thy right hand,” which is the chief instrument of action [the sword hand] and it can defend thee in that place where thy enemies oppose thee (see Ps. 109:6; compare Ps. 16:8; Ps. 19:31).




6 The sun6 shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.


We are also vulnerable at all seasons. “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night” (121:6). Sunstroke is both common and dangerous in the east. Moonstroke was also thought to be injurious.


The point of the above observation by the psalmist, of course, is that we are vulnerable at all seasons but God is able to keep us by day or by night. It makes no difference to Him.



The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.


The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil:

Technically, the word “evil” literally means something wicked or injurious. It comes from a root which signifies the breaking up of all that is good and it is used especially for moral depravity. “All evil” means anything that could harm us, but in His grace He turns into good the things we think are evil


The ancient Assyrians were the embodiment of evil. Their monuments and inscriptions glory in their cruelty and wickedness, gloating over the terrible things they did to other people. Hezekiah was faced by an absolutely unscrupulous power which was restrained by no moral principle. The Assyrians would use anything that came to mind if it fit their ambitions.



he shall preserve thy soul.

This verse speaks to our hearts. We carry around within us a slumbering volcano; we are capable of any sin. The flesh is utterly depraved. Paul says, “In me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). How can we hope to overcome? The answer lies with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, whenever the flesh is mentioned, so is the Spirit (John 3:6; Gal. 5:17; Gal. 5:20; Gen. 6:3).


When the flesh rises to overthrow us, the Holy Spirit shuts it down in our hearts, therefore we can say, The LORD will preserve me from all evil: he will preserve my soul.” That is part of our salvation―not only deliverance from the penalty of sin, but deliverance from the power of sin. 




The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.


The three-fold expression “shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”


In the historical setting Hezekiah was shut up in Jerusalem. There was no going out and coming in. But that was only a temporary imprisonment. Soon God would smite the Assyrian army and the Gates of Jerusalem would be opened wide so that the king could come and go as he pleased.


The verse, however, goes far beyond that. Under the Mosaic Law it was incumbent upon a devout Jew to inscribe verses from the Mosaic Law on his gates. So, each time he went out he took with him a word from God. That word was to keep him alert in all his journeys, business dealings, and contacts with others. He was a member of the family of God and he must conduct himself as such. Upon his return home, as he passed his gate again, he would be once more reminded of his relationship to the law. He could review his activities since last he passed his gate to see if he had been true to God’s Word.





Special notes and Scripture

[1} “A song of degrees” or “of ascents,” as others has rendered it. This title is given to this and to the other 14 psalms which follow. This much loved piece, however, is commonly known as “The Traveler’s Psalm.” It has been said that this beautiful psalm is the trustful expression of a heart rejoicing in its own safety under the watchful eye of Him who is both the maker of heaven and earth, and the keeper of Israel. . . . The one ever-recurring thought, the one characteristic thought of the psalm is this word “keep.” Note: The American Standard Version has rendered verse 8 thus, “Jehovah will “keep” thy going out and thy coming in From this time forth and for evermore.”

[2} The word translated “moved” means to “slip and slide, to stagger, to be shaken.

[3} “Keep” means to guard and protect.

[4} Even while we “sleep,” God watches over us because He does not go to sleep.(See 1 Ki. 18:41)

[5} No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Co. 10:13). Your temptations or trials have been but trifling in comparison with those endured by the Israelites; they might have been easily resisted and overcome. Besides, God will not suffer you to be tried above the strength he gives you; but as the trial comes, he will provide you with sufficient strength to resist it; as the trial comes in, he will make your way out. The words are very remarkable; "He will, with the temptation, make the deliverance, or way out." 

[6} “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).