Psalm 121 is a beautiful song of trust and confidence where the psalmist expresses that God is his Helper and his Keeper; that he is safe and secure under the ever-watchful eye of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The Psalmist is confident that the One who keeps Israel secure is also the deliverer of the person who trusts in him.
The word “keep” is six times in the Psalm which you will not notice if you read the NIV or KJV:
“He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psa. 121:3).
“He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa. 121:4).
“The LORD is your keeper” (Psa.121:5).
“The LORD will keep you from all evil” (Psa. 121:7).
“He will keep your life” (Psa. 121:7).
“The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore” (Psa. 121:8)
It is why I call this the Keeper’s Psalm because the Hebrew word shāmar is repeated by the psalmist to emphasize God’s care and protection for the individual and for the nation.
There is one interpretive decision that we have to make immediately as we read v. 1. From where does the Psalmist initially look for help? I memorized this Psalm in the KJV many years ago and it begins “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help?” The understanding is that since this is one of the Psalms of Ascent (120-134), the worshipper is coming to Jerusalem and lifts up his eyes to the holy Mount Zion where the Temple stood (2000 ft. above sea level). He makes a statement of trust and confidence that God, whose presence resides in the Temple’s Holy of Holies, is the only One who can help and keep him and his nation.
However, there is another way to read this verse where the conclusion is the same, but the starting point is different. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (ESV) French theologian and disciple of John Calvin, Theodore Beza, underscored this translation with his own unique translation of Psalm 121:1, “Should I lift up my eyes unto these mountains? From where will my help come? Beza suggested that the psalmist asked two questions, not one. The first question is whether or not he should look toward the mountains; the second question is about the psalmist’s source of confidence.
In commenting on Beza’s translation, Professor Claude Mariottini of Northern Baptist Seminary says: Most commentators believe that the “mountains” in question refer to one mountain, Zion, the dwelling place of God…. But Beza’s interpretation may reflect another reality behind the psalmist’s faith. In Israel, the mountains were the places where pagan practices and illegitimate worship were conducted by the Israelites.
Thus, according to Beza’s translation, the psalmist refuses to look toward the mountains because he knew that his help would not come from there. Thus, using Beza’s translation of verse 1, “Should I lift up my eyes unto these mountains?”, the answer to the psalmist’s question is “no”, because his help will not come from the pagan gods worshiped on the mountains.
Again, the conclusion is the same but the starting point is different depending on how you interpret v.1. I like Beza’s translation. As we face an uncertain future as a nation, we have a choice of where we look to find the source of our confidence and security. Do we find it in the size of our military and of our weaponry? Do we look to our political leaders who argue as to who would make the best Commander-in-Chief and protect us the most? Or, do we look to the Creator of heaven and earth as our Helper and Keeper. We must make this choice almost daily as we watch the news, listen to the political rhetoric, and continue to raise our children and grandchildren in an evil and violent world. Whom do you trust?