(Part 3) Psalm 121: The Lord Is My Keeper
By Pastor Robbie Casas
2) He will protect us constantly.
Read vv. 5-6: “5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.”
The psalmist begins v. 5 with a categorical identification of God as Israel’s “keeper” or guard, very significant in the context of one in a difficult and treacherous journey. Then he uses a metaphor to further describe God as “keeper”: “… the Lord is your shade on your right hand.” The Heb. word for “shade” (צֵל ṣêl) also appears in Isa 25:4: “4 For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for
the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.” But it is more often translated “shadow”, as in Ps 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Though in English there are differences in the definition of these two words, in their uses here they are essentially synonyms. It is a description of God as a shield.
The phrase “your right hand” is said to represent the place of human need. If this is so, the Lord then is the Keeper of His people by being their shield in their times of greatest need.
What does the Lord shade His people from?
We are told in v. 6: “6 The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.” The IVP Bible Background Commentary again is helpful here: “Anyone who has traveled in the Middle East knows the threat of dehydration and sunstroke. Many of the roads to Jerusalem exposed the traveler to oppressive heat. Just as too much exposure to the sun could be dangerous, it was believed in the ancient world that too much exposure to the moon could pose a health threat. Medical diagnostic texts from first-millennium Babylonia and Assyria identify several conditions as a result of the ‘hand of Sin’ (Sin was the moon god), including one in which the patient grinds his teeth and his hands and feet tremble, and another that has all the symptoms of epilepsy. English words like ‘moonstruck’ and ‘lunatic’ show that such belief persisted into relatively recent times.” This might be the immediate reference and application of this statement to the psalmist.
In this verse the psalmist used a poetic figure of speech called “personification” to “the sun”and “the moon” so that they are pictured as doing the smiting or striking. In poetic imagery, however, “the sun” and “the moon” do not often refer to the literal heavenly bodies but are representative what takes place under them. In this instance, therefore, these words refer to any event that happens during the day and night that could be potentially dangerous. As one commentator put it, “God’s protection includes protection from every extreme – light to dark, sun to moon and everything else in between.” This is what you find in many other passages in Scripture when this imagery is used.
Basically, THE POINT OF THESE TWO VERSES IS TO SHOW THAT GOD IS NEVER “OFF DUTY”, NEVER “ON BREAK” SO THAT HE DOES NOT SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING TO HIS PEOPLE; HE IS ALWAYS THERE PROTECTING HIS OWN – WHETHER VISIBLY OR NOT. What a comforting reminder especially at such a time as we are in now! But to experience the comfort this passage offers, we must cling to this truth in all faith and with all our hearts.
3) He will preserve us spiritually everywhere and forever.
Read vv. 7-8: “7 The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. 8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.”
These two verses serve as the conclusion to the psalm, where the psalmist provides a general and broad-sweeping description of God as the “keeper”of His people. As I had mentioned earlier, “protect” and “guard”are translated from the same Heb. word which includes the meanings of these two English words.
In v. 7, we see the scope of God’s protection: it extends to “all evil”. The psalmist may have immediately had in mind God’s protection of the pilgrim from the evil intent of wicked men along the way (see an example of this graphically described in Ps 10:8-11).
However, I believe that “all evil” ultimately encompasses all that is truly harmful to those who truly belong to God. When I say “truly harmful” I refer to the things that could cause us to ultimately fall away from God – whether these are things done to us or things we do ourselves.
So the words “all evil” do not merely refer to the things that are difficult or painful or even life-threatening. Yes, God may choose to spare us from such, and He has done so countless times. Nevertheless, all true believers experience faith-testing trials in their lives at one time or another. History is filled with faithful believers whom God allowed to sacrifice their lives in death for the faith.
And even when He does allow all these, being sovereign over all of life – most especially over the “life”(ESV/NIV, v. 7b) of His true followers, “He will keep your soul”. This is because God’s faithful and loving care and protection continue in all adversities.
But this statement also seems to imply that God’s preservation extends beyond the physical to the spiritual. As Matthew Henry put it: “It is the spiritual life, especially, that God will take under his protection.” IT IS THE BELIEVER'S SOUL THAT GOD WILL PERFECTLY PRESERVE, THAT PART WHICH HE HAD MADE A NEW CREATION IN CHRIST (cf. 2Cor 5:17).
Finally, read v. 8: “The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” In this statement, the psalmist provides, in my opinion, an exquisite conclusion to the psalm.
The phrase “your going out and your coming in” is a figure of speech for “whatever he does everywhere” – whether the psalmist arrives at Jerusalem or returns home or travels elsewhere. These words remind us of God’s promise to Israel if they remained faithful to Him and obedient to His commands in Deut 28:6, “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” So v. 8 promises that the Lord “will [keep] guard” over all the psalmist’s affairs, as He would to all of His present-day children in Christ.
And here we see the extent of His care which is “from this time forth and forever.” (or, accd. to the NIV, “both now and forevermore”). This is a promise that looks beyond to eternity.
So the psalm ends with a renewed affirmation of God’s ongoing protection in this life and the life to come.
Another psalm that ends just as beautifully (if not more) with a similar promise is Ps 23:6: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
This psalm expresses assurance and hope both in who God is and the help He provides through His protection in all situations in our lives as believers. How fitting this thought is to remember in the present crisis we are in! We should therefore not ever put our trust in a lesser power than “the Maker of heaven and earth” Himself, who also happens to be our heavenly Father.
In all His lofty majesty and glory, in all His absolute power and infinite wisdom, in all His sovereignty over the whole universe, He also watches over us. Nothing will divert nor deter Him from this.
Because of this, we are ultimately safe.