If you’re as familiar with Christian music as I am, then you’ve probably heard at least one version of this Psalm set to music. I myself have heard at least three. It’s a beautiful passage, reminding us of God’s protection. Let’s examine it for a bit, shall we?
You’ll notice that according to the superscription it’s a “Song of Ascents.” What does that mean? The ancient Hebrews were commanded by God, no matter where they lived, to make their way to Jerusalem at least three times a year for a nation-wide festival/holiday: Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. Jerusalem is set on top of a mountain (Mount Zion, of course), so as they ascended it and saw the city of David, these Psalms with this superscription were the traditional songs to sing with your caravan.
That’s what makes the 1st verse so poignant. As the singer climbed these hills, he saw a lot of awe-inspiring creation. But he knew that his help came from no other source but his Creator. Considering that the first singers of this Psalm were climbing a mountain, it’s quite possible that the author was being quite literal when he was talking about protection against someone’s foot slipping.
But of course we can apply this passage in the spiritual realm as well. He’s watching us as we make our pilgrimage to our Final Home. He’ll make sure that our foot doesn’t slip, no matter what the Enemy puts in our path.
Whenever I read vs. 4, I always have to chuckle a bit, since it reminds me of Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Remember how he taunted them about the impotence of Baal? “Shout louder. . . Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” In stark contrast to Baal, who has to be woken up by the shouts of his followers, our God never sleeps. He's always watching over us. While you’re sleeping, he’s not. He hears the whispered prayers of the humblest of his children. In fact, you don’t have to speak out loud at all. And as verse 6 indicates, it’s round-the-clock protection.
And it’s not just physical. The word for “life” in vs. 7 is literally “soul,” so a lot of commentators interpret this to mean the entire person, including the spiritual. Naturally this makes sense: Why would he protect us from physical harm but not defend us in the other realm?
There are a lot of ways to apply the last verse, and none of them have to contradict the others. The first meaning was that in all the travelers of these pilgrims, both as they entered Jerusalem and as they left, he would watch over them. He also watches us in the “comings and goings” of daily life. And as you “come” into this life until you “go” into the next one, he’s watching as well. And if you’re his child, he’ll welcome you home.
Now for your enjoyment, here's Eden's Bridge's version of Psalm 121.
Father, I thank you for watching me. I have NO idea how many times, just today, you protected me from harm. You’re my loving Father, and I’m looking forward to making that last stage of the journey so I can see your face.