Psalm 121 is the second of the fifteen Psalms of ascent (Psalm 120 to Psalm 134). It is all about the LORD. We ask the question: who is 'the LORD'? Is this Jehovah or Yahweh or YHWH or Yahua? Why are there different names for Jesus? Is it Jesus or Yeshua? We examine Psalm 121 in English and we also look at the Hebrew text to understand Hebraic thought in the Psalms of Ascent.
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Psalm 121 is all about "the LORD".
Why? Because, as we start our climb, with the Psalms of ascent, we have to take hold of the LORD. Nothing is more important. Also ... we have to know Him, and know Him personally. And now, we can know Him by name.
In the Hebrew text, the word we say as "the LORD" is represented by four letters ... YUD HEH VAV HEH. The word occurs more than 6,800 times in the original text of the Old Testament. Jews will not pronounce this word. When they come to it, they substitute. They say "Adonai"; which means "Lord" in Hebrew.
From the time of Alexander the Great, the most widely-spoken language in the world was Greek. When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, in the years before Jesus, scholars used the word KYRIOS wherever this four-letter Hebrew word needed translating. KYRIOS (or slight variations of KYRIOS, depending on the grammar of the sentence) ... KYRIOS means "Lord" in Greek.
When the Jewish writers of the New Testament took the message of Jesus into the world, they wrote in Greek. If they were quoting from the Old Testament, and this four-letter Hebrew word was in the Old Testament text, they used the Greek word KYRIOS ... "Lord".
And the message they took was that the LORD, this LORD spoken of throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this LORD is Jesus.
Matthew and John and Peter and Paul and other New Testament writers, didn't turn the Hebrew letters YUD HEH VAV HEH into a Greek equivalent ... that would have been, I suppose, IOTA HETA UPSILON HETA ... something unpronounceable and nonsensical.
The apostle Peter brought the revelation: "There is no other name by which we must be saved ..." (Acts 4:10-12) Salvation is only in the name of Jesus ... the Christ ... the Nazarene ... the One who was crucified and raised from the dead. (see Acts 4)
Here is the clearest statement in the Bible for salvation: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)
Note the emphatic promise: "You will be saved." To receive the promise, you must meet the condition: believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord.
There are two vital action words here: believe, and confess.
I won't bore you with the complexities of Greek grammar, but the two verbs are in the Aorist tense; active, engaged and continuing.
Romans chapter 10 (verses 9 and 10 together), properly understood in the original Greek, picture the salvation process as having begun and being continued ... a life-long commitment.
Only you and God know about the state of belief in your heart, but we aren't talking about some vague hard-to-define idea of faith in this verse. Here, we are talking about a fact, that you either accept or you don't ... a fact, that you either hold on to, or you don't ... your belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is alive.
Just as important ... You must be a person who confesses that Jesus is the LORD. You must be a person who holds onto that truth and goes on confessing that it is Jesus who is the LORD.
Now, why do you suppose that this is presented as an ongoing imperative, rather than a one-time (I prayed a prayer. I got saved. I got my ticket to heaven) kind of a condition?
In the Bible, the Christian life is pictured as a race ... a long-distance race. It is also pictured as a war. We are in a fight, with a spiritual enemy ... the prince of darkness. The enemy has a goal ... to rob you of your faith, and of your salvation. One of his strategies is to get you to stop taking the name of Jesus onto your lips.
The enemy is not bothered by people who talk about God in a general way. Many religions lay claim to God. Most public displays of piety invoke a generic god who could belong to anyone. But, talk about Jesus and you get an entirely different response from people in the world.
When the Bible was first translated into English, and the translators came to this Hebrew word (YUD HEH VAV HEH), they used the word LORD ... all spelled out in capital letters ... L O R D ... to distinguish from the translations of the Hebrew word adonai (spelled ALEF DALET NUN YUD), which they translated as Lord, with a capital L and small O R D.
Whenever you see capital L O R D in the Bible, you should say to yourself ... "This is speaking of Jesus" Jesus is the LORD.
When people take these Hebrew letters, and convert them into English alphabet equivalents like JHVH or YHWH, and come up with completely new, and made-up names, like Jehovah or Yahweh or Yahua, it tells me they are losing touch with Jesus. Someone has deceived them. They are drifting away from the power of the name of Jesus. They are shifting their focus to a name in which there is no salvation. They may think they are magnifying one who is superior to Jesus, but the Bible says: "whoever confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23). And the Bible says, "This is His commandment: that we believe in the name of His Son, Jesus the Christ ..." (1 John 3:23)
Why do we introduce this session on the Psalms of ascent in this way? Because in the fifteen Psalms of ascent in the Hebrew text, this word (YUD HEH VAV HEH) dominates. You could say that the Psalms of ascent have one theme.
The word that we say as Adonai (YUD HEH VAV HEH) occurs about fifty times in the Psalms of ascent. The word occurs three times more frequently than any other Hebrew word in the Psalms of ascent. The word is in every one of the fifteen Psalms of ascent.
And now, as we start to climb toward the heavenly Jerusalem, this word "LORD" (which we know to be speaking of Jesus), this word occurs five times in Psalm 121.
The Holy Spirit wants the truth to grip us ... our lives are in Jesus. It's all about Him.
In Psalm 121, I recognise, and I must never forget, that He ... Jesus, the LORD ... He is my helper.
Here is Psalm 121 ... a translation closely following the Hebrew text. (Read in English.)
Here it is in the Hebrew: (Read in Hebrew).
Verse 1. (In Hebrew) ... song unto ascents. This is an unusual opening phrase in the Psalms of ascent. All the other Psalms of ascent start with (In Hebrew) ... Song of the ascents. La-ma'alot ... the LAMED indicates direction ... toward, unto. I can't say why it has this unique feature in Psalm 121, all I can say is that it does. You would never pick this up from English translations. In fact, most English translations have, "Song of ascents", looking like a sub-heading in each Psalm, but in the Hebrew text, it is always part of verse 1.
(In Hebrew) ... I will lift my eyes to the mountains. (In Hebrew) ... From where He will come, my help.
In Psalm 120, I called to the LORD and He answered me. I asked Him to deliver me, to do for me what I could not do for myself. In other words, I turned to Jesus.
Now, in Psalm 121, as I start climbing, I look up ... I fix my eyes on Jesus (see Hebrews 11). He is my helper.
As a believer in Jesus, I have Him with me all the time. He is only a prayer away. I am learning to trust Him, More and more. That's the spiritual sense of "lifting my eyes to the mountains from where He will come."
For the pilgrims of Israel, on a physical path, ahead lay the Mount of Olives. Over the Mount of Olives, and across the Kidron Valley, is Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. The Temple stood on Mount Moriah. From the days of King Solomon, the glory of the LORD filled that Temple (see 2 Chronicles 5:14 and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3) The manifest presence of the LORD was there, in the Temple, for about 400 years, until the time of the Babylonian conquest. Israel came under judgment, and the Glory cloud departed. (see Ezekiel 10:4,18-19 and Ezekiel 11:23)
Leap ahead about 600 years, and Jesus brought the light of His presence to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. But, most Jews didn't recognise Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. He ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives. (see Acts 1) And, He is going to return ... to the Mount of Olives. (see Acts 1 and Zechariah)
Do you see this word ... "ya-vo" ... "He will come"? That's the last heart-cry in the Bible isn't it? "Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20) We are to desire His coming ... His physical return. Call to Him for help ... and He will come, in the Spirit. But one day He is going to return bodily, and in glory.
"Ya-vo" ... In Hebrew, a YUD placed in front of a verb means "He will" (future tense). In this case, "He" is Jesus, the LORD. "The LORD" (YUD HEH VAV HEH) occurs five times in Psalm 121 ... Here, here, here, here and here (in Hebrew text). In verse 2, verse 5 and again in verse 5, in verse 7 and in verse 8 (in English text).
There are also eight verbs with this "YUD" prefix, indicating "He will". Here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here (in Hebrew text)
In this English translation, we have emphasised "He will", so that you can see how strong the focus is on Jesus.
It's all about Jesus.
The highlighting of this YUD prefix, to indicate "He will" is a good time to talk about Jesus' name. In Matthew chapter 1, in our English translations, we read that the angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph and said: "You shall call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."
"He will save ..." In English translations, this doesn't make sense. "Jesus ... because He will save His people"?
To understand ... the angel spoke to Joseph in Hebrew, "You shall call His name Yeshua." Yeshua in Hebrew means "He will save" ... a YUD prefix, "He will". If you are a Hebrew speaker, that is His name ... Yeshua.
But this good news was first delivered to us in the New Testament in Greek. Yeshua was translated into Greek as "Iesous". To Greek speakers, Iesous was a close enough sound to the Hebrew, Yeshua.
More than a thousand years after the time of Jesus, the Bible was Translated into German. The letter that looks to us like a "J" is pronounced in German with a 'yuh' sound ... the same as the YUD sound in Hebrew, and the same as the IOTA HETA sound in Greek. So Iesous was spoken as "Yesus" (Jesus) in German.
But, when the Bible was later translated into English about 700 years ago, the translators kept the "J" letter, but we pronounce that letter with a hard "J". Jesus.
No problem. The differences in this one name are only to do with the phonetics of different languages. If you are a Hebrew speaker, His name is Yeshua. If you are a Greek speaker, His name is "Iesous". If you are an English speaker, His name is Jesus.
And, I can say, is that His name is not Jehovah, and His name is not Yahweh, and His name is not "Yahua".
Verse 2 ... (in Hebrew) "My help is from the LORD" (in Hebrew) "Maker of heavens and earth".
If I needed to prove my case that Jesus is the LORD, I don't have to go further than this statement. Here, the Hebrew word YUD HEH VAV HEH (the LORD), is said to be "maker of heavens and earth." (in Hebrew)
And this phrase occurs three times in the Psalms of ascent. It occurs a second time in Psalm 124 verse 8;and a third time in the last of the Psalms of ascent, Psalm 134. In fact, it's the last phrase in all the Psalms of ascent ... "maker of heavens and earth".
And the Maker ... the Creator ... is Jesus. Three times the Psalms of ascent refer to "Maker of heavens and earth", and three times the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the Creator.
Back to Psalm 121 ...
Verse 3 ... (in Hebrew) ... "He will not give your foot to stumbling". The LORD can give someone over to stumbling. The LORD did that with Pharaoh when Pharaoh resisted Him. And The LORD worked that out to accomplish His purposes ... to get Israel out of Egypt.
But, in Psalm 121, the LORD is saying that He won't give you over to stumbling (in the sense of causing offence to God) ... because you have your eyes on Jesus.
(In Hebrew) ... "He will not slumber, who guards you". Day or night, Jesus' eyes are on you.
In these statements in verse 3, "you" is singular. Jesus is speaking to you personally.
Now, in verse 4, He links "you" with His chosen people, Israel. (In Hebrew) ... "Behold, He will not slumber and He will not sleep, guardian of Israel."
The LORD is watching over Israel. Scripture says that God loves Israel with an everlasting love. (see Jeremiah 31:3).
The nation of Israel ... the Jewish people ... are greatly loved. Because so many have fallen away is not the fault of God. Many individuals, within the chosen nation of Israel, have chosen to not trust Him. They have lost their status as sons of God. But, God is faithful. He has promised that, in the end, He will have a remnant for Himself. All the nation of Israel ... all who are alive in that day ... will recognise their Messiah. They will turn to Yeshua.
And, in that, the LORD says that "He will neither slumber nor sleep". He is keeping watch over Israel. And with that same faithfulness ... that same commitment ... God is watching over you.
Verse 5 ... (in Hebrew) ... "The LORD is your guardian, the LORD is your shade upon your right hand". This is addressed to "you" (singular) personally. He is your guardian. He is the one who is covering you.
I can't think where the Bible says you need the 'covering' of some pastor or denomination. The Bible doesn't say that. Jesus is your shade. Jesus is your covering.
Verse 6 (in Hebrew) ... "By day the sun will not smite ..." (in Hebrew) "... and (the) moon in (the) night."
It's easy to understand that the sun can scorch and damage physically. But why is this phrase added, (in Hebrew) ... "and the moon in the night". Moonlight doesn't harm. I believe this is a reference to spiritual dangers.
Jesus will protect you in physical dangers, and Jesus will protect you if you are under spiritual attack.
Stay attached to Him. You need His protection.
Verse 7 ... (in Hebrew) ... "The LORD He will guard you from all evil ..." (in Hebrew) "...He will guard your soul." ("you" is singular)
Verse 8 ... (in Hebrew) ... "The LORD He will guard your going out and your coming in …" ("you" singular) (in Hebrew) "... from this time and forever."
It's all about Jesus ... looking after you.
You are on an ascent. It takes effort to climb. The effort comes in lifting the weight of your body ... step by step. You are dragging your flesh to the top. Flesh resists the effort.
The easiest thing to do is to give up, and let the flesh stop screaming for relief. Then you start to drift. And you never drift up. Drift is down. And down, is down to the Dead Sea, where there is no life.
Don't give up. Keep taking the name of Jesus onto your lips. Keep looking up ... to Him.
With understanding of Hebraic thought, and awareness of design elements in the Scriptures, we take a journey of growth in Christ Jesus.
The seminar “Bringing sons to glory” starts with Session 1: “You are gods” What did Jesus mean? ... and continues through the Psalms of Ascent.
This series will increase your knowledge of biblical Hebrew.