Sunday, January 27, 2008

Psalm 121 Outline

This is a brief outline of Psalm 121 that the Sunday School class of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Dubois came up with as we studied. The study follows the basic method outlined in my Reading Bible Poems handout. This is just a basic outline, and omits very many things that we talked about in class.

Introductory Notes

  • Type of Psalm: Three-Part Lyric.

  • Superscript: A Song of Ascents - a lyrical psalm used by pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts (Unleavened Bread/Passover, Weeks/Pentecost, and Tabernacles/Harvest)

Section 1 - Controlling Lyric Theme

A  I lift up my eyes to the hills
B From where does my
C Help come?
C' My help comes
B' From Yahweh,
A' Who made heaven and earth

  • Chiasm points out the main point of the Psalm- help. We know that Yahweh is our help, so we are forced to ask "What kind of help?"

  • Images: The hills, from whence my help cometh - Since Jerusalem is situated at the top of a giant ridge running the length of the Holy Land parallel to the Mediterranean, a pilgrim traveler is usually going up into the mountains. The setting of this poem is a desert/mountain journey to Jerusalem.

Section 2 - 1st Developmental Image

He will not let your foot be moved
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber
nor sleep

  • This is the first of three "verses" that answer the question introduced in the controlling theme- "What sort of help?". Each of the three verses has a similar structure: two parallel lines describing a help that Yahweh gives, and a third line containing an amplification showing how extensive that help is using a double image ("slumber nor sleep", "sun by day, moon by night", "going out and coming in").

  • Images: Let your foot be moved - Another mountain journey image picturing stumbling and falling on a steep mountain pass.

  • God's help preserves us from our own mistakes and sins.

Section 3 - 2nd Developmental Image

Yahweh is your keeper;
Yahweh is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night

  • Images: Sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night - Dangerous environment of a desert/mountain journey.

  • Yahweh protects us from the harshness of the world.

Section 4 - 3rd Developmental Image and Concluding General Application

Yahweh will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
Yahweh will keep your going out
And your coming in
From this time forth and forevermore.

  • Images: Going out and coming in - All the journeys to and from Jerusalem for the rest of our lives.

  • God protects us from evil, hostile forces who hate us.

  • This also serves as the generalizing and concluding theme. God preserves our whole lives, all our journeys forevermore.


  • Three types of helps (mistakes/sins, circumstances, evil) touch every area of life. "What kind of help?" Every kind of help we need.

  • All the imagery is from a desert journey, an image that an Israelite would take as a metaphor for all our lives under the sun.

  • God is always ready to help, and will be forevermore.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:36 PM

    Excellent food for thought and a good breakdown of the psalm.