For my weekly quiet time post today, I’ll be talking about Psalm 121. I have three items.
1. I’d like to share two pieces of music about Psalm 121: see here and here. The first is Susan Ashton’s “Psalm 121.” This was one of the many Christian Contemporary Music songs that I would hear on the way to and from work, as my car radio was tuned in to my local Christian radio station. The second YouTube video, I believe, is of Paul Wilbur. I just now found this rendition of Psalm 121 on YouTube, but I originally heard it on a CD that I have of Messianic Jewish praise music, a CD that I used to play a lot when I was in college.
2. Well, as Paul Wilbur (I think that’s who the singer on the second video is) says in introducing the song he will sing about Psalm 121, “Psalm 121 says: ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.'”
There is actually quite a bit of discussion about this verse. Why, people ask, does the Psalmist lift up his eyes to the hills when he’s looking for help? There are a variety of answers that have been proposed to this question, but I will mention two. The first proposal is that the Psalmist is journeying to Jerusalem, and the Temple of Jerusalem is on a mountain. The mountain where God’s temple stands can apparently be pluralized, as seems to be the case in Psalm 87:1, so the Psalmist lifting his eyes to the hills (plural) could mean that he’s looking at one hill, the one where the Temple is. As the Psalmist makes his journey to Jerusalem, through the hostile terrains, the Psalmist looks to the mountain where God is, realizing that his help comes from the God who dwells on that mountain.
The second proposal is that the Psalmist is saying that he is not looking to the hills for assistance, but rather to the LORD. Adherents to this view appeal to Jeremiah 3:23, which states (in the King James Version): “Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.” On the hills were sanctuaries that certain Yahwists did not particularly like, sanctuaries that either had pagan worship, or the worship of the LORD in a manner that certain Yahwists did not deem to be appropriate. Some say, therefore, that the Psalmist in Psalm 121:1 is rejecting false worship, choosing instead to look to the LORD for help.
3. Psalm 121:6 states (in the KJV): “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.” I can understanding wanting protection from the hot sun during the daytime, but why would one desire protection from the moon at night? One can’t die of moon-stroke, right?
John Gill refers to Macrobius and Plutarch, who apparently believed that the moon did generate heat. Keil-Delitzsch says that the moon can injure one’s eyes. And J. Vernon McGee remarked that the moon can have a funny effect on people!
Leslie Allen and the Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary, however, say that, in ancient times, the moon was believed to cause health problems. The Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary refers to first millennium B.C.E. texts from Babylonia and Assyria about health problems being caused by the moon god, some of which sound like epilepsy. And Leslie Allen refers to the Greek word that is often translated in terms of epilepsy in English translations of Matthew 4:24 and 17:15, seleniaxesthai, which literally means “to be moonstruck.” Did the author of Matthew’s Gospel believe that the moon caused health problems? Or did he simply use the word for “to be moonstruck” for epilepsy because that was the common word for epilepsy in his day, whether or not he agreed with the notion that led to that word, namely, that the moon caused epilepsy?