The group of Psalms which commence with Psalm 120 are commonly known as the "Psalms of Ascent", and were sung by pilgrims as they travelled to keep the annual feasts at Jerusalem. They are fifteen in total and one way of looking at them is to divide them into five groups of three. If looked at in this way the first three (Ps 120-122) can be regarded as the Psalms of Preparation, showing the emotions of the pilgrims as they contemplated the journey to the Sanctuary. Today we are able to approach the Sanctuary at any time, and we do so also as the assembly meets and worships. Let us consider how great is His care over us to keep us fit to come before Him.
Psalm 120 reveals the distress felt by the writer due to his daily circumstances. He is surrounded by a dishonest society, so like today, which he compares to Mesech, the fierce inhabitants of the Caucasus, and Kedar, the hordes of the Arabian desert. The difference between them is stated graphically; he is for peace, but they are for war.
Psalm 121 has rightly been called the "Keeper Psalm". The word for "keep" is found six times in the psalm ("preserve", found three times in vv.7-8, is the word translated "keep" in vv.3-5). This psalm, therefore, reveals the writers deliverance from evil around him. Note that the preserving grace of God is seen in four promises.
The first promise is that "He will not suffer thy foot to be moved" (v.3). The believer will be preserved underfoot. The danger is that of falling on the way, of being tripped up, or simply of diminishing strength. He will not overlook the circumstances of any believer. Each individual is of value to Him. At no time will His attention be lost in sleep. Twice this promise is made: "he that keepeth thee will not slumber" (v.3) and "he shall neither slumber nor sleep" (v.4).
The second promise is that He is "thy shade upon thy right hand" (v.5). The thought is that the Lord stands and acts as a shade. This is preservation from what is overhead, from the heat of the sun by day and the cold of the night (v.6). In all circumstances He will preserve His own. Surely we have all experienced the heat and pressure of circumstances through which we are passing. Difficulties come into our lives and our days can be consumed with them; they are constantly with us, never out of our minds. In those circumstances he preserves us. Many also have known the cold when there is no one to come alongside, no one to help, and no loving sympathy or advice to encourage. In all these the Lord is our keeper.
The third promise is that "The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore" (v.8). This preservation is from that which is around. "Thy going out and thy coming in" refers to the life and circumstances of an individual. As we go about our daily business there is much that the believer finds distasteful and troubling. The Lord, however, knows all and ensures that we enjoy the protection that He gives and the preservation in which He delights.
We have not overlooked the great promise found in v.7: "The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul". The supreme promise, the reason why the other three promises have been given with such confidence, is now mentioned. How complete is His work in protecting us; preserving the soul, that which is within. We can never be lost! The evil that is launched against the pilgrim, attempting to take from him that which God has given in grace, can never succeed. We are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet 1.5).
With such confidence we can now exult in the prospect before us. When it was said, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord" (Ps 122.1) there was delight and no anxiety, no concerns about what may be met on the road. The Lord has made His promises known; let us rely on them and continue to be thankful that we can approach the Sanctuary individually or collectively as the assembly gathers. Of these times of drawing near, as we consider how He has "kept" us, let us be in a condition to say, "I was glad".