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Psalm 121 - notes

a] ’essa’ is the first in a series of weak verbs used in this Psalm. Indeed, virtually all the verbs are weak, the sole exceptions being shâmar (keep) which Yahweh surely will do, and yâshan (sleep) which He surely will not. Verse 1 focuses entirely on the Psalmist: "I will lift ... my help".

b] mê‘am is a slightly tautologous way of saying "from", perhaps more with the feel of "from the personal presence of". Verse 2 moves from "my" to introduce Yahweh as the main subject.

The second half of the verse contains the first (of five) uses of the name Yahweh - see the summary in the next verse.

c] ’al as negation is used to indicate an expressed desire, ie a subjective wish or command concerning something, not an objective fact that something has not or will not happen. It contrasts with lô’ of the following verse. From verse 3, "I" (ie the Psalmist) no longer features at all - the rest relates entirely to Yahweh and you as reader/hearer.

The second half of the verse contains the first (of six) uses of the verb shâmar (keep), far and away the most common verb in the Psalm. The following patterns can be seen:

 AB
1  
2Yahweh 
3 shâmar
4 shâmar
5Yahweh shâmarYahweh
6  
7Yahweh shâmarshâmar
8Yahweh shâmar 

d] lô’ is used to express either a permanent prohibition (eg as used in the Ten Commandments, you shall not), or else an assertion that something is false (eg he did not go to Nineveh). Hence the translation here of "cannot", expressing a stronger assertion than the "will not" of the previous verse.

Note also the two short lines at the center of the Psalm, here and the first half of v5:
shôwmêr yisrâ’êl | YHVH shômrekhâ ... Keeper of Israel | Yahweh your Keeper.

e] See note above.

f] shemesh is the common word for "sun": also Shamash was the Mesopotamian and Canaanite name for the sun-god.

g] nephesh can mean "life" or "soul", and is often used simply to refer to the person as a whole. Since the previous line refers to "evil", "soul" has been chosen here.

h] ôlâm in its original sense indicates a long duration, either into the past or the future. It therefore came to mean indefinite, unending, eternal and other similar ideas.

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