1

I don't read Hebrew and I'm wondering why Psalm 121:1 is posed by so many translators as a question instead of an assertion:

https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/psa/121/1/s_599001

It seems to me that the pilgrim has his eye on Jerusalem, a city of seven hills, Zion being the most associated, I think, with God's help:

[Psa 14:7 NLT] (7) Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel? When the LORD restores his people, Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice.

[Psa 48:2, 11 NLT] (2) It is high and magnificent; the whole earth rejoices to see it! Mount Zion, the holy mountain, is the city of the great King! ... (11) Let the people on Mount Zion rejoice. Let all the towns of Judah be glad because of your justice.

[Psa 50:2 NLT] (2) From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines in glorious radiance.

[Psa 51:18 NLT] (18) Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

[Psa 53:6 NLT] (6) Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel? When God restores his people, Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice.

[Psa 65:1 NLT] (1) For the choir director: A song. A psalm of David. What mighty praise, O God, belongs to you in Zion. We will fulfill our vows to you,

[Psa 68:16 NLT] (16) Why do you look with envy, O rugged mountains, at Mount Zion, where God has chosen to live, where the LORD himself will live forever?

[Psa 76:2 NLT] (2) Jerusalem is where he lives; Mount Zion is his home.

[Psa 78:68 NLT] (68) He chose instead the tribe of Judah, and Mount Zion, which he loved.

[Psa 102:21 NLT] (21) And so the LORD's fame will be celebrated in Zion, his praises in Jerusalem,

[Psa 125:1 NLT] (1) A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. Those who trust in the LORD are as secure as Mount Zion; they will not be defeated but will endure forever.

[Psa 128:5 NLT] (5) May the LORD continually bless you from Zion. May you see Jerusalem prosper as long as you live.

[Psa 133:3 NLT] (3) Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.

[Psa 135:21 NLT] (21) The LORD be praised from Zion, for he lives here in Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

[Psa 147:12 NLT] (12) Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

[Isa 1:27 NLT] (27) Zion will be restored by justice; those who repent will be revived by righteousness.

[Isa 2:3 NLT] (3) People from many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob's God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths." For the LORD's teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem.

Does the Hebrew really insist on it being a question?

4

Psalm 121 is an antiphonal pilgrim song1, apparently sung by a pilgrim group on the dangerous journey to Jerusalem, possibly just at the start of their journey. The dangers listed are:

  1. Attacks from animals or thieves in the mountains or not finding passage (verse 1)
  2. Falling or becoming lost (verse 3)
  3. Sunstroke by day, darkness by night (verse 6)

These verses are sung alternately by the leader and the chorus. So in this Psalm, the mountains are a threatening presence that require an answer.

The leaders starts by asking "I look up at the mountains and ask from where will my help come?", i.e. how will I cross these mountains? The chorus counters confidently "My help will come from YHVH, maker of the heavens and the earth [and the mountains that you are afraid of]", then the rest follows.

If verse 1 were a statement rather than a question we would be stuck with two competing views of where the salvation comes from:

  1. "the mountains", not necessarily any particular mountain
  2. from God, maker of the mountains

As if YHVH were a god of the mountains, as in I Kings 20:28 (NIV):

The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, "This is what the LORD says: 'Because the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD.'"

Regarding the Hebrew מֵאַיִן, "from where", it appears in the following verses:

  1. Genesis 29:4 (question)
  2. Genesis 42:7 (question)
  3. Numbers 11:13 (question)
  4. Joshua 2:4 (declarative form of question) "I did not know from where did they come"
  5. Judges 17:9 (question)
  6. II Kings 5:25 (question)
  7. II Kings 6:27 (rhetorical question)
  8. Nahum 3:7 (rhetorical question)
  9. Job 1:7 (question)
  10. Job 28:12 (question)
  11. Job 28:20 (question)

We see from these examples that מאין, "from where" is always indicative of a question on the MT.

Although Mount Zion, which is not mentioned at all in this psalm, a place of salvation, is on a mountain, it doesn't follow that mountains in general are a place of salvation or that all references to mountains in the OT are to Mount Zion. Compare Isaiah 40:4 (NIV)

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

and Exodus 32:12:

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’?


  1. http://www.scielo.org.za/pdf/ote/v23n3/02.pdf
  • 1
    Good answer, but 1) if v. 1 were a statement rather than a question it wouldn't be offering two competing answers. Naming a place as a source of help would complement, not contradict, "my help is from YHVH" (compare Ps 20:3). 2) In Joshua 2:4 מאין functions as a relative particle (I don't know what the meaning of the term you were invoking, but that verse would seem to be the most crucial to the question, since it's the one place you listed where the word isn't used as a question). Your list of verses is also not full; there's also Jonah 1:8 at least (off the top of my head). – b a Dec 2 at 22:21
  • @ba Ps 20:3 is parallelism, within a single verse, whereas Ps 121:1-2 are antiphonal, i.e two opposing verses. In Ps 20, there is no mention of mountains, generally or specifically. As long as we are on Ps 20, it starts out with ביום צרה, a mention of a difficulty that the supplicant faces, just like PS 121. The other instances of מאין that I omitted are mostly ומאין and are all questions. That leaves us with no examples of מאין used in a declarative context. I think that the possibility of reading Ps 121:1 as declarative comes from the translation and not from the usage of מאין in the MT. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Dec 3 at 6:04
  • 1
    1. Maybe this psalm is antiphonal, but that doesn't rule out parallelism between different verses (there is parallelism in the next verses in the psalm, e.g. אל ינום - הנה לא ינום etc). 2. Joshua 2:4, which you quote, uses it as a relative particle (or "declarative form of question," as you call it). I don't think this is the intended use in Ps 121, but it's not entirely accurate to say there are no such uses – b a Dec 3 at 13:17
1

Psalm 121:1 :

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. [KJV]

Or :

I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, Whence doth my help come? My help is from Jehovah, maker of heaven and earth. [YLT]

Looking at the extensive quotations in the OP, help does not come from mere raised areas of topography, however venerated they may be.

Salvation comes from God himself out of that spiritual place, his dwelling place, called, variously, Jerusalem or Zion or the city of David.

So, in time of trouble, one may look up to the hills, hopefully, but one will question oneself 'Whence cometh my help ?' From the earth ? From the highest place on earth ? From all that is venerated ?

And the soul will look further, for a better grounding and a better hope :

My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

I think it is definitely a question as Robert Young makes clear.

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