In the Word: Psalm 121
Image for In the Word Psalm 121
April 1, 2023

1    I lift my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

2    My help comes from the Lord,

            who made heaven and earth.    

3    He will not let your foot be moved;

            he who keeps you will not slumber.

4    Behold, he who keeps Israel

            will neither slumber nor sleep.

5    The Lord is your keeper;

            the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6    The sun shall not strike you by day, 

            nor the moon by night.

7    The Lord will keep you from all evil;

            he will keep your life.

8    The Lord will keep

            your going out and your coming in

            From this time forth and forevermore.


Words fail. We do not know what to say. We hear of another senseless death. We hear words like “flexibility” and “pivot.” We get strange looks for beliefs that seem, at best, incomprehensible, at worst, hateful. We try everything to fix the problems. We look to secular saviors to deliver us from this valley of the shadow of death. We cannot hide. We cannot escape the reality of life in a world of deaths. We live as part of a society that tries to deny the reality of death.

The problem is that life is a series of deaths. Judith Viorist observes that life is a series of dyings that include birth, going to school, leaving home, getting a job, getting married, having kids, kids growing up, growing old, retiring, illness, and death.

When words fail, we go to where God gives us words. The gift of the psalter is that it is God’s words for us to say back to Him. They are also timeless. You do not need to be living in B.C. time to pray them. We pray and contemplate now Psalm 121. First, slowly read Psalm 121. Like all Psalms, it is poetry. Poetry is not meant to be read quickly. Poetry also appeals to the senses with its images. As you now read Psalm 121 a second time, what are some images that resonate with you?

Read Psalm 121:1. What are the images here that the psalmist uses? The psalmist uses few words. We have no idea what problem provoked this. He is desperate and can only look up.

The language of mountains is key. Mountains are a big deal in the Bible. They are places of strength. More importantly, they are where God and humanity meet.

Consider how Isaiah 2:2–5 describes the role of God and Zion. List as many mountains in the Bible as you can think of from Gen. 2 to Rev. 21.

Read Psalm 121:2. What is the basis for the psalmist’s help?

The divine name Yahweh (Lord) is key to confidence. The use of this name emphasizes God’s saving character.

The use of creation language is also important here. By appealing to God as Creator, he is restating his confidence that God orders all of creation and has the power to act. Creation language also expresses the hope of the restored new creation as Isaiah sees in Isaiah 65:17–25.

Read Psalm 121:3–4. How does the image of your foot slipping make you feel?

Even when things are well, we live on the brink of disaster. What are some ways that your foot might slip?

What comes to mind when you think about God as guardian?

The term for guard uses a Hebrew verbal form (a participle) that expresses ongoing action. God does this constantly.

Verse 4 serves to elaborate on what it means for God to watch over. The title “Watcher of Israel” is important. The term “Israel” is also an appeal to God’s ongoing relationship with people.

Read Psalm 121:5. Consider the image of shade. What is the appeal of this image in a world that beats us down? The tone here points to what it means to have contentment and even joy. We can rest because we know that we are not in charge. Instead, we go to God’s gifts of refuge in His Word, Sacraments, and Church.

Read Psalm 121:6. The moon and sun now enter the imagery. By describing day and night, the psalmist acknowledges the threat and the constancy of contentment and protection.

Read Psalm 121:7. How does this verse give you hope?

The term “evil” (ra) is generic. It can mean both sin and any unpleasant thing.

The verse culminates in that God preserves the entire person from any bad thing that may happen.

Read Psalm 121:8. How does this verse remind you of Baptism? Especially here, consider the final blessing at the end of the Baptismal liturgy.

We do not have the words sometimes. We are left speechless by all of the disappointments, dying, and deaths that we experience. We find hope and joy in this Psalm. The psalmist is able to rest because God never stops resting. We also find contentment knowing that we are not in charge, but that God continues to provide hope and joy for us. Slowly read Psalm 121 again. As you do this, savor each image of hope and protection and rejoice that God will continue to sustain you.