God, Guardian of His People
1 A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains;[b]
from where will I receive help?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.[c]
3 He will not permit your foot to stumble;
he who guards you will not fall asleep.[d]
4 Indeed, the one who guards Israel
never slumbers, never sleeps.[e]
5 [f]The Lord serves as your guardian;
he is at your right hand to serve as your shade.
6 The sun will not strike you during the day,
nor the moon during the night.
7 [g]The Lord will protect you against all evil;
he will watch over your life.
8 The Lord will watch over your coming and your going
both now and forevermore.
- Psalm 121:1 The ground of Palestine is rough, and journeys meant discomforts: rocks, cold, nights in the open; but the pilgrim took courage, for the Lord protects each of his own.
This psalm is a prayer for Christians in a time of uncertainty. We find ourselves engaged, like the patriarchs, in the adventure that will lead us to the “rest” of the Promised Land, across the difficulties and dangers of the wilderness of this world (see Heb 11). We can ask ourselves with distress whence help will come to us that will enable us to complete our pilgrimage. We can be reassured. Sending us into the world on mission and pilgrimage, Jesus guarantees us his almighty assistance together with that of his Father (see Mt 28:19f; Jn 17:15-17). To enable us to overcome the world, its seductions, and its snares, Christ sends us the Holy Spirit, who continues the safeguarding solicitude of the Master toward us (see Jn 14:16f; 16:8).
- Psalm 121:1 Mountains: the ridge on which Mount Zion with its temple was situated (see Pss 87:1; 125:2).
- Psalm 121:2 Maker of heaven and earth: the psalmist makes what amounts to a credal statement, which has been incorporated into the Apostles’ Creed. It affirms the Lord’s sovereignty over the whole universe—heaven and earth—and demolishes all claims of sovereignty made for the pagan gods. The source of help can come only from the Lord, whose power is unlimited (see Pss 115:3; 124:8; 134:3; 146:6; Jer 10:11f).
- Psalm 121:3 The pagan gods were said to sleep (as well as eat and drink), but the psalmist points out that the Lord never sleeps. Therefore, he can protect his devoted servants at all times and in all circumstances. The psalmist goes on to specify what this divine guardianship means. The Lord will not permit his faithful to “stumble” (see Pss 55:23; 66:9). He will also be their “shade” (v. 5; see Ps 91:1; Num 14:9; Jer 48:45; Lam 4:20), protecting them during the day or night (v. 6: see Pss 16:8; 91:5-6; 109:31). For the Lord is the Shepherd of his people (see Ps 23), who protects and guides them whether they are awake or sleeping, at home or on a journey, working or resting.
- Psalm 121:4 The Lord also watches over Israel without sleeping. He is a guard who never falls asleep at his post, never goes off duty. He is always watching over his people to protect them from their enemies.
- Psalm 121:5 The Lord maintains himself at his faithful’s “right hand,” the side of favor and trust, to “shade” them from the fierce heat of the sun and the malevolent influence of the moon. The ancients feared the evil spiritual effects of the moon (see Mt 17:15) as well as the bad physical effects of the sun (see Jud 8:3; Isa 49:10). The antiphon used with this psalm during the Easter Season in the Liturgy of the Hours, “The Lord watches over his people, and protects them as the apple of his eye,” reminds us that because of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection no physical or spiritual force can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (see Rom 8:31-39).
- Psalm 121:7 The Lord is present to deliver his faithful both now and forever. Your coming and your going: an idiom signifying all ordinary human activity (see Deut 28:6; 31:2; Jos 14:11; 2 Sam 3:25).