Psalm 121

This is another of the pilgrim Psalms (120-134) – see 126 above. This particular Psalm is used at the end of the little service which marks the transition from Jewish Sabbath to six days of work which lie ahead in the week, speaks of gearing back up for another week of work, and God’s protection during that time.

The last line of this Psalm is particularly significant for Jewish people, in that they have come to notice that the threshold at the front of the house is of very high significance in life. They notice that we go in and out the front door of our house constantly and often don’t think about it significance. However, there are times in our lives when we leave our house to do something very significant – like getting married, going to have a baby, going off to war, going to start a new job etc. – and suddenly we become aware that we are leaving the safety of our homes for the uncertainty of the future. It’s in this context that the last few lines of this Psalm are written – God will protect your going out and you’re coming in from this time forth and for ever more. Sometimes our coming into our house can be as life-changing as our leaving it.

The imagery at the first of the Psalm speaks of the dangers of camping out while traveling on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and knowing that when they lay down to sleep, if the sentry fell asleep, and they were attacked by local thugs, they would be in deep trouble. The assurance that God was with them in this uneasy context helped them to sleep.

The Sabbath day of rest for Jewish people goes from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. So the new workweek starts with the period of lying down and going to sleep – an outlook I have come to appreciate! I heard somebody refer to Jewish people as “the people of the dusk” – a people who had become very much aware of times of transition – during a day, and during a lifetime. This Psalm picks up and echoes much of that awareness.

I notice that this Psalm is used both under the heading of “when you leave home for labor or travel”, and “happy conclusions”, picking up on both the transition times in our life, which often involve travel, and the prospect of the safe return.