Psalms For Life
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Psalm 121

Pilgrim song

We easily feel overwhelmed by the chaos in the world around us. This psalm promises vulnerable pilgrims en route to Mount Zion that YHWH will be their unfailing guardian, protecting them from all harm.

A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from YHWH
maker of heaven and earth.

3 He who guards you
won’t let your foot slip
and he’ll never fall asleep on the job.
4 He who guards Israel
never dozes, never sleeps.
5 YHWH himself is your guardian.
With him standing by to shelter and shield you
6 the sun will not strike you by day
nor the moon by night.
7 YHWH will guard you from all evil—
he will safeguard your life.
8 He’ll guard your going out
and your coming home
now and for all time.

This second psalm of ascent begins with a question vital to all pilgrims before answering it definitively in the second verse: YHWH is every pilgrim’s ultimate source of help and protection. The psalm may be best known for its intriguing first line—intriguing since mountains evoke all sorts of images, of difficulty and reward, danger and refuge, darkness and resplendence.

Given the psalmist’s ancient context, however, she’s most likely looking at the mountains as places of worship and divine authority.* Israel’s neighbors worshipped in their gods’ mountaintop shrines, while the Israelites worshipped YHWH on Mount Zion. They viewed his temple there as the home of heaven’s government on earth, which may be why the psalm names him as maker of heaven and earth.

Far from the safety of home, most pilgrims walked arduous paths over inhospitable terrain to and from Jerusalem. This made them vulnerable to all sorts of dangers. So the psalmist assures them that YHWH won’t let them lose their footing. She describes him as their ever-vigilant, never-sleeping guardian and assures them he won’t let scorching sun, ghastly moon, or anything else harm them. He’ll guard them from the moment they set out till they return safe and sound. Now and always.

Besides being fully in control, Jesus, you promised to be with us to the end of the age. Thank you that you’re fully attentive to my needs 24/7. Help me to be fully attentive to you in return and, as you lead me, to be fully present, no matter wherever you put me—not afraid to engage. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

YHWH will guard you from all evil—
he will safeguard your life.


* I imagine the psalmist here as a woman of faith, like Miriam, Deborah, Hanna, or the Virgin Mary (see further, my answer to the question: Who wrote the psalms?).


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.