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Traveling Mercies

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

the sun shines behind a mountain peak

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! . . . The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
Psalm 121:1-2, 6-8

Psalm 121 is known as a psalm of ascent, one of a group of psalms prayed by Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to worship at three annual feasts. The psalmist looks to the mountains, perhaps wondering if thieves and robbers lurk there. Or perhaps he is thinking of the mountains around Jerusalem, longing to worship God in the Temple.

Each verse repeats a theme as if to underline or italicize it, highlighting the truth it affirms. And what is this truth? That on every journey—even on the journey of life—God is our protector.

Last night I was discussing the psalm with friends. Someone asked why the psalmist said that neither the sun nor the moon would hurt you. The phrase sounded strange. One person suggested that the psalmist might be referring to the sun and moon gods of the surrounding peoples. Another remarked on how difficult it is to live in a desert climate, where sunstroke is always a danger. Still another mentioned the link between the words lunacy and moon, wondering if the pilgrims who prayed the psalms would have linked the moon to mental instability. We concluded that in this case the sun and moon must signify anything that might terrify or threaten you by day or by night. Our discussion wrapped up when one friend attempted a modern paraphrase of verse 6, quipping:

The Dow Jones Industrial will not strike you by day,
nor the Hang Seng Index by night.

With that we parted. And when it was time to sleep, I did just that.

Originally published November 29, 2016.

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