Psalm 121

December 26th, 2013

This week’s psalm appears in my order of morning prayers, so I am reminded of God’s constant presence with all human beings (and indeed, all created things) every morning. There are other psalms that have a slightly different take on this awesome, all-holy, and omniscient Presence. Psalm 139, for instance,...has a fugitive spirit wondering how he can ever get away from this almighty scrutiny: “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? / Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? / If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! / If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!” (Psalm 139:7-8)

So, God’s presence is both judgment and blessing. If we are living in defiance of God’s purpose, that is, if we are allowing sin to muddy and distort our humanity, then we would be right to feel nervous about this idea of the constantly present God. Sin is, in this sense, a fugitive life—a headlong attempt to escape what is, in the end, inevitable: the truth-dealing regard of our Creator.

However, this psalm is about the person who welcomes, and rejoices in, the presence of God. Not, almost certainly, because he does not feel there is anything to forgive, but precisely because he understands his need of God. He identifies at the outset the source of his confidence about being in the world: “My help comes from the Lord, / who made heaven and earth” (verse 2). Not, notice, “my help comes from other people, or human institutions, or the confidence my bank balance gives me,” but from “the Lord.” This is the case because the task we are set by God is, strictly speaking, impossible for human beings. The psalmist’s generation, before the advent of Christ, could only catch glimpses of what life with and for God actually would mean. However, we, on the other side of the Resurrection morning, have a keener appreciation both of the momentous destiny that Christ sets before us, to follow him, but also a similarly keen appreciation of how, of our own strength, we have little hope of getting past the first steps.

So the psalmist reminds himself that God will defend him and that God, unlike human beings, will be ever vigilant to head off the assaults of the enemy, whether human or spiritual (verses 3-4). The early church emphasizes time and time again the embattled character of our faith. The apostle Peter wrote to his people: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Culturally, we are very different. However, spiritually, what Peter wrote is as true today as when he addressed those early Christians. As we go out into the world we need the support of prayer, the resolution to keep a close guard on our thoughts and actions, and the confidence that comes from knowing that God “will keep you from all evil” (Psalm 121:7).

This does not, however, mean that we shall live a charmed life and nothing unpleasant will ever happen to us. Many of the early Christians to whom Peter addressed his letter often not only lived hard and wretched lives as slaves, but also many were later to die in appalling circumstances under the various Roman persecutions. Troubles come to every human being; the difference is that those who have, day by day, placed their trust in God and received God’s unsearchable and incomprehensible grace, will be able to draw on reserves of strength that are, simply put, beyond human. It is God who will “keep your life” (verse 7), which I would take to mean that God will not allow the gift of Christ that lives in your heart by virtue of baptism to be lost or undermined. Jesus says in John’s Gospel: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).

This is the presence of God—Christ “knowing us” and we “knowing him”—but a knowing that represents intimate relationship akin to union. It is a transfigurative “knowing” where the one who is known becomes increasingly like the divine “Knower.” Let us go out this week knowing Christ and rejoicing in his constant and holy presence.

For Reflection

Do you keep the reality of the presence of Christ in your mind as you go through the day?


Great Shepherd of the sheep, our lives spring from your eternal life. Keep me watchful and faithful. Deliver me from the evil one. Glory to you our God. Amen.

excerpt from My Strength and My Song: A Year With the Psalms by Simon Peter Iredale. Copyright©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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