The LORD watches over you –
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm –
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and for evermore.
Psalms 120-134 come grouped together, each carrying the same heading: ‘A song of ascents’. We don’t know for certain, but it’s most likely they were sung by those making their way to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals.
Of course, like other psalms, they have a reach beyond their original setting, down through the ages, even to us who journey not to the temple but to God himself. Indeed, with its final promise that ‘the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore’, something of those extended implications are already being worked out in the psalm itself.
That word ‘watch’ or ‘keep’ – which appears six times in the psalm – echoes the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24: ‘the LORD bless you and keep you’. The promise originally given to those on a journey through the wilderness is here reapplied to God’s pilgrim people in subsequent generations.
With some exceptions, the relative comfort and ease with which we undertake journeys today – in air-conditioned cars, high-speed trains, and planes which cross continents and oceans – means that some of the force of the psalm might be lost on us. Here’s a prayer which anticipates a long journey over difficult terrain where ankles can easily get twisted, where bandits might lie in wait, not to mention the heat of the day and the anxieties which come with the night.
For them, the promise of help comes from the Lord, ‘the maker of heaven and earth’, the keeper of Israel who doesn’t slumber or sleep. As they make their way to Jerusalem – and as they walk the path of life – he will not let their feet slip.
And that priestly blessing which reached across the ages to those making their way to worship in Jerusalem reaches yet further across the ages to those of us, like Abraham, looking for a city ‘whose architect and builder is God’ (Hebrews 11:10). For us, too, the journey will involve challenges, even ominous or scary moments. But we, too, travel with others. And we claim the same promise, so amazingly comprehensive in its scope, which reaches into the whole of life.
God watches over your everyday comings and goings, day and night. Today. Tomorrow. Next year and the year after that. You and your family. You and your work. You and your life, ‘both now and for evermore’.