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Psalm 121

posted Nov 1, 2013, 9:05 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 2:58 PM ]
A song of ascents.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; or your guardian to sleep.
Behold, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.
The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul.
The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.
Called The Songs of Ascent, Psalms 120 – 134 form a “hymn book” used by Tribes of Israelites as they ascended the mountains to Jerusalem, called there to celebrate religious feasts three times a year. Very likely, these psalms were also sung by the returning exiles from Babylon as they traveled home. 

Sometimes referred to as The Traveler’s Psalm, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes Psalm 121 as “A blessing given to someone embarking on a dangerous journey…” In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI gave a detailed commentary on this psalm to the Vatican’s general audience, which you can read online

It appears in the Sunday readings only once every three years, and unlike most responsorial psalms, it’s so short we sing its entire text. Actually, all of the “ascent” psalms are short enough to be memorized, making them easier for travelers to sing.

Many classical composers have set it to music, including Josquine des Prez and Orlando di Lasso. Felix Mendelssohn based two choruses in his oratorio Elijah on this psalm: “Lift thine eyes” and “He watching over Israel.” Hymns include Our Hope Is in the Lord and I Rejoiced When I Heard Them Say. Dave Brubeck composed a setting for jazz choir. And two popular versions are both called My Help; a contemporary-folk by Michael Card and gospel by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.