Daily Devotion for May 15, 2022
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
The choir of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Minnesota, performs a setting of our Scripture for Sunday — Psalm 121. (Music written by James Biery.)
Preparation for Prayer
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded.
For with blessings in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to command.
Prayer of Penitence
Almighty Father; I enter your presence confessing the things I try to conceal from you and the things I try to conceal from others. I confess the heartbreak, worry, and sorrow I have caused, that make it difficult for others to forgive me, the times I have made it easy for others to do wrong, the harm I have done that makes it hard for me to forgive myself. Lord have mercy and forgive me, in the name of my Lord Christ, by your grace and love; and help me to grow in faith, that I might not repeat these sins.
Glorious Lord of Life
Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Did make thy triumph over death and sin:
and having harrowed hell, did bring away
Captivity thence captive us to win.
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
and grant that we for whom thou diddest die
being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin,
may live forever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
may likewise love thee for the same again;
and for thy sake that all like dear did buy,
and love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear Love, like as we ought,
love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
Oh Heavenly Father, in whom I live and move and have my being, I humbly pray you so to guide and govern me by your Holy Spirit, that in all the joys, occupations, and cares of the week to come, I may never forget you, but remember that I am ever walking in your sight. In Christ’s name, I pray,
Think of the day ahead in terms of God with you, and visualize health, strength, guidance, purity, calm confidence, and victory as the gifts of His presence.
1 John 5:14-15 (ESV)
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Psalm 121 (KJV)
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord,
which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel
shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper:
the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in
from this time forth, and even for evermore.
Notes on the Scripture
ne of the nicest things about psalms is that they are not always meant to be morally prescriptive, theological, historical, or prophetic, but instead are works of reflection involving personal pain and joy, lament and praise. We thus have more latitude to translate and interpret them according to our own thoughts and taste.
Psalm 121 provides a major translation problem right off the bat: Is the phrase “from whence cometh my help” a question or a statement? Both ways are grammatically correct, and both make sense. But almost all later translations, which translate it as a question, damage the poetry. The KJV (and the Orthodox Jewish Bible) treats it as a declaration (which I also prefer).
“I lift up my eyes” is both a literal statement and a metaphor. The author depicts himself trudging back to Jerusalem from Babylon, at the moment when he looks up from the dusty flat terrain of the road to the hills of his homeland, the place where, to a Jew, God literally “lived”.
But he treats this moment as a general metaphor. First, for turning one’s attention away from the immediate and towards the universal; and even more abstractly, for prayer: “lifting” one’s mind from earthly concerns to God in heaven.
The poem is divided into four stanzas, each of them identical in structure: two lines broken into two parts. The nature of the poem is a theme and three variations. The first stanza is in the first person, whereas the other three are in the second person, that is, addressing a listener. The poet himself goes first; we follow him. He is leading us.
Say the first stanza in prose: It would be something like “God helps us out when we have problems.” Now read the first stanza, and you will see a cardinal property of poetry: Its meaning simply cannot be restated as prose. We can parse poetry to help us understand it, but we cannot capture it with prose, just as we cannot fully capture music or painting with words.
All four stanzas employ the fundamental poetic device of the Hebrew psalm, called “parallelism”. The two parts of a line are directly related to one another. The second phrase might be a restatement or variation of the first (“The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:/he shall preserve thy soul”); it might answer a question the first asks or implies; it might be the result of the first (“The Lord is my shepherd/I shall not want”); the two phrases might be different examples of some general rule (“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly/nor standeth in the way of sinners . . .”). There is no limit on what the relationship is, for that is the art of the psalmist. The beauty of the relationship was the key to a Hebrew listener’s enjoyment of it.
The principle of parallelism is applied not only within a line, but also to two lines, to two pairs of two lines, and even (as in Psalm 121) to four-line stanzas. For example, “He will not suffer thy foot to be moved” is itself a lovely metaphor, and it is restated in the first part of the following line, “Behold, he that keepeth Israel . . .” Sometimes a psalmist will connect lines 1 and 4, and also lines 2 and 3, an A-B-B-A construction. (No, the psalms have nothing to do with Swedish disco music. Focus!) If we read only the first and last stanzas, we see how strongly connected they are.
Let us apply these rules to the third stanza. It shows God as our guard (keeper, protector, etc.), one way in which God helps us. The second phrase restates the first as a metaphor: God as a sort of umbrella. The second line then elaborates on the metaphor in two parallel statements, one about the sun and one about the moon; but taken together, they relate to the previous stanza and the concept of God neither slumbering nor sleeping, because taken together the sun and moon cover the entire 24-hour day.
We are way past our maximum word count for the commentary section; I hope you will read the psalm closely several times and look for the connections between all of the components.