Some Jews place a copy of Psalm 121 in the delivery room to ask God for an easy labor. I think it is a beautiful tradition to involve the Lord in this manner and thus pave the way for a new human being about to be born. The psalmist here asks the Lord to watch over our coming and going, which implicates our birth and death. Life on earth has a distinctive beginning and specific end – and in between we have a lot of mountains to climb.
Going in and out of exile represented a major mountain in the 3300 years of Israel’s history. Jews were repeatedly exiled from their home country. And even though the deportations were devastating, the traumatic experience seemed to have had a refining effect in the end. Instead of being assimilated into their diverse host countries and disappear forever, the Jews emerged and defined themselves as a people. During Babylonian exile for instance, their oral traditions were put to paper. In the process of writing down their history with God, a collection of fifteen Psalms were grouped under the category “Song of ascents”, among which is also Psalm 121. When the captive Jews were released, I imagine the pilgrims singing the words of these psalms to God while climbing the temple mountain for the first time in a very long while. What a day that must have been!
The world is currently experiencing an exile of a different kind, and it’s called “Quarantine”. At the time of this writing, we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which requires ongoing isolation to curb the infection rate of a threatening virus. As a result, we are taken out of our routine and placed into a strange, confusing situation for an undefined period of time. Instead of descending into despair, we can learn from the experience of our Jewish brothers and sisters and take this opportunity to redefine ourselves as a people and make things better.
For the sake of our sanity, now is the time to seek the Lord. We won’t notice much of God, unless we look up to Him. And when we turn our attention to Him, we escape confusion and see things more clearly, not to mention the blessings of being in His presence, which has a thoroughly calming effect on our soul. Remember: The Lord will keep us from all harm — He will watch over our life; the Lord will watch over our coming and going both now and forevermore.