Living in Britain, I don’t usually worry about sunburn. After all, the sun is often blocked by a thick cover of clouds. But recently I spent some time in Spain, and I quickly realized that with my pale skin, I could only be out in the sunshine for ten minutes before I needed to scurry back under the umbrella.
As I considered the scorching nature of the Mediterranean sun, I began to understand more deeply the meaning of the image of the Lord God as His people’s shade at their right hand. Residents of the Middle East knew unrelenting heat, and they needed to find shelter from the sun’s burning rays.
The psalmist uses this picture of the Lord as shade in Psalm 121, which can be understood as a conversation on a heart level—a dialogue with oneself about the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. When we use this psalm in prayer, we reassure ourselves that the Lord will never leave us, for He forms a protective covering over us. And just as we take shelter from the sun underneath umbrellas, so too can we find a safe place in the Lord.
We lift our eyes to the “Maker of heaven and earth” (vv. 1–2) because whether we are in times of sunshine or times of rain, we receive His gifts of protection, relief, and refreshment.
Heavenly Father, You protect me. Shield me from anything that would take my focus away from You.
We find refuge in the Lord.
Psalm 121 is the second in a series of fifteen psalms known as “songs of ascent.” They are a collection of songs by different composers, with four attributed to David and one to Solomon. Ten are anonymous. If they did not all carry the superscription “a song of ascent,” they might appear unrelated. The superscription, however, shows they are connected in the liturgy of ancient Israel. One view is that they were sung by the Levitical worship leaders (priests) as they ascended the steps into the temple in Jerusalem. The more prevalent view is that these psalms were assembled so that pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the three annual high feasts in community could sing them on their journey (Deut. 16:16).