Psalm 121: Coming and Going

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
    the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Pansy-Final | Mercer Botanical Garden | March 2023

One of my favorite parts of the Baptism liturgy is a quote from this psalm. “May your going out and your coming in be blessed from this time forth and forevermore.” Consider the grand context of Israel hinted at in these words.

For 1400 years Israel considered the Exodus to be the great salvific act to be of God for his people. When they thought of God’s salvation, they would look back over the years and remember how God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. It was a miracle of his divine protection and a gift of his mercy and grace for his people. They were enslaved, forced to work in nearly unbearable conditions, subject to their taskmasters’ brutality. God saw this, heard their pleas for mercy and sent Moses to rescue them.

Moses went to Egypt and told Pharaoh, “The LORD God says, ‘Let my people go.'” Only after 10 plagues did Pharaoh relent and allow the Children of Israel to leave. And then, changing his mind because he lost a vast army of slaves, he pursued them into the wilderness. When all seemed lost, God told Moses to stretch out his staff, and the sea was opened before them. They walked through on dry ground. Before Pharaoh’s pursuing army could catch the Israelites, they were drowned in the returning waters. It was a mighty miracle of God’s salvation for his people. It would take years, but they would eventually also make it into the Promised Land.

The idea here is that God would bless his people’s going out from slavery in Egypt, and their coming in to the Promised Land. He had done this before. He would surely do it again. Whether from the Babylonian captivity to the Assyrian conquest, Israel would be saved, brought out of slavery and bondage into a restored freedom and prosperity.

We also have a great salvation story. It centers in the cross of Jesus Christ. He died for the sins of the world. He kept faith. He obeyed perfectly. He sacrificed his life even for his enemies. We are now called out of darkness into his marvelous light. This psalm would point us to God’s part in this. He has done it. He protects us. He watches over us. He has saved us. We have been set free from sin and death. Satan no longer has power over us. God has brought us out from under his sway. We now enter into the light of his love. We are brought into the Body of Christ.

There is another important dynamic of this coming and going for Jesus’ people. I often conflate the coming and going, when offering this blessing during baptism. I’m trying to convey the idea that we come into God’s house by his blessing, and leave to be a blessing to others. Jesus came to save. He sends us saved ones to save others. We don’t just come into the place of God’s grace. As long as we live we also go as his ambassadors to offer grace and truth to others – the same grace and truth we have received from God.

May your coming in and your going out be blessed from this time forth and forevermore!

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