Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 121
By Rev. Julian Duckworth
Psalm 121 opens with this much-loved line, 'I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help.' The whole psalm assures us of the Lord's continual help; He helps, holds us safe, keeps us, shades us, and preserves us.
Natural images and sensations are used to describe spiritual ones: our eyes and feet, sleep, shade, hills, sun, and moon. They remind us of the correspondences between the natural and spiritual planes of life, helping to express these higher ideas in familiar words.
Spiritually, our eyes represent our understanding. Hills are high places; we look up to them, and we can see long distances from their summits. When we lift up our eyes to the hills, we're consciously trying to elevate our minds to new levels of understanding. Note that here, we're not told to look up to majestic mountains, since they can sometimes be too far, too remote, from our daily life. We just need to look up to nearby hills, to raise our minds above our normal ways of thinking. In the Bible, hills represent good that comes from charity. That kind of good -- a love towards our neighbours - also turns us toward the Lord, who then can more readily deepen and infill that neighbourliness. (Apocalypse Explained 374)
Our feet are in contact with the ground, and they hold us up. They represent our natural life. The 'foot not to be moved' is our life's intention, to be standing firm with the Lord's support. (Heaven and Hell 96, 97)
To say that the Lord never sleeps is to state the obvious, as Divine influx must be perpetual to maintain all things. This an important reminder for us, though, because sometimes we feel that the Lord is not with us. However, the Lord is, in fact, always with us and is actually closer to us at such times. (See True Christian Religion 774)
Next, we see that the Lord's presence is active. He is our keeper and our shade. He continually knows what our state is, and provides and protects accordingly. He even withholds spiritual things from us at times, so that we don't spoil them. (See Arcana Caelestia 59, and 959 at the end.)
The word 'shade' gives us a good feeling that the Lord is over us, keeping us safe. It can also mean that we occasionally require shade — that is, less sight and clearness — for our own sake. (See Apocalypse Explained 401)
The sun and moon often represent the Lord's love and His truth. In this psalm, though, they are used in the opposite sense. They stand for our evil love of self and the false ideas that reinforce it - and those will harm us - unless we accept the Lord's power to constrain them.
At the end of this psalm the word 'preserve' is used three times to express holiness. The repetition is important. It represents our need for preservation in every conceivable way — from now to eternity - throughout our "going out and coming in" - the changing states in our lives. (See Arcana Caelestia 1050)