What could be the harm?

"... nor the moon by night." Psalm 121.6


This enigmatic phrase, which has been adopted as the title of a song, a film, a book and, for all I know, a poem as well, completes the line which begins: "The sun shall not smite thee by day..." But what does it mean? In the Middle Eastern context to which the Psalms belong, the danger of over-exposure to the sun is obvious - but the moon by night?


Various suggestions appear in the commentaries, such as the power of the moon to induce lunacy. Others suggest that the moon here represents all the dangerous properties of the night: prowling animals, bitter cold, hidden obstacles, enemy ambushes...


As I write the moon is shining with such brilliance that one barely needs any artificial illumination. And maybe that is the Psalmist's point. Sometimes unusual circumstances seduce us into believing things are different to what they normally are, that we can accomplish what is usually beyond our reach. These can be good things but they can delude us too.


Trusting God means learning to follow him wherever he leads, by day or by night, in pleasant pastures or through the valley of the shadow, our dependence on Him and not on our own resources. As we learn to do this two changes occur. Firstly, we gain a larger perspective: the world is no longer about me and what I can get out of it, I am part of something infinitely greater and more wonderful. Secondly and paradoxically, our tread becomes lighter yet more confident because we are crossing Holy ground and God has us by the hand.

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