“The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)

My dad, annoyingly, was a natural linguist. Where I have to sweat and struggle and learn by rote and pour over lists of vocabulary, he seemed to absorb languages effortlessly. I have inherited some of his bibles. There are the usual multiple English versions but I also have his well-thumbed Dutch, French, German and Polish translations. While I often look at the Hebrew and Greek as I grapple with a Bible text, I sometimes find additional little insights by looking through dad’s bibles to see how other languages have interpreted a word. Sometimes another culture picks up a fascinating nuance or suggests an image that helps grasp the meaning. I just wish it came as fluently and easily as it did to him!

For instance, the NIV is my default version for reading and preaching. In that version Psalm 121 describes God as ‘watcher’ and as ‘watching’ over us. It’s an accurate enough translation but it strikes me as a very passive, anodyne interpretation of the Hebrew somereka/yismareka which has far stronger connotations of God as an active ‘Keeper.’ The Hebrew makes me think of a tireless gamekeeper stalking the herds and protecting them from poaching. The translation into Dutch uses the word bewaarder literally a ‘Guard,’ which makes me think of armed and constantly watchful sentries, looking outwards and  always ready to repel enemies. The French uses the verb gardera and the noun Protecteur (referring to God as L’Eternel). Think of an active bodyguard who never leaves your side 24/7 and is eternally watchful and solely focussed on your safety. The German uses behüte dich and behüte deine in Psalm 121:7-8 which carries connotations of ‘forbidding’ and ‘prevention.’ That makes me visualise God as that impenetrable shield around me preventing any and all harm from making contact with me. And the Polish is strzec, to guard/keep, with connotations of soldiers in a ring surrounding a place: both keeping outsiders from entering and insiders from exiting. Think of a secure compound where the guards ensure safety inside as well as outside the boundaries, and are aware of everything that is going on.

So: may the Lord watch over you! With all the richness and strength and security and constancy that this implies.