Why does the Bible say that the moon could hurt us?

Q.  I’m reading Psalm 121 and I’m puzzled that it says, “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”  I can see the dangers of things like sunstroke and heat exhaustion, but how can the moon hurt us?

As I explain in my study guide to the Psalms, Psalm 121 is one of the “songs of ascents” that were composed to reassure the Israelites of God’s protection as they went up to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage festivals.

One approach to answering your question is to try to argue that the moon actually can hurt us (for example, by observing that there are more car accidents when the moon is full, etc.), on the premise that the Bible’s authority is somehow at risk if it suggests the moon could hurt us when it really can’t.

Another approach is to say that in statements like this, the Bible is preserving a popular belief that has since proved unscientific, but this doesn’t put the Bible’s authority at risk; rather, the preservation of such ancient beliefs is part of the Bible’s human witness to God’s deeds and character.

I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that second approach, but in this case I don’t think it’s necessary, because there’s a third approach that’s actually more in keeping with Hebrew thought and language.

We need to hear the statement that “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” in light of the understanding, articulated in the Genesis creation account, that God established the “sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night.”  Psalm 121 is saying, “Not even the ruler of the day will hurt you; how much less any of the servants of the ruler of the day (that is, anything else during the day).  Not even the ruler of the night will hurt you; how much less anything else during the night.”

In other words, this is one of those marvelous Hebrew expressions for totality that we find so often in the Scriptures (which include others such as “from the least to the greatest,” “from the heaven above to the earth beneath,” etc.).  In fact, in Moses’ blessing on the tribe of Joseph at the end of Deuteronomy, there’s a very similar statement to the one in Psalm 121, which illustrates this point: “May the Lord bless his land with . . . the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield.”

Obviously crops grow from the light and warmth of the sun, not from anything that comes from the moon.  But this is simply another expression for totality:  May God bless you with everything that day and night can yield, that is, everything, all the time.

I hope this perspective helps explain the statement in Psalm 121.

For a discussion of another expression for totality, see this post.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

7 thoughts on “Why does the Bible say that the moon could hurt us?”

    1. I really don’t see how we can draw a connection between these two passages. If we take the one in Isaiah literally, as you are doing, it would have to have a future fulfillment, since it certainly hasn’t happened yet, so it can’t be something that the psalmist would appeal to in the centuries before Christ to encourage pilgrims that they could go safely to Jerusalem.

  1. Today, the Fourth Sunday after Easter, the epistle lesson at my parish brought this post to mind, specifically James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning.” [GNBDC]

    The explanation of Hebrew figure of speech as an expression of the totality of God’s sovereignty is helpful to me. God created both day and night, and he alone ultimately prevails.

  2. I’ve been going through a a worrying and sleepless couple of days anf I read Pdalm 121 this morning and pondered the question of the moon hurting us by night.

    During these times my sleeplessness is fraught with mental anguish. This verse spoke to me in a very personal way. Reassuring me that during the night, God is with me.

    I was reminded how the gravitational pull of the sun and moon affect bodies of water including our brain and during a full or new moon it causes people to act more irrationally (hence lunacy). So I believe the bible tells me that God is in control of my irrational fears when the night comes.

    Just a sharing of how this Psalm spoke to me.

    Shalom.

  3. A reader submitted this comment via the “Ask a Question” link:

    “A helpful way to wrestle with a puzzling question: How can the moon harm us? I appreciate what you have done, going into Hebrew thought and language. Now, what about the possibility of also reading the text in a practical and literal manner?

    As sun stroke and heat exhaustion can harm a person (as you put it), can it not be possible that when the moon is completely veiled by the clouds, thus preventing its light from shining, that danger lurks when a person were to walk in the dark?

    In ancient times, there were no street-lights or torch-lights to guide their walking in the dark such as going to a neighbour’s house or an out-house toilet. Recently, I was in the remote jungle of Borneo. Now, I could have walked into a hole, if not for my torchlight. Without the bright moonlight in ancient times in that same jungle, I suppose a person could have been at risk too.

    In that sense, I can see the moon can harm a person by ‘withdrawing’ its light through cloud cover, or even not appearing in the skyline when the moon is at the other side of planet earth. However, when there is a full moon, I am amazed. I praise God for His marvelous creation that points to Him as the Creator. O how the brightness of the full moon lit up the firmament. I can even see the white clouds! I am safer walking from one house to another in the jungle, even without street-light or torch-light. However, without the moonlight, I can potentially be in harm’s way.”

    In response, I would observe that this isn’t really a case of the moon harming us; it’s a case of the moon not being able to help us because it’s blocked by something else (cloud cover, etc.), and so it’s actually the blocking element that is creating the risk of harm. The psalm would have to say something like “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the cloud cover by night” to convey this meaning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s