Never Sleeping, Always Keeping (Psalm 121:3-4)
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. —Psalm 121:3-4
Imagine an ancient band of weary travelers walking for miles with no GPS, roadside rest stops, or law enforcement to arrest bandits. What would they have worried about along the way? How would they have passed the long journey?
Now imagine that as they walked, they were singing from The Pilgrimage Songbook, a title given by biblical scholar Alec Motyer to the Songs of Ascent. These 15 Psalms (120-134) were “used annually by the travelling companies as they journeyed…to Jerusalem to keep the feasts of the Lord” (Alec Motyer, Psalms by the Day, 365). Ordered in five sets of three, each triad reminded the Israelites that amidst their problems, God was mighty to save, and they were secure in Him. Psalm 121 falls into the middle category, praising God’s power to keep His people secure.
I imagine frantic mothers trying to corral their children as they walked and sang, praying to Yahweh to keep them safe along the road–it’s the sort of prayer I’ve offered countless times at the start of a demanding trip. But this Psalm’s assurance goes far beyond the desire to avoid troubles in travel and even life.
The “help” spoken of in verses one and two includes the “firm footing” of verse three–a stability that recalls God’s promise to settle His people in the land and to protect them from their enemies. We see with the help of Psalm 94 that this promise is for those who trust in the Lord, the God of Israel:
If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. 18 When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. (Psalm 94:17-18)
Verse three is one of those lines that too often gets taken out of context on refrigerator magnets: a hand-lettered “He will not let your foot be moved,” atop a drawing of some hiking boots. But this is not a promise that we will never turn our ankle as we traverse the uneven path of life. It’s a promise that we will ultimately not turn away from the Living God. This is not a promise that no one will ever be struck by robbers in the perilous hills, but that no one will finally be able to rob us of eternal life if we are secure in Christ. He said,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
We know from the rest of Scripture that God doesn’t promise to shield us from danger, tragedy, or even death (see Stephen, Paul, Peter, John, and everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11:35b-40, to name a few). But we are rock certain that, for those who belong to Jesus, He will keep us for His own in this life and for all eternity.
The psalmist encourages us that the maker of heaven and earth, the source of our help, never sleeps. The keeper of Israel is utterly unlike other gods, who are made by human hands and possess human weaknesses. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal who couldn’t get a response from their god no matter what they did, even to the point of cutting themselves and drawing blood. He taunted them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27b).
The keeper of Israel is all-powerful; He is void of weakness. That is why the Psalmist can declare with certainty: “He will not let your foot be moved.” God is able to secure His people from traps and snares along the road to Jerusalem. But more importantly, he is able to secure us from falling irretrievably into temptation and sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).
A wealthy man keeps his art collection secure. This is the keeping of protection. A ship’s captain keeps his vessel on course. This is the keeping of guidance. A mother keeps her children well-fed and warm. This is the keeping of nurture. A father keeps his children in the study of the Scriptures. This is the keeping of instruction. All such keeping points faintly at what’s included in the repetitions of God’s perfect keeping of His people in Psalm 121. His keeping flows from His all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful sovereignty over our lives.
Six times this Psalm repeats the idea that God will keep His people. If you belong to Him by faith, He will preserve you, hold you, and guard you, for you are His possession. We are secure in Him, but the primary focus isn’t protection from close-at-hand harm, but deliverance from faith-ending evil. This is the keeping Jude celebrates in his doxology. May we sing with him and all the pilgrims who have gone before,
…to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24)
What near-at-hand troubles are causing you anxiety or worry?
As you pray for relief, ask God for wisdom, endurance, and hope for the healing and restoration He has promised at the last day. Ask Him to increase your longing for His appearing.
Look for opportunities to encourage other believers with the knowledge that God never sleeps and always keeps His children