(Part 2) Psalm 121: The Lord Is My Keeper
By Pastor Robbie Casas
II. What Our Helper Does (121:3-8)
Read Ps 121:3-8:
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
It is noteworthy that the Hebrew word translated “keep”(שָׁמַר, šâmar, shamár, including “protect” in v. 7 and “guard”in v. 8) appears 6 times in this psalm. It is a word that means “to keep, guard, keep watch, protect, preserve, save life.”
This tells us that this psalm highlights God helping His people Israel as their guard who preserves them. Remember the context of this psalm is that of a song of ascents, a psalm used by the Israelite in his pilgrimage – often a treacherous journey – to Jerusalem to observe a yearly feast.
And as He was to His chosen nation Israel, so is He and more to His redeemed people in Christ! GOD AS OUR HELPER PROTECTS US, PRESERVES US.
From vv. 3-8, the psalmist shifts from the first person (“I”, “my”) to the second person perspective (“you”, “your”). Some say these are the words of someone, perhaps a priest, accompanying the pilgrim. But it is also possible that he did this either to minister to the others who were with him, or to speak to himself, to his own soul. From this point on, the psalmist now starts to enumerate how as Helper God will protect or preserve His people.
So according to this psalm, how does God guard His people?
1) He will keep us from stumbling.
Read v. 3a: “He will not allow your foot to slip.”
Israel is notorious for its rocky and slippery terrain. Especially during those times when there were no paved roads, climbing to Jerusalem could be treacherous at many points. The pilgrim could hurt himself by falling to the ground or by injuring his foot or ankle. But most likely what is in view here is the danger of slipping and then falling down a steep slope or cliff (remember, they were going up to Jerusalem).
As part of a song of ascents, this declaration was more than just a statement of fact about God; it was also like an expression of dependent faith – even like a prayer. Having said this, we must be careful not to use this as a blanket statement of a perfect guarantee against an accident, especially when one was presumptuously careless.
The expression “foot to slip” came to symbolize falling into danger or chaos. Ps 66:8-9: “8 Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, 9 who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip.” Ps 94:17-18: “17 If the Lord had not been my help, My soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. 18 If I should say, ‘My foot has slipped,’ Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up.”
Moreover, when your foot slips, you will end up stumbling – losing your footing, hence, your balance, then you fall. That is why the words “slip” and “stumble”are synonyms and are also often used in Scripture to refer to the fate of the wicked and the rebellious (Deut 32:35; Lev 26:37; Ps 9:3). Either their own disobedience or the judgment of God results in the slipping of their feet as a consequence.
But for the righteous or for those whom God will restore He promises to prevent stumbling. Jer 31:9: “With weeping they will come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.”
For us believers, this is not a promise of protection from accidents that involve falling. Yes, it is promise that may at times apply against falling into temporal danger (as long as the believer does not foolishly test God and expose himself without just cause to danger). But then again, remember that even an obedient, trusting Christian may experience danger to his own life (even death!) if God, for some higher purpose would will it. For the true believer, however, it is certainly a promise against falling into final danger – the danger of falling out of the faith and losing your salvation.
The psalmist gives the reason for this promise in vv. 3b-4: “He who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” The pilgrim, on the long journey to Jerusalem, would have to stop and sleep, yet they would do so in confidence that God would continue to protect them. David asserted this truth in Ps 4:8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” God’s protection continues because “He… neither slumber[s] nor sleep[s].” God, who is not human but is rather omnipotent, never grows tired, so much so that He would need sleep to recover.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary gives us this interesting piece of information: “In Mesopotamian literature a sleeping god is one who is unresponsive to the prayers of the person who is calling out for help…. In a Babylonian prayer the worshiper wonders how long the deity is going to sleep.” Remember how Elijah ridiculed the prophets of Baal by mockingly suggesting their god was asleep when they needed him (1Ki 18:27)?
How completely different from our God, the great I AM! This is the main point of this part of the passage: His watching over His people is never interrupted; His vigilant care never disregarding or indifferent to our needs!
The truth of God’s continuing preservation will be further reinforced in the next two verses