Many of the greatest fears in life come not from what we can see, but from what we can’t — from the next unpredictable natural disaster, from the nameless and faceless thief that might break in while we’re asleep, from the disease that could strike someone in our family at any time. Satan consumes us with fear by inflaming the unknown. He exploits our imagination, and torments our feelings of insecurity.
The Israelites knew insecurity. Each year, they traveled from their homes to faraway Jerusalem, many of them by foot, for one of the three major feasts (Exodus 23:14). Jesus himself made the treacherous trip from his own hometown many times, walking (or riding) more than ninety miles each way. God had told them to go — to come where his presence was (1 Kings 8:10–11) — but the road was dangerous and uncertain.
Along the road, the people met threats above and threats below, most of which they could not see or predict. They were fully exposed to scorching heat and volatile weather. Robbers hid in the caves and hills, knowing exactly when to expect their victims. The people knew they had to go, but they did not know if they would all make it. Surely, some didn’t. So, they felt fragile, vulnerable, unsafe.
Our road to heaven, to the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), is much longer than the dozens of miles they walked, and no less treacherous. We carry God’s promises with us, but life still often feels desperate and uncertain. Temptation hides and strikes. Trials ambush us and our loved ones. Besetting sin lingers. Disaster and crises come unannounced. We feel our need for keeping.
When God’s people felt their need for keeping along the road to Jerusalem, they did not cover their mouths in fear; they raised an anthem. They cried out with hope into the uncertainty, drowning their fears with verse and chorus. They sang against danger.
Psalm 121 was a song for rough and uncertain roads like these. The refrain over and over again in these eight verses was that the Lord can and will keep them. The psalm was written because the long and lonely road to Jerusalem was dangerous — and because the long and often lonely road to heaven is also dangerous. The vulnerability and fragility in these verses describe the very different world we live in today, the world in which Satan prowls and sin tempts and death lurks. We still feel our need to be kept.
You can sense the insecurity in the opening line: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1). We don’t know what was in the imagination of the writer, whether the hills were hiding dangerous enemies or if they were simply empty of allies. Either way, these hills made him feel small, vulnerable, and helpless: Who will help me now?
What the psalmist could see told him he was in trouble, but he did not trust in what he could see. Where does his help come from? “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). As he imagined what he might suffer, he looked beyond the threats he could see to the God behind everything.
If the hills around you suddenly look terrifying, remember who made the hills. Your God built each hill to this precise height, down to the tiniest fraction of an inch. He shaped every curve and cliff, planting each bush and flower and putting each rock in its place. He counted and scattered the blades of grass. Your God knows this hill, watches over this hill, governs this hill and every hill. And yet how quickly we’re tempted to fear the hills!
The Lord can keep you, because there’s nothing this God cannot do. No crisis or circumstance can overwhelm him. He is never surprised or shaken. He made all things, sustains all things, and rules all things, including every detail of our lives, even on the most difficult days. No hill is too high, or night too dark for him. When what you can see only screams anxiety, see the strength of his power in all he has made. Surely the God who made the mountains “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
When the religious leaders later threatened the apostles and warned them not to preach the gospel, they prayed a similar prayer: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them . . .” (Acts 4:24). Where did the early church find the courage to keep witnessing? They began by remembering just how powerful their God was — the power they could see everywhere they looked. Look around, look closely, and know that the Lord can keep you.
The Lord can keep you, and he will keep you. What will he keep you from? Anything that might ultimately harm you. People were harmed on the way to Jerusalem, and you will be harmed following in the footsteps of Christ (John 16:33). But if you are God’s, nothing can ultimately harm you anymore, because nothing — neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything that threatens you — can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38–39).
If God is your keeper, he is “your shade on your right hand” (Psalm 121:5), meaning no one is nearer to you than the one who keeps you. Nothing can come between you and your God. “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night” (Psalm 121:6). This is the writer’s way of saying, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (Isaiah 54:17) — no weapon of man, no weapon of Satan, no danger in nature can keep God from keeping you.
Nothing day or night, for as long as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, can rob you of your life or his love. Even when you have to sleep, surrendering all awareness and control of your circumstances, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3–4).
“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life” (Psalm 121:7). How can God say all evil when we seem to suffer so much from evil (our own and others’)? Derek Kidner compares this verse with Jesus’s promise to his disciples: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18). How can someone be put to death, and yet not a hair of their head perish?
Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Evil can (and will) harm us in this life, but it can only do so much harm. Satan can make months, or years, or even decades miserable for us, but his leash is short, and eternity long. Our flesh, our relationships, our feelings are painfully vulnerable for now, but our souls are perfectly and perpetually safe. “He will keep your life” (Psalm 121:7) — the life that matters most, the most satisfying and meaningful life, the one that lasts forever.
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