The Ministry of the Psalter (Part 2)
October 4, 2018 | by: Stephen Sprague | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Last week we looked at Psalm 121 and how the Psalms are an excellent resource because they 1) connect with us in our varied emotional states, from weak and desperate to strong and rejoicing, and 2) remind us of who exactly it is that we are praying to – “The Lord, who made heaven and earth.” This week we’ll continue on with our study of Psalm 121 by looking at a few more reasons for why the Psalms are an excellent resource for believers traveling through this life.
He who keeps you…
Six times in this Psalm the Lord is referred to as the believer’s keeper. This is significant in that it takes the reality of verse 2, that the God in whom we trust is God almighty who created all things and it takes it to its natural conclusion in our relationship with him – that this Creator God is actively looking after us. It’s in him, as Paul quoted at the Areopagus in Athens, that “we live and move and have our being.” His sovereignty is not one of distant rule but one of active keeping. W. Robert Godfrey, in his book Learning to Love the Psalms (which I highly recommend!) says this about the keeping nature of God – “This keeping is not passive; it means that the Lord is actively guarding us. The LORD is the guardian of each pilgrim and of all His people. He always stands guard over his own to protect them from every danger.”
We see this truth repeated throughout the Psalms, and especially here in Psalm 121. Verses 3-4, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Verse 5, “The LORD is your keeper.” Verses 7-8, “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in.” The Lord’s sovereignty is seen and felt and known in the Psalms and likewise, in our own lives, through his keeping of us - through his care, guidance, and working all things out for our good – whether we see it or not at the time.
He… will neither slumber nor sleep.
There’s something to be said for the incredible faithfulness of God. His faithfulness is not like our own. Compare it to marriage if you will. As husbands and wives, we consider ourselves faithful to one another and to our children. We love one another, care for one another, and desire to protect one another. If someone intruded into our house in the middle of the night – we’d like to think we’d be ready. That we’d be alert and able to protect one another – correct? And yet, we have to sleep. It never fails. No matter how alert you might feel, our human bodies need rest. This doesn’t make us unfaithful in our roles, but it shows our human limitations in our faithfulness. We’ll never be able to care for one another or our families like the Lord. He on the other hand, he “neither slumbers nor sleep(s).”
It is the imagery of a loving God watching over his people, even when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable, on a treacherous journey and exhausted. And here, the Lord promises, he will watch over us as we sleep. And when we move forward the next day he will protect us from both the harsh and penetrating light of the sun that threatens to break us down and weaken us to despair (verses 5-6). Consider the picture of Israel wandering in the wilderness. The Lord was with them, he was near to them, and he led them by fire at night and by a pillar of clouds during the day. The promise here of God’s faithful care is a comprehensive one as we see the extent to which it reaches in verse 7 – “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” To this Godfrey rightly responds, “Many difficulties confront the Christian Pilgrim throughout life. In all of them, God is our helper.”
From this time forth and forevermore.
Lastly, these Psalms remind us of the continued covenant the Lord has with his people. This covenant has no end. It is eternal. And it is based, not on our own weakness or unfaithfulness but on the very faithfulness of the perfect creator God who looks after us, who keeps us, and continues to promise to us his hope and protection. Perhaps the most beautiful hope offered in the Psalms is the perspective they give us that the care of God is both present (to the very nanosecond in which we live!) and forever. God cares about our “going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” This means two things: 1) that our present state, whether good or bad, whether strong or weak, whether troubled or hopeful, is not overlooked by our faithful covenant keeping God, and 2) that our future of a better and eternal hope, of life in the new heavens and new earth where “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying, nor pain anymore,” is ever secured before us by the God who made heaven and earth.
The Psalter is a book for those on this journey called life. It is for those in the valleys and on the mountaintops, who are trudging along, climbing, falling, sprinting, and crawling – but ever moving forward to the celestial city that we know is our true home. Psalm 121 reminds us that on this journey the Lord is faithful and present, that he cares for us and that we are not alone, and that in Christ he will make sure that we complete this journey and make it “home.” The focus of Psalm 121, and of the Psalter as a whole, is on the completed outcome. The journey of life, no matter how rocky or smooth it might be, will be completed. As Godfrey writes, “This help from God is for both now and forever (v. 8). In this life, God is our help in every circumstance. But the promises of God are not for this life only. “If in this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). God’s promised help is forever for eternal life. Our spiritual pilgrimage ends only in the new heaven and new earth that God will make.” Brothers and sisters, I know not where your heart or mind finds itself as you read this but know that these promises are for you. No matter the depth or breadth of your spiritual state today, dive into the Psalter and let the Lord minister to you today through his word.