Psalm 121: What It Means That Yahweh Is Your Guardian
Psalm 121 is a treasure of promise for the suffering believer, whose “help comes from the Lord ” (verse 2). After personally celebrating Yahweh’s guardianship in verses 1–2, the psalmist turns to give assurance to others in verses 3–8. He declares the nature of God’s guarding role in verse 3–4: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
The Perseverance of the Saints
I was surprised to find that the word combination depicting the stumbling step in verse 3 is never used in Scripture of physical falling. Rather, all four of its other occurrences employ it figuratively for someone who is (or anticipated being) overcome by divine judgment (Deuteronomy 32:35), personal sin or weakness (Psalm 38:16), or enemy oppression (Psalm 66:9; 94:18). When the psalmist declared, therefore, “He will not allow your foot to slip,” he was most likely speaking of the perseverance of the saints.
The psalmist is not promising the absence of pain or even failure. But he is promising that, amidst seas of adversity, the elect will remain upheld, not because of their own doing, but because of the preserving hand of God. No one can snatch God’s sheep out of his hand (John 10:27–30), and the one who has justified will never again condemn (Romans 8:33–34). What mercy! What promise! The sure confidence we have today that we will remain with God tomorrow is God himself. Thank him. Remain dependent on him. Plead for his sustaining grace.
He Watches Over Our Souls
Along with ensuring our perseverance (verse 3a), the Lord ’s guardianship also means he is constantly watching over our souls (verses 3b–4). The Hebrew of verse 4 suggests a development from what precedes. Whereas verse 3 suggests “your Guardian” will not slumber now, verse 4 stresses “Israel’s Guardian” will never slumber nor sleep. God “gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2), and we are able to rest only because we know God never does. “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary” (Isaiah 40:28). Yahweh is always awake, always aware, and always watching over his children.
Do not put your hope today in yourself, for were it not for God, you would surely slip. But because of his ever-sustaining mercy, your faith will remain. As asserted in Psalm 94:16–18: “Who stands up for me against evil doers? If Yahweh had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Yahweh, held me up.”
It is the steadfast love of the Lord that sustains. It never ceases but it is replenished every dawn (Lamentations 3:22–23).
Look to Your Guardian
Whether your sleepless nights are filled with tears and prayers, diaper changing, or paper writing, God is with you with all the energy and grace you need. Don’t forget him. Look to him at any hour –– in the light or in the night. Yahweh’s guardianship means that he ensures our perseverance. He constantly watches over his own.
Jason DeRouchie is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He's also the editor and contributer to What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About (Kregel: forthcoming 2012) and co-author of A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (B&H Academic, 2009).
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