The Lord Is Your Keeper

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on October 16, 2022.

            I lift up my eyes to the hills.

                        From where does my help come?

            My help comes from the LORD,

                        who made heaven and earth.

            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 LORD is your keeper;

                        the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

            The sun shall not strike you by day,

                        nor the moon by night.

            The LORD will keep you from all evil;

                        he will keep your life.

            The LORD will keep

                        your going out and your coming in

                        from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 121).[1]

I have lived my whole life in a river valley, but I am a lover of mountains. As the altitude rises so does my mood, as I seemingly come alive in alpine air. It’s not just the air but also the views of and from the mountains. It’s no surprise that gazing upon Pike’s Peak in 1893 Katharine Lee Bates wrote of “purple mountain majesties” in “America the Beautiful.”[2] There is indeed a majesty to mountains, which rightly directed leads us to praise the Maker of mountains.

As the psalmist sings in Psalm 90,

            Before the mountains were brought forth,

            or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

            from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Ps. 90:2).

Mountain-top moments show up throughout Scripture. It was upon a mountain that God first appeared to Moses. It was upon a mountain that God made the Noahic and Mosaic covenants. It was upon a mountain that God’s temple was constructed, leading the Sons of Korah to sing,

            Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised

                        in the city of our God!

            His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,

                        is the joy of all the earth (Ps. 48:1-2).

And our Lord went up upon a mountain to pray. So, mountains have more than just a picturesque place in redemptive history, but there is also the temptation to look to them for more.

This was certainly the case in Israel’s history, where unorthodox and adulterated places of worship were erected atop high hills. For example, when young Ahaz, king of Judah, began his reign, he went not to the Lord’s temple to worship but to “the high places and on the hills,” bringing offerings and making sacrifices, even burning his own son as a sacrificial offering to pagan gods (2 Kgs. 16:1-20). Through the book of Kings, we read over and over again that the high places remained through good kings and bad. It’s hard to tear down what the people have grown to accept and love.

So, the high places became mountain-high shrines of pleasurable promiscuity, promised provision, prosperity, even protection. Even the faithful child of Israel would be tempted to diversify, like Solomon, trusting in the Lord but sharing the love in an orgy of other gods. It would seem that there has always been the temptation: Why not lift your eyes to hills and look for help? Or as one poet translates it,

            Up to those bright, and gladsome hills

                        whence flow my weal and mirth[3]

It’s easy to forget the One who made heaven and earth when a mountain-top experience is promised.

Where do you look for help? Is it to the elevated yet adulterated places of promise? Calvin said,

The thoughts of the godly are never so stayed upon the word of God as not to be carried away at the first impulse to some allurements and especially when dangers disquiet us, or when we are assailed with sore temptations, it is scarcely possible for us, from our so being inclined to the earth, not to be moved by the enticements presented to us, until our minds put a bridle upon themselves, and turn them back to God.[4]

Such is the allure to look up to the hills for everything but God. The high places offer you the world, but like those elevated pagan shrines, high-placed promises can’t be kept. Like the ashes of Ahaz’s son, all the world can deliver is loss.

The Lord helps you

The psalmist put the mountains in their mindful place, confessing,

            My help comes from the LORD,

                        who made heaven and earth.

When we look up to the hills, we should think of their Maker. To think otherwise is to place our faith in creation rather than our Creator. To confess belief in “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”[5] is more than a statement of divine creation but a declaration of God’s sovereignty over the heavenly and earthly realms. He who created all things, who ordains whatsoever comes to pass, who reigns in majesty over heaven and earth is not a pagan god of the high places. He is the LORD.

The psalmist uses here the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh (translated LORD), to imply exclusivity as well as relationship. When God revealed himself to Moses he explained the meaning of his self-revealed name: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). His revelation was clear: “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5). And he who eternally is, the one and only true God, chose to reveal himself to and enter into covenant with Israel. He is not only God; he is the LORD of his chosen people.

Of course, on this side of the cross, we know the fuller revelation and fulfillment of Jesus as Christ and Lord. We know that God’s covenant people are comprised of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. So, when we consider the Lord’s help we understand it holistically. He who redeemed us by his blood has won us heart, soul, and body. Seventeenth-century metaphysical poet George Herbert captures this truth beautifully in his poem the twenty-third psalm, when he writes,

            The God of love my shepherd is,

            And he that doth me feed:

            While he is mine, and I am his,

            What can I want or need?[6]

So, it is the Lord, our Lord, who helps, and him alone, for he is our keeper.

The Lord keeps you

This is a theme the psalmist reinforces repeatedly: “he who keeps you will not slumber”; “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”; “The LORD is your keeper”; “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 same Hebrew word is used six times within this short psalm. The repetition is not coincidental.

This word may also be translated “watches over” or “guards,” or in the case of verse five “he who watches over” or “guardian.”[7] But I prefer the translation “keep” or “keeper,” as it leads me to think of the Lord as my shepherd.

            He leads me to the tender grasse,

            Where I both feed and rest;

            Then to the streams that gently passe:

            In both I have the best.

            Or if I stray, he doth convert

            And bring my minde in frame:

            And all this not for my desert,

            But for his holy name.[8]

The Lord our God is indeed our keeper, and we are kept safely in his fold.

Drawing from the imagery of ascent, the psalmist employs the mountain-climbing metaphor of a foothold: “He will not let your foot be moved.” The Christian life is indeed a journey; our faith is often referred to in Scripture as “walking” (e.g. Col. 2:6), and sometimes our footing may “totter and stumble.”[9] It should not surprise us then to encounter washed-out trails, loose gravel, even ledges of unstable shale, all of which can make us wonder: Am I on the right path? Will I fall along the way?

The psalmist pushes back against this fear: “[The LORD] will not let your foot be moved.” God does not promise you a problem-free life—actually quite the opposite. But he does promise that he will not leave you or forsake you, so “do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8). Of course, the psalmist’s metaphorical use of the “foot” encompasses your life: Do not fear; you’re footing is sure.

In fact, there is never a time when he is not keeping you, watching over you: “he who keeps you will not slumber.” The same cannot be said about you. We need sleep; we must have rest. God knows this:

            “It is in vain that you rise up early

                        and go late to rest,

            eating the bread of anxious toil;

                        for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2).

The Lord keeps you better than you can keep yourself and gives you what you need most.

And it’s not just you personally, but the Lord is faithful to keep all of his covenant children:

            Behold, he who keeps Israel

                        will neither slumber nor sleep.

The poetic repetition, “slumber nor sleep,” emphasizes this certainty. He who rested on the seventh day of creation (Gen. 2:1) did so not due to fatigue or out of necessity but to signify creation’s completion and to establish a rhythm of work, rest, and worship for us. He who is worthy of our worship leads us to rest in him who needs no rest.

Of course, the world, the flesh, and the devil would have us believe differently. The world wants us to think it is always on, never off, always working, never resting, open for its business 24/7. Our flesh would have us believe that worldly worries, cares, and burdens are ours to always carry as we ascend life’s mountains. And the devil, that great deceiver, seeks to replicate, then duplicate, to emulate, ultimately to desecrate the truth of God: Lift up your eyes to the hills. From there your help will come. But it’s all a lie, as the prophet Elijah knew so well, when he mocked the prophets of Baal, 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 Kgs. 18:27), as if to say: where is your god today? Maybe he had to take a bathroom break and a little nap? A god who sleeps is no god at all, but the one true God, the Lord, neither slumbers nor sleeps.

The Lord protects you

That we are kept by God also implies protection: The Lord protects you. Describing our divine protection, the psalmist employs the metaphors of sun and moon, day and night. The Lord is a shade against harm, “on your right hand,” a semitic expression denoting trust. His protection shields us against the sun by day, and the antithetical parallel of the moon by night. In other words, there is never a moment in your 24-hour day that your keeper does not watch over and protect you, not just for today but forever.

Although less obvious in our English translation, in continuing to use the verb translated “keep” in verse seven the psalmist shifts to what is called the imperfect mood. In the Hebrew his shift tells what God does now and will continue to do (into the future). The Lord’s protection is not merely momentary; it continues. So, if the Lord protects us day in and day out what does he and will he protect us from? The answer is intentionally comprehensive: “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.”

The Hebrew word translated “evil” may also be translated “harm” (NET) and is meant to encompass the adversity of a lifetime, not to “imply a cushioned life,” as one commentator puts it, “but a well-armed one.”[10] Surely, we can say, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6).

            Yea, in death’s shadie black abode

            Well may I walk, not fear:

            For thou art with me; and thy rod

            To guide, thy staff to bear.[11]

Indeed, our sovereign Lord keeps us in his care, whether it be his provision in temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), endurance through trials (Jas. 1:2-4), or trust enough for today (Ps. 31:5). And he has armed us with his ordinary means of grace (Word, sacrament, and prayer) that we may live from beginning to end for him, through him. He who keeps you will keep you from cradle to grave and forever.

The psalmist teaches us to think of this in the practical imagery of a workday in an agrarian economy, describing the start of a workday and its conclusion: “Your going out and your coming in.” In the morning, the laborer would walk through the city gate out to the fields to work the land. At the end of the day, the laborer would return through the gate into the safety of a high-walled and gated city. But who watches over the worker in the field? Who watches over you in the vulnerable toil of ordinary life? Who protects you from your enemies in life and death?

            Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine,

            Ev’n in my enemies sight:

            My head with oyl, my cup with wine

            Runnes over day and night.[12]

He “who made heaven and earth,” who neither slumbers nor sleeps, who shields us both day and night from all harm, is the LORD who will keep you “from this time forth and forevermore.” For Christ our Lord and keeper has redeemed us, saved us from our enemies of sin and death, given us life by his Holy Spirit, and guaranteed us eternal life in his kingdom. We do not look outward to the hills or inward to ourselves but to Christ alone, for he is our keeper, forevermore.

            Surely thy sweet and wondrous love

            Shall measure all my dayes;

            And as it never shall remove,

            So neither shall my praise.[13]

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] A Spotlight on a Primary Source by Katharine Lee Bates, “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,” “America the Beautiful,” 1893 | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, accessed October 13, 2022,

[3] Henry Vaughan, “The Hundred-Twenty-First Psalm,” Laurance Wieder, Ed., The Poets’ Book of Psalms (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 190.

[4] John Calvin, Heart Aflame (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1999), 331.

[5] “The Apostles’ Creed,” Trinity Hymnal, Revised Ed. (Suwanee: Great Commission Publications, 1990), 845.

[6] George Herbert, “The 23d Psalme,” George Herbert, accessed October 13, 2022,

[7] Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 895.

[8] George Herbert, “The 23d Psalme,” George Herbert, accessed October 13, 2022,

[9] Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 895.

[10] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 468.

[11] George Herbert, “The 23d Psalme,” George Herbert, accessed October 13, 2022,

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

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