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.
In the business world, it’s a principle of customer service to set the customer’s expectations appropriately. Beware of making promises you cannot keep, so the principle goes. For if you fail to follow through on a commitment to have a product or service delivered, a repair completed, or a process fulfilled, you risk losing their trust, and likely any prospect of future business.
Sometimes businesses are as explicit as they can be about all the reasons their product or service might not operate as promised. (It’s almost comical how much time of pharmaceutical commercials is dedicated to enumerating all the potential side effects!) But when such explicitness might be too distracting, there’s always the fine print. For every sweeping promise there’s a slew of caveats.
All that is why Psalm 121 may seem awfully odd to us—even nerve-racking, for those who have had no shortage of evil befall them. The psalm’s promises are so sweeping! And no caveats. No fine print!
How then shall the Psalmist keep from insulting the intelligence of the listeners, thereby losing their ongoing trust and investment? Is he ignorant of the myriad ways this fallen world can inflict real and painful calamity? Is he that naïve? Or does he refuse to qualify himself for fear of selling the Lord short?
On the contrary, he is neither ignorant nor naïve. He speaks from within an assembly of voices whose faith in the Lord’s goodness and might is no less deep than their awareness of what this fallen world is capable of wreaking:
Man is made for trouble, [as surely] as sparks fly up. (Job 5:7)
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:21–23)
There’s both candor and confidence in these and other texts, which allow us to believe a deeply encouraging truth in the face of abject sorrow. Tim provided us a fresh example last Sunday of Psalm 121’s confidence amid adversity. To that we add another example:
John Chrysostom was a church father of the fourth century, known for his courage, incisive preaching, and unflinching integrity. Brought before Roman Empress Eudoxia on the charge of preaching the gospel without imperial approval, she threatened to banish him from the empire. The following exchange ensued between them:
“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.”
“But I will kill you,” said the empress.
“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” said John.
“I will take away your treasures.”
“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.”
“No, you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.”
To Chrysostom there was no threat of any true import, for the empress could take nothing of value from him. There was (and is!) therefore every reason for confidence in what Psalm 121 propounds. The Lord would keep him from all evil, in spite of her threats. The Lord would keep his life, from this time forth and forevermore. His confidence derived from the substance of Psalm 121, which Jesus had only further validated by His own testimony: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:23, 28). The only evil of any concern is alienation from the God who made us—a matter solved in the Son He sent in order to bring us to Himself (1 Pet. 3:18).
He knows our groanings (Rom. 8:23). He hears our cries. (1 Pet. 5:7). He brings goodness out of evil incidents for those who trust in Him (Rom. 8:28). No one whom the Father gives the Son shall be snatched from His care (John 10:28).
Have you prayed your fears, your disappointments, your reasons for preoccupation? Has life’s fine print led you to look incredulously upon the Lord’s claims of provision and protection?
Neither this Psalm nor Chrysostom intend for us to walk with a swagger, but a confidence. Such confidence is found in Christ alone. By His work of redemption, He renders all those ostensible threats mere sound and fury, signifying nothing.
While Jesus provides ample reason for confidence, praying through Him to the Father provides great hope of knowing that confidence (Phil. 4:6–7). Abstraction becomes palpable reality in the mystery of God in the act of praying. So in giving us Himself and in giving us prayer, He has set our expectations high, yet appropriately. May we live and pray in that confident expectation.