Psalm 121:4

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 4. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The consoling truth must be repeated: it is too rich to be dismissed in a single line. It were well if we always imitated the sweet singer, and would dwell a little upon a choice doctrine, sucking the honey from it. What a glorious title is in the Hebrew -- "The keeper of Israel," and how delightful to think that no form of unconsciousness ever steals over him, neither the deep slumber nor the lighter sleep. He will never suffer the house to be broken up by the silent thief; he is ever on the watch, and speedily perceives every intruder. This is a subject of wonder, a theme for attentive consideration, therefore the word "Behold" is set up as a waymark. Israel fell asleep, but his God was awake. Jacob had neither walls, nor curtains, nor body guard around him; but the Lord was in that place though Jacob knew it not, and therefore the defenceless man was safe as in a castle. In after days he mentioned God under this enchanting name -- "The God that led me all my life long": perhaps David alludes to that passage in this expression. The word "keepeth" is also full of meaning: he keeps us as a rich man keeps his treasures, as a captain keeps a city with a garrison, as a royal guard keeps his monarch's head. If the former verse is in strict accuracy a prayer, this is the answer to it; it affirms the matter thus, "Lo, he shall not slumber nor sleep -- the Keeper of Israel". It may also be worthy of mention that in verse three the Lord is spoken of as the personal keeper of one individual, and here of all those who are in his chosen nation, described as Israel: mercy to one saint is the pledge of blessing to them all. Happy are the pilgrims to whom this psalm is a safe conduct; they may journey all the way to the celestial city without fear.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 4. -- It is necessary, observes S. Bernard, that "he who keepeth Israel" should "neither slumber nor sleep", for he who assails Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. And as the One is anxious about us, so is the other to slay and destroy us, and his one care is that he who has once been turned aside may never come back. --Neale and Littledale.

Verse 4. -- Slumber. Sleep. There is no climax in these words, as some have supposed. Etymologically, the first is the stronger word, and it occurs in Psalms 76:5 6 of the sleep of death. In this instance there is no real distinction between the two. Possibly there may be an allusion to the nightly encampment, and the sentries of the caravan. --J.J. Stewart Perowne.

Verse 4. -- He... shall neither slumber nor sleep. This form of expression, he will not slumber nor sleep, would be improper in other languages, according to the idiom of which it should rather be, He will not sleep, yea, he will not slumber: but when the Hebrews invert this order, they argue from the greater to the less. The sense then is, that as God never slumbers even in the smallest degree, we need not be afraid of any harm befalling us while he is asleep. --John Calvin.

Verse 4. -- He that keepeth Israel. With an allusion to Jacob, who slept at Bethel, and to whom the promise of God took this form, "And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou guest": Genesis 28:15 . --Aben Ezra, quoted by H.T. Armfield.

Verse 4. -- Shall neither slumber nor sleep. Man sleeps; a sentinel may slumber on his post by inattention, by long continued wakefulness, or by weariness; a pilot may slumber at the helm; even a mother may fall asleep by the side of the sick child; but God is never exhausted, is never weary, is never inattentive. He never closes his eyes on the condition of his people, on the wants of the world. --Albert Barnes.

Verse 4. -- A number of years ago Captain D. commanded a vessel sailing from Liverpool to New York, and on one voyage he had all his family with him on board the ship.

One night, when all were quietly asleep, there arose a sudden squall of wind, which came sweeping over the waters until it struck the vessel, and instantly threw her on her side, tumbling and crashing everything that was moveable, and awakening the passengers to a consciousness that they were in imminent peril.

Everyone on board was alarmed and uneasy, and some sprang from their berths and began to dress, that they might be ready for the worst.

Captain D. had a little girl on board, just eight years old, who, of course, awoke with the rest.

"What's the matter?" said the frightened child.

They told her a squall had struck the ship.

"Is father on deck?" said she.

"Yes; father's on deck."

The little thing dropped herself on her pillow again without a fear, and in a few moments was sleeping sweetly in spite of winds or waves.

Fear not the windy tempests wild,
Thy bark they shall not wreck;
Lie down and sleep, O helpless child!.
Thy Father's on the deck. --"The Biblical Treasury", 1873.

Verse 4,5. -- The same that is the protector of the church in general, is engaged for the preservation of every particular believer; the same wisdom, the same power, the same promises. "He that keepeth Israel" (verse 4), "is thy keeper" (verse 5). The Shepherd of the flock is the Shepherd of every sheep, and will take care that not one, even of the little ones, shall perish.

--Matthew Henry.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 4. --

  1. The suspicion -- that God sleeps.
  2. The denial.
  3. The implied opposite -- he is ever on the watch to bless.

Verse 4. -- He keepeth Israel,

  1. As his chief treasure, most watchfully.
  2. As his dearest spouse, most tenderly.
  3. As the apple of his eye, most charily and warily.

--Daniel Featley, 1582-1645.

Read Psalm 121:4