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: 7, 8

So, it could be true that these verses are actually taken from a children’s fairy tale. Along this line of reason, they were written by someone who wanted to provide a rosy-tinted and false sense of security to some young people so that they would go to sleep and stop bothering their adult care givers. Well, no; that simply isn’t true. These lines are taken from one entry in that wonderful body of writing that is known as the Psalms of Ascents. These are traveler’s tales. The sorts of reminders that whole Jewish families would recite and sing together as they took the often dangerous and arduous journey from their homes to Jerusalem so that they could worship God together with their entire nation. Although they were intended to ease the journey and to make the miles go by faster, they had a much greater purpose than that.

These songs are intended to remind the singers of God. As the travelers recited the lines from them their hearts were being prepared to enter into deep and transformative worship. The author of these lines was not attempting to gloss over the hardships of life. Instead, he deals with them from the perspective of an extreme realist. In these verses we see the great challenge that confronts all of us as we go about our own travels. Evil is out there; it is everywhere. It crouches and lurks among the shadows of the street where we live. It comes at us from far away, and it even attempts to set its traps in our own homes. Evil tries to worm its way into our minds and whisper the lies of Satan to our hearts. Although it has been defeated by Christ, evil just hasn’t gotten that message; so, it is relentless in its attempts to disrupt the lives of people who do know God.

Since this was the nature of the world that these ancient travelers knew, they sang about the truth of God’s protection, preservation, and salvation. As this same often harsh reality is ours, we can do the same thing. There is an old popular image of a person who is walking along a dark and frightening lane; so, in order to get his courage up, he starts to whistle. This idea was expressed in The King and I as Anna sings, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” There is one very big difference between the experiences of these fictional characters and those of God’s people. Their courage was a façade; it didn’t penetrate to their hearts. However, we can trust that God is truly protecting us. He will take us along the road that we are traveling, and our souls will be safe. There is danger in the journey, but the outcome of it all is never in question. During every minute of each day, Christ holds us close and keeps us secure, and this is true for each of us today and forevermore.

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The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.

Deuteronomy 28: 7

 

When the bad of this world strikes, it often seems as if it is coming after its intended victim with all of its furry and might concentrated into a singular moment and point of assault. These are the days when everything that could go wrong does so. The friends that you had been able to count on to get your back are suddenly traveling on the other side of the world, or, even worse, they are leading the charge against you. On these days, which can stretch out over weeks and also years, it is hard to find the strength to just crawl out of bed. In fact, the reasonable thing to do might just be to burrow down under the blankets and pray for divine deliverance.

 

That, in fact, might be Moses’ point. Not the lump under the covers at the foot of the bed part of it, but the praying aspect of that image. There is a war on. Anyone who pledges allegiance to God and seeks to follow Him will become engaged in the fight, whether we want to be so engaged or not. Although today may be calm and there might not be an angry army camped outside your door at this time, you will be under siege from them in the future. It is also an almost absolute guarantee that you will be called upon to do some skirmishing during some part of the most peaceful of days. Satan does not stop. He is not willing to yield, and he will be relentless in his futile attempts to get to and at God’s people.

 

It seems to me that this condition of being in an ever present state of war in this life is the result of God’s very nature. He does not force people to follow Him; rather, He pursues us and graciously loves us. God allows us to stand up and be strong; yet, He is continually ready to sooth our wounds and stand us up when we are knocked over. He also knows that we tend to think that we only need Him when things are tough. We tend to only call upon God when the first arrows of the volley are starting to strike our flesh, when we have shattered our sword, and when our armor is out to be cleaned and polished. God wants us to learn to be dependent on Him in and for all things. He wants us to do this by staying close to Him in prayer, in deep study of His Word, and through close association and involvement in His community of faith. This is how people can stay equipped and ready to engage in the battle. In this way those seemingly mighty forces that are coming after us will be sent fleeing in every direction.

Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1: 14

 

Here is a sample of the instruction that this ancient voice of God’s will had for the people of the nation of Judah. There was a good deal more of the same, but these words do express plenty of what God had in mind. This was a time when God’s people had headed off on their own path. They were living out their personal visions for what was right and how justice should be served. There wasn’t much in any of this that could be traced back to God’s law or to His time-proven truths. Now there was truly the Devil to pay. The Lord had removed His protective hand from Judah, and locust have consumed their fields, war has bled their nations youth dry, and now drought is withering away what is left. These are hard times for everyone; so, God sends Joel to cry out to the people to return to their one and only true first love.

 

There is no question that something needs to be done. Navigating those difficult times clearly required strong leadership, and the people who are stepping forward were not taking the nation in a righteous direction. They probably had plans for insect control. There were big ideas about where to go to seek water and grand schemes for raising the funds that these ideas required. They certainly shouted out the need for a larger army with better weapons. There would have been chest thumping and negative comments about the other people who were attempting to gain power and control. In Joel’s days the clothing was different and the means of spreading the word was slower and more face-to-face, but the national atmosphere was not all that different than the ones that we encounter in our world today.

 

It seems that God is telling us to approach our challenges from a different perspective. He wants us to place our trust in the same solutions that were provided for the people of Judah. If they had been paying attention they would have realized that they had never successfully driven off a plague of locust, defended their borders from their strong enemies, or summoned the rain. These were things that God had always done for them. From the beginning of time God has gifted humanity with a national identity, a place to dwell and to plant roots, and the provision of the things that we need to grow and to thrive. God blesses people in these ways as we trust in Him, seek out His will, and choose to live in a just and righteous manner. Joel’s voice seems to cry out across the ages to our times, and he is saying that God is not pleased with our wanton and sinful approach to life. The Lord, God Almighty, is calling to each of us and to our nations with a voice of warning and a promise of salvation. The choice is yours and it is mine. Will we repent and return to the Lord, our rock and our defender?