The other day I was sorting through things in my home with the intent of “minimalizing.” As I sorted through things I realized that I “kept” or held onto things based on their value or their use, and also, if it held a special memory or emotional connection.
As I read my Bible during the days of my minimalizing project, the word “keep” continued to come into my focus. The word “keep” is used numerous times in the scriptures, especially in the book of Psalms, and I am finding it has a different meaning than just holding onto something for its use, value or sentiment.
A Deeper Meaning
The word “keep” in the scriptures is used often to refer to an action of God on our behalf that is seemingly separate from our value or use.
There are several words in the Hebrew language for keep. We will consider three of them: shamar, tsaphan and natsar. When we look at these words it is in a sense “splitting hairs” because they all have the same general meaning “to keep”, yet they differ slightly in shades of meaning. I guess if the Holy Spirit thought it necessary to use several different words to communicate the same thought then we should sit up and pay attention to what the Spirit is saying.
Tsaphan – Hide Me Away O God!
Tsaphan meaning “keep,” comes from a primitive root meaning to hide, to cover over implying hiding to protect; store away secretly; to keep hidden, as in hidden from harm. Psalm 31:19-20 brings out this meaning.
- “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up (tsaphan) for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men! You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep (tsaphan) them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.”(NASB)
In Psalm 31 we see David trusted that God was “keeping” him from the harm of the conspiracies of men that were going on around about him.
We too can trust that God is sheltering us; He is keeping us- hiding us away– in His secret shelter from the tongues of men, and protecting us from the danger of their gossipy words, angry or jealous talk, or outright evil intent. When we trust in God, He keeps us safe in the secret place of His presence. How special is!
Natsar- Faithfully Keep Watch Over Me!
Natsar is translated “Keep” and comes from a primitive root meaning to guard with fidelity; to watch over with the emphasis on faithful watching over. It is also translated preserve; save.
This concept is illustrated in Isaiah 26:3.
- “You keep (natsar) him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
God faithfully keeps our soul in peace and calm in the midst of difficulties as we trust in Him. Perhaps Paul was thinking of this scripture when he penned Phil 4:6-7, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Shamar – Put a Hedge Around Me!
Shamar means “keep” and comes from a primitive root meaning to hedge about, in the sense of surrounding a thing for protection or containment. However, it is also translated: to observe, to keep watch over; to guard; to protect; to keep safe; to preserve and to treasure.
We see this word used in several psalms but I want to point out two of them: Psalm 140:4 and Psalm 12:7. Note David uses both shamar and natsar in these verses, enriching the idea of God as our Keeper.
- “Keep (shamar) me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve (natsar) me from violent men who have purposed to trip up my feet.” Ps. 140:4
- “You, O Lord, will keep (shamar) them; You will preserve (natsar) him from this generation forever.” Ps. 12:7
As we know from the scriptures David was anointed king but was chased around the countryside by Saul who intended to kill him. Things were so bad that David hid in caves and even went over to the enemy and pretended to be out of his mind. In the midst of these difficulties David called upon God to keep him, to put a hedge of safety around him, and to faithfully watch over him to preserve him and deliver him.
God is the same in character and heart today as when He interacted with David. We too can ask God to put a hedge around us and to preserve us in the midst of our trials.
This Doesn’t Feel Like Safety and Security
Whether you “feel” like it or not- God is “keeping” You. It is a part of His character and heart in relationship with us. When God “keeps us” it does not mean that we are free from all trouble and pain, but rather that He preserves us, our spirit, and yes sometimes even our life in the midst of difficulty. So have faith and trust God as your Keeper.
Think about some well-known accounts of God “keeping” his people.
- Daniel in the lions’ den: Daniel lived his faith in God before unbelieving men. He was punished barbarically by being thrown into a den of hungry lions. Where was God his keeper? Right there, closing the mouth of the lions! (Dan. 6)
- What about Joseph? Where was God, the Keeper, when Joseph was falsely accused and thrown in a dungeon to rot? He was right there with Joseph blessing everything he did, waiting to bring things together at the right time to exalt Joseph and deliver Israel. (Gen. 37-50)
We could flip through the pages of scripture and find many such examples from Adam through to the Christians in the first century church.
What about you?
Your circumstances may be painful or messy; your emotions may be blinding you to the truth of God’s presence, but He is there surrounding you, faithfully guarding your soul and preserving you. God is your Keeper!
Take time out to think of all the ways God has been “keeping” you. Think of the many ways God has protected you and surrounded you with His grace and love, and then give to Him the praise that is due Him.