I once had a dear friend who loved “to keep Christmas.” As the season drew near she would begin preparing — cleaning house, rearranging things to make room for a display of her huge nativity collection, shopping for gifts, writing cards, setting her December schedule around activities with friends and at church. By the time December came, Patrice had everything in place, wrapped and done, so she could then tend to keeping Christmas in her favorite way: in private daily devotions to Jesus, special Scriptures and Advent calendar readings; in public church activities with family and friends. She did all this to rebuild in her heart anew each year the childlike sense of anticipation and wonder over Emmanuel, God with us.
Patrice loved Jesus with all her heart, and “keeping Christmas” was one of her favorite ways of showing it. Before I knew her I’d never heard the word “keep” used this way, as a reference to how one carefully observes a thing of great importance: preparing for it, tending to it in every detail, giving it priority. To “keep Christmas” meant all that to her, and came to mean that to me. She might remark of someone, “They like Christmas, but they don’t really keep Christmas, you know.”
Against this backdrop in my heart, as I studied God’s covenant ways with his people, I noticed something: God uses the word keep in precisely the same way. The light began to come on when I read 1 Samuel 2:9, where Hannah says of the Lord:
He keeps the feet of His godly ones… (NAS)
When I first read this I Immediately thought of Patrice and her devotion to observe Christmas. Could “keeps” have the same meaning here? I just had to know, so I looked it up in my trusty Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible.
A Word Study: Shamar
The word “keeps” is the Hebrew word shamar, which means to hedge around something in order to keep, guard, preserve, tend to or be attentive to (i.e. “keep a promise”). Hebrew scholar Spiros Zodhiates says this is an important Hebrew verb appearing 470 times in the Old Testament, the first of which is Genesis 2:15, where it refers to the tending or exercising of great care over the garden in Eden. Zodhiates comments, “In a religious vein, shamar expresses the careful attention which was paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws or to statutes. Abraham gave orders to his children to ‘keep’ the way of the Lord in Genesis 18:29.”*
When Hannah said, “He keeps the feet of His godly ones,” she was praising Him for watching over the path of His beloved children, ever at work to steer our footsteps into His best will, for our joy and for His glory. I believe the Spirit of the Lord is continually stirring in our hearts to know and do what the Lord wants — which Paul actually says in Philippians 2:13. However, the Lord does this so gently — without a hint of manipulation or encroaching on our freedom — that such guidance can go unnoticed by the inattentive child of God.
The Spirit is always trying to lead you. As one of God’s beloveds, He keeps you, watching personally over every contemplation of your heart and mind, hoping you will be attentive to His presence and guidance. He is ready to help you to what is right, good, and wise in all matters large and small.
“But,” you might say, “I haven’t been keeping devotion to God lately, and Hannah said that He keeps the feet of His ‘godly ones.’ I’m sure I don’t qualify as one of those right now.”
The fact is, you are one of His godly ones if you are in Christ! The Hebrew word underlying this phrase refers to those who are in covenant with God. So while yes, you should absolutely live in an upright and devoted manner with the Lord, your failure to do so doesn’t cause Him to shut down on His faithful devotion to guide you. After all, that would defeat His purpose — He always wants to guide you right back into His ways. Never forget that God’s faithfulness is based upon His character, not yours.
Jesus said to His disciples:
“Abide in my love. If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10 NASB)
Here is truth: God is always keeping the feet of His beloved children, watching over them.
Here is truth: God has given us free will to walk where we wish and choose whatever we want.
Here is truth: The one who believes in God’s guidance will be attentive to the Spirit within, and find that guidance always at hand. Keeping God’s ways and commands will keep us in His love. Abundant life is not guaranteed to all who wear the name “Christian”; It is the reward of the yielded, obedient child, who abides in the love of God.
This is the reciprocal covenant life we are offered through Jesus Christ: God tends to our lives with all diligence; we tend to His life with all diligence. This is where life abounds. Shamar is another word among many that has great meaning in the context of covenant relationship — which is exactly what we have with the Lord, through Jesus Christ. (Explained in detail in my new book, They Will All Know Me.) I think I shall add shamar to my Covenant Glossary.
On His side of the equation, God keeps our covenant relationship with all devotion. Let us “keep faith” with Him the same way Patrice kept Christmas.
*Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, Editor Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.