Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. Psalm 16:1 (English text
Preserve – The Hebrew verb shamar is used more than 300 times in the Scriptures. It covers the ground from Genesis to Malachi. It means “to keep, to obey, to observe, to preserve, to guard, to be careful, to watch” in both spiritual and physical settings. Shamar is part of God’s intended plan for Man. Adam and Havvah were instructed to watch over the Garden. Priests are instructed to guard everything set apart as holy. Israel is to protect, preserve and obey Torah. Yeshua asks three disciples to watch over Him. In most applications, shamar is something we do. But David’s lament changes the subject-object relationship. David asks God to be the agent of shamar. Why does David make this request of God? Because David takes refuge in the one true God.
Everyone needs a protector. Everyone needs a faithful companion who will guard life. In fact, God seems to have designed human existence with this requirement built into us. Most of the time, parents provide protection and preserve our lives until we are ready to enter into a voluntary covenant with another person. Then Genesis 2:24 replaces our childhood need. The transition from childhood to spousal commitment is a model of the kind of transition that occurs when we enter into a voluntary covenant with God. God assumes the role of the ‘ezer. It’s worth noting that the Hebrew point of view does not support the Greek ideal of individual self-sufficiency. We are always in a chain of relationships. We guard someone while someone else guards us. Even if there is no spousal covenant, we are not exempt. God stands at the top of the shamar pyramid. Everyone beneath Him has both need and responsibility. Even David, the king, needs a Protector.
The modern Christian innovation of “accountability” groups only exists because we suffer from a dysfunctional model of community. We need accountability partners because we no longer live within the built-in community relationships that God designed. We pursue individual self-sufficiency, discover that it doesn’t give us any “air cover”, and end up creating a substitute for something God put in place at the beginning. There is no humanity where there is no mutual relationship chain. If shamar is so important that God Himself is willing to take on this role, how much more necessary is it for finite and fallible creatures like us? If you aren’t providing shamar for someone and someone is not providing shamar for you, then something is amiss.
Finally, we must notice that David’s cry is not for spiritual air cover. Yes, that is part of what God does. But David recognizes that the kind of shamar he needs is not only found in the realm of the spirit. It is practical, tangible, demonstrable preservation right here on planet Earth. David needs to be rescued from his enemies. He needs a helping hand, not merely a gate pass to heaven. That’s also part of the Hebrew perspective. There is really no distinction between the spiritual and the physical. One affects the other – in both directions. Both are woven into our existence. James points out that faith without works is dead. So is works without faith. The goal is to do what lasts and to make lasting what we do. Everything has an eternal consequence.
Do you provide air cover for someone? Does someone keep the faith for you? These names should come instantly to mind. If you hesitate in your answer, maybe you’re more Greek than you think. The chain gang is the right model. Who are you chained to?
Topical Index: chain, shamar, community, Psalm 16:1