Sunday, August 19, 2007

wa'DIch jIbej - I'll Take the First Watch

yIlegh, ghaH 'Iv poltaH Israel DichDaq ghobe' slumber ghobe' Qong.

Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psalms 121:4
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Picture this: a group of travelers are making their way through a challenging landscape. Their ship has crashed on this planet, and together they are working their way to a destination that has their only hope of rescue. The heroes set up camp - tents are pitched, meals are sorted out and together they face a long night by a campfire. One of them, a Klingon, eventually speaks up, saying, wa'DIch jIbej - "I'll take the first watch!"

How would you respond? Are you sure this frightening watchman is someone you WANT to stand guard? He's no doubt up to the task - but is he trustworthy? Or would you agree, but secretly keep one eye open, watching him as he stands guard?

It's a familiar scene in adventure stories - for centuries writers have given us this scenario again and again. And often the story has a certain tension over whether the watcher is truly trustworthy or up to the task. Any Klingon can tell you, this is an important point - who will take the watch while the others sleep. Your life hangs on finding someone who really is dependable - who will neither betray you, or fail you by falling asleep.

yIlegh, ghaH 'Iv poltaH Israel DichDaq ghobe' slumber ghobe' Qong.

Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

This psalm tells us good news - we've got someone on watch who doesn't need to be relieved, and who is ultimately the most dependable guard we could hope for; believers can count on this promise, that "he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep."

"Keeps" here in Klingon is rendered "poltaH" to-keep (pol) with the continuous suffix (-taH). This translates the Hebrew word shamar which I've noted before is used more than 400 times in the Bible, and conveys the idea of a hedge, a fence to protect one. We need to realize this does not make us invulnerable - we will be kept safe, but it doesn't mean we will have a completely placid existence. I love the example in Hebrews 11 - a chapter that recounts great heroes of the faith:

By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death ...

This sounds like what we want to hear - God, our keeper, protects us like a forcefield! But the chapter continues:

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. 36Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. 37Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. 38They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (NLT)

yIlegh, ghaH 'Iv poltaH Israel DichDaq ghobe' slumber ghobe' Qong.

Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

We will be kept, we will be preserved, by God as we work our way through this life. But, to be kept means to be preserved to an end - not just frozen in place. Think back to our original scenario - the travelers making their way through a hostile environment. If they were simply KEPT, stored away and safe, they'd never reach their destination. They need to continue on the move - even if it involves danger.

Do you live as if this were true? Do you go to sleep easily, trusting the one who has promised to "take the watch?" This Psalm brings good news IF you trust the watchman and not everyone does. As we grow into this trust, we not only learn to rely on God - we help others see that, indeed, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep!

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