Keeping Vigil

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Because the Lord kept vigil” (Exodus 12:42).

Oh, I love these five words!

The place is Egypt on the night of the 10th plague, on the night the Lord struck down the firstborn in every Egyptian household, on the night the Israelites were finally free to leave after more than 400 years under Pharaoh’s power.

It was the night of the first “Passover.” The very name tells the story. The Israelites were instructed to pack their bags. They were give specific details as to how to prepare for their last meal in Egypt. Most important of all, they were told to brush the blood of the lamb designated for that meal on the doorposts of their homes. By this sign the angel of death would know not to touch the firstborn of that home. That child was protected by the blood of the lamb.

The analogy is obvious. As that ancient household was protected by the blood, so is anyone who accepts Christ as his or her Saviour protected by the blood that He shed on the cross. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleansed us from all unrighteousness according to passages such as 1 John 1:5-10.

But at the end of the story of the passing over of the death angel in Exodus 12, there are further instructions. The Israelites are to celebrate the Passover as a means to remember what God did for them that night. They are to remember that it was only because He “kept vigil” that they were spared.

Ethel Waters, the famous Gospel singer of a past generation, made equally famous a song whose chorus reads: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” This thought is based on Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, made another similar reference when He said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable that they?” (Matthew 5:26).

We don’t often stop to think about the implication of this “vigil” that the Lord keeps over us. He guards us during this life and will guard us through to the next one. Psalm 23:4 tells us that we should not even fear death because He walks with us, once more keeping vigil to make sure that we get where He intends us to go.

Another old Gospel chorus comes to mind here. It was one that we used to sing in our youth meetings.

Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand;
Sheltered o'er, sheltered o'er
With His love forever more
No ill can harm me, No foe alarm me,
For He keeps both day and night,
Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand
.

The Psalmist expressed it this way in Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber or sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever.

The anxieties and fears of life ought to fade away as we think about the significance of an Almighty God who keeps watch over us—not as a spectator, but as a guardian.

Safe—no matter what!

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