What Does It Mean to “Keep” God’s Commandments?

The Hebrew verb shamar (שָׁמַר) means to keep, to guard, or to preserve. Here are the first few appearances of that word in the Bible:

  • God commanded Adam and Eve to cultivate the Garden of Eden and to “keep” it (Genesis 2:15).
  • When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, God placed cherubim and a flaming sword “which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).
  • After Cain killed Abel, he asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
  • When God invited Abraham to make a covenant with Him, He admonished Abraham and his descendants to keep that covenant (Genesis 17:9-10).

The context clarifies the meaning. When you “keep” something, you look after it, you maintain it, you take care of it. You are in a position of trust, and you are accountable to preserve and protect the thing you have been charged to keep.

Soon after leaving Jerusalem, Lehi and his family set up camp in a valley. He named the valley after his son Lemuel, with a plea that he might be “like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1 Nephi 2:10).

Shortly after, another of Lehi’s sons, Nephi, received a promise from God on behalf of the entire family: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise” (1 Nephi 2:20).

When the wicked priests of King Noah affirmed to Abinadi that they taught the law of Moses, he replied, “If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it?” (Mosiah 12:29).

Some form of the phrase “keep the commandments” appears 103 times in the Book of Mormon (search run on the University of Michigan Digital Collections Library). To me, the term conveys something stronger than mere obedience, something more mature. Just as keeping the Sabbath Day holy is more than completing a checklist of acceptable activities, keeping the commandments suggests to me a sense of ownership, a genuine desire to fulfill God’s purposes when He gave those commandments, and a determination to sustain our efforts in fulfilling those purposes over time. I think a person who really keeps God’s commandments will defend them as well, communicating to other people the seriousness he or she places on them. A commandment keeper is a commandment guardian and a commandment preserver.

Today, I will remember the trust God has placed in me by giving me commandments which I can choose to keep. I will strive to better understand the commandments He has given, to observe them, to defend them, and to fulfill their intended purposes consistently over time.

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