Weds 19th April - Psalm 124
A song of ascents. Of David.
1 If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
2 if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
3 they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
4 the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters
would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Meditation on Psalm 124
If … but …
Remember this question from the apostle Paul – “what shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
This is what David is saying in this psalm.
The first time is a personal affirmation – ‘if the LORD had not been on our side…’
Then he calls on Israel – the people of God – to testify as a whole – ‘Let Israel say – if the LORD had not been on our side…’
We don’t know the specific time that David may be referring to but we know from our reading through the Old Testament that there were several occasions in which the people of God, both individually and collectively, would cry out to God.
Take Jacob, for example. You remember the context. Joseph was in Egypt, made Prime Minister of Egypt because of his interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams, having been sold as a slave to Potiphar, having spent time in prison for a crime he never committed and then being promoted to Prime Minister, taking charge of the seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. As far as his father, Jacob, was concerned, Joseph was dead. The famine hit Jacob and his family and Joseph had played games with his brothers before making himself known. In the middle of all this, Jacob had told his other sons exactly what he thought of them.
‘Their father, Jacob, said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and now you want to take Benjamin. EVERYTHING IS AGAINST ME”! (capitals are mine) (Genesis 42:36)
It was as if Jacob was wondering whether the LORD was on his side.
It took a few more traumas to unfold until God intervened. “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there, and I will surely bring you back again.” (Genesis 46:3-4)
Come forward a few hundred years to the time of Nehemiah. He went from his job as the king’s cupbearer (not a bad job!) back to his homeland because they were in trouble. ‘The wall of Jerusalem has broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.’ (Nehemiah 1:3)
Later on, the people were afraid because, as they said, ‘the strength of the labourers is giving out and there is so much rubble that we cannot build the wall…then the Jews, who lived near them, came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”’
It’s as if the people were wondering whether the LORD was on their side.
Nehemiah steps in. He stands up and says to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. REMEMBER THE LORD, (capitals are mine) who is great and awesome…” (Nehemiah 4:14)
A few pages later, we catch up with Job when he makes a complaint against God. “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where I might find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling! I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me and consider what He would say to me.” (Job 23:2-5)
It’s as if Job was wondering if the LORD was on his side.
God didn’t answer Job for some while and when He did, He just reminded Job of His greatness and His power. He didn’t cast Job aside. No, He blessed him more than before. ‘The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.’
Come into the New Testament and hear Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” And then, on the Cross, we hear Him cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It’s as if Jesus was wondering if God was on His side.
But then we know that God raised Him from the dead. As Peter says on the Day of Pentecost, “God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of it.” (Acts 2:32)
Back to the psalm. David is referring to those who attacked the people of God. He talks about ‘being swallowed alive’. He talks about ‘the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.’ Here he is referring back to the time when the people of God were brought out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea on their way to the promised land. Had God not intervened, they would all have drowned.
David then focuses on the LORD when he says, ‘praise be to the LORD…
Many of the psalms liken the attacks on the people of God as that of ferocious animals, especially the lion. For example, in Psalm 7:2 David cries out, ‘LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save me and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.’
David knew what it was like to be attacked by a lion and a bear but he also knew that the LORD had rescued him.
He goes on to define other cunning attacks. In a few psalms we read about the hunters who sought to destroy by hidden means or surprise attacks. Hunters would use snares, traps, nets and pits. But David is rejoicing as he recalls the escape from such attacks.
As he reminisces on all these attacks, he comes back to his starting point. when he says, “if the LORD had not been on our side…” This turns into a great celebration of praise, when he says, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.”
So, too, for us today. Perhaps we have our ‘ifs…’ and we struggle, as did Job.
Remember the ‘but…’ when we read the last verses of this psalm. ‘Our help is in the name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.’
What a helper we have! Praise be to the Lord.