Summary: Life is hazardous, but God is our Deliverer
124Psalm Steps> “Help is on the Way”, Psalm 124 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Each of these pilgrim Psalms of Ascent have themes. The theme of Psalm 124 is deliverance. As the people of Israel journeyed to Jerusalem, they sang of how God helped them in ages past. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves how God intervened in the past. What a mess we would be in, were it not for God’s involvement in our lives! We’re invited to think what might have happened, if God hadn’t stepped in. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
The psalm begins as a call-and-response, with David the singer inviting the congregation to join in. It’s like he’s asking, “Can I get a witness?” The consequences of what might have been are then detailed poetically in a series of word pictures.
We may not think much about deliverance when our lives are comfortable; it’s only when we’re thrust by events out of our comfort zone that we begin to see our need for divine help. C.S. Lewis aptly pointed out that God’s voice appears as a whisper when we’re at ease, but loud-and-clear when we’re enduring trials.
A Pastor went to give blood, and was asked several questions to determine his eligibility. The last item on the questionnaire was, “Do you engage in any hazardous work?” He smiled and answered “Yes.” He was wearing a clerical collar. The Red Cross worker looked up, marked NO on the sheet, then with a trace of a smile said, “I don’t mean that kind of hazardous.”
Life is hazardous. All followers of Christ are engaged in hazardous duty. Every day we put our faith on the line. We’ve never seen God, yet we trust Him. We don’t know a thing about the future, except that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We live on the edge, daring to trust God’s promises.
Life is hazardous, but the hazards of life are not the subject of Psalm 124. They provide the setting, but the theme is deliverance. God promises to help us. How He does this may not line up with how we might order things, yet God does what’s best for us. Our spiritual prosperity is more important than our health or bank account. For the early Puritans, material prosperity was not automatically seen as a sign of God’s blessing. The things our secular culture regard as signs of success aren’t necessarily what God’s deems as successful. We may need to redefine what the “good life” is.
The first impression from reading this psalm is that it appears like a gasp uttered by someone who’s just barely escaped from danger, is now in a safe place and is relieved to be alive: “If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive” (vss 2-3). Nations form alliances for protection. Whose side are we on?
Danger is described in three metaphors: a wild beast, flood waters, and a fowler’s net…
Other than when my cat tries to bite me, I can’t think of ever being attacked by a wild beast. In the Middle East wild animals were a common danger. In Babylon, King Darius figured that Daniel would be torn apart and devoured in the lions’ den, but God had other plans. Daniel could have responded to the king with the words of this psalm, “If the Lord had not been on my side, I would have been swallowed alive.” David may be referring here to enemy nations or even the devil, described in the New Testament as one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).
Flash floods are common in Israel. Rainstorms fill cracks and gullies which feed into one another. The waters can cause unexpected catastrophes. Travelers can be suddenly swept away. The Lord provides us with a solid foundation to keep us from being engulfed by troubles. We may at times be tossed about, but not submerged.
Birdcatchers set traps, hoping to snare wildfowl for dinner. The bird is trapped and there seems no way out…but the snare breaks and the bird escapes. This is not “good fortune”, it is divine intervention. Fowlers have many methods of trapping birds, and the devil has many methods of ensnaring souls. When we feel caged in, when it seems there’s no way to break out, we seek God’s deliverance. He will break every snare.
David declares that if it weren’t for the Lord’s involvement the Jewish nation would have been utterly destroyed. Israel was threatened in two ways—by annihilation and assimilation. Enemies sought to destroy Israel, and pagan cultures posed a threat to Israel’s distinctive monotheism, culture, traditions, values; their ethnic and spiritual heritage. Intermarriage with pagans posed as much of a threat to Israel’s sacred identity as was invading armies. The people we live with have an influence on us. David sings his thanksgiving to God for preserving the nation.