Summary: An exposition of Psalm 124 focusing on God’s covenantal goodness.
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Ft. Worth, TX
“If, Then, But, Therefore”
The Text: Psalm 124
The Text Summary: Because God has been His people’s provider, helper, and deliverer from all their woes, they should respond to Him by a confident trust and joyous praise.
The Text Outline:
I. If the Lord had not been on our side (vv. 1-5).
A. Then we would have been overwhelmed completely by our enemies.
B. Then we would have been drowned in the flood.
C. Then we would have been swept away by our troubles.
II. But because our help is in the name of the Lord (vv. 6b-8).
A. Then God has thwarted the evil plans of our enemies and rescued us.
B. Then we have escaped destruction.
III. Therefore trust in and praise the Lord (v. 6a).
Few Americans realize that our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner,—especially its first stanza—is a song celebrating a moment of national deliverance.
The event which inspired the composition of the poem, the Defence of Fort McHenry, as it was originally called , by Francis Scott Key, occurred during the War of 1812. Feeling heady and fresh from their recent sacking of the nation’s capitol, and the torching of the White House, the British turned their attentions to conquering the vital seaport of Baltimore. Standing in their way was Fort McHenry. The outpost’s new commander, Major General Armistead, had requested from the War Department an American flag “so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.” The request was granted, and the fort received a flag 42 by 30 feet, with 15 stars stretching 26 inches across and two-foot stripes.
On September 11, 1814 the British fleet assembled—50 vessels in all, ranging in size from the 80-gun flagship, to 74-gun men-of-war, 38- and 36-gun frigates, to rocket and mortar ships—all aimed at Fort McHenry. The next day the bombardment began. All day long the English pounded the fort, often sending 200 pound mortar bombs crashing into the outpost to explode into rubble. Because of its size, the fort’s flag became the target of the shelling. Desperate to finish off the fort, the British redoubled their efforts that evening. The dark, moonless night, the rain, and the smoke from the incessant cannonade made it impossible for the lawyer Key, held prisoner on an English frigate, to see the fate of Fort McHenry. He assumed, however, that the continuous artillery barrage meant the flag was still there and the fort remained unconquered.
At the faintest light of dawn, the British, running low on powder and ammunition, called off the attack. It was just at that moment the rain ceased, a gust of wind unfurled the flag and stretched it out, that Key saw the blue square, the white stars and red stripes of the fort’s colors. The flag was still there.
The Smithsonian got the flag in 1907. Congress made Francis Scott Key’s poem, set to music, the national anthem in 1931.
Though not its national anthem, Psalm 124 is a song in celebration of a national deliverance for the people of Israel. The superscription, found in under the numeric designation of the psalm in our Bibles but not in our prayer books, informs us that David is the author of Psalm 124, and that it is a “Song of Ascents.” The Songs of Ascent, called the Songs of Degrees in the King James Bible, include psalms 120-134, and were so called because Jewish pilgrims sang them as they ascended to the temple mount during feast and festival days.
Unlike our national anthem, we do not know the exact historical situation which gave rise to the composition of Psalm 124. But maybe that’s to our advantage. The good news of God’s deliverance is now universalized and can be personally applied to individuals—believers just like you and me—during our times of distress and danger.
Psalm 124 is only 8 verses. But of these 8 verses there are 4 key words which make up the 4 thematic points of the psalm. And here they are: “If, Then, But, Therefore.” Those are the 4 words. And here are the 4 phrases: “IF the Lord had not been on our side, THEN we would have perished; BUT the Lord has been on our side, THEREFORE we will trust and praise Him.”
That’s Psalm 124 in summary and in synthesis. Here’s another important revelation: Those 4 phrases summarize and synthesize the life of a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ as well.
Being a Christian does not make one immune from trouble. I hope that isn’t a newsflash to anyone here. There are the false prophets of the health and prosperity gospel on television saying that if you believe in Jesus and send along a sizeable check to their ministry, then your troubles in this life will be over. Pooh. It isn’t true.