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.

What part of “If the world hated me first it will hate you too” do these false teachers misunderstand? What part of leaving hearth and home to follow Him didn’t we get? What part of “In this world you will have trouble” did we miss? What part of St. Paul’s “I’ve been shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, thirsty, on the run, a night and a day on the open sea” didn’t we believe? Just as God sends rain on the just and the unjust, so in this world believers and non-believers alike suffer trials. Being born again does not entitle one to a “Get Out of Jail Free Card.”

Well, then the next logical question this revelation begs is: What advantage is there in being a Christian? If the pagan and the pious both get cancer, both suffer business setbacks, both have children that disappoint, both have marriages which end in divorce, what advantage is there in being a Christian?

The answer is more obvious than you might think. The advantage in being a Christian is that you have someone walking with you through the trial, and someone in charge of the details ensuring they end to your good and God’s glory. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” David could say in Psalm 23—even whilst I am in a situation in which I am facing my own demise—“I will fear no evil.” Why? For thou art with me. Jesus told His disciples in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

“If, Then, But, Therefore.” 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.

We have all come here this morning with our own unique burdens. As I have said so often times before, in many ways our prosperity works against us. The addict in the gutter has no pretense to portray himself as anything other than what he is: a man who made some harmful, life-altering choices in his life. But our wealth and social standing can mask our hurt and emptiness; it can fool others into thinking we have it all together; and it can postpone the inevitable consequences of our sinful choices.

We have come here this morning with our own unique burdens. Some of you are on the verge of divorce. Some of you are facing health problems. Some of you have children that didn’t turn out as you had hoped. Some of you are carrying guilt for mistakes decades old.

How can we be free? How can we face life’s vicissitudes with faith, confidence, hope, and anticipation of our good and God’s glory coming out of the worst of circumstances? How can the good news of God’s deliverance and joyous praise at His deliverance become a reality in your life?

There are 3 short points of application. Listen closely.

Firstly, recall to mind the many times the Lord has saved you in the midst of trouble in the past, and thank Him and praise Him again.

Our God is a God of remembrance. He wants His people to remember what He has done for them, and is constantly reminding them of His mighty deeds. “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Our God is a God who remembers everything—except the sins of His people confessed to Him with humility and repentance. Those He forgets. Praise God! “I will remember their sin no more,” the Lord promises in Jeremiah 31:34.

Jesus left His disciples bread and wine and said, “Take this bread; take this cup, and partake of them in remembrance of me. Remember. Remember. Remember.

Remember the times in the past the Lord has spared you, provided for you, been gracious to you, and thank and praise Him again.

That’s what the people of Israel are on about in Psalm 124. Our enemies would’ve overwhelmed us, torn us limb from limb, and devoured us they recall, but the Lord was on our side. Then after recalling the deliverance these covenant people experienced at God’s mighty hands comes the only proper response to such goodness—verse 6: Praise the Lord.

Some of the sweetest times Kathryn and I have had in our marital relationship are recalling the times in the past we’ve been poor, cut off from family, lonely, in turmoil, and remembering how God intervened and either provided for us or gave us the grace to carry on.

Secondly, believe—be convinced—that if God saved you before, He can save you again. That’s the whole point of remembering God’s goodness to us in the past: to increase our trust in Him for the present and the future.

One of the most pathetic incidents in the Old Testament is watching the children of Israel complain to Moses about being thirsty and hungry after their miraculous exodus from Egypt. Wouldn’t it follow that a God who could dry up the Red Sea, cause the people of Israel to cross it on dry ground, and drown pharaoh and his army in it could also provide water and bread? Of course it would.

But we do the same thing. We pray and ask God to get us out of a jam. He does. Then we get in another one and immediately begin fussing and fretting about what we’re going to do. Do you want to know what I believe to be one of the most fundamental truths to living a confident, victorious Christian life? Surrendering the pretended control we think we have over the people and things in our life over to God and trusting Him to take care of us. Do you know what you actually have control over in your life? You control only those things that cannot be taken from you. Let that sink in.

David could write and the people of Israel could sing, “The snare has been broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

Thirdly, and finally, we need to be a people of praise. Contemporary Christian musician Michael W. Smith recently said in an interview: “I’m always reluctant to say: ‘OK, we’re going to have a worship service…We’re going to worship now.’ Worship is a lifestyle; it’s not just music. It’s how you treat God at the grocery store, around your lawyer; your doctor.”

In ancient Israel praise and thanksgiving always involved an offering to God. It was called a thank offering. If God had done something for you—provided an abundant crop, healed your daughter, ended a draught—it was incumbent upon you to take an animal, or some oil, or meal, or wine to the temple and offer it as a sign of your praise and thanksgiving to God. In fact, in Hebrew, the word for “thank you” and the word for “thank offering” are the same word: todah. The simple point here is that genuine praise and authentic gratitude always involve giving to others. Being blessed and blessing others are intrinsically bound together. And that, by the way, is a little bit of what memorial flowers and stained glass windows and memorials are about. A gift in gratitude. Genuine praise says “thank you, God.” And genuine praise opens the wallet and gives to the church or to others to share the blessings you just received.

Psalm 124, a song of assurance that God would always be there and could always be counted on to protect and provide for His people.

Even in these cynical days, Americans living abroad, who suddenly see the Stars and Stripes, or hear the national anthem, feel their pulse quicken, their breath shorten, their chest puff out and their throat tighten. That piece of cloth and that song represent our national deliverance and our identity. In Alice Duer Miller’s narrative poem The White Cliffs, an American girl, living in England during the First World War, feels Britain’s anger and dismay at our continued neutrality during the three years of their suffering and loss. Then the American doughboys arrive on their way to die in the trenches of France:

Marching through London to the beat of a boastful air,

Seeing for the first time Piccadilly and Leicester Square,

All the bands playing: “Over There, Over There,

Send the word, send the word to beware--”

And as the American flag went fluttering by,

Englishmen uncovered, and I began to cry.