Study of Psalm 124 (Part Two)

Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (124:6-8 NLT).

A few months ago we began a series on the Songs of Ascent. They were written for people going up to Jerusalem for one of the three required festivals of the old covenant. In the first part of the series, we considered the first five verses of this psalm. Those verses spoke of the presence of God with his people during their trials. David next celebrated the rescue that the Lord God gave. As David did not forget the serious difficulties he and his people went through, so he did not fail to recall what God did for them. It is the black velvet of misery that sets forth the brilliant diamond of salvation in glorious light.

David spoke in words of his early life as a shepherd. Wild animals brought danger of death to the helpless flock. The shepherd would need to act if they were to escape. Using this imagery, David rejoiced in God’s rescue of Israel. The Lord had helped them when they were close to ruin. Spiritually, we were near destruction, guilty and liable for eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire. But when we were dead in sins, God made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).

When a hunter is seeking your life, you are in terrible danger. David uses this word picture to remind the people of what their fate could have been. We also have an enemy scheming to trap us (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). The evil one that pursues us has many traps: evil companions, lust for fleshly pleasure, hunger, and frightening circumstances. If Satan can set us worrying, he has already disrupted our peace and who knows what substitutes of false peace he may use to further deflect us from the way of righteousness? 

However, at this point David called everyone to sing of good news. The trap is broken, and we are free! Though Israel’s enemy longed for a crushing defeat of God’s people, they were free. An old southern gospel song reminds us of our spiritual freedom. “Thank God I am free, free, free from this world of sin, washed in the blood of Jesus, and then born again. Hallelujah I’m saved, saved, saved by his wonderful grace. I’m so glad that I found out He would bring me out and show me the way.”

We need to sing about our freedom in Christ. The Lord Jesus has set us free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36 NIV). For freedom, Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1b CSB). Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17 HCSB).

David concludes this psalm by exalting the Lord God. The I Am Who I Am is the One who helps his people. As David restored the worship of God in the old covenant people, he wanted to infuse their thoughts with God’s reality and ability of the Lord. For example, “I have a problem, who will help me? What is that song of ascent? Yes, the I Am is my helper.” The same would be true for the people as a whole when faced by new enemies. Sadly, they tried political means to solve their issues and suffered greatly. Does this sound vaguely familiar? But David filled their ideas with truth about God the Creator. We need to do more than mutter words about God Almighty as Maker of heaven and earth. We must transform our ideas, so that they look at the world as God’s world. Since he made it, he has all-ability to help his people. Father in heaven, may we learn from this song and return to you today!

Grace and peace,

Study of Psalm 124 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives (124:1-5 NLT).

Psalm 124 is the fifth of the Songs of Ascent. They were composed for people going to Jerusalem for the three required feasts during the old covenant. As the heading indicates, David wrote this song. His love for the true and living God overflowed to help the worship of God’s covenant people. In our time, people have mainly lost their ability to sing. People will listen to others perform music, but they lack desire to sing. We have become passive in our emotional expressions. It should not surprise us to see people emotionally manipulated by those who produce music. David wrote to improve and enhance the worship of the Lord by his people.

His song has structure; it pushes its participants to move through the muck and mire of their experience to the Lord God. But it does not do this in a balanced way. This might upset the analytic or clinical mind that likes everything in neat orderly packages. But David writes about life, which is anything except neat and orderly, and he writes about God who reveals himself as greater than the wild messes of our lives.

The psalm can be outlined in this way:

  • Presence of the Lord during trials (124:1-5)
  • Protection by the Lord (124:6-7)
  • Praise to the Lord (124:8)

So then we see that David lets us linger in our problems for over half the psalm before he reminds us of how God has rescued us, which in turn he develops into a call to worship.

Let’s speak plainly. None of us want to slowly review our trials. We want them way behind us in the rear view mirror. After I recovered from a heart attack, I wanted to get on with my life as quickly as I could. I was very thankful for how God preserved my life, but once rescued, it was time for other things. Then I had to have bypass surgery a year later, followed by another time of recovery, and more desire to move on. A couple years later, I did move on, but not as I expected! My point is simply that we want to get out of painful and unpleasant situations and get on with whatever. David did not do that. He wanted the pilgrims on the path to remember where they had been and what the Lord had done for them.

Like many psalms, it is unclear what troubles David and Israel faced. Perhaps he pointed to the early years of his reign. He could truthfully say it was a time when people attacked us. Benjamin and the other ten tribes refused to bow to David’s God-given kingship, and a mini civil war lasted for about seven years. That was bad enough, but there were also problems from the Philistines, Israel’s archenemy for many years during the leadership of Samson, Samuel, and Saul. David inherited those enemies when he became king, and he had his own hand in stirring the pot, when he supposedly defected to the Philistines and then was kicked out by them when they went to fight Saul. When the Philistines heard that David was king over all Israel and not merely the tribe of Judah, they decided that they must strike hard against David and Israel (2 Samuel 5). It was a dangerous time for David and his people. He had to flee to his stronghold to get into a defensible position. (God expects us to use our common sense.) Then David rightly asked God what to do. (God expects us to pray. He wants us to welcome him into our problems.) And in two different ways, God gave David and Israel victory over their enemies.

So in this Song of Ascent, David reminded the worshipers of the crisis they had passed through. What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? By repetition, he helps Israel recall the dangers they had been in. During what dangers you’ve faced have you experienced that God was on your side? Remember the following great word. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 NIV)

Grace and peace,