Are you familiar with the expression, “cause and effect”? It refers to a relationship between events or things, where one is the result of the other. In our world, God is the “First CAUSE” of all things; we would do well to think more of/be more appreciative of His gracious EFFECTS that are a part of every moment of every day!
While the original purpose of Psalm 124 was undoubtedly to praise God for a particular act of deliverance for specifically David and His people, the place of the poem in this pilgrim collection indicates a general use as well. Because travelers were constantly subject to danger, the words of this psalm would have given them assurance and strengthened their trust. In a world of horizontal oppressiveness and reactions, how do we purposely move upwards toward the Lord with our struggles?
Psalm 124 provides two honest steps for us to take in the face of crisis:
Consider the vulnerable effect of not having the Lord.
Ps 124:1-5 “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say; If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.”
We need to first consider the vulnerable “if”(1-2). One theologian wisely asserts, “The single greatest evidences of the existence of God is the Jewish people and their survival.” Everything, for God’s people, has always depended on that if. It spelled the difference between deliverance and disaster. But the Lord was there, and that made all the difference. Have you given much thought to the all-important “if”? Our default and deserved position is that this “if” NOT BE AN “IF” but a “SINCE” the Lord is not on our side. It is only, by God’s grace, that this is only a theoretical question to help us appreciate what “IS!”
We must also fully contemplate the vulnerable “then” in the text (3-5). Not only do we need take a hard look at the reality of not having the Lord on our side, but the desperate place we would be in that is empty of deity and full of consequences.
The first one being the wrath of man (3). It appeared to the psalmist as if all the nations of mankind were operating in concert against the chosen nation, Israel. Had the Lord not been on their side, the enemies of Israel would have “swallowed us up quick.” The word “quick” is not an adverb, quickly, but an adjective, meaning alive. Our lack of persistent worship reveals that we don’t appreciate how quickly our human adversaries would overrun and destroy us…if it were not for the protective hand of God in our lives and world! (The moment that occurs, the Tribulation begins-a season of human history when the whole world gangs up on the Jews and anyone else brave enough to trust their Messiah!)
The other “then” mentioned is the waters of overwhelming circumstances (4-5). There is an obvious progression in these verses in the use of the water metaphor. Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: then the proud waters had gone over our soul. The proud waters able to capsize the largest vessel and drown the greatest men would have gone over their souls; and Israel’s antagonists would have been victorious over them. Without God, our spiritual adversaries would not have to directly conquer us; they could just wait to take advantage of us after we are overrun and ruined by the threats all around us in a fallen world! The only reason the curse of sin has not completely ruined us is the active, grace-filled intervention of God Himself. Isaiah 43:2 reminds us of this truth, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee…” Would you take some time to appreciate His PRESERVING WORK in your life?
By the way, the Apostle Paul mentioned the ultimate “if” as we enter this Easter season, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Co. 15:14).
Celebrate the preserving effect of having the Lord.
Ps 124:6-8 “Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
With the hypothetical void properly considered, we can now fully savor having the Lord in our lives! If we are not careful, we tend to resent instead of rejoicing in the Lord’s preserving guidance in our lives!
We see first the celebrated action of our preserving God (6-7). In verse 6, the Lord is presented as their Life Preserver. Not only did He keep them from drowning in the waters of despair; but, abruptly changing the metaphor, Jehovah also prevented Israel’s enemy from devouring them as a prey to their teeth. Again in verse 7, the metaphor changes to indicate that they were well within the grasp of the enemy; but as a bird escapes out of the snare of the fowlers, so too by divine aid the snare is broken, and they are escaped. God’s preserving intervention is our lives is not ABSTRACT or just a “religious crutch for the feeble-minded! He is demonstratively acting and counteracting threats all around us all the time! (The worshipful believer senses this preserving action; the worrying one does not!) Instead of worrying so much about the new threats, we should be reviewing more the EXPIRED THREATS that God helped us navigate. Instead getting HYSTERICAL with fear, get HISTORICAL with worship!
Lastly, the psalmist celebrates the preserving identity of his God and our God (8). Setting the metaphors aside, the psalmist clearly recognizes that our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The faith attested here is reminiscent of that expressed in Psalm 121:2 but more definitive. As long as the heavens and earth remain, we are assured of divine deliverance!!! Only the One who said “Let there be light” has the right to “turn out the lights” for the last time upon our current world. If our God is THE Creator of all things, would you trust Him to sustain and preserve you and those you love?
George Muller, a man of persistent prayer and praise, wrote, “If the Lord fails me at this time, it will be the first time.” Paul, in Acts 17, preaches to us today, “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands…For in him we live, and move, and have our being.”
Those who have spiritual intelligence consider the hypothetical absence of the Lord and give all the glory to the Lord who is always present for their mysterious, miraculous deliverance that occurs on a regular, daily basis! In a world of unbelievers and even believers who often take God’s presence for granted, would you worshipfully consider the VULNERABILITY that would be ours without the Lord and celebrate the PRESERVATION that we have with the Lord in our lives?
Here is a video link to this study.