Notes on Psalm 124

[Read Psalm 124]

I. If it had not beenlet Israel now say…

David begins his song with two things: (i.)a recollection of an event in Israel’s past, and (ii.)a command for Israel to speak about God’s powerful acts of deliverance although (it seems) they are not presently facing any external danger. David begins his song, then, with a contrast between Israel’s past state of helplessness, powerlessness, and need for God’s deliverance, and Israel’s current state of peace, security, rest, etc. The imperative David gives is dense with application to us, for it shows us two general states that we often find ourselves in, viz. (i.)fighting/warring/wrestling not with flesh and blood but with spiritual enemies, and (ii.)resting in the peacefulness that ensues upon seeing the Lord fight for us His people. We are prone to pray only when we are oppressed, bearing under a heavy load, fearful, anxious, etc; we are prone, moreover, to behave as if any of the blessings of peace, security, and joy are the product of our own doing. And this is the importance of this command “let Israel now say,” for in the present moment our enemy is more subtle than a thousand iron-clad men hurtling spears at us: Our enemy in times of peace and quiet, rest and security is complacent pride.

The imperative to remember that it is the Lord God who causes His children to be victorious over their enemies is not merely laden with rebuke for us, but contains hope for us. If God be for us, then no one, no man, can be against us. And in Christ, God is for us who have been called by His boundless grace into fellowship with Him. We can, therefore, look at the  past and present through these lenses. We know that God has delivered us and given us peace and security from our enemies, and we know that He will grant us peace and rest from the enemies that surround us, whether the flesh, the world, or the devil. We obey the imperative that bids us to “now say” that God is our deliverer, because we know that He is, was, and always will be the same Deliverer. To disobey the command is to acknowledge one’s own unbelief, reckoning one’s past victories either to chance (in which case, the infinite wisdom of God in His providence, as well as His love and covenantal faithfulness are completely denied), self (which is absurd and idolatrous), or man in general (which is absurd and idolatrous as well).

II. the Lord/people

            While verse one contrasted the past with the present, this verse contrasts Israel’s help (i.e. God) with Israel’s enemy (i.e. people). Our sinfulness causes us to think that man is the main character in the events comprising human history. With respect to our ease, we believe that we are the agents responsible for this blessing of repose, but it is really God who is the One who foreordains it, causes it to be, and who maintains or removes it. Similarly, with respect to the resources, the helps, and, really, The Help we have in combating those who oppose God, His Gospel, the propagation of the Gospel through God’s people, and God’s people as well, we tend to think of men who have brought about victory. Whether it is ourselves or those servants of God whom we hold in high esteem, even if we look to them for spiritual counsel for the right reasons, we often do not see that it is God who is on the side of His people. God is the Agent of deliverance, although He may employ means as simple as a smooth stone plucked from a flowing river, a young shepherd, and a sling with which to cast the stone into the head of a Goliath.

God may use means as apparently insignificant as these, or He may not. The fact of the matter is simply this: God is the Agent of Deliverance who is ever exercising His omnipotent power to bring about whatsoever His eternal wisdom has foreordained.

III. They would have swallowed us up

This sentiment is explicitly teaching us about the frailty of man. However, it also shows us the honesty that should be present in the hearts and minds of professing Christians. The acknowledgment of God’s deliverance, in other words, is to be accompanied by our acknowledgment of our own helplessness. To put it another way, we can say that Israel did not abdicate her responsibility to fight and conquer her enemies, as though she possessed the capacity to do so in and of herself. Israel was without defense against these enemies, and only their Omnipotent Helper could possibly save them. David doesn’t say “they may have swallowed us up,” but “they would have swallowed us up,” thereby indicating to us that he was aware of God’s power and man’s weakness. We can see, further, that while there are degrees of power among men, God alone is Omnipotent. Israel would have been swallowed up by her enemies, but there is no one man, group, nation, or collection of humans who could ever swallow up the Lord God – He alone is Omnipotent.

What recourse, then, should we have to the Lord in times of conflict is made evident here. In our weakness He makes Himself strong,[1] and in His “weakness” He puts the “strong” to shame![2] Our eyes should turn from ourselves and onto our Deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ Omnipotent who says “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”[3] The world, the flesh, and the devil will indeed swallow us up whole if God withholds His mercy and protection, His internal dwelling by which He sanctifies us. Thankfully, we have the promised Spirit who is our guarantee of our participation in life both now and in the age to come. This isn’t grounds for boasting or easy living, taking God’s blessings for granted, but instead should teach us to be thankful in both word and deed. We give thanks for the assurance of our salvation, but we also respond to God in obedience in order to show our thankfulness.

IV. the flood…the torrent…

The wrath of God’s enemies against His people is here signified by these two metaphors. David teaches us that the wrath of men is like a flood and a torrent. The immensity, intensity, and incessant nature of the wrath of God’s enemies against His people is shown in these metaphors. The Christian’s life is not one where there are no difficulties, troubles, and no striving against that which opposes itself to God Himself. No, the Christian’s life is fraught with trials and tribulations: struggles against remaining corruption indwelling us, struggles against a world that is opposed to God and His truth and His people, and the devil who has come down to the earth to accuse and harass because he knows that his time is short. The flood and the torrent, however, are not stronger than the wrath of God which is also spoken of as a flood, billows, a torrent, etc.[4] For the believer, we can rest assured of our safety, since we have been delivered from the greater eternal wrath of God. The flood and torrent of ungodly assaults against God’s people will end, and we will not be swallowed up, although there is for the moment seemingly no rest from the onslaught of attacks made by our enemies.

V. …the raging waters…

This is the third water metaphor given by David, and it serves the same purpose of giving emphasis to the turbulent virulence of his enemies. Yet, taking these three metaphors together (i.e. the flood, the torrent, and the raging waters) we see an interesting antithetical parallel to the Flood Narrative of Genesis 6-9. As noted in §IV, the wrath of God and the wrath of man are not in any way equal to one another, but we can see that man thinks himself to be a god, and in his self-righteousness, exercise of authority, etc seeks to ascribe Divine honors and prerogatives to himself. So as God literally brought the Flood,[5] the Torrent,[6] and the Raging Waters[7] of Judgment in Genesis 6-9, man vainly attempts to mimic the wrath of God – but to no avail. It is true that some men are stronger than others, for David says that the raging waters would have gone over the Israelites had not God been the One who was on their side, their Mighty Deliverer. However, being elected in Abraham, chosen in their elder brother and father in the faith, this could not happen. Why? Because God had covenantally committed Himself to their good, and the same is true for us. Hence, the apostle Paul tells us: “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[8]

VI. Blessed be the Lord

This is the proper response to God’s salvation: Thankfulness to Him who “has not given us as prey to their teeth!” In this one verse, we see the bankruptcy of Arminian and Roman Catholic free-willism, for Salvation is not conditioned upon man’s will in any sense. Rather, Salvation is conditioned upon the will of God who chooses whether or not one will be given over for destruction. Note that in the first place, Israel was overpowered. Note in the second place, Israel had God on her side. Note, finally, that she was not given over to her enemies by God. Israel did not choose God, He chose her. Israel did not have the natural capacity to fight her enemies, God fought them for her. Israel did not keep herself from being defeated by her enemies, God defeated those who were opposing and harming His elect people. And so it is with us now who live not under the Old Covenant but the New Covenant, for salvation is all of God’s grace. God did not choose us because of something intrinsically saveable about us, nor does He watch as we war against our enemies, but He saved us sheerly out of His boundless grace and He saves us even now from the current onslaught of attacks daily brought about against us.

VII. We have escaped…

David is not attributing their liberation to their cunningly devised plots to break free from their enemy/enemies. David is stating what is the case: Because God has not given His people over to their oppressors, they have escaped. Because God is the One who has broken the very trap laid for them by the world, the flesh, and the devil, the church also escapes, is freed from bondage to the will of satan and sin, for if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed. At the moment, however, we may not see that the snare has been broken, or be able to recognize that it is for freedom that Christ set us free. We may be wrestling with sins that are subtle or sins that are explicit and hardly ignorable. In either case, we have been set free, the snare of our enemy has been broken, we have been set free, and all of this is by God’s  electing grace, for we have already noted that if it had not been for the Lord’s work we would have been already swallowed up, swept away by the violence and corruption of our enemies, and would be no people of God at all.

VIII. Our Help

It is futile to trust in oneself, one’s neighbor, and false deities. Therefore, David says: “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth.” Our help is in the One who bears God’s image perfectly, who orders all of God’s works and sustains them by the Word of His Power: The Lord Jesus Christ, the Name of God, the Name Above ALL Names. Christ is the Name upon which we call to be saved, for He perfectly reveals the compassionate heart of our Father to us, who is ready to forgive and embrace us, and clothe us again in the righteousness of Jesus His Son. We may soil our garments, but our hope is not in our ability to remain spotless, but in Christ’s perfectly spotless righteousness. The Name of the Lord is Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who is our strong tower.

[1] Cf. 2 Cor 12:1-10

[2] Cf. 1 Cor 1:18-31

[3] Ps 50:15

[4] Cf. Ps 42:7, 88:7, et al.

[5] Cf. Gen 6:17

[6] Cf. Gen 7:11-12

[7] Cf. Gen 7:17-24

[8] Ro 8:37


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