A song of ascents. Of David.
If the Lord had not been on our side –
let Israel say –
if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
would have swept us away.
Praise be to the Lord,(Ps. 124:1-8 NIV)
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
This is a song for the whole community, a hymn of praise for national deliverance. Look at the end of verse 1: ‘Let Israel say—if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us.’ God was always delivering them from their enemies. This isn’t a song about one incident; it’s the story of the community’s entire history—starting with the original Exodus and escape from the armies of Pharaoh. Then there was the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua and regular episodes of divine deliverance during the time of the Judges.
This is a song about God’s sovereignty, His wisdom, His goodness, and His nature as a saviour. It’s a joyful song. This Psalm is full of joy and jubilation—and it’s a suitable song to sing any time we escape some calamity, resist some temptation, or rise above the opposition of some adversary.
The first five verses are words of remembrance. These verses include the call to worship at the end of verse 1. Verse 6-8 is the response—words of praise from the people as every voice joins the song.
Three metaphors are used here to illustrate danger and deliverance. In verses 3 and 6, you have the image of a wild beast. Verse 6 mentions the predator’s teeth. However, the image is of a beast so large, so aggressive and so voracious that he swallows his prey alive (verse 3). The teeth merely signify the pain and injury the beast inflicts as he swallows his prey alive. There is a metaphor of a raging flood (verses 4-5). This is an unstoppable torrent that sweeps away everything in its path. Again, the idea is something so much larger than its victims that there is no earthly hope for deliverance. Then there is the metaphor of a fowler’s trap (v. 7) a large net that would be spread on the ground in some camouflaged fashion in order to snare birds. Once more you have the image of something vastly bigger than its prey, a threat that renders the victim totally helpless. If not for the intervention of God, the people would have been overwhelmed and utterly destroyed by traps and calamities and predators such as those.
The enemies of God’s people were almost always more cruel, more crafty, more numerous, more powerful, more skilled at war, more ruthless, and more devious than the people of God. By comparison, the people always looked helpless, clueless, powerless—ill-equipped and ill-prepared for any kind of serious, large-scale military engagement.
We are all destitute of spiritual strength, devoid of any righteousness of our own, in desperate need of redemption, and totally unable to save ourselves. In short, we are spiritual paupers—poor, weak, and helpless. And if God were not our deliverer, we would have no hope at all.
The wild beast (vv. 1-3) signifies an attack motivated by sheer malice. Verse 2: This is a human enemy with all the characteristics of a vicious animal. They are angry, and it’s a voracious anger. They are motivated by carnal anger. It is a blind, wicked rage. The idea is of a sudden, unprovoked uprising, without warning, but brazen and hostile. It’s a terrifying image, because the victim in such an assault is caught off guard and defenceless. The only motive for the attack is sheer, angry malice. And the predator is large enough and aggressive enough to swallow the victim up alive.
The raging flood (vv. 4-5) is not an accidental mixed metaphor, but the psalmist is using a series of pictures to emphasize how thoroughly the Lord had saved the people from a host of different troubles, time and time again. Like the first metaphor, it pictures sudden, catastrophic destruction by a massive force that the victim is powerless to resist. In this case, the bodies of the dead would be swept away, buried, perhaps lost in total oblivion. The wild-beast metaphor had the idea of raw malice. This one embodies the notion of raw power. The threat in this case is a superhuman, catastrophic force, and the only possible defence against it is the almighty power of an omnipotent God.
There’s a third metaphor in verse 7, the fowler’s trap (vv. 6-8). The emphasis here is on the enemy’s cunning. The imagery speaks of someone who lays a trap, lies in wait, renders his victim utterly powerless, and then unleashes an ambush. But God delivered His people; He foiled the fowler. Verse 7, the snare is broken, and we have escaped!
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. That deals with any attacker.
Lord God we thank You that You are on our side. You were for us in Christ when he willingly faced Your righteous anger against sin. We thank You that You are for us in the Holy Spirit. We thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth and empowers us for service and worship. If You, Lord, had not been on our side, how dreadful would be our lives and our eternity! Accept our heartfelt gratitude in Jesus’ name. Amen.