Psalm 124 expresses thanksgiving and praise for the Lord who is on our side. The exuberant wording of the poem envisions the catastrophic alternative that would have occurred had God not intervened. The psalm begins with recognition of God’s protection, then calls for Israel to respond. As pilgrims traveled to the temple, they would have responded to this call as they sang or chanted this psalm of ascent. The psalm has inspired several lyrical arrangements. My favorite is Leonard Smith, Jr.’s 1985 song “Had It Not Been the Lord Who Was on Our Side.” The worshipers in Psalm 124 respond to the call:
“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters” (Psalm 124:2-5).
Those words echo a victory recorded in 2 Samuel 5 that saved King David’s fledgling united kingdom of Judah and Israel. The Philistines, threatened by emergence of a stronger power to their north and east, attacked. After David’s army defeated them, he said, “The Lord has burst through my enemies before me like a bursting flood” (2 Samuel 5:20).
A sense of entrapment fills us with dread. When we feel as if we are trapped, we wonder if we can escape. Is there hope? Whether it is a military scenario as in David’s case, an abusive relationship, or a tense situation in the workplace, our pulse quickens and we worry about what may happen next. This psalm of David is quite clear. If the Lord had not been on their side, they would have been overwhelmed. That too may be our sense when we face challenges. When we need more information to understand what is going on around me, when we wonder if an ambush against may occur, we crave assurance that the Lord indeed is on our side, that he will provide a way of escape from the snare that we sense. On those occasions we pray that the Lord will break through like a torrent into our lives to remove obstacles to our survival or success, that he will give us victory over the evil we confront. We give thanks for the help he has provided so far, and sing with the pilgrims of Psalm 124:
“Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:6-8).
- Quotations are from the English Standard Version
O Lord, We sense danger. We want to run away, but fear we will run into the trap the enemy has laid. We want to trust, but wonder if it is safe to do so. We want to love, but those we have loved sometimes have hurt us badly. We do not know what perils await us on the path ahead. Give us wisdom as we navigate poorly mapped trails. Grant us courage when we sense unidentified adversaries lurking nearby. Preserve our love for truth and help us to be people of integrity. We fear drowning in a torrent of angry abuse. May we listen well, so that we may discern danger when it exists, and recognize salvation when it is near. You have protected and have saved us in the past. We praise you and thank you. If you had not been there, we would have perished. You are our help and our savior. We thank you in Jesus’ name, amen.