Theme: If God Were Not on Our Side
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the many ways God shows his protective care, and of our privilege to praise him for his goodness.
Scripture: Psalm 124:1-8
The chief reason for the beauty of this psalm is the power of the six images that occur here, one upon another, in answer to the question: “What if?”
3. A torrent rushing over everything (v. 4). The next line also speaks of life’s floods, here called a “torrent.” But the picture is just a bit different. In the first line of verse 4 the image was of being engulfed by quickly rising floodwaters. Here the idea is of a torrent sweeping over helpless people, leaving them destitute and devastated, and then rushing on.
Sometimes our troubles are like that. It is not so much a question of being submerged by troubles, buried by them, as we might say. It is more like being hit by a truck, which crushes us by its great weight, leaving us mangled by the roadside while it disappears on down the highway. The Greek word for “trouble” or “tribulation” (used by Paul in Romans 8:35) is like that. The word is thlipsis, and it has to do with pressure, being pressed down by something. The Latin word, which is used to translate thlipsis in the Vulgate version, is tribulum, from which we get our word “tribulation.” It is even stronger. It means a threshing sled, which was drawn over grain on a threshing floor to break the heads and thus to separate the whole grain from the chaff. Sometimes our problems are like threshing. They press on us so fiercely that we feel we are being broken up like stalks of grain. We can say, “If the Lord had not been on our side to lift us up, bind up our wounds and heal us, we would have perished utterly.”
4. Waters sweeping everything before them (v. 5). The next line (v. 5) takes this image a final step, imagining a flood that not only engulfs and destroys, but also sweeps away everything before it. Some have experiences that are like this too, everything in their lives suddenly being swept away—everything they had been counting on as sure and necessary for their well-being. Can we not say, “If the Lord had not been on our side, we would have been swept away ourselves”? The only reason we have survived is that the Lord has set our feet upon a rock and established our goings out and our goings in forever.
5. An animal grinding its prey (v. 6). The last two of these images are from the poem’s second half, which is thanking God for his deliverance rather than reflecting on what would have happened if the Lord had not been on our side.” But they are still part of the picture. The first picks up on the image of an animal with its prey, though here the image is of the animal actually grinding away on the carcass. This is what King Darius expected to see when he rushed to the lion’s den early in the morning following the day he had reluctantly caused Daniel to be lowered into it. “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” he cried out (Dan. 6:20). Daniel might have replied, “If the Lord had not been on my side, I would have been ground to pieces by their teeth.” What he did say was, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me” (v. 22).
Many of us can also say quite accurately, “If the Lord had not been on our side, our enemies would have ground us into little pieces, swallowed us up and spit out the bones.”
6. A bird entangled in a trap (v. 7). Finally, the psalmist writes of a bird caught in a trap but then suddenly released when the trap is broken. Rowland E. Prothero records in his valuable volume The Psalms in Human Life that there is an old seal, still in existence, that was once the property of a Huguenot refugee, which bears as its device a net below, and above, a bird soaring upwards.” It has as its text the words of verse 7, “My soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler.”1 This Huguenot refugee, who came in time to America, knew that he had been delivered from the snare of his fierce enemies by God alone.
Should we not say the same thing? If the Lord had not been on our side, we should never have escaped the snares our enemies set for us.
1Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904), p. 183. This is also mentioned in Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), p. 639.
What additional ideas do the Greek and Latin words for “trouble” convey?
List three more images in answer to the question, “What if?”
Read Daniel 6 for an example of God’s intervention. How does this encourage you?
Reflection: How did you handle troubles before you became a Christian? How should you deal with problems now?
Application: What troubles are you going through now? How is the Lord at work in your life through them? Are you patiently waiting, praying, and trusting him to intervene on your behalf?
Key Point: If the Lord had not been on our side, we should never have escaped the snares our enemies set for us.
Prayer: Pray for protection from the enemies of the Lord’s work.