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Psalm 124 Let Israel Now Say- “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,”

Probably no people group have survived so many narrow escapes as the Jewish people.  By natural laws an enormous tidal wave of Gentile attack would more than likely have extinguished them,  considering their remarkable history down the ages and until today. Evidently, the Lord is on their side.[i]

I remember a couple of conversations with some individuals concerning this. The first chap was an Atheist and he struggled to believe in the existence of God in view of the suffering of his people including his family. I expressed deep sympathy which was appreciated but also stated that the preservation of the Jewish people is a miracle to which he agreed. There was an inward struggle between denying God’s existence because of suffering yet an acknowledgment of almighty intervention because of miraculous preservation.

Another Jewish man kindly checked that my friend and I were okay when my friend was being heckled whilst open air preaching. We spoke and I remarked that the existence of Israel pointed towards the God of Israel. He responded in friendly terms that Israel has a good army. I agreed though recalled that Israel survived Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and have had further remarkable deliverances throughout history. We have formed a good friendship since that day.

God’s Intervention  

This Psalm is a song of ascents, worshippers would go up to Jerusalem three times annually to observe the feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). But there have always lived godly Jewish folk who have recognised that apart from the Lord they would have ceased to exist.[ii] Furthermore upon recovery from illness or injury Jewish tradition encourages the recital of the blessing in public “You are the source of blessing Adonai our God, eternal ruler of the universe, who bestows goodness upon the undeserving, who bestowed favour upon me.”[iii]

David is the author and he knew what it meant to be pursued by enemies such as Saul or the Philistines or to experience Absalom’s rebellion. Hence some commentators relate this Psalm to David’s situation in 2 Samuel 5:17-20 when David broke through his enemies like a breakthrough of water (2 Samuel 5:20).[iv]Others have likened the flood and the stream to the Red Sea Crossing and the River Jordan crossing (Exodus 14, Joshua 3).[v] After all, several psalms make reference to the crossing of the Red Sea. Still others that Hezekiah’s escape from Sennacherib is illustrated in this psalm.[vi] Radak interpreted this passage in view of the Babylonian captivity and the Exodus though in all fairness it may be applied in any situation when God’s people seek His deliverance.[vii]

Glorifying the God who Defends His people

The structure of this Psalm is that the first five verses soberingly recall God’s intervention whilst verses 6 to 8 direct our thoughts to glorifying the Lord. We are reminded to bless the Lord, that our help is in His name and He created heaven and earth.

The imagery shifts from deliverance from the overwhelming floods to a bird escaping the snare. This metaphor is fascinating in the light of archaeological discovery (see other article ‘Five Key Archaeological Findings Relating to the Bible)’ under ‘Biblical Archaeology Section’. Sennacherib’s Prism or Taylor’s Prism in the British Museum is in view of God’s sovereignty and providence also more appropriately entitled the ‘Jerusalem Prism’ and kept in the Israel Museum. When describing the siege of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) in the siege of Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah), he speaks of him as a ‘caged bird’. A miracle occurred in which Jerusalem and Hezekiah were freed from the Assyrian snare (2 Kings 18-19).[viii]What would have happened if it had not been that the lord was on our side? God is the author of all deliverances and He must have all the glory.[ix]It is good for us to reflect on God’s intervention to preserve Israel, but also to be grateful for what he has done in our lives and ascribe thanksgiving and praise to Him.

God acts providentially in that He intervenes in human events and personal circumstances. It isn’t as if He has folded His arms from a distance and left us to get on with the busyness of our lives. Throughout Jewish history many have tried to eliminate Jewish people though God has protected them and significantly Passover, Purim and Hanukkah are remembered and celebrated and recall God’s preservation of His people.[x]

God’s Promises Endure as a Witness

Israel lives and the existence of the Jewish people is proof of God’s existence. But it also points towards His purposes for Israel and the nations. We can be certain that God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to David remain with the Jewish people today since Jeremiah 31:35-36 assures us of that unconditional covenant that Israel will never be destroyed.

“Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for a light by day,
The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night,
Who disturbs the sea,
And its waves roar
(The Lord of hosts is His name):

“If those ordinances depart
From before Me, says the Lord,
Then the seed of Israel shall also cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

This new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah was also referred to by Paul, recognising that as a Benjamite from the seed of Abraham, God had not cast of His people whom he foreknew (Romans 11:1-2a).  He also foretold of a great ingathering of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) in latter times in Romans 11:26-27.

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

[i] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, Nashville; 1995), p752

[ii] Ibid, 752

[iii] Psalm 124 “Like a bird escaped from the fowler’s trap.” (124:7)

[iv] Derek Kidner Psalms 73-150 Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (IVP, Leicester; 1976), p437

[v] John MacArthur The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, Nashville; 2005), p683

[vi] George Williams Williams Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel Publications; Grand Rapids; 1994), p104

[vii] John Gill Exposition of the whole Bible

[viii] Psalm 124:7 The Israel Bible

[ix] Matthew Henry Matthew Henry Concise Commentary (Moody Press; Chicago), p447

[x] Steve Herzig Psalm 124: Our defender