Description / Transcription
Well, good evening once again. It’s good to look into the Word of the Lord with you. We are at Psalm 124. My name is Nathan George, I get to serve as Pastor of Worship here. It’s quite a privilege and I enjoy the hymn sings that we get to have off and on, fun to hear the hymns that are chosen.
As you know, we’re making our way through the Psalms of Ascents. It goes from Psalm 120 up to Psalm 134. Last week Zach walked us through 123, which was a cry for mercy, a lament. This week we’re looking at Psalm 124, and Zach and I were joking. He said, “I got all the bad news and you get all the good news,” and that is somewhat true.
We’re looking at Psalm 124. It’s a song of rescue, of escape, salvation, victory, and just as laments or our cries for mercy help us recount and memorialize our need, so a song of victory can help us recount our blessings, salvations, those moments of close calls and rescues. We need to remember both. We need to cry for mercy. In fact, I think if we simply skipped over all the laments, we might have a tendency to sort of see God as our gift-giver, to help us lift our moods, but laments help us see the strong contrast, like from Psalm 123 into Psalm 124. I would go so far as to say that those that little appetite for lament have little appetite for God. Or, if you have just a little appetite for lament, maybe you have an appetite for a little God.
Why? Because God loves a broken and contrite heart. Yet there is the other ditch. Some, I think, among us like to stay in the pit, like to stay a little morose. It may be that they, too, have a lack of appetite for some of God’s character, His power, His ability to overwhelm the enemy. Some might want to stay and lament because it’s easier, it’s a little easier to be depressed. It’s a little more embarrassing to express the joy of the Lord.
As a friend of mine put in a song many years ago, he wrote this: It looks cool in the movies to be dejected and misunderstood.
It’s not so cool in real life, but sometimes I think we think it is. The poets of old got it right. There’s a balance. Lamentation and mourning help us look to the Lord for mercies that are new with the morning sun.
So the progression from 123 to 124 is important, and in 124 we get to see the mourning turned to dancing, crying turned to laughter, and fears to relief. In this psalm, not only can we recount the victories of old, and David’s in particular, obviously, and we’ll want to do that, but we can also learn that earthbound men, earthborn men, are not over our Lord Jesus Christ. God has worked dramatic escapes. Amazing miracles. Miraculous victories. And when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, He still does wonders. Amazing wonders. He can overwhelm our enemy with dread and infighting, causing them to tear apart themselves from the inside.
I think we could safely say that just by sheer number the world could overwhelm us. But we serve a Lord who can engulf them in rushing torrents of self-destruction.
This psalm should remind us and inspire us to remember the victories of old, in fact, I think that’s kind of the point, and then to put our trust and our confidence in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth and that’s where we’re headed.
Let’s read the psalm, then we’ll pray, and we’ll jump in.
“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when the 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.
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.”
Would you join me in prayer. Father, would You please open Your Word to us, speak to us even as Tom has prayed a few moments ago. Help us to hear the voice of Christ in Your Word that we may be changed by it. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
My outline is as follows, it’s very simple. First, I will ask what if the Lord had not been on our side, just as the psalmist does. Second, we will remember that the Lord is on our side. And third, we will remember that the Lord is truly our help, the Lord who made heaven and earth, but especially in light of moving from lament or crying for mercy toward victory.
So this sermon, I think, is probably slightly less exegetical and more devotional. We’ll just be following the nature of the psalm.
So first, let’s do as David encourages us to do. Let’s suppose, let’s imagine if the Lord had not been on our side. What if?
Well, first notice that the psalmist here, David, wants the people to get involved. He says, “If the Lord had not been on our side, let the people say,” and then that would be your turn, “If the Lord had not been on our side,” sort of an antiphonal song, perhaps. And maybe Eric could do this better than me, but it’s sort of like saying, “Amen”, [audience responds “Amen”], or “Hallelujah,” [audience responds “Hallelujah]. If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel say, if the Lord had not been… Back and forth, and so there’s this song happening and the psalmist wants the people to enter in and to remember. If the Lord had not been on our side, then catastrophe.
Some of you may know the 1920, I think it’s 1920s, the little book called The Little Prince. It’s a short French book published way back in the 20s, I believe, and in that book the little prince has to tend his tiny little planet and keep the balboa trees from taking over. He’s tending a little rose. And if he forgets to tend or doesn’t tend, or in his case is pulled away from the planet, then the balboa trees take over and catastrophe.
Well, David wants us to consider this terrifying prospect. What if the shepherd stops tending his sheep? What if the Lord had not been there? What if he hadn’t helped us. How would the stories be different if the Lord had not showed up?
Well, just think, what happened in Israelite history when the Lord turned His face away? In 2 Samuel 15 we read of Absalom’s coup, when David had turned his back on the Lord’s ways, it set the stage for a divided kingdom, and by 1 Kings 11, the Lord had raised up Jeroboam and Rehoboam and laid the foundations truly for a divided kingdom. By 2 Kings 17 Israel, the northern kingdom, had been taken into captivity and exile. Then years later as Judah drinks the last dregs of their idolatry and Ezekiel is alive and prophesying, we hear promises like this, Ezekiel 5: And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword, use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard, then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city when the days of the siege are completed, a third part you shall take and strike with the sword,” and on it goes.
A few verses later we find these terrifying words: “Therefore, fathers shall eat their sons in your midst and sons shall eat their fathers… As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things, and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw.”
He’s not going to show up. Except in judgment. “My eye will not spare,” He says, “and I will have no pity.”
By Ezekiel 9 the glory of the Lord prepares to depart Jerusalem and the temple and the Lord commands another messenger, a lot like the angel of death going to Egypt, to pass through the city and to defile the courts with the slain. This is the result if the Lord was not on our side. If the Lord withdraws His glory, woe be to us. It does not go well.
123, Psalm 123 could be written over and over again in light of those stories. The psalmist is getting us to ask, “What if?” and without the Spirit holding us fast, perhaps we would follow Judah, slip into idolatry, and self-preservation and self-worship and then catastrophe.
But here, in Psalm 124, after sort of setting up that contrast, David remembers a time earlier in his life when he was saved. The Lord brought about salvation. You see, David remembers that the Lord does choose sides. The Lord is for some and against others. That’s slightly uncomfortable, but true, and David’s calling attention to the fact that the Lord chooses sides and He chose his side, the side of the righteous, and he loved it. He knew it. He celebrated it.
One of the clear applications, I think, from a psalm like this is that we should recount the Lord’s victories, in the saints of old as well as in our own lives.
Look at the imagery, just scroll through the psalm here, Psalm 124 once again.
Verse 3 – they would have swallowed us up alive, anger kindled. Then verse 4 – the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us, raging waters.
I think the metaphor of water and torrents is one of David’s favorites.
Turn back to 2 Samuel, chapter 5, verse 18. 2 Samuel, chapter 5, verse 18. There are a couple different scenes that David could be remembering. Chapter 5, verse 18 says this – “Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim.” So a fair number of them, all spread out down there. “And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has burst through my enemies before me like a bursting flood.”” Perhaps he’s remembering this instance.
Or flip over to 2 Samuel chapter 21, 2 Samuel 21, starting at verse 15. “There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary. And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him.” David is saved by one of his mighty men.
Then look into 2 Samuel 22 and see the song that David writes after being saved from this giant and you find if you keep reading in that passage four more giants, and David wrote this: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress.” We used a version, I changed this up for our call to worship tonight, a meditation on this. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation…” and down a little bit further, “I called upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised and I am saved from my enemies. For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death comforted [sic] me.”
And 2 Samuel 22, verses 17 and 18, just down further in that chapter. ““He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.”
See how the poet takes this battle. You can imagine this giant coming at David with his brand new sword and he’s “I’m going to kill that man.” And David’s tired. Here comes the giant, but Abishai, the Lord sends Abishai and he knocks down the giant, and then David turns as the poet and says “the rushing waters were coming upon me, but the Lord saved me. The Lord drew me out of rushing waters and many waters. They were too mighty for me, but the Lord saved me.”
John Newton penned these lines based on Psalm 91: “In vain the fowler spreads his net to draw them from Your care. Your timely call instructs their feet to shun the artful snare. When like a baneful pestilence sin mows its thousands down, on every side without defense,” and then he closes his verse this way, “but His grace secures His own.”
David knew the grace and mercy and salvation and the great escape that the Lord provided him. One of the benefits for recounting specific instances, specific times when the Lord provides an escape, is that when someone tells a good story, don’t you begin to think, “Oh, yeah, that happened to me, too. Oh, yeah, I remember that story. Yeah, let me tell you how this happened. How the Lord did that for me.” That’s one of the great benefits of recounting the stories of old.
Can’t you just sort of hear the people of Jerusalem, when David says, “Ah, if the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel say,” and everybody joins in, “if the Lord had not been on our side, oh, I remember that story. The giant was bearing down on David and here comes Abishai. Let’s sing. They would have rushed over us like a flood, but the Lord saved us.”
Perhaps they would start talking. “Ah, remember Gideon?” “Yeah, I remember Gideon. Whittled that army down to almost nothing, and the Lord turned the enemies of Israel upon themselves.” They start telling stories.
Or remember the song of Moses. Exodus 15. He’s celebrating over the defeat of the Egyptians, celebrating that horse and rider had been thrown into the sea.
As a little aside, do you think that when the Israelites saw the drowning Egyptian army, they said to each other, “Oh, that’s really too bad. You know, it was probably really our fault. We drew them out into the sea, into the lake, and they got drowned. Maybe we should have a moment of silence for the Egyptian army.” No, they wrote a song and they sang about it. Victory is ours, the Lord saved us. We didn’t get the rushing waters, they did.
Perhaps they recount Sennacherib’s defeat and the list goes on and on. This is not just a general poem, God is good to me. God was good to David. He saved him from the hand of a Philistine, by the hand of Abishai.
I think it would be in keeping with this psalm, psalm 124, to let your mind wander and to think about how the Lord has rescued you over and over again. This was certainly part of the use of the psalm. The people could sing and remember stories. Other psalms to the same thing for us. Psalm 13 starts out, “Where are you, O God?” and by the end the psalmist is reminding me, “Ah, yes, the Lord has been good to me.”
One of the practical ways we could apply this psalm, and we’ve done this just a little bit, we should do it more, but we’ve had a few testimonies here and there, especially in the evening service, hearing how the Lord has worked in people’s lives. It’s good for us hear those testimonies and to hear how the Lord has worked and saved and rescued.
Well, this is the flow of this Psalm 124, and then we come, after considering all these metaphors, to verse, or the last verse, “our help is in the name of the Lord.”
So we’ve asked what if the Lord were not on our side. We’ve said but He has been on our side, He does choose sides, He saves His own. Then we come to verse 8. The meaning here is very clear, our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. You perhaps could do a study on the name of the Lord and that sort of thing, but I think the meaning is clear. Our help is not in swords, our help is not in princes, our help is not in horses, our help is in the Lord.
David puts more confidence in the Lord’s name, remembering that the Lord has saved him.
So as we look at this last verse, I’d like to take a little bit of an aside to help us further get into the mood of this psalm. After lamenting, then remembering victories, we have hope and confidence in the Lord. That’s the movement of the psalm. Now if you would, just review with me where we are in the Psalms of Ascents. So I’m going to just point out each of these psalms very briefly.
Psalm 120 started, “Within my distress I call.” It’s a cry of distress.
Psalm 121 then turns and says, “But the Lord is our keeper.” There’s confidence in the Lord.
Then Psalm 122 says, “Then let’s go meet with the Lord. Let’s go into the house of the Lord.” Tom preached there.
There’s cry and then confidence and then communion with the Lord.
Psalm 123, there’s a cry for mercy.
Psalm 124, where we are right now, there’s confidence in the Lord’s victories.
Then Psalm 125, the Lord surrounds His people. Communion.
Cry, confidence, communion.
Psalm 126, there’s a plea to restore.
Psalm 127, there’s confidence in the Lord to build the house. Unless He does it, it’s no good. Let’s trust on Him.
Psalm 128, there is blessing in the Lord. Blessed is the man who remains in the Lord.
Psalm 129 is a cry of affliction.
Psalm 130, a call to confidence and wait in the Lord.
Psalm 131, a humble calm and resting in the Lord.
Cry, confidence, communion. I guess there’s probably several different things and themes you could pull out through the Psalms of Ascent, but once again 132 is a cry or the Lord to arise, 133 is a confidence in the Lord’s blessing of unity, and 134 finally calling us back to communion in the house of the Lord.
Perhaps there are different ways to organize these Psalms of Ascents, but this is what stuck out to me, this crying out, this confidence, and communion.
Now we generally don’t really like the first part, do we? Let’s be honest. Crying out, lamenting, it’s not so fun. We don’t love pleading and mourning unless you’re truly dealing with something difficult. If you’re not, it just sort of feels weird, doesn’t it? Why would I recall pain and mourn and cry out? We’d rather skip 120 and go right to 121. 120 is not on too many people’s mantels, 121 is.
Why not skip 123 and just let’s promote positivity with Psalm 124? Can we just do away with songs of lament, minor songs, depressing songs? Must we sing, “Lord, from sorrows deep I call.” I mean, come on. I walked into worship this morning and we sang that wonderful uplifting old hymn and that great song, and then you just drew us all down with lament. What’s that about? Why something so slow?
Well, there are a couple reasons to keep the minor songs. First, to extract them is not true to life. It’s not true to the human story. It’s not true to our spiritual lives, either. Sometimes we need a Psalm 40 to help us cry out to the Lord, “Drag me out of this pit, please, O Lord.”
Second, and this is more of a perhaps literary argument, but second, isn’t a cup of cold water nice after sweltering in the heat? Isn’t that great? Isn’t a cup of hot chocolate just the best thing after shoveling snow or sledding down the hills while your parents shovel the snow? Isn’t getting over the flu kind of like being re-born with life? It’s wonderful. If we were always over the flu, always blessed in this life, always satisfied with hot chocolate and cool water, would we be as apt to rise up and call God blessed? Or do you think self-sufficiency and self-gratification and self-worship might begin to creep in?
There’s something about the contrast between really good vanilla ice cream and black coffee. Steak and wine. It’s the contrast that makes it so sweet. It’s the difference that makes it enjoyable. If you only wished to have your ears tickled with the most fantastic parts of the symphony and have no patience for the slow buildup, if you have no patience for the tension, can you truly enjoy the release? The fulfillment? If you simply play the best parts of the album over and over, you don’t play albums anymore, you don’t listen to whole albums anymore, do we? But if you just listen to the best songs on the album, the magic wears off.
C.S. Lewis writes, I think this is in Perelandra, the space trilogy, he writes, “He had always disliked the people who encored a favorite air in an opera – ‘That just spoils it.'”
Yes, recounting and remembering our plight and despair in the face of an oncoming horde or the onset of sickness is the seedbed and the springboard for waves of relief and gratefulness, praise, and thankfulness.
I don’t know if this is just Nathan talking or a theologian, but I sometimes wonder if those who suffer in this life will have a deeper sense of the joy of the Lord as they enter into glory.
The more we understand our plight, the greater salvation appears before our eyes. The deeper the shade, the greater the light. To know the depth of our sin reveals the depths of God’s grace. It is good to weep over the destruction of a storm and good to take joy in the rebuilding.
Can you imagine with me the people of Israel walking toward Jerusalem and with every lament, with every recounting of terrible destruction, and then the retelling of great escapes and salvation, the joy and the noise would just begin to rise. The songs of weeping would be drowned out with songs of deliverance, and isn’t this the Christian story? Aren’t we on the ascent? As the years roll by we should recount and listen to stories of grief from our parents and our grandparents. That way, each Sunday, each new year, each momentous occasion, we can take deep joy in recounting where the Lord has brought us. To see where we have come, to see that we are more satisfied in Christ, more patient in pain, slower to selfishness and sorrow, more sanctified.
Walking through lament toward hope is something that should galvanize us as a church, as an individual before Christ.
We are sinners saved. We’re wretches made whole. This is the call on our lives. I was lost, but now I’m found. I was dirty, but now I’m clean. I was perverse, but now I love holiness. I was hurt, abused, and broken, but now you are made whole. Healed and hopeful. All of biblical history, all of church history, is asking us, “Will you join with the millions, the throng, and sing if the Lord were not on our side, but He is.” He is.
The Lord who made heaven and earth is our hope and our confidence, our deliverance has been accomplished by Him and the kingdom of peace will march ahead.
Just a couple more thoughts. In the name of science and freedom, Roe v. Wade destroyed countless lives. But the issues of science and freedom have turned Roe v. Wade head over heels. If the Lord had not been on our side, and I mean the side of righteousness, not a political party, but the Lord chooses sides and a victory is won and celebration is in order. Kevin’s done a good job of pointing that out online and here.
But also in the name of psychology and personal freedom, we’re watching firsthand the expansion of identity politics and gender confusion and the like, but in time psychological science and basic human rights and the act of the Lord will eventually cause this to implode like a torrent upon itself. There is already infighting within the camp, and perhaps someday that infighting will cause us to say, “Hey, do you remember the story of Gideon? They turned upon themselves.”
Why am I so confident? Why I am so hopeful? Because my hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth.
In conclusion, there are times that we should lament, and we should do so even when we don’t feel like it because it helps us remember our need. Even if your emotions aren’t there, enter into lament so that it can be trained to see God’s grace and His victory. We should consider and bear in mind that if the Lord had not been on our side, if the Lord had not given His spirit, we would perhaps be as in the days of Judah, in the days of Ezekiel, drinking the last dregs of our idolatry.
But as the Lord’s chosen band, those whom He rescues, those who He marks with righteousness, there comes a time when we should recount the victories, the stories of old. We should celebrate and allow the hope of heaven to well up within our hearts. Cry out, put your confidence in the Lord, and look forward to eternal security and eternal communion.
Would you join me in prayer? Father, we are grateful for You have shown us our sin and we can truly be sorry because of the work of Your Spirit. We are grateful because even as we see our need, we see destruction around us, even as we see these things we can cry out for mercy, and we are grateful because we can read and see again that You are with Your own, You provide the great escape, and we are grateful that we can ultimately look unto Jesus Christ and see that we have eternal hope and eternal communion awaiting us. Would You lift our hearts to heaven through Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.