Psalm 124

God Is On Our Side

1 If it had not been YHWH who was on our side,
let Israel now say,
2 if it had not been YHWH who was on our side,
when men rose up against us;
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their wrath was kindled against us;
4 then the waters would have overwhelmed us,
the stream would have gone over our soul;
5 then the proud waters would have gone over our soul.
6 Blessed be YHWH,
who has not given us as a prey to their teeth.
7 Our soul has escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare.
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of YHWH,
who made heaven and earth.

World English Bible

How do you respond when someone insists “God is on their side?”

How many cases have invoked the divine name as a reason for action? Too many, I’m afraid. The phrase “God is on our side” can be used to justify even immoral action and inflame partisans to rash action. Use of the phrase seems to provide an almost irrational excuse to charges made against a group, policy, or position. Appealing to a transcendent righteousness is used to short circuit any counter argument.

To use the phrase as an appeal to divine mercy is completely different. Justification is out of the picture. “God is on our side” really means “God saves us.” With God on our side, present and active in our lives, we are assured some sense of well being. We are relieved that we have escaped a far worse fate than we now enjoy.

Psalm 124 is a song of relief. It defined salvation in terms of escape. The psalm can be divided in two: the conditional statement (“if...the”; 124:1-5) and the blessing of God for his protection (124:6-8).

“If God wasn’t on our side...” This phrase in 124:1a, 2a was sighted at the reason men and nature had not destroyed the nation. The potential destruction as seen in cosmic proportions. A close reading of 124:4-5 implied a flood, not unlike the Great Flood in Genesis. Life in a desert environment increased sense of doom with heavy rains, for such rains meant flash floods. The damage and possible loss of life from flash floods were not unlike that of the “slash and burn” tactics of a conquering army. Escape from floods and conquering armies meant safety and prosperity.

“Blessed be God...” The invocation of praise pointed to divine providence. The enemy was seen as a predatory who held lifeless prey in their teeth or created a hunter’s trap. Escape from danger (the broken snare of 124:7b) was God’s will. He was Lord of all, the creator (and active controller) of heaven and earth.

Scholars are split on the use of the psalm. Some see the song as a dedication of newly built walls for Jerusalem. Others see the hymn as thanksgiving for the pilgrim who arrived safely in the holy City. In either case, the theme of escape from danger was clearly seen.

I don’t know about you, but I know God has been with me many times in my life. If he hadn’t been, I would be leading a much different, much sadder life than I now live. But, he has been there; he has lead me to a fulfilling marriage, happy children, and a satisfying ministry. Blessed be God, the One who saves!

Reflect on your life. How has God saved you? How would your life be different without him?