PSALM 124 OVERVIEW.
Title. -- A Song of degrees of David. Of course the superfine critics have pounced upon this title as inaccurate, but we are at liberty to believe as much or as little of their assertions as we may please. They declare that there are certain ornaments of language in this little ode which were unknown in the Davidic period. It may be so; but in their superlative wisdom they have ventured upon so many other questionable statements that we are not bound to receive this dictum. Assuredly the manner of the song is very like to David's, and we are unable to see why he should be excluded from the authorship. Whether it be his composition or no, it breathes the same spirit as that which animates the unchallenged songs of the royal composer.
Division. -- This short Psalm contains an acknowledgement of favour received by way of special deliverance (1-5), then a grateful act of worship in blessing Jehovah (6, 7), and, lastly, a declaration of confidence in the Lord for all future time of trial. May our experience lead us to the same conclusion as the saints of David's time. From all confidence in man may we be rescued by a holy reliance upon our God.
Verse 1. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say. The opening sentence is abrupt, and remains a fragment. By such a commencement attention was aroused as well as feeling expressed: and this is ever the way of poetic fire -- to break forth in uncontrollable flame. The many words in italics in our authorized version will show the reader that the translators did their best to patch up the passage, which, perhaps, had better have been left in its broken grandeur, and it would then have run thus: --
"Had it not been Jehovah! He was for us, oh let Israel say! Had it not been Jehovah! He who was for us when men rose against us."
The glorious Lord became our ally; he took our part, and entered into treaty with us. If Jehovah were not our protector where should we be Nothing but his power and wisdom could have guarded us from the cunning and malice of our adversaries; therefore, let all his people say so, and openly give him the honour of his preserving goodness. Here are two "ifs," and yet there is no "if" in the matter. The Lord was on our side, and is still our defender, and will be so from henceforth, even for ever. Let us with holy confidence exult in this joyful fact: We are far too slow in declaring our gratitude, hence the exclamation which should be rendered, "O let Israel say." We murmur without being stirred up to it, but our thanksgiving needs a spur, and it is well when some warm hearted friend bids us say what we feel. Imagine what would have happened if the Lord had left us, and then see what has happened because he has been faithful to us. Are not all the materials of a song spread before us? Let us sing unto the Lord.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. -- The title informs us that this sacred march was composed by king David; and we learn very clearly from the subject, that the progression referred to was the triumphant return of the king and his loyal army to Jerusalem, upon the overthrow of the dangerous rebellion to which the great mass of the people had been excited by Absalom and his powerful band of confederates. --John Mason Good.
Whole Psalm. -- This psalm is ascribed to David. No reference is made to any specific danger and deliverance. There is a delightful universality in the language, which suits it admirably for an anthem of the redeemed, in every age and in every clime. The people of God still live in a hostile territory. Traitors are in the camp, and there are numerous foes without. And the church would soon be exterminated, if the malice and might of her adversaries were not restrained and defeated by a higher power. Hence this ode of praise has never become obsolete. How frequently have its strains of adoring gratitude floated on the breeze! What land is there, in which its outbursting gladness has not been heard! It has been sung upon the banks of the Jordan and the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris. It has been sung upon the banks of the Tiber and the Rhine, the Thames and the Forth. It has been sung upon the banks of the Ganges and the Indus, the Mississippi and the Irrawady. And we anticipate a period when the church, surmounting all her difficulties, and victory waving over her banners, shall sing this psalm of praise in every island and continent of our globe. The year of God's redeemed must come. The salvation of Christ shall extend to the utmost extremities of earth. And when this final emancipation takes place, the nations will shout for joy, and praise their Deliverer in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. --N. McMichael.
Whole Psalm. --In the year 1582, this psalm was sung on a remarkable occasion in Edinburgh. An imprisoned minister, John Durie, had been set free, and was met and welcomed on entering the town by two hundred of his friends. The number increased till he found himself in the midst of a company of two thousand, who began to sing as they moved up the long High Street, "Now Israel may say," etc. They sang in four parts with deep solemnity, all joining in the well known tune and psalm. They were much moved themselves, and so were all who heard; and one of the chief persecutors is said to have been more alarmed at this sight and song than at anything he had seen in Scotland. -- Andrew A. Bonar, in "Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms", 1859.
Verse 1. -- The Lord...on our side. Jehovah is on the side of his people in a spiritual sense, or otherwise it would be bad for them. God the Father is on their side; his love and relation to them engage him to be so; hence all those good things that are provided for them and bestowed on them; nor will he suffer any to do them hurt, they being as dear to him as the apple of his eye; hence he grants them his gracious presence, supports them under all their trials and exercises, supplies all their wants, and keeps them by his power, and preserves them from all their enemies; so that they have nothing to fear from any quarter. Christ is on their side; he is the Surety for them, the Saviour of them; has taken their part against all their spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, the world, and death; has engaged with them and conquered them: he is the Captain of their salvation, their King at the head of them, that protects and defends them here, and is their friend in the court of heaven; their Advocate and interceding High priest there, who pleads their cause against Satan, and obtains every blessing for them. The Spirit of Jehovah is on their side, to carry on his work in them; to assist them in their prayers and supplications; to secure them from Satan's temptations; to set up a standard for them when the enemy comes in like a flood upon them; and to comfort them in all their castings down; and to work them up for, and bring them safe to heaven: but were this not the case, what would become of them! --John Gill.
Verse 1. -- Israel. The "Israel" spoken of in this psalm may be Israel in the house of Laban, in whose person the Midrash Tehillim imagines the Psalm to be said. There are certainly some of its phrases which acquire an appropriate meaning from being interpreted in this connection. --H.T. Armfield.
Verse 1-4. -- Such abrupt and unfinished expressions in the beginning of the psalm indicate the great joy and exultation that will not suffer the speaker to finish his sentences. -- Robert Bellarmine.
Verse 1-2. --The somewhat paraphrastic rendering of these verses (with the unnecessary interpolation of the words in italics in the Authorised Version) greatly weaken their force and obscure their meaning. There is far more meant and expressed than simply that God gave the Israelites the victory over their enemies. The psalm is typico prophetic. It sets forth the condition of the church in this world, surrounded by enemies, implacable in their hatred, maddened by rage, and bent on her destruction. It gives assurance of her preservation, and continuous triumph, because Jehovah is her God. It foretells the future, full, and final destruction of all her enemies. It reechoes the song sung on the shores of the Red Sea. In it are heard the notes of the New Song before the great white throne. The praise and thanksgiving are to hwhy, the revealed syhla, whose "eternal power and Godhead are understood by the things that are made:" -- to, hwhy, the revealed ydfla, whom the fathers knew as the Almighty, from the great things which he did for them: -- to hwhy, the God who has made a covenant with his people, the Redeemer. It is ladfy, the chosen people of God, the holy nation, the peculiar treasure to him above all peoples, and thus become, as the Rabbins say, "Odium generis gumant," against whom sda (not men, but man collectively) rose up and sought to destroy. It is ladfy, God's chosen, the people of the covenant, that with the full delight of a personal "my," joy in God and sings, "But that Jehovah, was zgl, ours!" Tame and frigid is the rendering -- "was on our side." Jehovah was theirs; that, their safety: that, their blessedness: that, their joy. -- Edward Thomas Gibson, 1818-1880.
Verse 1,2. --
- God was on our side; he took our part, espoused our cause, and appeared for us. He was our helper, and a very present help, a help on our side, nigh at hand. He was with us; not only for us, but among us, and commander-in-chief of our forces.
- That God was Jehovah; there the emphasis lies. If it had not been Jehovah himself, a God of infinite power and perfection, that had undertaken our deliverance, our enemies would have overpowered us. Happy the people therefore whose God is Jehovah, a God all sufficient. Let Israel say this to his honour, and resolve never to forsake him.
Verse 1,2,8. -- These three things will I bear on my heart, O Lord: "The Lord was on our side," this for the past: "The snare is broken," for the present; "Our help is in the name of the Lord," this for the future. I will not and I cannot be fainthearted, whether in my contest with Satan, in my intercourse with the world, or in the upheavings of my wicked heart, so long as I hold this "threefold cord" in my hand, or rather, am held by it. --Alfred Edersheim.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. -- The LORD who was on our side. Who is he? Why on our side? How does he prove it? What are we bound to do?
Verse 1-3. -- Regard the text,
- From the life of Jacob or Israel.
- From the history of the nation.
- From the annals of the church.
- From our personal biography.
Verse 1-5. --
- What might have been.
- Why it has not been.
Verse 1-5. --
- What the people of God would have been if the Lord had not been on their side.
- What the people of God are with the Lord on their side.
- All the designs of their enemies against them are frustrated.
(b) Their inward sorrow is turned into joy.
(c) Both their inward and then outward troubles work together for their good.