Bible Commentaries
Psalms 124

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Verses 1-5


In this psalm, the repetitions stand out. Repetition is a tool to underscore the message. Twice it says “had it not been the LORD who was on our side” (Psalms 124:1-Exodus :). After “had it not been” twice in Psalms 124:1-Exodus :, “then” follows three times in Psalms 124:3-Deuteronomy :. Three times the enemies are represented as waters that would have engulfed them (Psalms 124:4-Deuteronomy :). In the process, they speak twice “over our souls”. There are two mentions of “escaping” and two mentions of a “snare” (Psalms 124:7).

The structure of the psalm also underscores the message:
A The presence of the LORD (Psalms 124:1-Exodus :).
---B Preservation from dangers (Psalms 124:2-Deuteronomy :).
------C Praise of the LORD (Psalms 124:6).
---B Preservation from dangers (Psalms 124:6-Judges :).
A The presence of the LORD (Psalms 124:8).
This shows that the central message is: Praise the LORD, for He preserves in the midst of all dangers.

The chosen Israelites outside the land have been hailed and mocked (Psalm 123) and severely persecuted (Psalms 124:1-Deuteronomy :), but nevertheless preserved. They have been able to leave their enemies behind without fear and are now on their way to Jerusalem.

The secret of being kept is the presence and nearness, “on our side”, of the LORD, the Keeper of Israel from Psalm 121 (Psalms 121:3-Ruth :). The psalmist says in both Psalms 124:1 and Psalms 124:2 “had it not been the LORD who was on our side”. This doubly underscores the importance of the opening line. The LORD in this psalm is “the God with us”, the promised Immanuel, the precious title of the Lord Jesus from Isaiah 7 for the people of Israel (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). We can well understand in this light that Moses said to the LORD: “If Your presence does not go [with us], do not lead us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).

The LORD Is With His People

This is the fifth “Song of Ascents” (Psalms 124:1). It is the second Song of Ascents which mentions that it is “of David” (Psalms 122:1). David describes a situation that was extremely threatening to the existence of God’s people. In fact, Israel would no longer exist if the LORD had not been with His people, on their side. This observation can be applied to all situations in which the people have been and were in danger of being wiped out.

Prophetically, it is about the dangers and spiritual exercises of the ten tribes who found themselves outside Jerusalem, in the midst of bigoted and hostile nations. In addition, we can also think of the part of the two tribes that fled from Jerusalem from the oncoming king of the north followed by the armies of the Assyrians, supported by great power in the far north, Gog, or Great Russia (Daniel 8:24).

Their cry for help to the LORD and their confidence that the LORD Himself was their Keeper during their return to the promised land was not shamed. In this psalm we hear their testimony (Psalms 124:1-Deuteronomy :) and their praise to the LORD (Psalms 124:6-Ruth :). They will, having survived all the assaults on their existence, acknowledge that their survival is due solely to His presence with them.

In the Old Testament, He has been present in most of their history. Sometimes He has been present in a hidden way, as the book of Esther shows. And even after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 until now, He has always been, behind the scenes, the Protector of His people, so that they have not been annihilated. Their whole history is a history of deliverances that the LORD has worked. They should recite that, bring it to the LORD’s attention as a thanksgiving for what He has been and done for them.

In Psalms 124:2, David says it again: “Had it not been the LORD who was on our side.” By doing so, he emphasizes the importance of the LORD’s presence with His people. Without Him, they would have been helplessly lost and perished. His presence protected them from enemies and in dangers, from “men” who had risen up against them to wipe them out.

The word “men” simultaneously indicates the vast difference from God. The Hebrew word used here is adam, which recalls the earth from which they were made. They are merely “dust of the earth” (Genesis 2:7), while God is the Creator of heaven and earth (Psalms 124:8). What can the dust do against its Maker? Israel has been attacked from all sides by ‘men’ countless times in its history. That the people still exist is not due to their cleverness, allies or fighting strength, but only to God.

The intentions of the enemies were quite impressive. Given the chance, “they would have swallowed us alive” (Psalms 124:3; cf. Proverbs 1:12). The enemy is described as a great beast who wanted to devour them, a beast with fearsome teeth (Psalms 124:6), who came to them like a waters (Psalms 124:4; Revelation 12:15-Nehemiah :), with snares of the trapper (Psalms 124:7), against whom they were not able to stand (Psalms 124:5).

The wrath of the enemies had been kindled against them. Their enemies were God-haters who wanted to cool their anger on His people. They wanted to swallow the life that God had given His people. That proved impossible, for the Living One was with His people.

Nor is it just a single nation that was so full of anger against them. The whole world was against them. They had joined forces and wanted to flood God’s people like “waters” (Psalms 124:4). “Waters” symbolize nations (Isaiah 8:7; Isaiah 17:12; Daniel 9:26; Daniel 9:27) and destructive forces. We see these waters in the approaching king of the north followed by the armies of the Assyrians, supported by Russia, the superpower in the far north (Daniel 8:24). Israel therefore speaks of “waters” that “would have engulfed us”. These waters have swept over their soul, that is, over their person, their soul and their body. This speaks of the fact that there was not only outward distress, but there was also distress in the soul, inward distress.

In Psalms 124:5, the people add another expression of the tremendous enmity. They speak of “the raging waters” that “would have swept over our soul” to which they would have perished. The enmity against Israel is described here as the flood of water in a wadi (Psalms 124:4-Deuteronomy :). A wadi is a river valley in dry areas that is dry for most of the year. During wet periods, such a river valley can suddenly turn into a devastating flood of water due to sudden torrential rains (Psalms 42:7).

Verses 6-8

The LORD Protects His People

Psalm 120 begins with distress. Psalm 121 speaks of trust in distress. Psalm 123 is a supplication in great distress. Psalm 124 testifies that they survived the attack of the enemy through the help of the LORD, leading the psalmist to give thanks. After listing the many rescues by the LORD from great distress and enmity, thanksgiving follows: “Blessed [or: Praised] be the LORD, Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth” (Psalms 124:6). To the LORD belongs all the glory for the protection He has given His people. This is the heart and center of this psalm.

In the wording, “Who has not given us”, is the aspect of acknowledging that they would have deserved it. The enemy is presented as a predator that God’s people saw as a prey to their teeth. But the LORD did not allow them to become prey.

The psalmist felt caught in a snare, and certain death awaited him. He was like a puny bird unable to flee. The LORD, the Keeper of Israel, did not surrender him as prey. He was near him and broke the snare and delivered the psalmist. The enemy was mighty, but with the LORD the psalmist was more than victorious.

He has let the soul of His elect “escape as a bird out of the snare of the trapper” (Psalms 124:7). It sounds like a triumphant exclamation that they have “escaped”. The enemy has not succeeded in holding them in his snare, for “the snare is broken and we have escaped”. The LORD has ensured that they could escape. He deserves all the glory for that.

While writing about this psalm, President Trump of America announced that America recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (6-12-2017). This has generated furious reactions from the Arab world and mainly disapproving reactions from the rest of the world. Everything and everyone is turning against Israel. Snares are being set for them. But they will escape, not with the help of any president of America – for that person will disappoint, as all hopes of men do – but simply by the LORD, Who cares for His people.

The song ends with the proclamation of the Name of the LORD (Psalms 124:8). That Name is their help. It is His Name that guarantees that He will fulfill all the promises He has made to His people. The foundation of that is the new covenant He has made with them. He is the LORD, “Who made heaven and earth” (cf. Psalms 121:2), which indicates that He has complete control over them. This also means that He governs His people and all the nations. This is a great comfort to His people. It is also a powerful testimony in a world that denies its Creator.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 124". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.