If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 124. In 1582, a Scottish minister named John Durie was imprisoned because of his faithful preaching of the Gospel and when he was released from prison a couple of hundred of his friends and congregants met him at the gates of the prison as they left and they began to walk up the high street of Edinburgh in Scotland. And he and that company of people began to sing that arrangement of Psalm 124. It was said that about 2,000 people joined in with them and one of his persecutors saw that crowd and heard them singing Psalm124 and he said that he was more disconcerted by that sight and sound than anything he had ever yet seen in Scotland. It was said very often that as the protestant refugees from all over Europe would make their way to Geneva and get to the great wooden doors of St. Pierre and here the people inside singing the Psalms, it seemed to them like a fair haven in the outskirts of heaven itself to hear those songs being loudly sung. So many of them having come from places where they could not sing aloud praise to God for fear of capture and persecution. And so this psalm has given heart to many of God's saints over the years.
As we mentioned before, this psalm contains a verse that may well have been one of John Calvin's favorite verses, Psalm 124 verse 8. If you know anything about the liturgy that Calvin used in Geneva, he opened the services of worship with the line, with the sentence, with the call to worship, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heaven and the earth.” And he clearly saw the application of this psalm to the life of the people of God in his own day, and of course I believe the psalmist meant that. He meant not simply to write for us an account of a particular deliverance in a particular time with only specific applicability to the people of God who had experienced it, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he spoke of a deliverance which was meant to encourage all of God's people.
Before we read God's Word, let's pray.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we need it tonight because we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We love Your Word, O Lord. We love its instruction, we love its exhortation, we love its promises, and we love its comforts. And we ask that You would do these things to us and in us even as we hear Your Word, believing in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID.
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say — if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when 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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I wonder if you remember in your own life times when you have distinctly perceived the intervention of the Lord's providence in your circumstances, where you knew the Lord had come to your aide in rescue, where there were details of the events of your experience that could not be explained but that the Lord, in His kindness, had come to you at just the right time. I can remember many such times in my own experience and I'm sure that there are many in this room that can and do and would recount them if we were given the opportunity. But I want to ask you, how do you dwell on those things, how do you purpose to remember those things, and what do you make of those things in your Christian experience? How do they feed your faith? How do they instruct your trust?
David writes this psalm in a context where God has delivered him and his people in a mighty and evident way. David seems to be concerned that the victory that the Lord has given to His people might be mistaken for something that could be credited to their own strength, their own will, their own craftiness, their own endeavor. And in this song, he aims to point them to the fact that only the Lord has delivered them and for a very specific reason. He wants their awareness of the Lord's intervention to lead them to gratitude. He wants the awareness of the greatness of the danger they were in to teach them not to trust in themselves but to trust in the Lord. And then, in all future situations in which they are threatened and imperiled and discouraged, he wants to teach them, because of the way the Lord has delivered so evidently and mightily in the past, he wants to teach them to trust in the Lord then. And those are the three things he does in this psalm. If you look at verses 1 and 2, the psalmist specifically identifies Israel's deliverer. And then in verses 3 to 7, he magnifies the danger that Israel was in. And finally in verse 8, he declares the deliverer of Israel. And I want to look at the psalm in these three parts with you tonight.
IDENTIFYING THE DELIVERER
John Calvin says of this psalm, “The church, having been providentially delivered from extreme peril, David exhorts true believers to thanksgiving and teaches them, by this memorable example that their safety depends solely upon the grace and power of God.” And so he does. And in verses 1 and 2 he makes it clear that the Lord is our only hope. The cantor, the presenter, the one who is leading this psalm, begins by saying, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,” and then he pauses and he says, “Sing it with me; sing it with me! If it had not been the Lord that was on our side — sing it with me Israel! If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when those people rose up against us, we would have been undone.” He leads the people of God in pointing them to the fact that the Lord is their only hope. He is identifying their deliverer and he is doing this in order to amplify their gratitude.
We don't know exactly when the events that lay behind this psalm occurred. There are all sorts of speculations. I think the best candidate though is in Samuel. In 2 Samuel 5, you will remember, Saul is dead and the Philistines have routed him and his army. David has now been crowned king down in Hebron. He is rallying the peoples of Israel to him. The Philistines thought they had dealt a death blow to Israel, and now they hear that David has been crowned king and so they assemble an army for the purpose of finishing off Israel once and for all. It reminds me of that scene in the movie version of Lord of the Rings when Theoden, King of Rohan, asks Aragorn, “How many soldiers have come against us from Isengard?” and he says, “Ten thousands.” And then Aragorn says, “This army was bread with a single purpose — to bring an end to the world of men.”
And that is exactly what the Philistines intend to do in 2 Samuel 5. But if you've read 2 Samuel 5, what happens is, David absolutely annihilates the Philistine force and it is possible that because of that very victory that the Lord gave to David in a surprising way, in an almost miraculous way that the people would have been tempted to credit David and the army for their success. And so in that context he says, “No, no, no Israel! You don't understand the danger you were in! You don't understand the odds that were up against us! You don't understand the source of your help! Your help did not come from David or from the armies; your help came from the Lord — He is your deliverer! Had He not been on our side when the Philistines rose up against us we would have been undone.”
In other words, David wants to amplify the gratitude of the people of God to God for the deliverance they've had from their enemies that wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth. And he wants to amplify that gratitude so that they associate God's providence in His deliverance of them in the past. He's not pointing to a future deliverance, he's pointing to a present and past deliverance, a deliverance that they remember, and he is associating God's activity on their behalf with that event of deliverance so that they can study it and see how God has intervened for them and feed their faith and feed their thankfulness. And so he identifies the deliverer — “The Lord is our only hope.” David's purpose is to make clear to the people of God that help could not come to them from any other quarter or in any other matter. The only way they could escape the danger they faced is through the intervention of the Lord. And he does that so that they may grow confident in the deliverance that only the Lord can bring.
MAGNIFYING THE DANGER
And then, if you look at verses 3 to 7, what he proceeds to do is to magnify the danger, precisely because the people of God would have been tempted to downplay the danger because of the greatness of the victory. You understand the logic. You thought it was going to be a tough game and you ended up winning by seventy. And you think, “Well we must have been a lot better than them!” And you don't realize how near a thing that was, how differently it could have turned out — just a few things here and a few things there and circumstances would have been very different. And David is saying, “Don't think that this great victory indicates that we were not in great danger.” And he uses four images in verses 3 to 7 in order to magnify the danger. His point is to tell Israel that if it had not been for the Lord's intervention Israel would have been undone, swallowed up, drowned, chewed up, and trapped. Look at the four pictures that he uses to depict the peril of Israel.
First in verse 3 – they would have what? “Swallowed us up alive.” Now this is an interesting picture. It's a picture of a small animal being up against an animal so large that that large animal is capable of ingesting it whole while it's still alive. This is a picture of being totally outmatched and it's the picture David draws. “They would have swallowed us up alive.” That's how difficult the odds were.
And then if you look at verses 4 and 5, he moves to a different picture. This is a picture of flood, of raging waters, of a torrent. And his point is, “We would have been inundated; we would have been deluged by the people who rose up against us had the Lord not been on our side.”
And then if you look at verse 6, he changes to another picture. “The Lord has not given us as prey to their teeth.” This is different from the first picture. The first picture is swallowed whole. The second picture is a picture of a large animal that has hold of a smaller animal in a vice grip in its teeth and is shaking it to death. My sister-in-law was out walking. Bill and Becky had a new dog that they had just gotten and a pit bull was wandering in the neighborhood, had gotten out of its cage, and latched onto that dog and began to shake it violently. And interestingly, the family cat delivered the dog from the pit bull! (laughter) Way to go, cats! That's great! (laughter) There's the picture. There's an animal that's gotten hold of maybe a lamb. You can see David, the shepherd — a wolf, a lamb; a lion, a lamb has gotten hold of that animal, shaking it violently. The animal has no chance to get away. There's the picture. “He has not given us as prey to their teeth.”
Then, the fourth picture, you see it in verse 7. “We've escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers.” There are all sorts of pictures in the ancient world in this time of people hunting birds with gigantic nets and sometimes there are traps to get them into the nets and then they’re snared and used for whatever purposes the capturers have for them. And David picks this as another picture. “The snare of the fowlers” — we're trapped; we're snared; we can't escape.
All of these pictures are designed to depict the peril that the people of God are in by virtue of their enemy's designs against them and to magnify the danger. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Over and over the Bible warns us of the danger that surrounds us. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities and evil in high places.” David is magnifying the danger. Precisely so, we will see that our hope, our help, the source of our aide is not in our self, it's not in our craftiness, it's not in our resources. It's only in our God.
DECLARING THE SAVIOR
So in verses 1 and 2 he identifies the deliver — “The Lord is our only hope” – and he amplifies our gratitude to God. In verses 3 to 7, he magnifies the danger we are facing, he depicts the peril that we face, he speaks of our being undone, being swallowed up, being drowned, being chewed up and trapped if we are left in the hands of our enemies. And then finally in verse 8, he declares to us the deliver. In verse 8, he shows us that the Lord is the one who is on our side. He is the one who does not give us up. He is the one who is our help. And he begins to do this in verse 6. First of all he goes back to the Lord again in verse 6. He started off, “If it had not been for the Lord,” verse 1, “If it had not been for the Lord,” verse 2, and then again in verse 6, “Blessed be the Lord who had not given us as prey to their teeth.” It is the Lord who has not given us up. And then again, “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! The Lord has enabled our escape.” And then explicitly in verse 8 — “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made earth and heaven.” The Lord is the one who is our help.
David is showing us where our affiance ought to be placed, our affiance, our trust, our confidence is to be in the Lord. He is our help. When he says, “The name of the Lord,” of course that is a way of referring to the Lord himself, but the very phraseology, “The name of the Lord,” reminds us of some very significant and precious truths. First of all, that the Lord has revealed His name to His people. He is not a generic power. He is not just God in general. He has told us what His name is so that when we face trouble we can call on His name. We do not need to consent with a shaman to give us magical mantras to try and find the god who will help us. We know the name of the living God because He's revealed it to us in His kindness. He's drawn near and He's said, “This is My name. When you need Me, call on Me.”
And of course this reminds us as well that the Lord has revealed Himself to us by His Word. He's not left us wandering in the dark trying to figure out what kind of a God He is, what He loves, what He hates, what His powers are. He has told us who He is in His Word, by His Word. He has disclosed Himself. He's disclosed His name, His nature, His attributes, His loves, all in His Word to His people so that when we need Him we can call on Him by His name which He has disclosed, according to His Word which He has revealed, according to His character and His attributes which He has shared with His people. The name of the Lord is our trust. What the psalmist is doing here is commending our trust when we face battles in the future.
But here's another thing that I want you to see. As the psalmist declares God as our Savior and God, His name, as the one in whom our help is, we must remember that Jesus is the God who fights for us. It is not just a picture of the God of the Old Testament who fights for His people, but the New Testament itself depicts the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So when you reach out to your God for help in time of need and you need Him to go to battle for us, it is Jesus who goes to battle for you. Did you miss the second half of 1 John 3:8 as Billy read it this morning? Did you miss the second half of that? Turn with me there to 1 John 3:8 and see what John says about Jesus. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose.” Now what are you waiting for? He appeared to suffer. We heard about that tonight. He appeared to suffer for His people. That would be true. He appeared to die for His people. That would be true. He appeared to bear the sins of His people. That would be true. He appeared in our own flesh that He might be a mediator who is not untouched with sympathy for our infirmities. That would be true but that's not what John says. “He appeared that He might destroy the works of the devil.” The Lord Jesus is a warrior and He comes to destroy the works of the devil.
One of my favorite hymns that we don't have in our hymnal, and hence we don't get to sing it very often, is a hymn by Thomas Kelly. Now Thomas Kelly wrote about six or seven of the hymns in our hymnal. He was an excellent hymn writer and we sing a number of his hymns regularly. One of the hymns that we don't sing but I think, I think our high school and college students sing because I think there's either a Darwin Jordan or an RUF tune that has been written and used with this particular text. It is a hymn called, Who is This That Comes from Edom? Do you know that hymn? Thomas Kelly writes:
“Who is this that comes from Edom, all His garments stained with blood; to the slave proclaiming freedom, bringing and bestowing good; glorious in the garb He wears, glorious in the scars He bears?”
Who is it?
“Tis the Savior, now victorious, traveling on in His might; tis the Savior, oh, how glorious to His people is the sight! Jesus now is strong to save, mighty to redeem the slave. Why that blood His raiment staining?”
Now again you’re expecting a different answer. Why that blood His raiment staining? And here's Thomas Kelly's answer:
“Tis the blood of many slain; of His foes there's none remaining, none the contest to remain: fallen they are, no more to rise, all their glory prostrate lies. This the Savior has effected by His mighty arm alone; see the throne for Him erected; tis an everlasting throne: tis the great reward He gains, the glorious fruit of all His pains.”
And then he finishes:
“Might Victor, reign forever, wear the crown so dearly won; never shall Thy people, never cease to sing what Thou hast done; Thou hast fought Thy people's foes; Thou wilt heal Thy people's woes.”
It is Jesus who fights for you. When you cry out under the assault of the world and the flesh and the devil, Jesus aims to put them under His feet and He will. Nothing will be left of that which opposes Him. Nothing will be left of that which opposes His people, so there is a face to the deliverer that the psalmist wants you to look to and trust in when you feel inundated and deluged, when you feel almost chewed up and swallowed whole, when you feel trapped, and it is the face of your Savior. He comes in His bloodstained garments from battles with His foes and yours and He is the Victor. David is telling us these things because the Christian life is a fight. It is a constant warfare and the battle belongs to the Lord. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made the heaven and the earth.”
Lord God, there are some battles so bitter, so dark, so discouraging, some of them so private and hidden in the deep recesses of our hearts that we can't even get words up through our throats to describe them. And yet they can dominate our world and they can leave us in despair. But you have appointed an encouragement for us in this, Your Word, to remind us of Your past interventions and deliverance, to remind us of the greatness of the danger that we face, and to remind us that we may confidently trust in You, no matter what, no matter who we are up against. Give Your believing people faith to believe that in their fights today and tomorrow until the final victory is sounded and all warfare comes to an end. Until then, O God, remind us not only of the Savior who came to die for us bearing our sins on the tree in His own body, but the Savior who came to destroy the works of the devil. And He will. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.