The Pilgrim’s Praise for Triumph in the Lord 

a brief study of Psalm 124, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 13 May 2011


Psalm 124 is a psalm to be sung with tears in the eyes and a heart overflowing with gratitude for the LORD’s deliverance. David, no doubt, wrote this psalm in the spirit of Christ, after the Lord delivered Israel from a great calamity.

We think of the occasion when Absalom rose in rebellion against David with a huge army. They would have overwhelmed David and the faithful men with him had the Lord not intervened. David could have written this psalm to celebrate the LORD’s deliverance when he was restored to the palace and after the sadness over the death of his son had been dealt with.

This psalm is suitable for use by God’s people to express gratitude and thanksgiving whenever the Lord delivers us from conquest or calamity. We may entitle it: “The Pilgrims’ Praise for Triumph in the LORD.” It is a well-beloved Psalm which God’s people would have had many occasions to use.

We think of the occasion when the Assyrian Army laid siege against Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. As the siege wore on, food became scarce in Jerusalem and the Assyrians would have overwhelmed her had it not been for the Lord’s intervention. God’s people would have found this psalm to be a most fitting expression of their gratitude to God.

Or think of the days of persecution in the early church before Emperor Constantine.  Or think of the persecution against the Protestant cause after the 16th century Reformation. Remember the Marian Persecution (1555-1558) in England; or the Killing Time (1680-1688) in Scotland; or the Persecution of Huguenots (1724-1760s) in France. Persecution has never been able to put out the fire of the Reformation completely. And each time the LORD began to rekindle the fire, God’s people has risen to sing this psalm!

We think of the story of John Durie, a minister of the Gospel in Edinburgh who was sent to exile in May 1582 because he preached a sermon that offended one of the dukes. When he returned the following year in September, he was met at the port by 200 men singing Psalm 124. They continued singing as they walked with him to the cathedral at St Giles. As they walked and sang, more and more people joined in so that the choir of saints numbered two thousand by the time they reached the church building! The duke, apparently, saw what happened, tore off his beard in anger and left the city in shame.

Psalm 124 is a well-beloved psalm.

It has two main parts. In the first part, verses 1-5, we confess that the LORD is the only reason for our deliverance from total destruction. In the second part, verses 6-8, we bless the Lord for showing pity upon us.


1. The LORD was on Our Side (v. 1-5)

God’s people throughout the ages must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. This is because God had declared war against Satan. Until it is completely destroyed, the seed of the serpent will always be at enmity against the seed of the woman, which is Christ and those united with Him.

God’s people can therefore expect many battles just because they are the people of Christ. We have already mentioned some of these battles.

Thus the apostle Peter says:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you…” (1 Pet 4: 12)

What Peter says is true for the saints throughout the ages, for as “partakers of Christ’s suffering” (1 Pet 4:13), we can expect trials and attempts by the wicked one to overwhelm us.

And there will be times when we will feel completely helpless; and we will be tempted to think that the situation is hopeless. But the Lord has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church (Mt 16:18). Thus we can be sure of having many opportunities to sing this psalm.

Our fathers in the faith would have sung this psalm many times. Had the LORD not been on their side, they would have been crushed by the enemies of the Lord who rose against them (v. 1-2). Had the LORD not been on their side, they would have been swallowed up like how the earth swallowed up Korah and his company (Num 16:32). Again had the Lord not been on their side to shield them, they would have been overwhelmed like the way that a tsunami or a massive rush of floodwater overwhelms and destroys an entire city (v. 4). Proud waters would have swept over them, and they would have perished in great humiliation (v. 5).

But thanks be to God, the LORD was on their side. One with the LORD shall chase a thousand and two shall put ten thousand to flight (Dt 32:30).

Beloved brethren and children, we and our fathers in the faith are one in Christ. As they acknowledge the Lord’s deliverance through all the trials, so we must do the same because we are one with them. Had it not been that the LORD was on our side, our fathers would have been destroyed and we would not be here today.

Therefore, let us sing these words gratefully when the Lord grants deliverance in our lifetime. But let us also sing the same words with grateful hearts as we think of all that our Lord has done for us as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the ages. Let us sing these words that our faith may be fortified with the assurance that the gates of hell will not prevail against us as we march on with Christ as the captain of our salvation.

Indeed, Christ the captain of our salvation would have used this psalm to fortify his own faith even as he suffered for us. Remember how the Lord Jesus reflected on the experiences of the fathers when he was on the cross. “Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them” he says in Psalm 22 (Ps 22:4). No doubt, Psalm 124 would have been part of our Lord’s reflection on the deliverance that the Father has given to His people.

So let us sing this psalm in union with Christ our Lord. And let us sing it to bless the Lord.


2. The LORD did not Give Us Up (v. 6-8)

This is the emphasis of the second part of this psalm.

6 Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. 7 Our soul is escaped as a bird…

In the first part of this psalm, the battles we face are pictured in geologic terms. In this second part of the psalm they are pictured in zoological terms. The enemy is likened to a predator such as a lion ready to devour us (v. 6); or like snares set by bird trappers (v. 7).

Had it not been for the Lord’s mercy, we would have been devoured by the prowling lion. The lion was upon us. We felt the blast of its breath as it roared in our ears. We were too frightened and too weak to run. It looked like the end for us. But blessed be the LORD, He appeared! He yanked the lion away and broke its great teeth so that it could do us no harm. Praise be to the LORD!

Again had it not been for the Lord’s pity, we would have been caught by the fowler. Yeah, we were already caught in the net. We struggled to get free, but we were helpless to save ourselves, for the more we struggled, the more we got entangled. But thanks be to the Lord, He came to our rescue. He tore the net. He untangled us. He set us free. Blessed be the LORD!

When did we experience these things? We experienced it in our fathers in all the deliverances that the LORD has granted them. We experience it in our lives individually and corporately if we have ever experienced persecution for our faith and then been delivered by the LORD.

But do we not experience what is described in this psalm also in our conversion and struggle against sin? Again, do we not experience what is described when the Lord lifts us out of moments of gloom and depression in our Christian walk?

Is it not true that the devil would have devoured us had the Lord not intervened? Is it not true that we would have gotten ourselves more and more entangled in sin and the pains and sorrows resulting from sin had the Lord not rescued us?

Therefore, beloved brethren and children, let us sing these words with hearts filled with thanksgiving. Thank God that we are not alone in our struggles in this world. Thank God that our helper is the maker of the heaven and the earth (v. 8).

Thank God for deliverance in Christ! Thank God that we are more than conquerors in Christ who loves us and laid his life down for us.


Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, this is what Psalm 124 is about. It is a psalm we must learn well and love.

As you can see, it is a psalm that we can sing at specific occasions of deliverance from the enemies of the LORD. But it is also a psalm that we can sing in union with our fathers in the faith and with Christ so that our love for the LORD may be deepened, our faith may be strengthened, and our hope of final deliverance established. Amen.