Psalm 124: If Not for God
Forgetfulness is a natural sign of aging, but the opposite is true for the Christian. If a believer forgets God's wonderful work of salvation, it is a sure sign that he is not maturing in his faith but is drifting away from it (Heb. 2:1). However, singing is one proven antidote to both spiritual and physical memory loss. Singing has an emotional and cognitive impact on humans that engages both hearts and minds, which is why Christians through all ages have fought spiritual forgetfulness by singing God's words and works together.
Psalm 124 is one of these powerful songs of remembrance that uses vivid imagery to recall God's saving work against Israel's violent enemies. We don't know the exact situation the Israelites were saved from before the psalmist penned these lyrics. Still, the narrative arc is familiar to every believer in every stage of the Christian life in any age of history. Simply put, this psalm reminds the singer that we would be dead if it were not for the Lord. Hallelujah! In fact, you can almost hear the shouts of joy in the repetition of the lyrics. Like a little child whose stammer can barely contain his joy, we read: "If it had not been….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."
Except that nowadays, danger and deliverance are so far removed from our everyday experience that we tend to move on quickly from this psalm without allowing it to sink into our souls. If we're honest with ourselves, there have probably been very few times that we have been barely-catch-your-breath excited to speak about our salvation in Christ. So when the people of Israel rejoice that they were not swallowed, drowned, eaten, or trapped, we might find it hard to relate and turn the page. Like Jeshurun, God's good gifts have not turned us to praise but have caused us to grow fat and kick and forsake the Rock of our Salvation (Deut. 32:15). We might even be tempted to criticize Him instead, asking ourselves: has He really done that much for me at all?
Our self-sufficiency has deceived us into thinking there has always been a big gap between ourselves and the unsaved and that somehow we are deserving of—or even above—God's salvation. Our modern society is so fascinated with comfort, convenience, and can-do-it-yourself-ism that we often forget to fully comprehend our deliverance and the state we would be in if it were not for the Lord. But do you truly understand your precarious place apart from Christ? Do you forget that the God who we were once enemies with is the God who now fights your enemies for you? Do you truly believe that were it not for our selectively loving God, we would still be "foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Rom. 1:31) and destined for eternal damnation?
Christ is the single divide between life and death. Not your work. Not your inner piety. Not your good theology. The only difference between the Israelites and the Philistines, between the Hebrews and the Egyptians at the edge of the Red Sea, between Noah and those outside the ark, or between your church and the evil-doers you see on the news, is the fact that God has set His love on us as His covenant people in Christ. That's it. We have nothing to boast in and of ourselves, yet everything to praise Him for.
We need Psalm 124 because we need to remember that, like Israel, we have nothing if it were not for God. We are also trapped birds. Defenseless. Not equipped to fight back, and wondering when we will be prey for our enemies. But because of God's love for us, we now no longer fear the enemy's schemes. Judgment day has already come for us, but rather than being washed away in wrath, we are washed with Christ's blood. Yes, He could not have been involved at all, but we've escaped death through His death.
Whether your temporal circumstances are comfortable, or if you find yourself facing the raging waters and torrents of this life, may you never forget that the One who is in you is greater than the one in the world (1 John 4:4). May we reflect on it regularly, remind the redeemed, and may it often cause us to sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved wretches like us!”
Megan K. Taylor earned her MA in Theological Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Joel, live in Sanford, Fl where she works for Ligonier Ministries and is a member of Saint Paul’s PCA.