Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Help
1 A song of ascents. Of David.
[b]If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel now proclaim—[c]
2 if the Lord had not been on our side
when our enemies attacked[d] us,
3 [e]then they would have swallowed us alive
as their wrath was kindled against us.
4 [f]The waters would have washed us away,
the torrent would have swept over us,
5 and we would have drowned
in the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the Lord,
who did not give us as prey to their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare was broken,
and we escaped.[g]
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.[h]
- Psalm 124:1 This psalm is the thankful cry of the chosen people that God saves because he has made a covenant with them. It contains four classic images—the monster (v. 3: “swallowed”), the water (v. 4: “waters” and “torrent”; v. 5: “waters”), the bull (v. 6: “prey to their teeth”), and the trapped bird (v. 7: “from the snare of the fowlers”)—that evoke the trials undergone by Israel as well as the sudden and extreme danger in which each person can find himself.
Christians can pray this psalm with the sentiments suggested by Paul in a similar situation (see 2 Cor 1:8-10). We can direct it to the Father and Christ, through whom God saves the Church. Without Christ, who will be with us till the consummation of the world (see Mt 28:20), the Church and her members could not hold out against the gates of the netherworld (see Mt 16:18). As the Good Shepherd, Christ gives his life to save his flock from the ravenous wolf who never ceases prowling around her, ready to devour her (see Jn 10:11-15; 1 Pet 5:8). Christ masters the storm that is on the verge of swallowing up the already sinking boat with his disciples (see Mk 4:35-41); he breaks the snare that holds his imprisoned apostles, among others, Peter and Paul (see Acts 5:17-19; 12:1-11; 16:19-26). Truly, we can say with assurance: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 124:8).
- Psalm 124:1 Because the Lord has been with his people, they have not perished (see Pss 94:17; 119:92) and have hope instead (see Neh 4:14). The ancients had a grateful awareness of God’s presence among them.
- Psalm 124:1 Let Israel now proclaim: the people are invited to repeat the first phrase like a refrain (see Pss 118:2; 129:1).
- Psalm 124:2 Enemies attacked: i.e., the arrogant (see Ps 123:4).
- Psalm 124:3 The trials undergone by Israel are described in traditional images (monsters, wild beasts, drowning, and snares) to indicate the totality of the disaster that loomed so near. Swallowed: in addition to indicating death at the hands of some beast, it also functions as a metaphor for death itself, which is often portrayed by “the netherworld” that devours its victims (see Ps 55:16; Prov 1:12).
- Psalm 124:4 The metaphor of water as a destructive force is common in the Old Testament (see Pss 18:17 and note; 32:6; 42:8; 69:2f, 16; Isa 8:7f; Lam 3:54) because of the destructive torrential rains common to that part of the world (see Jdg 5:21; Mt 7:27).
- Psalm 124:7 A triumphant note underlies this verse: we escaped by the Lord’s doing; therefore, he is to be praised.
- Psalm 124:8 The psalm culminates in the great confession (see note on Ps 121:2).