What If? And the Blessing of What Is - Psalm 124

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What if? This is one of those questions that can lead us on a long and winding path. It’s a question that comes to mind as we think back over our lives – What if this had happened or that? What if I had left or stayed longer? What if that person had done this or that?

As Christians we know that behind all of the what if questions is a sovereign God who has never stopped working out His perfect plan for us. We know that nothing in our lives is an accident; and that in good and bad times God is always in control. This should give us peace and hope.

But there are good and helpful ways to use the what if questions. They can be used to remind us of God’s care for us. In Psalm 124 the psalmist considers what would have been if God had not rescued His people.

There’s a sense in which the psalm starts with the what if question – but behind the question is a declaration of faith and trust in God. The psalm is a call to praise and trust the God who has saved His people and who continues to be their help.

A Good Psalm for Us

In the psalm David is recounting the way God rescued Israel from danger. When they were sure to be overcome, God delivered them. When they couldn’t save themselves, God saved them. This is our story too. We were born into a desperate situation – but God, through Christ, has made a way for us to be saved. And for those of us who have be rescued by Him this psalm should help us grow in praise, gratitude and trust in God. 

What Could Have Been – What if God wasn’t on our side? (124:1-5)

  • A declaration of dependance (v. 1a) – While we don’t know the exact circumstance that David is writing about, the point is clear: David knows that the Lord was their only hope. The question of if is a resounding declaration of Israel’s dependence on God for salvation.
  • A call to praise (v. 1b-2) – After his initial declaration David calls on the nation of Israel to add their voices to his. This is a call for the people to join him in praising God for His deliverance.
  • What would have happened, if not for the Lord (vv. 3-5) – Using vivid imagery David describes what would have happened if not for the Lord’s intervention. He describes an enemy who was bigger and stronger and who would have surely defeated Israel – if not for the Lord.
  • Our enemy would have swallowed us alive (v. 3)
  • Our enemy would have washed us away (v. 4)
  • Our enemy would have drowned us (v. 5) (Isaiah 8:5-8)
  • Application – The story of Israel in this psalm is our story also. On our own we can never overcome the attacks of the world, the flesh and the devil – we need a deliverer. Thanks be to God that through Christ our salvation has come (Romans 8:1; 31-37; Psalm 94:16-19). As we consider where we would have been, if not for the Lord, we should be drawn to praise and gratitude and trust. Just as He has been faithful in the past, He will continue to be faithful, now and forever.

What God Did – Praise God, He is on our side! (124:6-8)

  • Praising God for His salvation (past) (vv. 6-7) – While verses 3-5 focused on what could have happened, verses 6 and 7 are about what God has done.
  • Saved from the teeth of a wild animal (v. 6) – Without Christ our fate is sure – but through Christ God has rescued us from certain death.
  • Saved from the trap of a hunter (v. 7) – The Bible says that without Christ we are slaves to sin. But like a bird being freed from a trap, through Christ God has set us free (John 8:31-36)
  • Application – Verses 6-8 are a song of praise. As those who have been rescued, we should be people of praise – acknowledging our rescue and praising God for His salvation. 
  • Praising God for His ongoing salvation (present and future) (v. 8) While most of the psalm seems to point us back to what God has done in the past, verse 8 reminds us that God’s past work is a reminder of His care for us now and in the future. The God who has rescued us in the past is our help today. And as the One who made all things and all people – we can know that He is able to help, come what may.