Leslie Allen calls Psalm 124 ‘the broken trap’ after the imagery of a bird managing to escape from a snare or net set for it in verse 5. Managing to fly away free, that wonderful picture of freedom that is evoked by a bird in flight.
It’s an interesting Psalm, a rare psalm in that it is a communal psalm of thanks, everyone giving thanks to God for his help and presence in the past for the whole of God’s people and declaring confidence in the LORD to be our help in present predicaments and future uncertainties.
In its title its ascribed to David but like so many of the Psalms we don’t have any situation in his life to connect it too. In some manuscripts, it does not have that accreditation to David and Scholars say in terms of its language it fits in well in a later period, a song of triumph for the exiles returning from Babylon, even thought they’d been through the hardship od defeat, exile and living as strangers in a strange and often hostile land, God had kept his word and was restoring them to Jerusalem. There is something about that not knowing, not having specifics to tie it down to, and its own use of so many different metaphors and a vivid array of different images of danger and trouble that make it so accessible to us. It’s a psalm of ascent and groups of pilgrims from all over the world coming to Jerusalem could fit their own experiences of God's help in times of trouble and suffering and difficulty to this communal psalm. It’s a psalm that can be easily become our Psalm, our song of thanksgiving for God’s presence. Our Psalm as we add our stories of God’s help, rescue and salvation to those of God’s people down through the ages, and give thanks and affirm our trust in God .
It’s an honest Psalm that says that (to use the words of John 16:33) in this life there will be trouble, we face difficulties, temptations, suffering and disasters, on a national scale a communal scale and a in our individual lives, but we are not to be afraid in those things we can also know and experience God’s presence and aid.
It’s open enough to speak of God’s saving presence on the grand scale; freeing us from sin. Delivering us from going down to the pit, which is one of the uses of the idea of being swallowed alive. It has the idea of being spared judgement, as it evokes the Korah rebellion in Numbers 16, where Korah and some other Levites rebelled against Moses and Aaron and they were swallowed by a fissure opening up, the rest of the Israelites were pleased that God was with them. As we approach Easter we remember Jesus coming as one of us to our side and through his living and dying and being raised to life again, breaking the trap of sin that would bind and hold us captive in its cruel clutches, freeing us to new life in Christ. It invokes Psalm 40 finding Jesus that solid place to stand amidst the mire clay or a torrent and flood.
It’s open enough that we can identify it with the things that we each face in our lives. I grew up in West Auckland and When I read this psalm I couldn’t help but think of the big wet we’ve just had where people out west found themselves in flash floods and a big sink hole opened up under New Lynn… We lived in Titirangi and it was easy to look down on new lynn and think it was a bit of hole anyway…(sorry Westie humour) You may identify with troubles and situations that you have experienced where its felt like it was going to swallow you whole, or you were going down under the weight of it all, or trapped and unable to break free… or torn by the teeth of criticism and scorn. We often have pictures of big monsters when we think of being torn by teeth but did you know that chihuahua’s are Mexican hunting dogs. Those yupping nipping Dogs, used to kill deer and other animals, in a pack they would nip and yup and worry their prey, giving it no rest, till it was worn out and couldn’t get away, trouble can often be like that pack of chihuahua’s right, trivial things that are like a pack, nipping at our heals, one after the other and not giving us any rest. but the psalm invites us to see and to tell of God’s presence and God’s help. As a communal psalm it invites us to be encouraged and strengthened by what God has done in other people’s lives as well as ours. To be encouraged by the testimonies of people who have been where we have and can attest to God’s presence and help.
Finally we are invited to see God as our help. The psalm says our help is in the name of the LORD. It’s not that we can say in the name of Jesus likes it’s a magical formula, and abracadabra mumbo jumbo thing to make it alright, but rather for the Jewish mind set a name summed up the whole character of a person or in this case the very nature of God. God is our help because of who he is. In 1 john1:9 it says that we can have confidence that of we confess our sin that God will forgive us because God is faithful and just. Israel could have hope even when they were in exile and as Jerusalem was inflames because the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. The psalm talks of God as the maker of heaven and earth, so acknowledged his power and might, but also his provision and care.
So the psalm invites us not only to give thanks but use that remembering of God's aid and presence to give us faith and trust for the things of today. Faith and trust in the God who has helped his people in so many situations and ways in the past. Who in Jesus came to our side and our aid and is with us till the end of the age.