If the Lord Had Not Been on Our Side (Psalm 124)

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Psalm 124 is a song of ascents, traditionally attributed to King David, that expresses profound gratitude and recognition of divine intervention and protection in the face of adversity.

The psalm begins by inviting the Israelites to consider the hypothetical situation of the Lord not being on their side when they faced their enemies (verse 1). It portrays a vivid picture of utter destruction, likening their adversaries to a flood that would have engulfed them, to a stream that would have swept them away, and metaphorically to fierce predators that would have devoured them alive (verses 2-6). However, the narrative shifts to thanksgiving, emphasizing that, due to the Lord's support, they were spared from such fates (verse 7). The psalm concludes with a declaration of trust in the Lord, who is described as the Creator of heaven and earth (verse 8).

The overarching theme of Psalm 124 is the acknowledgment of God's protective hand over his people. This protection is not abstract but is portrayed as very tangible and essential for survival. The Hebrew term לָנוּ ([lanu]; outside Psalms is עִמָּנוּ [immanu]), meaning "with us," underscores the presence of God alongside his people, providing a profound sense of companionship and security.

The imagery used in the psalm vividly illustrates the vulnerability of the Israelites without divine protection. Terms like הַמַּיִם שְׁטָפוּנוּ [hamayim shetāfūnū], meaning "the waters would have engulfed us," depict potential destruction, emphasizing human fragility and the overwhelming power of adversarial forces.

The psalm shifts from hypothetical despair to thanksgiving, highlighted by the Hebrew word בָּרוּךְ (baruch), meaning "blessed" or "praised," signifying a transition from fear to gratitude and the acknowledgment of God's benevolent role in safeguarding His people. The narrative culminates in an expression of trust in God, whose creation of heaven and earth (using the term עֹשֵׂה (oseh), from the root עָשָׂה (asah) meaning "to make,"do," or "create") symbolizes his ultimate authority over all things and reliability as a protector affirming his capacity to do so.

The communal aspect of the psalm, indicated by the use of the first person plural pronominal suffix נוּ [nu] meaning "we," emphasizes collective faith and the shared experience of divine deliverance (this is a key feature in many psalms). It serves as a communal affirmation of trust in God's protection, reinforcing the social and spiritual bonds among the community members. This feature is illustrating not just individual faith and deliverance but the shared experience of God's providence and protection among the community of believers.


Word Meaning
שִׁיר song
הַ definite article
מַעֲלָה ascent, step, stair
לְ to
דָּוִד David
לוּלֵא surely; if not, unless
יְהוָה Lord
שַׁ that which; the one who(m)
היה to be, become
אמר to say

Biblical text

124:1שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֗וֹת לְדָ֫וִ֥ד לוּלֵ֣י יְ֭הוָה שֶׁהָ֣יָה לָ֑נוּ יֹֽאמַר־נָ֝א יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃2לוּלֵ֣י יְ֭הוָה שֶׁהָ֣יָה לָ֑נוּ בְּק֖וּם עָלֵ֣ינוּ אָדָֽם׃3אֲ֭זַי חַיִּ֣ים בְּלָע֑וּנוּ בַּחֲר֖וֹת אַפָּ֣ם בָּֽנוּ׃4אֲ֭זַי הַמַּ֣יִם שְׁטָפ֑וּנוּ נַ֗֜חְלָה עָבַ֥ר עַל־נַפְשֵֽׁנוּ׃5אֲ֭זַי עָבַ֣ר עַל־נַפְשֵׁ֑נוּ הַ֝מַּ֗יִם הַזֵּֽידוֹנִֽים׃6בָּר֥וּךְ יְהוָ֑ה שֶׁלֹּ֥א נְתָנָ֥נוּ טֶ֝֗רֶף לְשִׁנֵּיהֶֽם׃7נַפְשֵׁ֗נוּ כְּצִפּ֥וֹר נִמְלְטָה֮ מִפַּ֪ח י֫וֹקְשִׁ֥ים הַפַּ֥ח נִשְׁבָּ֗ר וַאֲנַ֥חְנוּ נִמְלָֽטְנוּ׃8עֶ֭זְרֵנוּ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃