A Reflection on Psalm 124 by Canon Rob,
August 27th, The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
One of the things which many people find difficult is not being in control. This has always been part of human nature, but today it may be even more common, at a personal, national and international level. Take the current debate about AI, for example. Clearly there are benefits to AI not least for the NHS. However, there is increasing anxiety about it taking on a ‘life of its own,’ getting ‘out of control.’ A message which runs through the Bible is that God is in control. God calls human beings, like Moses, to help bring about His will. However, it is God who intervened to free His people from Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. God intervened at the Incarnation: the birth of Jesus. As you reflect on Psalm 124 you may be able to recall a time, or times, when God intervened in your life.
Today’s psalm is the result of God intervening at a time when those He loved were in danger. Although we don’t know what that was, reading verses 2 – 4, we can assume the psalmist is writing about an attack of some sort. It was terrifying. “If the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us; Then would they have swallowed us alive when their anger burned against us; Then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over our soul…” The author is surely writing figuratively but, whilst a very different example, we can perhaps sense a little how terrible the experience was as we see the devastation caused by the wildfires in the island of Maui, Hawaii, where the town of Lahaina has been completely destroyed. What is being described by the writer of the psalm and what we see on our television screens, is catastrophic and out of our control. Indeed verse 4 is almost primeval, referring to the waters which could have overwhelmed the people. It is reminiscent of Genesis Chapter 1, verse 2 at the beginning of the creation story: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” As you reflect on today’s psalm, you might also recall the story of Noah and the Ark in Genesis Chapters 7 – 9, where “the waters of the flood came on earth.” [Genesis 7.10] We might think the psalmist was exaggerating, but it was not uncommon for flash floods to occur and, as today, the idea of being covered in water with no chance of escape, was terrifying. Remember those who lost their lives in the submersible, Titan, in June?
No wonder then, that Psalm 124 is fulsome in its praise of God. Only seven verses long, four of them identify God as the source of help. The Lord was on their side [verses 1 and 2], God is praised because He has “not given (the people) over to be a prey” for the enemy [verse 5] and in verse 6 the author describes freedom like that of a bird who is delivered because “the snare is broken.” A message which the author wants his readers to understand is that God, the Creator of all, has the power and desire to constantly care for His people. We might think we are in control of our lives, the lives of others and, with the increasing concern over climate change, the future of this planet. However, the psalm tells us otherwise. Those who have faith know that God is in the past, present and future and we are urged to entrust our lives and souls into His hands. The author of the First Letter of Peter in the New Testament puts it this way: “…even those who suffer, if it be according to God’s will, should commit their souls to him – by doing good; their Maker will not fail them.” [1 Peter 4.19] The first part of this quotation may make us feel uncomfortable today, but remember that many in the Early Church suffered and died for their faith. It gave them the courage to go on. The truth to hold on to is that no matter what we go through, or how much we feel we are not in control, God is with us today, as He was in the past and as He always will be in the future.
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth.” [Psalm 124 verse 7]
Thanks be to God!