Psalm 124 – Depending on God

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The Psalms of Ascent | Stepping Stones to God’s Heart

“Depending on God” (Psalm 124)

“If the Lord had not been on our side …” (Psalm 124:1)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Stepping Stones to God’s Heart.” We are studying the fifteen Psalms of Ascent and learning how to grow closer to God as we seek to meet with him everyday here on earth and eventually in eternity in heaven. Last week we looked at Psalm 123 which was all about looking to the Lord for mercy. And in some ways Psalm 124 serves as an answer to Psalm 123. Psalm 123 was a cry for mercy. Psalm 124 describes God’s merciful deliverance. Psalm 124 is all about depending on God. The psalm points entirely to God and his help, and there is no stealing the glory for oneself.

Note: You will notice this psalm is marked as a Psalm of David. Most of the Psalms of Ascent are unattributed, but four of the fifteen songs are attributed to David and one to Solomon. This is the second Psalm of Ascent attributed to David so far. (Read Psalm 124:1-8 and pray.)

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As we begin the message this morning, I want you to think of a time when you were completely dependent on God, a time where if God didn’t come through for you, you were sunk. For me I think back to the year 2009 when I felt led by the Lord to move my family from Massachusetts back to Florida, even though we had no house or job waiting. It was a challenging number of months, and I remember someone congratulating me for taking a step of faith. I told them I was still mid-step, still in the air, waiting and trusting. If God didn’t catch us, we would surely fall.

It’s easy to point to the times of crisis as times when we are especially dependent on God, but the truth of the matter is, we are all completely dependent on God all the time. We need God. We need Jesus Christ. We need him every day, and we need him for all things.

Psalm 124 imagines what would happen if God did not intervene to help. In some ways it’s almost the exact opposite of John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine.” John Lennon imagined a world without God or heaven and thought it would be a better place. Psalm 124 imagines what would happen without God, and it is a picture of complete devastation.

You could also call this psalm “The Great Escape,” because the psalmist escapes great danger and almost certain disaster. But unlike the movie by the same title, he doesn’t escape because of his own skill or ingenuity but because God intervened to help.

At its core Psalm 124 teaches you that you can depend on God, and that you must depend on God if you want to make it safely to the other side. And in teaching us to depend on God, the psalm encourages us to do three things in particular: 1) Affirm the difference God makes in your life. 2) Praise God for his protection and deliverance in your life. 3) Tell others how God has helped you.

I. Affirm the difference God makes in your life (1-5)

So let’s take a look at the first of these. Affirm the difference God makes in your life. Look at verses 1-5: Psalm 124:1-5 “If the Lord had not been on our side – let Israel say – 2 if the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, 3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; 4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, 5 the raging waters would have swept us away.” (Psalm 124:1-5)

Here the palmist encourages all of Israel to affirm the difference that God makes. The key word in this section is the word “if.” “If” is a tiny little word with big implications. And here the “if’s” focus on what might have happened if not for God. “If the Lord had not been on our side, we would have been destroyed.”

Notice that the phrase “If the Lord had not been on our side” is repeated. This is for emphasis but also because the second time it is spoken as an affirmation. First the psalmist says it, but then he encourages all of Israel to repeat it as an affirmation of the truth. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates the phrase “Let all Israel say” in his Bible paraphrase The Message. He translates it this way: “All together now, Israel, sing out!” Okay everyone, let’s all sing it out together, “If the Lord had not been on our side, we would have been destroyed.” Well that’s a big difference!

The psalmist uses striking flood imagery here to highlight this difference. “If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked,” the psalmist says, “they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.” This is no slow rising of water causing flooding damage in your home. This is a flash flood or tsunami where the rushing waters swallow you alive, sweeping you and everything else away in its path.

If the Lord had not been on our side, it would have been all over. But it’s not all over. We survived the attack, and the bottom line is, we’re still here! If God is on your side, what difference does it make? It makes all the difference! And the psalmist knows that, he remembers that, he acknowledges that, and he encourages all of Israel to affirm it with him. “All together now, Israel, sing out!” It’s good to review God’s past deliverances and even all the might-have-beens in order to give you confidence for the present and hope for the future.

This first section of the psalm should prompt you to ask two questions that have profound implications for your life. “Where would you be without God?” And “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

   A. Where would you be without God?
      – John 15:5; Galatians 6:3

First of all, where would you be without God? What would your life be like if God had not helped you, protected you, saved you, changed you? Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Do you believe that? That without God and Christ in your life, you could do nothing of lasting value?

Galatians 6:3 says: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3) If you think you can navigate life successfully without God, you are deceiving yourself. You might say, “Well, I’ve gotten along fine without him so far.” But have you really? Who gave you your life? Who showers you with blessings everyday? Are you going to take the credit for all those things?

There’s an old song I like that is sung to God and it goes like this: “Without you, it’s hard to explain. You could say I’m like a cloud without rain. Or a raging forest fire without a flame. Without you, I know I’m to blame. Without you, it’s all in vain.” (Larry Norman; Ted Sandquist)

That’s the first question these verses bring up. Where would you be without God?

   B. If God is for us, who can be against us?
      – Psalm 118:6; Romans 8:31-32

And then the second question is this. If God is for us, who can be against us? What a comfort it is to know that if you are in Christ, then God is for you, he is on your side.

Go back to verses 1-2 and look at that phrase “had been on our side.” In the original Hebrew that phrase is actually the past tense of the more familiar word Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” When God is with you in life, that makes all the difference.

For one thing, you don’t need to be afraid anymore. As Psalm 118:6 says: “The Lord is on my side. I will not fear. What can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:6) Now take a look at verse two in Psalm 124 where the psalmist says, “When men attacked us.” The Hebrew word for “men” in there is “adam,” the general word for man that literally means “ground or dust.” God named the first man Adam because he came from the dust of the earth. And so the idea in Psalm 124 and here in Psalm 118:6 is why fear that which is made from the ground or dust when you have God on your side?

And then a second comfort in having God on your side is this: God will give you everything you need in life. We read in Romans 8: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) If he gave up his own Son for you, you can rest assured he give you everything else you need, too.

How do you acknowledge your complete dependence on God? First of all, affirm the difference God makes in your life. Where would you be without God? And if God is for us, who can be against us?

II. Praise God for his protection and deliverance in your life (6-7)

And then secondly, praise God for his protection and deliverance in your life. Look at verses 6-7: “Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. 7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalm 124:6-7)

Here the psalm moves from what might have happened to what actually did happen. God not only delivers you from potential dangers – that’s what verses 1-5 were all about. He also delivers you from present dangers – and that’s what we find here in verses 6-7. Note the repetitions here also. Twice he speaks of escaping; twice he mentions the snare.

   A. He protects you when you are in danger
      – Psalm 121:7-8; Isaiah 43:2

There are a couple things these verses teach you about praising God for his protection and deliverance in your life. First of all, God protects you when you are in danger. We see that in verse 6: “Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.” (Psalm 124:6) Here the psalmist changes from flood imagery to wild animal imagery. He may have already hinted at the wild animal imagery back in verse 3 when he spoke about “being swallowed alive,” but here it becomes very clear with this phrase “torn by their teeth.” The picture here is of a wild animal attacking you and tearing at your flesh. The psalmist says God did not let that happen to them.

The Bible is full of God’s promises to protect his people. God promises in Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” (Isaiah 43:2) Or we could go back to one of the earlier Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 121 where we read: “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)

Life is a spiritual battle, and as Christians we are not exempt from the battle. In fact God puts on right on the front lines. As a Christian you must be ready to experience persecution, you must be ready to suffer for your faith. Verse 3 talked about the anger of the men who attacked. Well, guess what? People get angry at the church. They get angry at you when you speak up or stand up for the truth. But take heart because God is on your side. He protects you when you are in danger.

   B. He rescues you when you are trapped
      – 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Timothy 2:26

And then secondly, he rescues you when you are trapped. Look at verse 7: “We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalm 124:6-7) Now I don’t want you to read too much into the name “fowler” there, okay? Relax, this isn’t a prophecy about your pastor, but the imagery shifts again, this time to the fowler – or let’s just call him the trapper – the imagery shifts to the trapper and the snare. And so we actually have three images in this psalm – the flood, the wild animal and the snare. And guess what? The psalmist has escaped all three! It’s the great escape! He has escaped the raging waters of the flood, he has escaped the ravenous jaws of the wild animal, and finally he has escaped the trapper’s snare.

Now notice he was actually trapped in the snare at one point. It’s not that he avoided the snare. He was trapped, and then he escaped from it. And this is another image of our utter dependence on God, because you don’t get out of a snare on your own. Once you’re trapped, you’re trapped. But here God comes along and breaks the snare, and then you escape.

You can apply this image to so many areas of your life. You can apply it to trials and temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) What does God do when you are tempted? He provides a way out. He breaks the snare, so you can escape it. You might think you are trapped in a sin and you will never escape it. It’s not true. God breaks the snare so you can escape.

You can also apply it to your salvation. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:26: “… that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26) You were trapped in sin, trapped by the devil, and Jesus came along and sprung the trap. He broke the snare and set you free.

The good news of Psalm 124 is that what might have happened, didn’t happen. You might have been trapped in sin for life. That didn’t happen. You might have died without Christ and gone to an eternity in hell, but that didn’t happen. And the reason it didn’t happen is because of God. God makes all the difference. God helps us against all the odds. And so we praise him. That’s our second application of these verses this morning. Praise God for his protection and deliverance in your life.

III. Tell others how God has helped you (8)
   (compare Psalm 121:1-2)

How do you acknowledge your complete dependence on God? First of all, affirm the difference God makes in your life. Secondly, praise God for his protection and deliverance in your life. And then thirdly, tell others how God has helped you.

Look at verse 8 with me now: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8) This verse connects back to the opening verses of Psalm 121 where we read: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)

We mentioned at the beginning of this series that this phrase – “the maker of heaven and earth” – shows up three times in the Psalms of Ascent. Right near the beginning in Psalm 121, more towards the middle here in Psalm 124, and it’s going to close out the Psalms of Ascent in the very last verse of Psalm 134 at the end.

Back in Psalm 121 the emphasis fell on God as Maker of heaven and earth, while here in verse 8 the emphasis falls on the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord here is Yahweh once again, God’s covenant name that speaks of his character, his faithfulness, his presence, his power, his attributes.

Now contrast “the name of the Lord” here in verse 8 with “men” back in verse 2. Man versus God – who do you thing is going to win? Once again why fear that which comes from the ground or the dust when you have God on your side?

It’s interesting, when you trace the progression of this psalm you will notice that first the palmist encourages all of Israel to affirm the difference God makes (verses 1-5). Next the psalmist gives praise to God for his protection and deliverance (verses 6-7). And now finally the psalmist testifies that the Lord is the one who has helped them (verse 8).

And so the psalm moves from affirmation to praise to testimony. Why have you escaped? Because the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth is on your side! And if the Lord made the heavens and the earth, then he can do anything! So you can trust him. You can depend on him.

What is the psalmist doing here? He is testifying that the Lord is the one who helped him when he was in trouble. And we need to do the same. We need to tell others how God has helped us.

   A. Give God the glory for what he has done
      – Psalm 115:1; Mark 5:19

There are two things we need to do here. First of all, be sure to give God the glory for what he has done. Psalm 115:1 says: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1) Have you escaped from trouble? Have you survived the flood? Don’t take the credit for yourself, but give credit where credit is due. Give God the glory for what he has done.

In the New Testament we read how Jesus delivered a man who was possessed by many demons. The man was a wreck. He lived among the tombs and no one could bind him, not even with a chain. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. Jesus cast the demons out of his body and for the first time in a long time, the man was free and in his right mind. The man begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus didn’t let him and told him: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19) Jesus told the man to go home and testify, to tell others how God helped him, to give God the glory for rescuing him when he was helpless and trapped.

   B. Encourage others to depend on God too
      – Psalm 20:7; Acts 4:12

So give God the glory for what he has done. And then encourage others to depend on God, too. God can use your testimony to encourage others to recognize their need for God, to understand that they are completely dependent on God, that they cannot make it without him.

Psalm 20:7 says: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7) Too many people trust in their own abilities when they need to be trusting in the Lord.

Muhammed Ali was on a plane once, and the stewardess told him to put on his seatbelt. Ali told her, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The stewardess replied, “Superman don’t need no plane either.” How many of us think that we’re superman, that we’re invincible, that we don’t need God’s help?

This is especially true when it comes to salvation. We think that we’re pretty good people, that we don’t need God, that we can make it to heaven on our own. But Acts 4:12 says this about Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Salvation comes only through Jesus and his name. And so we need to encourage others to depend on God, not just for the struggles in life but for their very salvation. Psalm 124:8 says: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8) Acts 4:12 teaches us that the name of the Lord is Jesus, and that salvation comes only through him.

How do you acknowledge your complete dependence on God? 1) Affirm the difference God makes in your life. 2) Praise God for his protection and deliverance in your life. 3) Tell others how God has helped you.

CONCLUSION: What a difference God makes in your life! All together now – let the whole church say it! If the Lord had not been on our side, we would have been swept away. If the Lord had not been on our side, we would have perished. If the Lord had not been on our side, we would have been trapped. If the Lord had not been on our side, there would be no hope, no deliverance, no salvation.

I can testify to you this morning that everything good in my life I owe to God and to Jesus Christ.. And I can assure you this morning that you can depend on God. He has never turned anyone away that comes to him. You can trust him with your life. You need God. You need Jesus.

© Ray Fowler

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