Our Help Is in the Name of the LORD | Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone cover us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124 ESV

 

Thus far in the Songs of Ascents, we have pondered the necessity of leaving the lands of Mashech and Kedar (symbolic for worldliness) in order to journey toward Jerusalem (Psalm 120), our need for God to be our keeper along the pilgrimage (Psalm 121), and the hopeful longing to worship with God’s people in God’s city (Psalm 122). Together, those three psalms formed a kind of opening trilogy for beginning the God-fearer’s pilgrimage. Psalm 123 then began the second set of three psalms, this time with a predominant theme of God’s protection over His people. Where the previous psalm was a cry to God for mercy, Psalm 124 is a song of thanksgiving for having received God’s boundless mercy.

THE IMMINENT DANGER

As is true of all the psalms, Psalm 124 is aiming to strike our emotions. Such is the nature of both poetry and music. They engage both the head and the heart, our logic and our passions. John Donne’s poem, The Triple Fool, is an amusing meditation on how poetry is often used to bind the torrents of emotion, while setting a poem to music releases those very emotions out again. As both a song and poem, our psalm does both seeks to capture emotion, like a lightening bug in a jar, and at the same time provide us a means of releasing those same emotions.

What emotion then is our psalmist, David, both capturing and releasing? It is the exuberance of being delivered from death. David’s passion overflows with the kind of joyful ecstasy that comes from having narrowly avoided his undoing. Perhaps you’ve felt that feeling before. Hydroplaning while speeding down the highway will do the trick. Adrenaline spikes, and you don’t seem to breath. Pupils dilate, making you feel like you’re seeing everything all at once. Your body feels the danger far quicker than your mind understands it. When you pass through unscathed, your heart is still racing, an adrenaline rush. Through sky-diving, bungie-jumping, roller-coasters, horror movies, and various other means, we seek to experience that danger in a controlled setting. As we’ve said previously, God designed us to tackle the deadly and perilous road of life, filled to the brim with both love and loss. One of the basic foundations of a story’s plot is the conflict, and each story crafted is merely an imitation of the Story that God has been telling from the very beginning of creation. We (whether secretly or not-so-secretly) are fascinated with danger because life itself is dangerous. Deep down we want to slay to the dragon to rescue the damsel or transform the wild beast into a civilized and charming prince because that’s what Jesus did for us.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Notice that in the first verse, David pauses his thought in order to invite all of Israel into his jubilation. Remember that God made the nation of Israel into His chosen people by making a covenant with their ancestor Abraham. In Christ, the blessing of Abraham has now been extended to all nations. Therefore, as followers of Christ, we are God’s people, the church. David then is also inviting all Christians today to join in his song.

Verses 2-5 express the danger that both David and all of Israel were rescued from: a bloodthirsty mob and a raging flood. The imagery is intentionally poetic and ambiguous, but in our walk with Christ, we know the face of danger well. It comes through three general modes of temptation (Satan, the flesh, and the world), but the threat itself is singular: sin. John Piper concludes correctly that “nobody goes to hell because of Satan. The only reason we go to hell is sin” (Declare War on Sin). Ultimately, the demonic, worldly, and selfish temptations around and within us are only avenues toward sin. Sin is the danger.

The imagery of people rising up to attack is fitting, especially since God described Cain’s sin as crouching at his door like an animal stalking its prey (Genesis 4:7). God then declared that sin’s desire was contrary to Cain. Sin’s greatest lie is that it wants to make us happy. It promises to fulfill our deepest desires. We buy that lie every time we sin. We do not merely stumble into sin. We sin because we want to sin; we think that it will satisfy a need that God is not meeting. The LORD repeatedly exposes its falsehood to us, reminding us that sin’s desire is contrary to us, fundamentally against us.

Paul captures this notion profoundly with this simple truth: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The entire premise of wages is that they must be earned. A paycheck is the rightful fruition of a labor contract. Do a job; get paid. And sin is a work with death as the paycheck. Paul is exposing that truth precisely because we don’t often believe it. We lust because, for a moment at least, we think will be satisfied through him or her. We lie because we think it will put us in a better position. We gossip because we think it will keep us socially connected. Each sin presents a different promised end, but the wage is always the same: death. Like Levi and Simeon with the men of Shechem, sin offers false promises only to make us ready for slaughter.

Next, David describes his danger as a flood. Three times in verses 4-5 he claims that the torrent and raging waters would have drowned us. The significance of this imagery runs throughout Scripture. From Genesis 1, the waters (or deep) has a negative and chaotic connotation. As Creator, God brought light into darkness and order out of chaos. The global flood in Genesis 7-8 was, therefore, a symbolic undoing/reforming of creation. The sea is untamable to all but God, as any wise seaman knows.

Just as sin is as malevolent as an army of enemies, so sin is as destructive as a tsunami. The damage of sin is like a violent force of nature. However foolish it might be to underestimate the destructive capacity of raging waters; the foolishness of underestimating sin is far greater. Proverbs 6:27-29 uses the same logic (although with the element of fire) toward the sin of adultery:

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.

Are you aware of how immanent a danger sin is? Are you buying the lies that your sin only wants to make you happy? When was the last time you spent time truly thinking of the sin you’re wrestling with right now as enemy that wants you dead or as a torrent of raging waters that long for you to drown?

Or perhaps, you aren’t even wrestling with your sin. The greatest danger of all is the one that goes unnoticed. No army can be fought until their presence is scouted. No disease can be treated until it has been diagnosed. Ignorance does not cause danger to cease; it simply forfeits the opportunity of escape.

Brothers and sisters, sin’s utmost desire is our death. Are you aware of the danger?

OUR HELP IS IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

Yet despite the grave danger, our psalm is a song of thanksgiving, not lament, because David is exulting that God has not allowed these dangers to consume us. The key message proclaimed in verses 1, 6, and 8 is that the LORD Himself has saved us from certain death. In fact, as the psalmist begins, if God had not saved, we would have surely perished. Such was the hopelessness of our situation. In Ephesians 2, Paul went so far as to call us dead in sin and objects of God’s wrath.

Brothers and sisters, it is far too easy to forget what makes grace so amazing. We were as good as dead. We were without hope. Our sin is not just a problem for us. It was the problem. It wasn’t just one disease of many; it is a cancer that had infiltrated each organ system. Our plight against sin was the very definition of bleak. We blatantly defied the Author of life itself, the Almighty Creator. We attempted a coup against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We deserved the flood. We deserved to fall into the hands of our enemies. We deserved death as our just wages. We earned it.

And yet God did not give us as prey to the teeth of our sin. He came to our aid. He became our helper, standing beside us.

Notice that God is on our side. Regardless of how anyone responds to God’s offer of salvation, the truth remains that sin is contrary to us while God is for us. Even though the LORD’s plans often involve pain and suffering in moment, He assures us that everything He does is in love. All suffering (whether caused by our sin or not) is the discipline of the LORD upon His children. Like a loving father and mother, discipline their children, not just by correcting bad behavior, but also by establishing godly rhythms and routines, so God uses everything to mold and shape us for His glory and our good. We must hold this truth with a death grip to our chest if we are to have any hope of overcoming the sin’s lie of happiness. Our sin wants us to believe that it is on our side and that God is our enemy. We must fight, literally, for our very souls to cling to the opposite truth. God is good, and He desires our good as well. We must wrestle with all our might to believe that.

But how does God show is love for us?

How does He reveal that He is on our side and that He is our helper?

He does so by breaking the snare of sin. What a powerful image in verse 7! Sin is fowler’s snare, and we are the birds. Like witless birds, we are being hunted for our lives, yet we are often utterly oblivious of the danger until the trap springs upon us. Gloriously, our God has broken the snare! He has shattered the trap of sin.

How did He break sin’s snare? He did it “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:14-15). Upon the cross, Jesus nailed the debt of our sins, putting to shame and triumphing over the very demonic powers which seek to incite to sin.

For the Christian then, the cross of Jesus Christ is not merely an avenue by which we may be free from our sin. Jesus’ substitutional death crushes and annihilates our sin. It has been disarmed, a snare now broken. The cross is, therefore, not only the sole avenue of forgiveness for past sin; it is also the only instrument of victory over present sin and the only hope of future freedom from sin entirely.

But this victory over sin can only come from via the name of the LORD. Paul captures the significance of our help being in God’s name when he declares “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Salvation from sin can only come by crying out to the Savior.

But if the action is so simple, what prevents us from calling upon His name? Most often it is pride. Back when my wife and I first began dating, we were visiting my parents and needed to run some sort of errand. In a fit of nostalgia, we drove my car from high school, but after completing our task, we got back in the car only to find out that the key wouldn’t turn. Thinking that the steering wheel just needed some wiggling, I fiddled with it for a several minutes. Finally, after about thirty minutes of avoiding the inevitable, I called my father. His first suggestion was, of course, to ask whether I was using the right key. What an insult! That’s exactly why I avoided calling him in the first place! He was just going to assume the most basic problem… I quickly stopped using the wrong key, started the car, and headed home.

Unfortunately, most of us will waste far more than thirty minutes on unrepented sin, which is far more foolish. The prideful refusal to call upon God’s name for salvation is like remaining in a burning house because we can’t admit that we left the stove unattended. The sorrowful reality is that no one will be cast into hell who did not choose to be there. Many would simply rather face an eternity of torment rather than confess their helplessness. The cross, however, is predicated upon such helplessness. The glorious message of the gospel is that the LORD has rescued us from our sins through the death and resurrection of Christ because no other avenue of salvation existed.

The question, then, is not merely have you looked to the cross, but are you looking to it?

Do you see your sin as an immanent danger that only Jesus can save you from? Or do you view it as a pet that you have on a leash? The reality is that sin is more than happy to let you feel in control long enough to establish a good grip around your neck.

Have you cast yourself at the mercy of the LORD, and are you still doing so?

May each of us pray now and forever the words of Augustus Toplady:

Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace: foul, I to Thy fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die.

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The Priestly King | Day 14

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 ESV)

For the final day of week two, we return briefly to David, who authored Psalm 110.

David composed this royal hymn about his promised offspring who would one day sit on an eternal throne over all people. As one of the most cited Old Testament texts in the New Testament, we can clearly understand David to be speaking of Jesus. And though David lived roughly a thousand years before Christ, it is incredible that David refers to his descendant in verse one as his Lord.

In the midst of this psalm’s declarations about the kingship of the coming Savior, we receive a very interesting statement: David proclaims that the Serpent-Crusher would be a priest as well.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s priests came from the tribe of Levi, but this coming King would be an offspring of David, from the tribe of Judah.

How then could Messiah be both a king and priest?

David answers this problem by claiming that He will not be a Levitical priest; rather, He will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

In Genesis 14, Levi’s great-grandfather, Abraham, tithed to a priest named Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews will make the point that because Levi, through Abraham, tithed to Melchizedek, Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to Levi’s.

Because the role of the priest was to offer sacrifices and prayers to God on behalf of the people, Jesus is not only our King to obey, but He is our great Priest who represents us before the Father.


Take a moment today to consider the beauty of Jesus being our high priest before the Father and the privilege of being able to come before the Father in prayer because of the ultimate and final sacrifice of Christ for our sins.


 

A Wise King | Day 11

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. (1 Kings 4:29 ESV)

On his death bed, David bypassed the traditional succession of kings in the ancient world by appointing Solomon instead of his eldest living son, Adonijah.

Born to David by Bathsheba, Solomon was beloved by the LORD from his birth. In fact, God sent Nathan to David upon Solomon’s birth to give him a second name, Jedidiah, which means beloved of the LORD.

So from the beginning of his life, Solomon had favor with God.

In 1 Kings 3, God comes to Solomon in dream, saying that because he loved the LORD like David did, the LORD would give him anything he asked. The new king humbly asks God for wisdom to lead the people of Israel. The LORD loves this answer and declares that because he did not ask for longevity, riches, or safety, God would give those to him anyway.

And God did as He promised.

Solomon became wise without equal, and he became rich. The king was so wealthy that he is still considered one of the richest men to ever live. And the LORD finished by giving Solomon’s reign forty years of peace, which is still unheard of in Israel today!

But though God greatly blessed and used Solomon to build the temple, he was still not the perfect fulfillment of the promise that God made to David. As we will read tomorrow, for all of his wisdom, even Solomon could not overcome the curse of sin.


Like Solomon, James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Therefore, make your prayer today for God-granted wisdom.


 

A Repentant King | Day 10

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13 ESV)

The events of 2 Samuel 11 are nothing short of a tragedy.

Deciding one spring not to go to war with his armies, David stayed in the comfort of his palace instead. While walking around one day, he looked out the window to see a woman bathing on her rooftop. Fixated upon her beauty, David calls her to his palace and sleeps with her.

Soon he learns that she is pregnant, and because her husband, Uriah, was a noble soldier, David’s attempt to have Uriah leave the battlefield to sleep with his wife fails.

In desperation to hide his sin, David has Uriah murdered in the heat of battle.

Months pass, and Bathsheba, now David’s wife, gives birth to David’s son. The sin was successfully hidden; David could proceed with business as usual.

But God has other plans.

He sends Nathan the prophet to rebuke David with a parable about a wealthy man who slaughters his poor neighbor’s beloved and only lamb rather than using one of his many lambs. When David becomes angry at the story, Nathan declares that David is the wealthy man and Uriah was the poor man.

David was caught red-handed before God. The anointed king was now an adulterer and murderer.

Though we knew from chapter 7 that David was not the Savior, we now get a glaring display of why he was not the Serpent-Crusher.

The coming Messiah, though wounded by the serpent, would smash the serpent’s head; He would defeat sin and evil decisively. David, however, did not conquer sin but was conquered by sin.

Fortunately, because Jesus would defeat sin, David was able to come before God in repentance, writing Psalm 51 for our benefit and to give words to the repentant heart.


Take time today to consider and repent of any sins you have committed. Use Psalm 51 to guide your prayerful repentance.


 

The Eternal King | Day 9

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13 ESV)

When considering the life of David, he appears to be the Bible’s best candidate yet for the Serpent-Crusher.

He comes from the lineage of Abraham, and he became a king from the line of Judah. His resume of actions after becoming anointed look pretty favorable as well. While still a youth, David became Israel’s champion by slaying the giant, Goliath, in combat. And though anointed king, David still served Saul gladly and faithfully, even though Saul repeatedly tried to kill him.

In 2 Samuel 7, David proclaims that he longs to build God a house, a temple for the Ark because the Ark of God’s presence was kept in a tent since the days of Moses.

It seemed like a great idea, but God counters David’s offer.

The LORD states that instead of David building Him a house, He would build a house for David. The beacon of David’s house would be his offspring that God would give an eternal throne and a kingdom that lasts forever.

God’s words to David have a distinctly dual application. First, Solomon is the immediate fulfillment, as he did construct the temple. However, Solomon did not fulfill this completely or else he would still be reigning as king today.

Instead, God gave to David the glorious promise that the Messiah was going to be his offspring, coming from his lineage, and would rule as king for all eternity.


If you truly believe that Jesus is the reigning Messiah, the offspring of David, do you submit your entire life to Him and His commands? Is there any area or aspect of your life that you do not fully give over to your King? If so, why not?


 

An Unexpected King | Day 8

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 ESV)

Saul was not a good king; in fact, he was pretty terrible.

After being made king, Saul disobeys the LORD by making a sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to make it, making a hasty vow that almost kills his son, and defies God’s command by keeping spoils of war that God forbade.

It is no surprise then that God rejected Saul as king in 1 Samuel 15.

The LORD soon sends Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, a descendant of Judah. Samuel is to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king of Israel, and one by one, seven of Jesse’s sons come before Samuel.

But the LORD rejects each of them.

Samuel asks if there is another, and with what appears to be some reluctance, Jesse tells him that the youngest is keeping the sheep. David, the youngest of his brothers, is brought before Samuel and anointed to be the next king of Israel.

Interestingly, this practice of anointing God’s chosen servants will lead to one of the most common titles for the Serpent-Crusher: Messiah (or Christ), which means anointed one.

But absolutely, no one expected David to be anointed as king.

We are told that Eliab, David’s eldest brother, had the physical stature of a king, so that Samuel immediately assumed him to be the king whenever he first saw him. David, by contrast, was just a youth with the lowly familial chore of shepherding the sheep.

God, however, reminds Samuel that He does not see how humans see: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (v. 7).”


Like Samuel, do you tend to let outward appearances guide your judgment? More pointedly, is your worship of God outward alone or does it flow from the heart?


 

Introduction for Week 2 of Advent

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 ESV)

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

God’s over-arching epic narrative for humanity began in Genesis and slowly forms a crescendo of anticipation for the coming Savior, the Serpent-Crusher.

We know that He would be the offspring of woman and come from Abraham’s lineage (Judah’s line to be more specific). Also, Israel’s exodus from Egypt prefigures the coming of the Moses-like Prophet to free His people from sin, and before his death, Moses told Israel to watchfully wait for this Prophet.

Following his death, Moses’ disciple, Joshua, led Israel into Canaan, conquering the land promised to them through Abraham.

For 400 years, Israel is ruled by God through designated judges; however, the Israelites eventually demand to God’s prophet, Samuel, that they want a king like all the other nations.

Samuel reluctantly appoints the first king of Israel, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. We quickly learn, however, that Saul is quite a terrible king, so the LORD has Samuel anoint a new king from the tribe of Judah, David.

The heart of this week’s readings is God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7.

In that chapter, God promises to give to David an offspring that will sit on the throne forever. This, of course, is the promised offspring from Genesis 3:15.

He will come from the lineage of David, and the Serpent-Crusher will be an eternal king, whose reign over the entire earth will never end.