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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 124

Verse 1



This psalm is ascribed to David in the superscription; and, "There is nothing in it to render it improbable that it was composed by him."[1] Nevertheless, a number of current scholars, under the influence of the critical dictum that alleges Aramaisms as evidence of a late date, place the psalm in post-exilic times.

Such later dating is only through lack of knowledge that Aramaisms are totally worthless as evidence of date. They are found in both early and later books of the Old Testament and were in use throughout Palestine as early as 1400 B.C. "Aramaisms cannot be made a criterion for determining date."[2] This conclusion regarding Aramaisms is mandatory since the discovery of the, "Ras Shamra corpus of Canaanite religious poetry dating back to 1500 to 1400 B.C."[3]

Therefore, conclusions of scholars like Allen, McCullough and others who, from the existence of Aramaisms in this psalm, propose a post-exilic date of it are evidently in error.

The psalm itself favors Davidic authorship, as Delitzsch noted, "It is written in the Davidic style."[4]

The occasion of the psalm was evidently that of some remarkable deliverance of the nation of Israel from some threatening national disaster. Dummelow placed it in the Persian period, "Following their deliverance from Haman."[5] Rawlinson suggested the times of Absalom's rebellion.[6]

Without exploring these and other proposals as to the occasion, we submit the following from Derek Kidner which appears to us as the best "guess" regarding the occasion.

"As a psalm of David, this psalm gives us rare insight into the early peril of his kingdom, particularly from the Philistines, who had thought to see the last of Israel when they shattered the kingdom of Saul. In 2 Samuel 5:17ff is shown how serious the threat was, and how little confidence David placed in his own power to survive it. This (the expedition of the Philistines) was no mere raid to gain territory; it was meant to put an end to David and the hope of Israel."[7]

Psalms 124:1-5

"If it had not been Jehovah who was on our side,

Let Israel now say,

If it had not been Jehovah on our side,

When men rose up against us;

Then they had swallowed us up alive,

When their wrath was kindled against us:

Then the waters had overwhelmed us,

The stream had gone over our soul;

Then the proud waters had gone over our soul."

"If it had not been Jehovah ... on our side" (Psalms 124:1). This expression regarding God's being "on our side" evidently inspired Martin Luther's great hymn in the second verse, "Were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing; Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he"![8]

"When men rose up against us" (Psalms 124:2). This line tells us what the danger was. It was a hostile army, not an earthquake, a monster, or a flood. Evil, hostile men were the problem.

"Then they had swallowed us up alive" (Psalms 124:3). Men do not swallow their enemies alive, so here we have the metaphor of some terrible monster swallowing its victims.

"The waters ... the stream ... the proud waters had gone over our soul" (Psalms 124:4-5). The problem is the same, namely, an approaching army of ruthless enemies; but the metaphor describing it is in these lines a destructive, overwhelming flood. This was an often used figure for a conquering army. Isaiah compared the ravaging armies of the Assyrians to the Euphrates river at flood stage (Isaiah 8:5-8).

These verses not only describe the terrible danger that threatened Israel, they also identify the sole reason for their survival from such a threat, "Jehovah" who was "on their side." The balance of the psalm is devoted to the praise of their Deliverer.

Verse 6

"Blessed be Jehovah,

Who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.

Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers:

The snare is broken, and we are escaped.

Our help is in the name of Jehovah,

Who made heaven and earth."

The terrible danger of the situation Israel survived was concentrated in that hostile Philistine army. They had come up "to seek David" (2 Samuel 5:117), for the purpose of killing him, exactly as they had destroyed Saul. Moreover they possessed at that time the `bridle' of the city of Jerusalem. This meant they held the strategic advantage over the city. This is evident in the passage from 2 Samuel 8:1, which declares that "David smote the Philistines, subdued them, and took `the bridle of the mother city' out of the hands of the Philistines."

"Jehovah hath not given us ... a prey to their teeth" (Psalms 124:6). In the true Hebrew style, the metaphor changes again. This line compares the army of the enemy to a pack of wild beasts tearing their victims apart with their teeth.

"As a bird out of the snare of the fowlers" (Psalms 124:7). Again, here is another metaphor. Israel is the helpless bird already captured in the snare (trap) of the fowlers; but, lo, and, behold, the snare breaks and Israel escapes! What a great miracle God wrought upon their behalf!

"Our help is in the name of Jehovah" (Psalms 124:8). In both Old Testament and New Testament, much is made of "The Name" of God and of Jesus Christ, of which an apostle said, "Neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 124". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.