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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 124


Psalms 124

The church of the Lord acknowledges that she is protected against imminent destruction singly and alone by his help, Psalms 124:1-5. She praises the Lord for this his grace, and, on the ground of it, joyfully acknowledges him as the only object of her trust, Psalms 124:6-8.

The Psalm consists of an introductory verse which, at the very beginning, gives marked prominence to the main thought, the “if not;” and a main body of seven verses, divided by the three and the four.

The title ascribes the Psalm to David. A situation similar to that described here, that of threatened destruction, assuredly occurred in the time of David, during the Aramaic-Edomitic war; comp. Psalms 44, Psalms 60. Yet David has taken occasion, from this distress, to compose a song which should be useful to the church of all ages in similar circumstances. This is obvious from the want of all special allusions.

On behalf of the Davidic origin of the Psalm, attested in the title, and denied by modern expositors without any satisfactory reason, we may urge, that the Psalm is not marked by the mild softness of the Psalms which were composed after the captivity, but has in it as much of David’s impetuosity as could exist in a popular song. To this we may add the striking agreement, in particular expressions, with passages of David’s Psalms.

Luther: “We may well sing this Psalm, not only against our enemies which openly hate and persecute us, but also against spiritual wickedness. For we know, from the teaching of the gospel, that now seven devils beset us, whereas formerly we had only one to fear. But this is not the whole of our danger; a third enemy must rise up against us, within ourselves, whom we carry along with us and tenderly preserve, namely, the sacred venerable woman, our flesh, which incites us to sin at all times and makes disturbance, is contrary to faith, and fights against the spirit in all our members.”

Verse 1

A Song of the Pilgrimages.

By David. Ver. 1. Had not the Lord remained with us, thus may Israel say.

There occurs here and in the second verse an aposiopesis: it would have happened so and so; exactly as in Psalms 27:13, “had I not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” . . . . comp. at the passage. The ש is not superfluous, but it is to be explained, “if he had not been who still was ours = whom we still have, comp. at Psalms 56:9.

Verses 2-5

Ver. 2. Had not the Lord remained with us! when men rose up against us. Ver. 3. Then they had swallowed us up alive, when their wrath burned against us. Ver. 4. Then the water had overflowed us, a stream had gone over our soul. Ver. 5. Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Men, Psalms 124:2,—who, however numerous they may be, are yet to be considered as nothing before the Almighty; comp. Psalms 56:11, “In God I trust, I fear not what men shall do to me.”

On אזי , Psalms 124:3, the ancient and poetic form which occurs only in the passage before us, instead of אז , comp. Ew. § 103. Against unnecessarily changing the sense into the feeble thus, this full form and the emphatic threefold repetition are decisive. The “alive “ is to be explained here as in Psalms 55:15, Proverbs 1:12, only from the allusion to the destruction of the company of Korah, Numbers 16:32-33, where both words, the “swallowing up,” and the “alive,” occur; the import therefore is, they would have swallowed us up, as formerly the devouring vengeance of Sheol swallowed up alive the wicked of a former age.

The overflowing waters, Psalms 124:4, occur also in the strikingly similar Davidic passages, Psalms 18:16, Psalms 144:7, as an emblem of enemies. On the “stream” (the נחלה , the full form like אזי ), comp. Psalms 18:4.

The proud waters, Psalms 124:5, are here all the more suitable, as it had been spiritual waters that had been spoken of. There is no reason whatever for having recourse to the doubtful sense of boiling and boiling over; comp. at Psalms 89:9.

Verses 6-8

Ver. 6. Praised be the Lord that he has not given us over for a prey to their teeth. Ver. 7. Our soul has escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler, the snare is broken and we are free. Ver. 8. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. [Note: Calvin: He now exhorts the pious to gratitude, and, as it were, dictates words to them.]

On Psalms 124:6 comp. the Davidic passage, Psalms 28:6, “Praised be the Lord, for he has heard the voice of my supplications,” and Psalms 31:22, “praised be the Lord, for he has shown me wonderful goodness in a strong city.”

On Psalms 124:8, Calvin: “he now extends to the perpetual state of the church what the faithful had formerly experienced.” Psalms 33:22 is parallel. The name of the Lord is the Lord in the richness of his deeds. On the second clause comp. Psalms 121:2. [Note: Luther: “He thus places over against the great danger and conflict omnipotent God, and drowns, as it were, in an anthem, the wickedness of the whole world and of hell, just as a great fire consumes a little drop of water.”]

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 124". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.