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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Psalms 124

Verses 1-8

Psalms 124:0

A Song of degrees of David

          If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,

Now may Israel say;

2     If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,

When men rose up against us:

3     Then they had swallowed us up quick,

When their wrath was kindled against us:

4     Then the waters had overwhelmed us,

The stream had gone over our soul:

5     Then the proud waters

Had gone over our soul.

6     Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us

As a prey to their teeth.

7     Our soul is escaped as a bird

Out of the snare of the fowlers:
The snare is broken,
And we are escaped.

8     Our help is in the name of the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.


Contents and Composition: Great dangers, by which the Israelitish people were threatened and in which they would have perished if it had not been for the help of God, for which He is now gratefully praised, are here described by the figures of overflowing floods of water and the snare of the hunter. The mention of David in the superscription is not found in any of the ancient versions except the Chald., but the images remind one strongly of expressions employed by David, as also does the “lofty theological spirit of faith” (Luther). The contents also are suited to dangers of the war with Syria and Edom (Hengstenberg). The supposition of Aramaic word-forms is disputed even by Hupfeld, who, however, as do most of the recent commentators, finds the condition of the people after the return from exile, referred to. Delitzsch also assigns the poem to the same period, but regards it as one composed after the manner of David, while Hitzig refers it to the sudden deliverance from extreme danger (1Ma 13:20 f.), when Tryphon withdrew his forces and returned to his own country.

[The conjecture of Delitzsch that the words “by David” were inserted in the title on account of the resemblances to passages in the Davidic Psalms, is improbable. Such an insertion would at all events have been quite superfluous, for the cotemporaries of the supposed author were certainly sufficiently versed in the psalmodic literature to perceive the allusions, and his object could not have been to mislead them. In spite of the conclusion of recent critics,1 with whom Perowne also, among the English commentators, agrees, it is best to remain with Hengst., by the statement of the superscription.—J. F. M.].

Psalms 124:1-3. The explanation of שׁ before היה (Psalms 124:1), is doubtful, whether it is to be construed as a conjunction that, or as a relative who, or whether it is to be regarded as a pleonasm of later times (Hupfeld, et al.), or as a pregnant construction with a contraction of the two clauses.2 But the sense remains unaffected by any of these variations.—The form אוי for או is not a later but an ancient and poetical one. The expression Psalms 124:3 a is based upon Numbers 16:32, comp. Psalms 55:16; Pro 1:12.3

Psalms 124:4-5. The water as a figurative representation of enemies (Ps. 23:17; Psalms 144:7). In Psalms 124:4 b occurs the fuller form נַחֲלָה and not the accusative: to the stream, as in Numbers 34:5, comp. Böttcher, Ausführliche Sprachlehre § 615,—the form זידונים (Psalms 124:5) for זידיםPsa 86:14; Psalms 119:51; Psalms 119:78, is found also in Psalms 54:5, and is not an unhebraic form, although only found in the Chaldee as the usual term.

[Psalms 124:8. Delitzsch: “The help of Israel is in the name of Jehovah, the Creator of the world, i.e. in His name revealed and perpetually attested as Jehovah. If the power of the world would seek to assimilate to itself, or to annihilate, the Church of Jehovah, it is not the denial of her God that will deliver her, but faithful confession, steadfast even unto death.-J. F. M.].


It is often only after deliverance that we realize the extent of the danger we have escaped. But does our gratitude correspond to this knowledge, and does our rejoicing continue?—God is not merely the only but also the efficient Deliverer of His people. To Him alone the honor is due (Psalms 28:6; Psalms 31:22), with the unreserved trust of the Church (Psalms 56:12).—Communion with God our only but certain deliverance from ruin; let us therefore draw nigh unto Him, as he has drawn nigh unto us.—Let the whole world be against us, if God be for us.—The world is less mighty, but more harmful, than many suppose.

Starke: When God is present in mercy, there can not only no evil harm us, but we also cannot want any good thing,—It is not to be ascribed to the clemency of the enemies of the Church that she is not destroyed, as though they could be so merciful; but to the defence and protection of God.—It must be a cold winter when wolves devour one another; but men are much more wicked, and are inflamed with such cruel mutual rage, that they fall upon one another like wild beasts.—The faith which clings simply and alone to God, obtains supernatural help from Him, from His omnipotence and compassion.—That which is built upon human strength stands upon the yielding sand, and must fall to the ground; but that which is built upon God’s word and power, stands firmly, and can neither fail nor fall.

Rieger: David presents two considerations to the little band of God’s people: first, from how much danger God preserves them, and then, the trust which they should repose in Him for such mercy.—Frisch: Let men be angry; if only God is not angry with thee, their anger cannot harm thee.—Tholuck: A confession and a vow that He, to whom all things must minister, as He has made them all, shall be Israel’s only Help and Consolation.—Schaubach: Blessed be the Lord, to whom alone we owe it, that we remain unharmed in body and soul even unto this hour.—Richter: If the world cannot always rage against believers as it would like to do, give to the Lord who restrains it all the glory.—Many cherish the delusion that the world is not so very hostile, and give it the honor instead of God; follow thou in all things the Holy Scriptures.—Let the redeemed be as swift to praise as God is ready to help; and as the need and help were great, so let the thanks be abundant and hearty.—Diedrich: As it is with the whole of the Church, so also with each individual believing soul; it must ever keep toiling like the swimmer in the water; for the world, the flesh, and the devil keep up their attacks upon it.—Taube: Two marks indicate perpetually the deeply engraved trace of the guidance of Israel: trouble below, help from above.—Israel’s thanksgiving and expectation take refreshing rest in the name of the Lord.

[Matt. Henry: It is a comfort to all that lay the cause of God’s Israel next their hearts, that Israel’s God is the same that made the world, and therefore will have a Church in the world, and can secure that Church in the times of the greatest danger and distress. In Him, therefore, let the Church’s friends put their confidence, and they shall not be put to confusion.—Bp. Horne: The redeemed are astonished upon looking back at the greatness of the danger to which they had been exposed.—Happy they who are taken from the evil to come, and have passed from the miseries of earth to the felicities of heaven, where they are neither tempted nor molested more.—Barnes (Psalms 124:8): Often in life, when delivered from danger, we may feel this: we always may feel this, and should feel this, when we think of the redemption of our souls.—J. F. M.]


[1][The treatment, by many modern critics, of the title of this Psalm, furnishes an example of the capricious criticism that would reject the superscription generally. The title is shown to be spurious chiefly from the following considerations: The Psalm stands between two others whose authors are not named in their superscriptions, but which, from their contents, are supposed to be connected with the Captivity and the Restoration. It also must belong to the same period. It contains expressions which occur in some of David’s Psalms; this led the collector to think that David was the author, and he recorded this conjecture as a fact. The first plea assumes that those Psalms which belong to the same period must have been placed together in the same group (here in the Degree Psalms). But this principle, though occasionally followed in the Psalter, is manifestly not the one adopted in the Degree Psalms. This collection was probably arranged on the principle that those Psalms which bore a mutual resemblance in general subject, mental posture, or external situation, should be grouped together. So Psalms 123-126 are found as one series. Psalms 127, 128 are strikingly similar, as also a resemblance is clearly discernible between Psalms 130, 131. This sufficiently accounts for the insertion of a Degree-Psalm of David between others of a later date. The second argument would assume that David was very unlikely ever to repeat himself. It is remarkable that these points of coincidence have been adduced by other commentators with equal plausibility, as additional evidence of a Davidic composition, which they fortify by the citation of cases incontestably parallel.—J. F. M.]

[2][The last named construction, adopted in E. V., is the more common as well as the more regular one. Psalms 94:17 is a real parallel, in spite of Hupfeld’s objection to the contrary. For the relative clause here is equivalent to, or rather is, a real predicate, such as is found in that passage. Pleonasms should only be assumed under absolute necessity.—J. F. M.]

[3][In E. V. notice the use of the word quick, in its antiquated sense alive.—J. F. M.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 124". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.