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If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.
God in the troubles of the good
I. Acknowledged as the Deliverer from great troubles (Psalms 124:1-5).
1. The words represent the great troubles from which the Almighty wrought deliverance, as springing out of the hostility of man.
2. The hostility of man is represented by two figures--
(1) As the rage of wild beasts (verse 3).
(2) As the rage of rushing waters (verses 4, 5).
II. Praised as the Deliverer from great troubles (verses 6, 7).
1. Temporal. Israel in Babylonian exile.
2. Spiritual. Without figure, the unregenerate soul is in thraldom, and the Gospel alone can deliver it.
III. Trusted as the Deliverer from great troubles (verse 8). This trust is founded--
1. On His past goodness.
2. On His glorious name.
3. On His unbounded resources. (Homilist.)
The Church in various aspects
I. The Church rightly estimating her danger (verses 3-5, 7).
II. The Church rightly recognizing her Deliverer (verses 1, 2, 8).
III. The Church rightly expressing her gratitude (verse 6). This psalm abounds with striking figures, which, intelligently explained, may be forcefully applied. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
Ifs and thens
To this writer the nation’s life had been full of “ifs” and “thens”--its saddening possibilities with their dreary consequences. If we had stood alone, if God had not been round about us, if unerring wisdom had not thought for us and worked for us when the calamity threatened,--then had we been as the bird in the snare of the fowler, then had we been overwhelmed! Ifs and thens,--possibilities and their consequences.
I. Human possibilities may be under Divine control. Whenever God calls a life into existence, He fills it to the brim with “ifs” and “thens,” with possibilities and their consequences. Take the first recorded scene in human life, remembering that it is highly symbolic. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it;” that was a life of far-reaching possibilities, which God made still clearer by laying down His “if” and “then”: if man obeyed, then all would be well; if he disobeyed, then all would be ill. God has treated every life since upon the same broad, universal Scale; and we need to bear in mind constantly, earnestly, that our life is arranged in the same fashion.
II. Divine deliverance follows Divine control. God has filled each life with its possibilities that there may ever be the supreme need for His guidance. God has not stereotyped life for us. Each sets up his life’s story from founts of movable type; it may be in this way, it may be in that, as we set the type. This makes life so magnificent, so awful. But when God is on our side, when we have chosen Him for our controller, when we set the type of life as He directs, then the printed page comes forth at last fair and clear upon imperishable parchment; and God shall read its record before assembled worlds, and pronounce it “well done,” for it will be His work done by us under His superintendence and by His strength. Let the life be under Divine control, and it must be crowned with Divine deliverance as surely as sunrising brings the light. (G. Davies.)
Why God’s people are afflicted
Why should believers need to be rescued from the teeth of the wild beast: why not prevent the wild beast from laying hold of them? Why should they need to be delivered from the snare of the fowler: why not prevent the snare from being set? Why should they need to be snatched from the swiftly rushing torrent, which is just about to overwhelm them: why not keep back the floods of waters, and bid their proud waves be still? Afflictions are sent by God.
I. To promote our spiritual improvement. The branches are pruned, and they bring forth more fruit: the flowers are crushed, and they yield their precious perfumes: the gem is cut deeper, and it sparkles with new lustre: the gold is thrown into the crucible, and, purified from the dross, it shines with greater splendour than ever. Once, in company with a clerical friend in a rural district, I paid a visit to a member of his church, whose affliction had been severe and protracted. He was a stone-mason. His sufferings had evidently been sanctified; and, some remarks being made in connection with this, he said, “I must have been a very hard stone, sir; for I have needed a great deal of hewing.”
II. To test our sincerity. Not on a review day can the brave man be distinguished from the coward. Amidst brilliant uniforms, and waving banners, and the sounds of martial music, and applauding spectators, you cannot discriminate the true man from the counterfeit. But the real character is known, when comes the tug of war, and the enemy is before you, and friends and companions are falling thick around you. So it is in the Christian warfare. Far more moral courage is demanded for a sick-bed than for a field of battle, where men are urged on to the work of mutual destruction. And who can tell what a hallowed influence may proceed from afflictions, when endured in an uncomplaining and cheerful spirit! (N. McMichael.)
The Lord on our side
1. The figures employed describe the situation of God’s people in any place or age, when they suddenly find themselves overtaken by calamity, when sorrow bursts upon them like the mountainous wave on a ship, when floods of ungodly men make them afraid, when they seem to feel in their flesh the teeth Of slander and malice, when they are unexpectedly entangled in perplexities and difficulties like the bird in the snare. So the early believers in the Messiah were troubled by Jewish and Roman persecutors, saints in many lands have been worried by Papal wolves, the evangelists of the last century were mobbed by worldly men, and the Christians in Madagascar and British India were more recently assailed by heathen foes. So the man of business is smitten by misfortune, disease springs upon its unsuspecting victim, and a family is diminished by death. So the convicted sinner is stricken by the terrors of God’s law, the convert has to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil, and the righteous soul is in heaviness through manifold temptations. All the cry is, what can be dons? How may we escape? Who will help us?
2. If Christians, we can profitably call to mind many escapes from evil.
3. It becomes us carefully to trace blessings to their source. The poet is less particular to describe the danger and the escape than to proclaim and praise the great Deliverer. We did not save ourselves. It was not the stamp of our foot that quieted the earthquake, not the sound of our voice that stilled the tempest, not the might of our arm that slew the lion, not the power of our hand that rent the network. It was lint any creature except as sent by God, armed with a portion of His strength, and for the sake of Jesus Christ, that in any degree accomplished our salvation. (E. J. Robinson.)
Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.
Thanksgiving for deliverance
1. It is our duty after delivery from dangers to acknowledge not only God’s power for us, but His goodness also towards us, and to acknowledge Him the fountain of all blessedness upon that occasion (verse 6).
2. As the Church’s enemies are superior to her in worldly strength, so also in policy, craftiness, and worldly wit, as the fowler is craftier than the bird.
3. According as the danger is fearful, so is the delivery sweet and joyful (verse 7).
4. It is as easy for God to deliver His people out of their enemies’ hands, even when they have the godly in their power, as to break a net made of thread or yarn, wherewith birds are taken.
5. The fairest fruits of our by-past experience is to glorify God by confidence in Him for time to come.
6. Then is our confidence in God to be delivered from evil well bottomed, when we consider the Lord’s omnipotency manifested in the creation of the world, and held out by His Word unto us: for so much doth the psalmist teach, when he maketh mention of the name of the Lord, and the work of the Lord, in professing of his confidence. (D. Dickson.)
Our soul is escaped as a bird.
I. It is a liberation from a miserable bondage.
1. It is a bondage of the man himself.
2. It is a bondage associated with a sense of guilt.
3. It is a bondage from which God alone can deliver.
II. It is a liberation into a happy freedom. The freedom of the soul consists in the freest exercise of its intellectual faculties and spiritual powers. The freedom of the soul consists in being unconstrained by any force bur love for the infinite. “It is a glorious liberty.” Glorious on account of the hero who achieved it--glorious on account of the immortal blessedness it secures. (Homilist.)
The bird escaped from the snare
I. The soul compared to a bird.
1. It is a little bird, too--a sparrow, or one of the sparrow kind. “Our soul is escaped as a little bird”--not as a great bird that could break the net and free itself by its own force. A little bird fitly represents our soul when we are lowly in heart. In our unregenerate condition we think ourselves eaglets at the very least, but we are not great creatures after all. We talk of great men: we are all little in God’s sight. If He cares for sparrows, be sure He cares for souls, and when you think least of yourself, yet believe that the Lord regards you.
2. Again, our soul is like a little bird because it is so ignorant. Birds know little about snares, yet they know so much that “surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird.” Even this slender wisdom is more than men display, for they fly into the net when it is spread in their sight; aye, into the selfsame net out of which, in God’s providence, they have just been permitted to escape. So foolish are we and ignorant, we are as birds ready for the lure, till the Lord teaches us wisdom; and even then we need hourly keeping, or we are entrapped by the destroyer.
3. Our soul is often like a little bird because it is so eager and venturesome. How birds will trust themselves in winter around traps of the simplest kind if but a few crumbs are used as bait! Alas, men are equally foolhardy: they see others perish, yet they follow their ways.
4. The little bird, also, when once taken in the net, is a good comparison with the soul captured by sin, for it is defenceless.
5. Souls are also like birds because they are the objects of snares.
II. The snare.
1. It is concealed. Always suspect that in a temptation to sin there is more than you can see. Never say that it is a little thing; for great evil lurks in a little fault. Death and destruction hide under apparently small offences.
2. Snares and traps are usually attractive. The poor bird sees seeds which he is fond of, and he goes for them, little judging that he is to give his life in exchange for brief enjoyment. So it is with Satan. He tempts us with pleasures, with the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life: we taste the sweet, and are pierced with the smart.
3. Satan’s snares, like the fowler’s, are sadly effectual. Multitudes upon multitudes are the victims of their own passions, victims of that hellish art which makes evil appear to be good. God save us from being taken in these most deadly snares!
III. The capture. How came the bird to be taken?
1. It may have been through hunger. If you are extremely needy, you may be tempted to do wrong to provide for your wife and family; I pray that you may never yield to the temptation, but trust in God, and He will deliver you without your putting forth your hand unto iniquity.
2. Other birds are taken merely by their appetite. They are not excessively hungry, but they enjoy certain choice seeds, and the fowler knows it; and he scatters such around the trap. Easy of body, indulgence of taste, the joy of being admired, the sweets of power and position, all these and many more have been the fowler’s baits.
3. Some persons are entrapped by fear. Birds have rushed into the net for fear of danger; many persons have become great offenders against God through lack of moral courage. They are afraid of the laughter of fools. They cannot bear the sarcasm of the so-called wise; and so they suppress truth, and join in sin to escape scorn.
4. Some little birds are lost by love of company. The fowler has a decoy-bird which sings sweetly or coquettes pleasantly, and the other birds must needs follow it. In the Church of God we lose many members by ungodly marriages.
IV. The escape.
1. It is due to God alone.
2. It is achieved by power. “The snare is broken”--the meshes torn with a strong hand, the steel trap dashed to pieces.
3. The escape is complete. Our deliverance must be entire, or it is not true.
V. The lesson. It ought to teach us--
1. To sing.
2. To trust.
3. To watch. “Let them not turn again to folly,” is one of God’s own cautions to His people. He has brought you up out of the horrible pit; do not play near the edge of it. He has set your feet on a rock; what have you to do with the miry clay? Get away from the slippery ground, and on the rock let your goings be established. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The escape of the soul from danger
I. A melancholy fact supposed.
1. The sources of temptation are various.
(2) Outward. Satan and the world.
2. The nature and limits of the power of temptation.
3. From no quarter, perhaps, are we more exposed to danger than from former habits of once-indulged and unrepented sin, because there is a constant predisposition, without great watchfulness, to yield again to pursuits upon which the sinner has once entered.
4. Our safety is found in early resistance.
II. A joyful triumph expressed. We may justify this joy in experiencing the Divine protection under those dangers which threaten the stability of our faith and hope--
1. From our knowledge of the mournful results of temptation in the ease of others.
2. Because evil resisted and overcome is an occasion of inward satisfaction and happiness. Temptation foiled is happiness begun.
3. Because every such victory is a pledge and precursor of final conquest.
III. A practical improvement demanded.
1. Rejoice that the power and grace of Christ are equal to the worst extremities of human character and condition.
2. Remember the power of prayer.
3. Importance of habits of watchfulness and self-denial.
4. Temptation is only for a season. (S. Thodey.)
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The best helper
I. God is everywhere present. Sometimes those who would help us are afar off. Not so God; He is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).
II. He has everything we want ready at command. Is it money, grace, friends, comfort, guidance, strength? He has of these things more than we can possibly need.
III. He is a very willing helper. He invites us to call upon Him in the day of trouble (Psalms 50:15).
IV. He is a loving and tender helper. His kindness is often called “lovingkindness” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
V. He never fails to help his people.
VI. He is an everlasting helper (Psalms 90:12). (R. Brewin.)
The Church’s confidence
The confidence here expressed by the Church is founded upon two things.
I. Past deliverance. “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” When placed in perilous circumstances, one’s faith is much increased by thinking upon the times of old, and musing upon the years of the right hand of the Most High. We learn there that affliction is no strange thing, and that God can afford us all requisite aid. He has done so before, and He can do so again. As to Himself, He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” As to His agents, there is no diminution in their number, or decrease in their power.
II. The Divine omnipotence. He who defends the Church is the Creator of the universe. Yes! He who hung those stars in heaven, and filled their lamps with everlasting oil: He who made the earth, with its golden corn, and its purple grapes, and its dark olives. My Father made them all; and a single look at the green earth, and the swelling ocean, and the burning stars, is enough to rebuke our distrust, and to infuse a serene gladness into our troubled spirits. Would that we had more of this holy confidence; and how much of the peace and joy of heaven would be ours, even when travelling through the wilderness to the land that is afar off. (N. McMichael.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 124". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany