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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 124

Verses 1-8

Psalms 124:1-8

A SEQUENCE may be traced connecting this with the two adjacent psalms. In Psalms 123:1-4, patient resignation sighed for deliverance, which here has been received and has changed the singer’s note into jubilant and wondering praise; while, in the next little lyric, we have the escaped Israel established in Jerusalem, and drawing omens of Divine guardianship from its impregnable position, on a mountain girt by mountains. This psalm is an outgush of the first rapture of astonishment and joy for deliverance so sudden and complete. It is most naturally taken as the expression of the feelings of the exiles on their restoration from Babylon. One thought runs through it all, that the sole actor in their deliverance has been Jehovah. No human arm has been bared for them; no created might could have rescued them from the rush of the swelling deluge. Like a bird in a net panting with fear and helplessness, they waited the fowler’s grasp; but, lo, by an unseen Power the net was broken, and they are free to wing their flight to their nest. So. triumphantly they ring out at last the Name which has been their help, abjuring any share in their own rescue, and content to owe it all to Him.

The step-like structure is very obvious in this psalm. As Delitzsch puts it, "In order to take a step forward, it always goes back half a step." But the repetitions are not mere artistic embellishments; they beautifully correspond to the feelings expressed. A heart running over with thankful surprise at its own new security and freedom cannot but reiterate the occasion of its joy. It is quite as much devotion as art which says twice over that Jehovah was on the singers’ side. which twice recalls how nearly they had been submerged in the raging torrent, and twice remembers their escape from the closely wrapping but miraculously broken snare. A suppliant is not guilty of vain repetitions though he asks often for the same blessing, and thanksgiving for answered petitions should be as persistent as the petitions were. That must be a shallow gratitude which can be all poured out at one gush.

The psalmist’s metaphors for Israel’s danger are familiar ones. "They had swallowed us alive" may refer to the open jaws of Sheol, as in other psalms, but more probably is simply a figure drawn from beasts of prey, as in Psalms 124:6. The other image of a furious swollen torrent sweeping over the heads (or, as here, over the soul) recalls the grand contrast drawn by Isaiah between the gently flowing "waters of Siloam" and the devastating rush of the "river," symbolising the King of Assyria, which, like some winter torrent swollen by the rains, suddenly rises and bears on its tawny bosom to the sea the ruins of men’s works and the corpses of the workers.

The word rendered "proud" is a rare word, coming from a root meaning to boil over, and may be used here in its literal sense, but is more probably to be taken in its metaphorical meaning of haughty, and applied rather to the persons signified by the waters than to the flood itself. Psalms 124:6 and Psalms 124:7 are an advance on the preceding inasmuch as those described rather the imminence of danger, and these magnify the completeness of Jehovah’s delivering mercy. The comparison of the soul to a bird is beautiful. {Psalms 11:1} It hints at tremors and feebleness, at alternations of feeling like the flutter of some weak-winged songster, at the utter helplessness of the panting creature in the toils. One hand only could break the snare, and then the bruised wings were swiftly spread for flight once more, and up into the blue went the ransomed joy, with a song instead of harsh notes of alarm. "We-we are escaped." That is enough: we are out of the net. Whither the flight may be directed does not concern the singer in the first bliss of recovered freedom. All blessedness is contained in the one word "escaped," which therefore he reiterates, and with which the song closes, but for that final ascription of the glory of the escape to the mighty Name of Him who made heaven and earth.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 124". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".