George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 124

1. Structure

Thanks for God’s deliverance
The enemy described
Thanks for God’s deliverance

2. A psalm of David

The figure of escape from a bird-catcher’s snare suggests the excitement and imminent danger described in 1 Samuel 23:24-29, when Saul was near to entrapping David in the wilderness of Maon. This was understandably a deliverance in which David had no hand. Apparently all was lost when suddenly there came an unexpected Philistine threat demanding an immediate diversion of Saul’s military resources at the very moment when he was about to spring his trap. Verses 6 and 7 are very eloquent. (Compare, in a similar vein, 1 Sam. 24:14,15; 25:29.)

3. A psalm of Hezekiah

The figure of speech and also other details fix the circumstances of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem remarkably well; so well, in fact, as to set the student wondering if perhaps of David here means of the Son of David (i.e., Hezekiah). The phrases are very descriptive of the Assyrian enemy: men rose up against us (v. 2), their wrath was kindled against us (v. 3), the proud waters (v. 5).

The Lord... was on our side. This was the promise implicit in the name of the special child “Immanuel” — God is with us (Isa. 7:14; 8:8,10). Of course this would be the Messiah; but as an earnest of Judah’s promised deliverance from her enemies, another child would be born in the days of Ahaz, to whom the prophecy was first given. In fact, the child would be his son by the godly Abijah (2 Chron. 29:1), most likely still unmarried (a “virgin” who would, after her marriage to Ahaz, conceive!) when Isaiah spoke to Ahaz. The name of this special child would echo the great promise of “Immanuel”: “Hezekiah” means “Yahweh will take hold to help us”, or “Yahweh is on our side”. The deliverance from the Assyrian threat, which this child would mediate, would be the greatest preview of the deliverance to be wrought in the last days by his seed in David’s line, the greater “Immanuel”.
When men rose up against us. The men who rose up to bring calamity upon Israel — the Assyrian host — are described by four pictures in this psalm: an earthquake (v. 3), a flood (vv. 4,5), wild beasts (v. 6), and crafty hunters (v. 7).
Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us. The armies of Sennacherib were so large, and their advance so devastating, and their rounding up of captives so comprehensive, that it was as though the earth had opened up and swallowed its victims alive (Psa. 56:1,2; 57:3). But just as with the intimidating band of Korah who rose up before Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:2,3), the fate with which they threatened the righteous became their fate instead (vv. 32,33).
Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: then the proud waters had gone over our soul (Psa. 42:7; 69:1,2). Through the sacred page flow two very different streams. The raging torrent, the seasonal river overflowing its banks, is used by Isaiah as a figure for the advancing Assyrians (Isa. 8:7,8). Its waters roar and are troubled, but in their tumultuous course the wild waters come at last against the immovable height of Zion (Psa. 125:1): “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” (Job 38:11). For here, beneath Zion’s hills, flows another stream which is the secret of her survival. It is not harsh and overpowering; its waters go softly (Isa. 8:6) through the rock-hewn channels of Hezekiah’s conduit (2 Kings 20:20) into the pool of Siloam (John 9:7). In times of siege it brings life to thirsty watchmen on Zion’s walls. In its silent, unerring, and precise course it symbolizes the sure and certain purposes of God. Its whispering waters speak in a still, small voice of the blessing of faith in the Lord (cp. Psalms Studies, Psa. 46, Par. 2).
Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. The Gentile enemies of Israel are pictured as wild beasts, as in Daniel and elsewhere. Lions especially figure considerably in Assyrian sculpture and bas-reliefs (cp. Jer. 50:17). And the general figure is a very familiar one in the pages of the psalms.
Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. This figure (also found in Psa. 10:9; 91:3; Prov. 6:5) stresses the relative weakness of Israel and the cunning of her enemy. But Israel’s eyes are ever toward the Lord: He is the One who plucks her feet out of the net (cp. Psa. 25:15 with 123:2).

Though this psalm may have been written by David, relating to his wilderness escapes from Saul, it is amazingly fitting to Hezekiah’s circumstances. We see this especially in this verse, for which there is a striking parallel in Assyria’s own archives. The cylinder, or prism, of Sennacherib (housed today in the British Museum) has the following statement:

“Hezekiah himself like a caged bird, within Jerusalem, his royal city, I shut in.”

It is to be expected that a boastful monarch would insist that only his successes be recorded; and so the prism has nothing to say of the mighty stroke against Sennacherib’s confederacy, nor of his final retreat from Judah and Jerusalem. However, these setbacks for the northern colossus are substantiated from other secular histories. By God’s hand, the “cage” was “opened” and the “bird” Hezekiah set free!
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth (121:1,2; 134:3). The natural man, like Ahaz, looks inward for the cleverness to deliver himself from danger; and when this fails he looks outward to other men, other political combinations, stronger armaments and higher walls. The spiritual man, like Hezekiah, looks upward, to the God who created all things.

4. Other notes

Now may Israel say. Compare 129:1. The repetition in vv. 1,2 and also in vv. 4,5 is to be met with in several places (e.g., 121; 123) in these psalms. Did Hezekiah learn this literary trick from David here? Or is it to be inferred that this “David” is really Hezekiah?
Lord of heaven and earth echoes 121:1. And, in 125:1, as heaven and earth abide for ever, so also does Jehovah’s holy city.
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