Psalm 124

Readings for this week July 20 – 24
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Coming Together as One

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 124:1-2

The series of psalms known as the Songs of Ascent were sung by the people as they headed up to Jerusalem at festival time. People would travel from all over the land to the holy city; the roads leading up to Jerusalem would gradually be filled with people – individuals, families, entire villages perhaps – coming together to travel to their destination. Songs would be sung, especially these Songs of Ascent, psalms that would remind the people of their God and all he had done for them, the way he had led and sheltered them and aided them in their times of need. Psalm 124 is a psalm of collective thanksgiving, and as the first verse shows, was a song that led itself to be sung in a sort of call-and-response manner, with “let Israel now say” acting as a formal exhortation sung by a choral leader to encourage the worshippers to chant the words of the psalm that follow.

The people go up together. From all walks of life, from all parts of the country, young and old, they came together around a common festival in honour of their common God, and celebrated by singing songs of worship and thanksgiving that were also common to them all. In the original Hebrew, the numerous gradual repetitions of the language of this psalm (and others) gives the song a notable rhythmic feel that would have aided communal singing and chanting, and helped draw this usually disparate group of people together as one to worship their God.

Questions to Consider
What helps us come together as one people? Why? Why is it important that we do so?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, no one is called alone. You call us together to be your people, joined in unity to be your ambassadors of love in this world. Give us unity and a sense of common purpose. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Hazards

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 124:3-4

There are two images that the Psalmist uses to illustrate the nature of God’s help. The first image, in verse 3, is that of the people being swallowed alive, the implication being that there is some large creature like a dragon or a sea creature of some sort menacing the people, large enough to swallow them whole. For a creature that doesn’t actually exist, we all have a very good idea of what dragons look like. They are a product of our fears, our tortured imaginations, our extrapolations and projections of every conceivable terror that could hurt us. The second image is that of a flood, in particular a sudden torrent sweeping people away. In the Middle East such flash floods can happen incredibly quickly, without warning. Interconnected waterways can suddenly fill some of these little streams and their very interconnectedness means they all join and flow together and suddenly….flash flood, out of nowhere.

But notice what the Psalmist is not saying here. No claim is made that God kept his people free from catastrophe. That would be ridiculous and would go against what the people have experienced in their ordinary lives. Times can be tough. Disaster can befall anyone, even the people of God. The dragons and the floods are real to the Psalmist and his people, and the claim is not that they didn’t happen or that they weren’t real, but that God was with them in the midst of it and God helped them. He didn’t abandon them. He didn’t leave them. He was with them and he came to them in their time of need.

Question to Consider
Why would any claim that hazards are not real be harmful to our faith?

Prayer
Lord God, let us not avoid reality, let us not turn our eyes away from the difficulties and hardships of life. You don’t and as your people we should not either. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Real, Honest Prayers

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 124:5

The psalms are real. They are true. By this it is not meant that they are literally true, as so many are wont to interpret things these days, but that they come from the people’s deep experiences of life. The psalms are not a prospectus or a travel brochure trying to sell us a misleading reality; neither are they touched up photo-shopped snaps manipulated to show only the most perfect image possible, however far from the truth it may be. The psalms are the unvarnished truth of the people’s experiences of God and of life with him. Like Psalm 124, they celebrate the magnificence and glory and compassion of God for his people, but do so without glossing over the hardships, dangers, discomforts and fears that assail them. The psalms are nothing if not honest prayers.

The psalms are true because living an ordinary, honest life – the highs and lows, the blessings and the calamities, the joys and sorrows – confirms in our own experience both the reality of the trials and troubles we face and the truth of God as our protector and helper. The psalms give us both sides of the equation, warts and all. Our disappointments, our fears, our pains, our doubts – all can be found in the psalms, right next to and intertwined with the testimony of a people who have found joy, peace, security, comfort and love in their relationship with the God who is with them through it all.

Questions to Consider
How are the psalms a prayer book of honest, real life experiences? How have you found the psalms speaking to you and representing your life experiences before God?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for encouraging us to be honest with you. You welcome us with open arms through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, desiring to hear our cries, with us through it all. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Helper

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 124:6-7

These verses remind us of the true point of the psalm. As we have seen, the psalms are real and truthful, speaking from and to the realities of life. There is both hazard and help. But we must remember the focus of the psalm is not the hazards, but the help. The reality of the hazards is not denied or diminished; they are named and recognised as real and troublesome. But the emphasis is on the help, the rescue, and in particular on the rescuer: God.  The setting of the psalm may be the dangers and trials besetting the people, but the subject of the psalm is the helper.

We can so easily focus only on the hazards and become so caught up in all that is happening to us and around us that we lose sight of the help, we lose sight of the God who is greater than all danger and woe and who is right there with us in our travail and who has not abandoned us. Alternatively, rather than focus on the hazard through fear, we may dismiss the help through cynicism. To many people, the enthusiasm with which some sing the praises of God so passionately can seem suspicious at the best of times, never mind during times of pain and struggle. Can we really believe what they are singing? Aren’t they just fooling themselves, and trying to fool others? But God and his psalms can withstand such testing. Being open about our scepticism towards the help, and honest about our obsession with the hazards, will reveal more of our self to God and allow him to reveal more of himself to us and in us.

Questions to Consider
Obsessing over the hazards, scorning the help – which do you find yourself doing? Why? How can you guard against this?

Prayer
Gracious God, you love us in spite of our weaknesses but also love us enough to work through them and transform them. You do not give up on us. Help us not give up on you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Need for Perspective

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 124:8

Perspective is often very hard to achieve. Regaining proper perspective once it is lost can be equally difficult. Balancing the hazards and the help, the reality and the promise, can be a very trying activity, especially when we find ourselves in the middle of difficulty and distress, tossed by the waves, blown by the wind, unsure of where our true course lies, never mind how to get back on it. The final verse of this psalm offers a little bit of perspective, but in a way that qualifies and situates and explains all other vantage points. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”

The God who is with us and who promises never to abandon us is the same God who is the maker of heaven and earth. The same God who deigns to enter into personal relationship with each of us is the same God who cast the stars into the heavens and formed the earth with his hands. The most nigh God, with us – and within us – in the midst of the messiness of our lives, is also the Most High God, all knowing, all powerful, holding all things before him in order to work out his good purposes for all. This psalm looks at the reality of the messiness of life, but right here at the end, in the final verse, looks up at the glory and majesty of the God who, yes, is beside us in our mess, but who is also the Creator of all things, working through his people to restore his creation. That is God’s perspective, one we would do well to remember in tough times.

Question to Consider
Can you think of a time when a ‘God’s eye perspective’ suddenly transformed your understanding of your situation and of God?

Prayer
Almighty Father, you hold everything in your hands and promise to bring it all together to a good and perfect end. Remind me of this when I stumble; teach me to see like you do and to remember the big picture. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)