If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—let Israel now say—if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us,Psalm 124:1-2
Psalm 124 is a Song of Ascent, a psalm sung by the Israelite pilgrims to prepare their hearts and orient their minds as they journeyed up the road to Jerusalem. The first two verses of this psalm are simple; yet it is often the simple truths that are most easily forgotten.
Our Help Comes from the Lord
Verse 1 begins by celebrating the way in which the Lord has cared for his people: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side . . . .” This exact same phrase is then repeated at the beginning of verse 2. This is theme repeated throughout the psalms:
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me (Psalm 118:6-7).
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
All of these texts highlight the spiritual importance of the closeness of the Lord when we face trouble. In these psalms the common thread for the Lord being at one’s side is that something bad, frightening, or threatening has occurred. Some kind of trouble enters the equation of life where the presence of the Lord is essential.
Another way of stating this is that trouble reminds us how much we need the Lord’s help. Hardship merely reveals the extent of our need. Our problem is that we tend to forget our need for God’s help until trouble comes.
Psalm 124 shows us the concept that we so often take for granted—the Lord is always helping us. That is what this psalm is rehearsing. As the Israelites made their way up the hilly incline towards the temple, this psalm reminded them that they wouldn’t have made it without the Lord’s help.
Rehearse Your Hope
As the month of December approaches and Christmas traditions are on the horizon, take the opportunity to reflect on how the Lord has been your help. Consider these questions:
- What challenges and hardships did you face this year where you saw the Lord’s help?
- What situation did you face where you wondered if the Lord had forgotten about you?
- What broken heartedness have you faced where you’ve sensed the Lord’s empowerment?
- What problems do you still face where you need to be reminded of God’s ability to care for you?
Pause and thank the Lord, using this psalm to reorient your heart and rehearse the hope you have in the Lord’s help.
But don’t stop there! Notice that this psalm was meant to be sung in community. The statement about God’s help is repeated, but not before the psalmist invites the entire community to join him. He’s encouraging others to rehearse their mutual hope together. In our context, you might even think about it as a cheer: “The Lord has helped us, that is true! The Lord has helped us! How about you?”
So, during this Advent season, may we embrace the Lord’s help by rehearsing our hope both personally and in community.
Based on the sermon “Our Help Is In the Name of the Lord” from the 2022 Advent sermon series by Mark Vroegop