Psalm 124 (NIV)
If the Lord had not been on our side--
let Israel say--
if the Lord had not been on our side...
My husband and I found ourselves at Lowe’s once again. The first time we went, it was to pick up some plants to put in our garden. But for a myriad of reasons over Easter weekend, including rain and freezing temperatures, we never planted them. We figured if we kept the plants on our deck in their original plastic pots, they’d be fine for a few days. I mean, they’re in soil already—what could be the problem?
Turns out, they all died except one. The interesting thing is none of the plants we already planted in our garden died, even though they were enduring the same temperatures. Only the plants in the plastic pots didn’t make it, save the one. This probably seems super logical to you (but it was news to me, a garden novice!): pots make plant soil much more volatile to weather and they can quickly heat up or cool down(1)—in our case it cooled down a little too much! The plants planted in the ground were more resilient and less affected by the weather because they had a steady temperature while in the ground.
The resiliency of my already planted plants reminded me of the resiliency of the Israelites in Psalm 124 who were planted firmly in God’s hand. Because the Lord was at their side, they were not swept away by the flood, the torrent, or the raging waters. They were not swallowed alive when attacked by angry enemies because they had help from the Maker of heaven and earth.
Like my plants in the ground that still endured the same harsh weather as the potted plants, this Psalm doesn’t promise that harshness doesn’t exist. The Israelites were still attacked, trapped, and in stormy waters, but the Psalm does proclaim that because the Lord was at their side, they were not overcome by their circumstances.
...because the Lord was at their side, they were not overcome by their circumstances.
We may never have had to run from angry enemies with scary teeth like in this Psalm (Ok, maybe they’re not talking about literal human teeth!) but some of us do know what it’s like to feel attacked by someone. Some of us know what it’s like to be flooded with bills we can’t pay or never ending demands at work that seem to engulf our every moment. Some of us know what it’s like to be trapped in unwanted trauma and systemic injustice or ensnared by our own sinfulness and addictions. But because we have help from the Maker of heaven and earth we have resiliency. And we have resiliency because we have hope. Hope that even our most tragic circumstances can be restored and we can be set free from the burden of them.
My favorite part about this Psalm is the repetition of the phrase, “if the Lord had not been on our side” (Psa 124:1-2, NIV). When anything is repeated in the Psalms, it’s worth taking a second look! Scholar William A. VanGemeren tells us, “The phrase, ‘had been on our side’ is the past tense of Immanuel (‘God with us’).”(2) Sound familiar?! The Israelites had hope and resilience because they remembered how God had been with them in the past—remembered how God had restored their lives and remembered how God had set them free.
We have the same hope and resilience as we look to Immanuel in the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense. God always has, always is, and always will be with us because of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us.
No matter what raging storm might be at your door step right now, I hope you’ll hold on to the hope given to you through Immanuel. If hope seems hard to come by right now, take a page from the Israelites—remember how God has restored your experiences in the past. Let that memory hold you up as you proclaim with me: though the floods will come, they will not overtake us. Though the enemies may encircle us, they will not trap us. We will not be left to despair because we have hope that God is always at our side and we have help from the Maker of heaven and earth.
Gracious God, who breathed life into creation and who breathes new life into every hardship and circumstance we endure, thank you for giving us the hope that you are present with us in every storm and the resilience to lean on you. Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your Son, Jesus, Immanuel, to bring restoration and redemption to the whole world. Amen.
1) Wong, James. “Time to give up the pot: why it’s much better to plant in the ground,” The Guardian. 9 July 2017. Accessed 18 April 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/09/time-to-give-up-the-pot-why-its-much-better-to-plant-in-the-ground
2) VanGemeren, William A. in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2008, 902.
by Erica Smith
Nature noticer, contemplative wannabe, coffee drinker, wine taster, and novice painter.