Psalm 124, 23 August 2020

If God be for us, who can be against us?

A song of ascent

This well-known verse is found not in the psalms but in Romans 8:31. It contains the same message as Psalm 124, and in particular the last verse which has become a standard line in many liturgies:

Our help is in the name of the Lord.

As another song of ascent (the fifth), Psalm 124 recalls and relishes divine protection and deliverance as good grounds for trust and a confident approach. Coming after the associated Old Testament Exodus reading in this week’s Lectionary — telling the story of the harsh slavery of the Hebrews and Moses saved by the Pharaoh’s daughter — it is particularly poignant:

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 our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

The poet then imagines a bird avoiding the fowler’s trap:

The snare is broken and we have escaped (v. 7)

🎵 This turns us to music, since this is the verse used in the refrain in The Emergent Psalter. All three entries in Psalms for All Seasons focus on the last line, mentioned earlier. This may be academic since few will have these books at home in times of distancing.

However if you have the ‘red hymn book’, TiS 79 is a Genevan setting called OLD 124th. It’s also the first offering in PFAS. Here is a recent recording:

“Guide my feet while I walk this path” has been a default choice sometimes here at South Woden, even though the connection of refrain to the psalm is indirect. Here is a song sheet: Ps124 Guide my feet, or there is also a simpler version in New Century 497.

And recalling last week’s Psalm 133 pleading for familial and social unity in all nations, Mount Hermon to the Hill of Zion, this next example of beautiful psalm singing is added in support of BLM and all movements against discrimination. You can find the words, which after the opening statement only loosely follow those of the psalm, on the Youtube file:

The pianist, rolling it out with ease with scarcely a glance at the keys, was Andrae Crouch (1942 – 2015), who is sometimes credited with bringing contemporary music, blended with gospel roots, into Christian worship.

An even more exuberant live performance of this song by Jennifer Holliday is also available.

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