I am starting to read slowly again through the Psalms of Ascent (psalms 120-134). I do this from time to time, but this time I am expecting new insights and appreciation into the character of God for a weary, tired, grieving pilgrim.
Reading also this time, possibly for the first time, from the New Living Translation. Psalm 124 is jumping off the page.
“What if the Lord had not been on our side?
Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us?” (Verse 1-2)
“What if’s” are usually not helpful for traveling pilgrims. Doubt rises as to the validity to the path that we are on. We question the path. We question the turns that we took to get us here. We wonder if it would have been more profitable or faster if we had taken the other turn. We ask, “what if we did this, what if we turn there, what if we had decided to …?” For me, I ask these question usually because something right now is not very comfortable. Something doesn’t feel good. Something isn’t right. What if? If only….
Those are questions that weary travelers ask. Those are questions that followers of Jesus ask as we navigate the trials and pain (big or small) of life on this side of heaven (that final resting place of unhindered joy in the glory of Jesus).
However, this psalm has another angle on the “what if?” The New Living Translation (NLT) seems to bring this out. Most all other translations construct the sentence this way, “If it had not been the Lord on our side, then…”
So yes, the “if, then” construction is there, but the NLT frames the statement as a question.
For me, the question caused me to stop, and go through all the options and I asked the Lord, “What if you hadn’t been there?” “What if you were not for us?” “What if you were not our help?”
If God had not been our help, had not been with us, was not for us??
To be honest, I can not even put it in words what would have been. To be real honest, I don’t even like thinking about it. It is still too fresh. I’d rather stuff it down and not think about all of those “what if’s”. But this morning, the Lord opened it up for me…allowing me to see the purpose of this psalm…this pilgrim psalm.
In just eight verses, David gets to the point. It is good to remind ourselves of the what if’s, to envision what life would have been without God so that we can appreciate and worship in the fact of his presence with us, that he is for us, loves us, protects us, and upholds us.
“What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us?
They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger.
The waters would have engulfed us;
A torrent would have overwhelmed us.
Yes, the raging waters of their fury
Would have overwhelmed our very lives.
Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart!
We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap.
The trap is broken, and we are free!
Our help is from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.”
The Lord is on our side.
The Lord is for us.
The Lord is my help!
If he isn’t, then life would overwhelm me. Enemies would swallow me up. Opposers to the gospel would tear me to pieces.
The psalms of ascent were sung on the journey. The are lessons for the way. They are to remind the travelers about the past and present help and strength of their Lord, so that they can get to that final place of worship.
Thank you Father, great Shepherd! You are with me. Your acts have shown how you are for me, not against me. Others are against, but not you. You being for me outweighs any opposition that might come again.
None of this feels good. The pain of the trial, the grief and loss of dear ones in our life, does not feel right. But then the thought of what if you had not been for us? Unimaginable, and I have a pretty good imagination.
Thank you for walking so closely with us even. Sure, I would love for you to make things go back to “before”, but I would not trade the awareness and love that you have refreshed in me through what was and is. Let all God’s people repeat, “what if the Lord had not been on our side?” Let me repeat the truth that you are with me, for me, and stand as my strong help in trouble….not always to take me out of the trouble (though you have done this over and over), but that you walk with me.