What follows is broadly based on notes of a sermon Rev PKA deBoer preached on Psalm 124 in the Free Reformed Church, Mt Nasura, on Armistice Day (commemorating the end of World War 1, 100 years ago) last Sunday, 11/11/2018. In it he highlighted our ongoing dependence on the LORD in the dangers we face, and the assurance we have that He rescues us and grants escape.
Psalm 124 speaks about God “being on our side”. It was sung by members of the reformed churches in the Netherlands when WW2 ended and the people were liberated from wicked men. These church members had also sung it a year earlier, at the church liberation of 1944. Indeed, we today have reason to sing it, not only when we remember these events but whenever we remember Golgotha and our liberation from the slavery to sin and the devil. The words of this Psalm, in which David praises the LORD for deliverance, are so applicable on all occasions.
For in Psalm 124, David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, praises the LORD for being “on our side” and saving His people when angry men sought to “swallow us alive”. The LORD, the almighty creator of heaven and earth, rescued David and his people so that they escaped “as a bird from the snare of the fowler”. Hence, David and all Israel sang this song as they ascended the hill toward the temple at Jerusalem. They praised God, recalling how time and again they had been attacked, and how each time the LORD had delivered them.
The LORD – rescuing us from a murderous enemy
So, it’s no wonder that Dutch reformed people sang this Psalm at the end of WW2. That war had started just 19 years after WW1 ended. And Dutch people had experienced some of war’s horrors. For men had oppressed them; men had risen up against them, threatening to swallow them alive. They’d experienced the terror of bombers flying overhead and raining bombs down on Rotterdam and other places, causing death and destruction. Some of the reformed ministers had been imprisoned. Some died in concentration camps for having dared to proclaim the truth. Church members, like so many residents, had lived in constant fear of Nazis pounding on the door, guns at the ready, threatening family members with death if Jews or suspected resistance workers were found hidden there. Yet at war’s end they confessed that God had been their strength and in His good time the LORD had rescued them from the oppressors. And so they sang His praises with the words of Psalm 124.
The LORD – rescuing us from false teachers
But it wasn’t only after the physical attacks of war that this psalm was sung; God’s people had sung that same Psalm a year before WW2 ended. A different war, a spiritual war for the truth of the gospel, had taken place. The lie had threatened to entrap them, but from it God’s people were liberated in the Church Liberation of 1944. The same words of Psalm 124 were so applicable then because the LORD had freed them from another snare: the snare of false doctrine. They had been set free from an unscriptural hierarchy which forced ministers to teach the errors of presumptive regeneration, or face being suspended and deposed from office.
The LORD – rescuing us from bondage to sin and Satan
Whilst we today have reason to sing this Psalm at the remembrance of these events, there is an even greater reason to sing Psalm 124 in praise to the LORD. The reason is His deliverance of us at Golgotha from the evil which had ensnared us. The evil was our deep-rooted unbelief and revolution against God. There on the cross Christ freed us from our bondage, our slavery to sin and Satan. From the eternal condemnation that awaited us, more terrible than we can imagine. What a glorious, undeserved deliverance! Satan had threatened to swallow us alive but, through Christ, we have escaped his snare. Set free from being entrapped by sin and Satan.
This is something Jesus told the Jews: He spoke of salvation through Him; but they wouldn’t listen. In John 8 He told them that if they would abide in His word, they would be His disciples and know the truth, “and the truth shall make you free”. But they were offended at the thought of being set free. After all, weren’t they Abraham’s descendants who had never been in bondage to anyone? So, how could Jesus say, “You will be made free”? They did not believe Jesus when He said that whoever commits sin is a slave of sin, but “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). Unwilling to heed His words, they sought instead to kill Him (Jn. 8:40). And hence they missed out on the wonderful salvation He offered them.
Today, men continue to rise up against us. For example, students going to university have pressure put on them to conform to the false teachings of evolution, gender theory, Marxist and feminist ideology, post-modern ways of reading (whereby the Bible can be interpreted in different ways), and so on. The proponents of these false teachings are on the other side, the side of Satan and the world, seeking to win us over to their side.
The continuing antithesis
For Psalm 124 recognises that there are two sides. David says: “If the LORD had not been on our side” we would have been swallowed up. The LORD makes a distinction and that takes us back to Genesis 3:15 where God said, “I will put enmity between the seed of the woman (Christ and those who are on His side) and the seed of the serpent (Satan and those on his side). But we need to test the spirits on the basis of God’s Word to see the dividing line between these sides.
In war time there is much propaganda, and you can’t always trust others. Sometimes it is difficult to know the truth. It requires study. At the time of the Church Liberation of 1944 you needed to study God’s Word to determine the truth and who was on the side of the truth. Each time again you need to take a position on the side of the truth, and that can cause strained relations. Being on the side of the truth brings division. Jesus told His disciples that enmity would arise in one’s own home (Mt 10:36).
Pilate had asked, “What is truth?” These are the words of unbelief. The truth is with God. Jesus said, “I am the truth”. Those on the side of the truth, even though they are oppressed, find strength in knowing they are on the side of the LORD. Without Yahweh, the covenant God, on our side we cannot stand. But in His strength we can stand; with Him there is escape. That’s what the psalmist says. Blessed be the LORD who did not give us up. We’ve escaped like a bird. The LORD does not give us over to the teeth of those who lay a snare for us.
Sometimes you hear people, even church members, say: you shouldn’t judge. However,we must discern between right and wrong, between truth and the lie, between those who promote the truth and those who promote the lie. For we belong to the LORD our covenant God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God who addresses us in each church service with the words: grace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him we belong. At baptism He put His mark on us and through that same baptism He distinguished us from unbelievers: from the world and all false religions (BCF 34).
Our help is in the name of the LORD – the assurance by which we live
The world is in turmoil. All is not well. We read of wars, street gangs, terrorists, drug cartels, etc. But despite the turmoil, we have freedom because the snare in which we were caught is broken through Christ’s sacrifice. He took the burden of our wickedness upon Himself. Jesus told the Jews that they were of their father, the devil. But He also said that He had come with deliverance for all who trust in Him. Based on what the Messiah would later do, the people of Israel were rescued from their enemies time and again and, going up to the temple, could sing of their deliverance. Likewise we may sing of our deliverance.
Today our help is in the name of the LORD. And that name LORD is a covenant name. It refers to the God who is there for His people, the almighty God who made heaven and earth. Therefore, we begin each church service with the words of that beautiful declaration: our help is in the name of the LORD. In those words the LORD is speaking directly to us. It’s not only a confession but a declaration given again and again to His people as they assemble in His house. These are the people He saves, redeems, rescues. And His people can continue to go forward trusting in Him because, as Moses confessed: You, LORD, really do what You say. And the LORD God says: I am who I am. That is: I demonstrate who I am and that I am your Redeemer.
Yes, our help is and continues to be in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth.