The Secret of Victory (Psalm 124)

The Secret of Victory
(Psalm 124)

Jerry Clark

Mr. Jerry Clark of Morrison, Tenn., continues to provide us with practical instruction in this the fifth of his extended series of articles on a group of Psalms known as the “Song of Ascents”.

A song of the goings-up, of David:

1. If it was not the LORD who was for us — let Israel say, I pray—

2. If it was not the LORD who was for us, in the rising-up of man against us,

3. Then had they swallowed us alive, in the kindling of their anger against us;

4. Then had the water overwhelmed us, the torrent had passed over our soul;

5. Then had passed over our souls the waters — the proud waters.

6. Blessed be the LORD, who gave us NOT as a prey to their teeth.

7. Our soul has been delivered as as a bird out of the trap of the fowlers; the trap has been broken and we have been delivered.

8. Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.

On a dark night in December 1602, the sleeping inhabitants of Geneva were surprised by their enemies, the Savoyards, in a famous attack known as “the Escalade.” Thanks to the action of one watchful sentinel — who gave his life in arousing the city to arms — the city was saved. After the battle, the aged Theodore Beza, the great Greek scholar and editor of the Greek text followed in the King James Version, declared a time of public thanksgiving to God, highlighted by the singing of the 124th Psalm. Without a doubt, no psalm in the entire Psalter was more appropriate to the occasion since this song celebrates the victory of God’s people over their enemies and their deliverance from their hands.

As originally penned by David, Psalm 124 may have had reference to his narrow escape from death at the hands of Saul on more than one occasion (cf. 1 Sam. 20:3). As used later by Hezekiah, its probable reference would have been to the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the power of Sennacherib’s army (2 Kings 19:32-35). Prophetically, it no doubt looks forward to God’s intervention on behalf of the Jewish remnant during the period of great tribulation immediately preceding Christ’s return in glory. Yet — in addition, however — this song has much to say to us today. The physical victory celebrated in this song is one that could be, and should be, celebrated spiritually by the believer each day.

The Conflict (vv. 1-5)

There is a great deal of talk today concerning “the victorious life.” Much of this is good, but much is very shallow indeed. It is asserted by some that the believer can — if he only has enough faith — live a life of “victory,” free from the troubles, trials and temptations which plague other believers. What these teachers seem to overlook is that there can be no victory without a conflict; a victory is the successfull result of battle, not the absence of battle.

The first part of this psalm describes the opposing forces in the conflict. There are only two: “us and them.” On the one hand, we have Israel (“us,” vv. 1-2a); on the other, we have man (“they,” vv. 2b-5). It is admitted at the outset that the opposition is much more powerful than Israel — they can easily “overwhelm” them (vv. 3-5).

As believers, we have an enemy— Satan (1 Peter 5:8) — and the Bible plainly teaches that he, at the head of the demonic hordes, is much stronger and more clever than we are on our own (cf. Eph. 2:2-3; Luke 16:8; 11:21-22: “the strong one”). What, then, is the secret of victory? What factor will determine the outcome in this conflict? The answer is found in the deliberate contrast between “for us” (vv. 1-2a) and “against us” (vv. 2b-3). “For us” is lanuw. The prefixed lamedh has the basic meaning of to or unto. Here, it means “on our side, intervening or strong towards us, exercising might on our behalf.”

The first “against us” (v. 2b) is ‘aleynuw. The particle ‘al has the basic meaning of over, above or upon. The second “against us” is banuw. The prefixed beth means “in.” Here, the first term refers to the extent of their animosity; the second to their underlying attitude. Man—proud, godless man —would overwhelm us (the figure is that of a stream which swells to torrential proportions following winter rains) like a flood. His anger is in regard to US (Le., our very nature, character and existence). Just as the spotless character of Christ brought out the very worst in His enemies, so too Christ seen in US will result in overflowing hatred on the part of those who are against our Lord (John 15:18-21).

The secret of victory is found in the name emphasized twice in this paragraph: the LORD. If the LORD is for us, the victory is assured; if NOT, then our defeat is certain.

The Victory (vv. 6-8)

The first strophe postulates a great “if” (cf. the first word in each verse: “if … then”), but the second celebrates the fact that the LORD IS on our side. Therefore, we offer praise to the LORD who gives us “NOT as a prey to their teeth.” The emphasis here is on NOT. “Suppose the LORD should forsake or fail us?” the psalmist queries in verses 1-5. “Ah, but the LORD does NOT!” he sings in verses 6-8.

The figure here changes to that of a bird escaping (or being delivered by an outside agency: the word is passive, not active) from the trap of a fowler. The first figure (the raging torrents) active) from the trap of a fowler, has explained the hatred of the enemy; this figure explains his stealth and craftiness. Through trickery, our enemy seeks to entrap us in sin and overcome our Christian testimony.

Charles H. Spurgeon has pointed out that “Satan has many methods of entrapping souls. Some are decoyed by evil companions; others are enticed by the lust of daintiness; hunger drives many into the trap and impels numbers to fly into the the net. The snare may be false doctrine, pride, lust, or a temptation to indulge in policy, or to despair, or to presume” (The Treasury of David).

From the very moment of salvation, we enter into conflict with the powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12). We must try to avoid such conflict by compromise with evil, of course, but sooner or later the battle will be brought to our very door. There is, however, no need to fear or despair for, while the conflict is inevitable, God has provided the means for us to gain the victory (Eph. 6:13-18).

Two passages in the New Testament shed important light on this psalm: 1 Corinthians 15:57 (“Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory”) and 2 Corinthians 2:14 (“Thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph”). At first glance, these may seem to be identical, but they are not. The first passage refers to the victory itself; the second to the celebration of victory. Christ has gained the victory over our enemies — sin, death and Satan — on the cross (Col. 2:14-15); this victory is then given to US, so that at the very outset of our Christian life we are already assured of victory. Our life, then, though filled with conflict, is to be a display — a vast victory parade — of the victory that Christ has already gained!

Though we face battle as “soldiers of the cross,” yet we can rejoice and offer praise for “the LORD is for us” (cf. Rom. 8:31). Our “help is in the name” of the Creator Himself (v. 8; cf. Col. 1:16), the One who is always — as another psalm celebrates — “a very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1).