God’s people have often been weak while their enemies loomed large. Only Noah and his household stood apart in a violent world. The armies of Abraham, Moses, David, and Hezekiah were vastly outnumbered. The Apostles and the early church faced the persecutions of the massive Roman Empire. Faithful churches of Jesus Christ continue to exist today as a tiny minority in many nations. If we survey history, there were comparatively few times when God’s people had the numbers in their favor.
Psalm 124 is a reflection on this pattern in the history of Israel. The psalmist uses vivid pictures of the superior power of Israel’s enemies. They are like monsters that can swallow Israel alive. Their hatred burns like fire. Like a massive flood, these opponents seem overwhelming. Picture enormous armies of powerful, hate-filled, and predatory foes. Israel seems to have no chance against the armies of Egyptians or Assyrians that marched toward them. Why does the Lord allow these forces of evil to amass? Why does He seem to still allow this?
The purpose of Psalm 124 is to say that through singing, believers in such times will remind each other of their hope in the Lord’s help. The psalmist uses enemies as a foil to highlight the power and care of the Lord. They are no match for His saving power. Two vivid depictions of God’s deliverance are given. In verse 6, the Lord plucks Israel away from the jaws of the enemy. Verse 7 says, “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!” One of the snares used by fowlers was a lightweight circular net with weights around the edges. They would cast it over a flock of small birds in a bush or on the ground. In ancient times, even sparrows were sold at the market. But picture this: even though the birds were trapped for a moment, the snare suddenly broke, and they flew free. It is a picture of an unlikely event and an unusual last-second providence. Just at the moment when everything seemed over, the Lord delivered His people.
The “escaped bird” is a picture that persecuted Christians have treasured throughout history. After attacks, times of persecution, and even battles, believers have turned to Psalm 124 for hope and encouragement. It reminds us ultimately, however, of the hope of the resurrection: even death and the grave cannot entrap a believer. Death no longer has dominion over us. When we find ourselves in the minority, or even when we face imminent destruction, our situation can only become an occasion for future praise. Being a faithful but small minority may run counter to the democratic spirit of our age, but this is no problem at all when “our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (v. 8). Let us trust, along with the church of all ages, that the Lord in His providence is setting the stage for glorious deliverance.