Psalms 124 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 124
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

In this psalm we have a reminiscence of a catastrophe so tremendous, that all the combined images under which the poets of past times had figured the many vicissitudes of Israel appear insufficient. Nothing but the total ruin of the city and Temple, and the captivity of the nation, could have left an impression so deep and lasting. It is the restored remnant that thus ascribe to Jehovah their escape—so marvellous, so miraculous, that the older deliverance from Egypt colours the language in which it is described. The Aramaisms of the poem leave no room for upholding the ascription to David. The rhythm is finely varied.

Title.—“Of David.” The LXX. know nothing of this addition. The imagery recalls Davidic poems, and possibly suggested the inscription. (See Introduction.)

A Song of degrees of David. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say;
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
(2) If it had not been.—For this motto of the covenant, see Psalm 94:17.

Men.—Better, man. In this use of the general term, we must, as Reuss points out, see an indication of the time of composition of the psalm. One who could so speak of the whole world as separated into two parts (Jews and heathen), discloses a sense of isolation and exclusiveness which brings us far down from the time of the prophets. They, indeed, spoke of it as the ideal of the future. This psalmist regards it as an accomplished fact.

Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us:
(3) Then.—Critics are at issue both as to the form and meaning of the word—whether it is an archaism or an aramaism, expressing time or logical sequence.

Swallowed . . . quick (alive).—No doubt an allusion to the fall of Korah (Numbers 16:32-33), where the same verb and adjective occur together. (See also Psalm 55:15.)

Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul:
(4) Waters.—The sudden transition in the imagery from the earthquake to the flood is characteristic of Hebrew poetry. (For the flood, see Psalm 18:4; Psalm 18:16; Psalm 69:14; Psalm 144:7.)

Stream.—The torrent swollen with the winter rain. (Comp. Isaiah 8:7-8.)

Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.
(5) Proud.—The Hebrew presents a rare form, which is considered indicative of later composition. For the epithet, comp. Æschylus, Prom. Vinct. 717:

“And you will reach the scornful river—well it deserves

the name.”

Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.
Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.
(7) Snare.—Another rapid transition to a favourite figure, that of the hunter’s net. (Comp. Psalm 10:9, &c)

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
(8) Who made.—See Note on Psalm 121:2.

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