Psalm 134 (ESV) 1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side- let Israel now say- 2if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, 3then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; 4then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; 5then over us would have gone the raging waters.

6Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! 7We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!

8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124 is a song of hazard and of help. Among the Songs of Ascents, this is the one that better describes the hazardous work of all discipleship and declares the help that is always experienced at the hand of God.

A Clerk in the Complaints Department of Humanity: The first lines of the psalm twice describes God as “for us.” The last line is “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” God is for us. God is our help.

The proper work for a Christian is witness, not apology, and Psalm124 is an excellent model. It does not argue God’s help; it does not explain God’s help; it is a testimony of God’s help in the form of a song. The witness becomes vivid and contagious. God’s help is not a private experience; it is a corporate reality—not an exception that occurs among isolated strangers, but the norm among the people of God.

There is no other literature in all the world that is more true to life and more honest than the Psalms, for here we have warts-and-all religion. Psalm 124 is not a selected witness, inserted like a commercial into our lives to testify that life goes better with God. The people who know this psalm best and who have tested it out and used it often tell us that it is credible, that it fits into what we know of life lived in faith.

Hazardous Work: Christian discipleship is hazardous work. There are no easy tasks on the Christian way; there are only task that can be done faithfully or erratically, with joy or with resentment. Throughout your work you need to remember that God will accomplish his will, and you get to cheerfully persist in living in the hope that nothing will separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

The psalm, though, is not about hazards but about help. The hazardous work of discipleship is not the subject of the psalm but only its setting. The subject is help. During this time God wants us to not be fussy. To not become moralist who cluck their tongues over a world going to hell; Christians are people who praise the God who is on our side.

Enlarged Photographs of Ordinary Objects: The final sentence, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth,” links the God who created heaven and earth to the God who helps us personally.

Psalm 124 is a magnification of the items of life that are thought to be unpleasant, best kept under cover, best surrounded with silence lest they clutter our lives with unpleasantness. Psalm 124 is an instance of a person who digs deeply into the trouble and finds there the presence of the God who is on our side. Our faith develops out of the most difficult aspects of our existence, not the easiest.

The assumption by outsiders that Christians are naïve or protected is the opposite of the truth: Christians know more about the deep struggles of life than others, more about the ugliness of sin. This psalm looks into the troubles of history, the anxiety of personal conflict and emotional trauma. And it sees there the God who is on our side, God is our help.

We speak our words of praise in a world that is hellish; we sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy; we live our joy among people who neither understand nor encourage us. But the content of our lives is God, not humanity. We are not scavenging in the dark alleys of the world, poking in its garbage cans for a bare subsistence. We are traveling in the light, toward God who is rich in mercy and strong to save. It is Christ, not culture, who defines our lives. It is the help we experience, not the hazards we risk, that shape our days.

If the LORD was not on our side we would have been swallowed alive. But our help is in the name of The LORD, the one who made heaven and earth.

(This post is a summary and partial abridgement of Eugene Peterson’s book “A Long Obedience In The Same Direction.” It is based solely on Peterson’s work and any help that this content gives should be credited to God’s grace through Peterson’s effort. In other words, give God glory, thank Eugene Peterson and consider buying the book.)