1“If the LORD had not been on our side,”
let Israel say—
2“If the LORD had not been on our side
when people rose against us,
3then would they have swallowed us alive
when their anger was kindled.
4Then would the waters have engulfed us,
the torrent gone over us;
5over our head would have swept
the raging waters.”
6Blest be the LORD who did not give us
a prey to their teeth!
7Our life, like a bird, has escaped
from the snare of the fowler.
Indeed, the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
8Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
Our life, like a bird…says verse 7…and in so doing gives us an insight to the psalms. They invite us to enter with our imagination into the experiences described. Think of the well known 23rd Psalm which begins as we know, “The Lord is my shepherd…” Again, we are invited to identify ourselves as an animal; this time a sheep and to focus in particular on our relationship with the shepherd. These imaginative exercises allow us to access deeper awareness of who God is, and what we ourselves are going through.
In Psalm 124 there are two dominant images linked by the same forces. Both include the experience of being thrust down, and of being lifted up. The first pictures a torrent or a flood with the waters pressing down upon us. For Israel this reflected being pursued by their enemies. The second picture is of a trapped bird. The psalmist goes on to write “…the snare has been broken and we have escaped.” This leads to praise and blessing for God who has set them free.
The beauty and the living dynamic of the scriptures is that they invite us thousands of years later to place ourselves in this narrative. We, too, know what it is to be pressed down by emotional freight, economic forces, relational difficulties, painful memories, personal struggle and even the experience of anxiety or depression. Indeed, depression itself as a word suggests something pressed down so hard and unrelentingly that it no longer has the resources to rise up. We remain de-pressed.
The psalm points us to God as the one who lifts us up, and to how we might be open and engaged with this liberation in our lives.
God lifts us up. This reminds me of a monk, who when allowed to break silence, offered this insight into his relationship with God. “I fall down, God lifts me up. I fall down, God lifts me up.” The God of resurrection is at work in our world to roll away the stones that hold us down, and to give life even amidst the deadening forces at work in our world. This is his “good, pleasing and perfect will” for our lives. When we are down he lifts us up.
So how do we participate?
We might be tempted to ask what must we do, what actions should we take? However Psalm 124 seems to suggest something else, namely to be still. The bird in the snare will only make their situation worse by tearing at the trap. Thrashing around in desperation will only sap their energy, and make the injury more painful. Rather, by staying still and trusting, they allow the snare to be gently lifted up, and they can fly free, and soar back up into the sky. They are now freed to be what they are, and to do what they were made to do; fly. So when we feel trapped and weighed down, we too might make space in our cluttered lives simply to be still and quiet before God, trusting in his good, pleasing and perfect will for our lives. He can break the snare and set us free.
There is something very moving about this picture when we think of the cross. Jesus puts himself into the snare of humanity’s captivity to sin, selfishness, greed, pride and hurt, and as it tears his flesh he invites us to go free.
The Book of Psalms is a wonderful gift to us. In the Bible, God speaks to us, and in the Book of Psalms we speak to God. It is a kaleidoscope of human experience, and often puts us in touch with the deeper things of our lives, that we may have been ignoring, or been unaware of. This song of deliverance written thousands of years ago speaks into our lives today, not only of our own experiences, but also of the experience of our common humanity. Those held down in economic injustice, excluded by racial discrimination, trapped in direct provision. Those who know the snare of isolation, loneliness, addiction, anxiety and depression.
We are encouraged to be quiet and still before God. We are thankful and full of praise for his liberating power and love. We rise from prayer, and soar like a bird freed from the snare. And then we live as those who follow Jesus—the great trap-springer, the snare breaker. We seek to be with those who are weighed down, and we live, struggle, advocate and work for their freedom, deliverance and healing too.