Psalm 124 translation and comment

A song of degrees or ascents. For David

“If Yahweh was not with us” –

– Sing the song now Israel!

“If Yahweh was not with us

When wicked men attacked us

They would have swallowed us alive

When their breath burned hot against us.

Then the waters would have overwhelmed us,

The rivers would have overrun our soul,

Yes, insolent waters gone over our soul.

Blessings on Yahweh who did not abandon us

To be torn by their teeth!

Like a bird from the fowler’s snare

Our soul has escaped;

The snare is snapped

And we have slipped away.

Yahweh’s name is our help

Maker of heaven and earth.”

The Scottish Psalm translation although not as accurate as most, gives a splendid sense of the savagery of the original “ and has not given us for a living prey/ unto their teeth and bloody cruelty.“ When the Scottish reformation was secured against a French invasion by the English navy, they sang this psalm in St Giles’.

It depicts an unsuccessful attack on Israel although it might also be a compressed version of the Babylonian exile and return. The truth is that many attacks succeeded, but the psalm exhibits a stubborn faith that refuses to think that Yahweh is useless. The sense that the “soul” of Israel is alive if only just, is powerfully present in the psalm.

There is a sober realism in the depiction of threatened death and destruction, matched by a courageous trust in Yahweh.

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