For some, the journey of this life means everything but gratitude. Swallowed by monsters and swept away by storms, these pilgrims languish in a life that is chaotic and confusing. The original pilgrims of Plymouth Rock faced the harsh realities of an unsettled world, but they also found a reason and season to rejoice. In the mist of misery, God provided a beautiful harvest of blessing. It was food! It was life! And these deeply devout followers of Christ determined to thank God for His care. Living on the edge of world filled with scary monsters and awaiting storms, the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock lived in security.
This morning, we join the pilgrims in a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for the security He provides.[i] As we journey into the presence of God, we join the psalmist in praise for the protection that God has provided.[ii]
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8, ESV)
Today, we are on a journey into the presence of God. We are pilgrims passing through this world into our Homeland of Heaven. As we go, we face the dangerous drops and dips of life, but our God is faithful and loving to give us safety when the marauders of malice attack and when the storm-saturated streams swell to sweep us away.[iii]
1. God is with us on our journey
The opening words of the psalm describe the only hope that we have for safety on life’s journey.[iv] God is with us on our journey through this life into the summit of His presence. In the context of this passage, the people of God declare this affirmation of confidence. Israel can say, “God is with us.”[v]
On this side of the cross and empty tomb, Israel is not the only people who can declare, “God is with us.” All who have received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted as sons into the family of faith.[vi] All of us who have been bought by the blood of Christ have been brought under the protection of God. God is with us, for us, and utterly committed to our safety and strength on this journey.[vii]
With God on our side, we have the hope we need to face the difficulties of the journey. Just as Israel declared their hope of defense when evil men[viii] stood up against them, we can declare by faith that God will be our defense when the marauders of evil and death take their aim upon our soul.[ix] When adversity strikes us today, we have hope that Christ will guard us and strengthen us to meet the difficulties of our journey.
2. But there are monsters and storms on the journey
Without the protection of God’s hand, the monsters of life would devour us.[x] These monstrosities are aroused by anger against us. In the time of David, this picture would be the hostile army arising in battle against the smaller nation of Israel. It is a picture of “David and Goliath” played out in our lives. The monsters we face are real. They may have faces or names. They threaten to swallow up our hearts with fear. They threaten to destroy our future.
When the storms would come, they would flood the valleys of Palestine and sweep everything away in its path.[xi] The pilgrim on the journey to the presence of God portrays the storms of circumstance sweeping over his soul and stealing his life. Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be swept away by the raging torrents of circumstance. The tragic death would destroy us. The broken relationship would kill us. The plight of pain would execute us. The darkness of disease would drown us. That’s the life without the presence of God.
3. We must acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness in our lives
We need to begin our journey each day with the declaration of praise to God.[xii] He is the Maker of Heaven and Earth. He has cleared the pathway for our journey from beginning (at salvation) to end (at Christ’s appearing). By God’s hand, He has pulled us out of the snare. We were like a trapped bird in the hunter’s snare, but God has set us free.[xiii] He has broken the snare of sin and given us the power to soar once again on our journey. Just as He has given life and meaning to the world, He has heard our cry for help. He has kept disaster from dealing death to us. He has given us safety on our journey through this life into His presence.[xiv]
Listen to William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Plantation, as he describes the storms of Plymouth Rock pilgrims.
They have now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. . . . [Indians] were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than otherwise. And for the season, it was winter . . . subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men . . . What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness, but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.”[xv]
Like the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, we may find ourselves trapped in wave after wave of difficulties. But let’s praise Him today! Let’s praise Him for the delight of His powerful presence in our lives on this journey. Let’s thank Him for the security that He gives us on this journey into His presence.
A Prayer from the Pilgrims
Thou art the blessed God, happy in Thyself, source of happiness in Thy creatures, my maker, benefactor, proprietor, upholder. Thou hast produced and sustained me, supported and indulged me, saved and kept me; Thou art in every situation able to meet my needs and miseries.
May I live by Thee, live for Thee, never be satisfied with my Christian progress but as I resemble Christ; and may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct grow hourly in my life. Let Thy unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience, and render my duty my delight. If others deem my faith folly, my meekness infirmity, my zeal madness, my hope delusion, my actions hypocrisy, may I rejoice to suffer for Thy name.
Keep me walking steadfastly towards the country of everlasting delights, that paradise-land which is my true inheritance. Support me by the strength of heaven that I may never turn back, or desire false pleasures that will disappear into nothing. As I pursue my heavenly journey by Thy grace let me be known as a man with no aim but that of a burning desire for Thee, and the good and salvation of my fellow men.
[i]Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1965), 102-111. He indicates that this psalm, unusual in its community expressions through the use of the plural, exemplifies the nature of individual thanksgiving. Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 163, examines the nature of communal thanksgiving in the psalter and concludes that the rarity of the communal thanksgiving. He concludes that “the psalm exhibits individual language clothed in plural dress.”
[ii]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 164.
[iii]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 436. Kidner places this psalm during the early stages of David’s reign. As the Philistines sought to destroy the fledgling nation, David saw no hope for his kingdom in his own power or defense, but rather in the power of God to defend His people.
[iv]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 139. The opening participle, if not the Lord were with us, is used as a subjunctive and repeated twice for emphasis. This is the opening thought that portrays the positive statement of God’s presence and protection.
[v]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (reprint, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 441.
[vi]One image of the Christian community is the “people of God.” The avenue for community is found through faith in Christ Jesus. Faith is not only the avenue into the family of God, but it is also the avenue to a community that hopes in the work of Christ in the present mission and future eschaton [Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1977; reprint, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1993), 76].
[vii]Walter Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms, 139.
[viii]H-J Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 441. He notes that “over against the mighty protective power of Yahweh the attackers appear as frail human beings who are subject to death.” Breuggemann writes: “The threats are presented in varied imagery, but mostly refer to the power of the evil chaotic waters. Even the opening verb, ‘swallow,’ in verse 3 probably refers to being swallowed up by evil waters. The waters are Israel’s best way of speaking about a general, massive, and seemingly irresistible threat. They are ‘presumptuous waters,’ waters that know no limit and respect no boundary” [Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms, 139].
[ix]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 20. This psalm expresses the gratitude of God’s people because He has delivered them from adversity.
[x]H-J Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 441. “Like a monster the enemies would have devoured the people of God alive (v. 3). Hostile people are represented as devouring monsters also in Ps. 79:7; Isa. 9:11; Jer. 51:34.” Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 436. He writes that this image “is of some monster large enough to need only one gulp at its prey.” Elmer Smick, “Mythopoetic Language in the Psalms,” Westminster Theological Journal 44 (Spring 1982): 92. In his examination of the poetic language in the psalms, Smick suggests that “Psalm 124 presents an impressive array of figures based on the behavior of the gods. Although the Psalmist is talking about his human enemies, they cannot literally ‘swallow him alive’ or ‘sweep him away with raging waters’ or ‘tear him with their teeth.’ The New Testament understandably transfers this type of behavior to the Devil (2 Tim 2:26, 1 Pet 5:8).”
[xi]H-J Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 441.
[xii]Friedrich Horst, “Segen und Segenshandlungen in der Bibel” Evangelische Theoligie 7 (1947): 31. The meaning of baruch is to declare the greatness and power of the object of baruch.
[xiii]L. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 165-66. “The reversal of doom-laden danger by means of incredible rescue is dramatically described in terms of a pitiable trapped bird that surprisingly regains its freedom.”
[xv]From Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, as quoted by Edwin Scott Gaustad, A Religious History of America (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 48-49.