1 If God the LORD had not been on our side— 2 Let Isr’el say—had not the LORD been near 3 When foes attacked us, filling us with fear, And when their wrath against us reached its height, Alive we had been swallowed in their spite.
4 We would have been enveloped by the flood; Over our heads the torrent would have gone; 5 The waters would have carried us along. 6 But praise the LORD, for he has set us free And has not left us to their cruelty.
7 We have escaped—just as a captured bird Out of the fowler’s net has been set free; The snare is cut, we are at liberty. 8 Our help is in the name of God the LORD Who made the earth and heavens by his word.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Old 124th here
As a young person (some time ago!) brought up in the Church of Scotland, I recall attending Remembrance Sunday Parades with the Boys’ Brigade. Invariably the metrical version of Psalm 124 was sung –
“Now Israel may say, and that truly, “If that the Lord had not our cause maintained ….”
Memories of world wars were alive and often raw. For some, there was real comfort and thankfulness in their knowledge that their God had been alongside them. For others, God had been nowhere to be seen, seemingly absent.
Troops on each side had been assured by their religious powers-that-be that God was on their side. Combatants were commended and blessed, and, just to make sure, God’s blessing was enjoined on weapons of war from guns to battleships. From there, it could be but a small step to assume that God was not present with the enemy, so their defeat was sure and certain.
Yet on all sides, ordinary soldiers, sailors or airforces prayed and in many ways, prayer was answered.
We have just moved from centenaries of the first World War to the 80th anniversaries of the second, so we will, no doubt, see more archive newsreels including ceremonial blessing of weaponry. In an era where God may go unrecognised in everyday life, such practices will no doubt seem quaint, from another age, not worth worrying about. Christians believe that God is present in the everyday, calling us to work for justice and for peace, so such images are worth worrying about. Blessing the individual and honouring sacrifice is right and proper: weaponry is a necessary evil, to be kept to a minimum. Hence when the national church holds a service in which weapons of mass destruction are a focus, we are right to ask if God has set us free from the fowler’s net.
Our help is in the Lord’s great name who heaven and earth by his great power did frame. Therefore God, when we assume that you are automatically on our side: forgive us. When we pollute the earth by what we do and by what we have: forgive us. When we assume that we have the right to destroy that which you have created: forgive us. When we delight you by creating justice and joy: embrace us.
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC