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Now Israel may say, and that in truth

Biblical authors certainly affirm the importance of human diligence, but such diligence makes no lasting difference unless it is a tool in the Lord’s hand according to His sovereign purposes. David was a wily and sturdy warrior, and he had valiant fighters in his service (II Samuel 23:8-29), as was proper – but at the same time, it was the LORD who worked each great victory through them. II Samuel 23:12 recounts that Shammah, one of David’s three finest solders, “took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the LORD worked a great victory.”

Psalm 124 is included in the “Songs of Ascents,” indicating its use during festal pilgrimages. The children of Israel would sing it in connection with their pilgrimage to Jerusalem; they remembered that the deliverance of the whole people allowed them to continue journeying there.

As the past help of God’s people has been from the LORD, so our present and future hope is in the selfsame God. Just as the pattern of divine covenant establishes God’s salvation as being a collective phenomenon among His people, that same pattern of covenant identifies the true Israel as being all those who are faithful to Him, united with Jesus Christ, across the ages of time and to the present (Romans 9:6-8, I Corinthians 12:12-14).

God’s people have known many occasions on which Psalm 124 provides a triumphant lyric, as His people have been shown time and time again that He, and He alone, wins the victory over our adversaries. Today the psalm appeals to the Lord as the One who is able to protect His church from the attacks of principalities and powers in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:10-20). For example, in the year 1582, during the reign of James VI, Scotland was in the midst of a political and religious conflict which shook its institutional church to the foundations. The issue at hand was: Does the king have authority over the church, or is the church answerable only to God?

John Durie was one of the many men who became embroiled in this conflict, and like many, he suffered hardship as a result of his position. Durie’s belief that the Church was accountable only to God led to a decision by the Privy Council on May 23, 1582, to remove him from his parish and exile him from Edinburgh.

However, a few months later, Durie was permitted to return to the city, and on Sept. 4, 1582, he was joyfully greeted by a great crowd of people when he entered the gates of Edinburgh. David Calderwood’s History of the Kirk of Scotland recounts that event.

“At the Nether Bow they took up the 124th Psalm, ‘Now Israel may say, and that truly,’ and sang it in such a pleasant tune, in all the four parts, these being well known to the people, who came up the street bareheaded and singing, till they entered the kirk. This had such a sound and majesty as affected themselves and the huge multitude of beholders who looked over the shots and forestairs with admiration and amazement. The Duke [Lennox, an enemy of Durie] himself was a witness, and tare his beard for anger, being more affrayed at this sight than anything he had ever seen since he came to Scotland. When they entered the kirk Mr. Lawson made a short exhortation in the readers place to thankfulness, and after the singing of a psalm the people departed with great joy.”

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