The “What If” Game
(H) A Song of Ascents. Of David. (1) “If it had not been Yahweh on our side,” let Israel now say, (2) “If it had not been Yahweh on our side, when men rose up against us, (3) then they would have swallowed us alive when their anger was kindled against us. (4) Then the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over our soul, (5) and over our soul would have swept the raging flood.” (6) Blessed be Yahweh who has not given us as prey to their teeth. (7) Our soul has escaped like a bird from the snare of the trapper. The snare has broken, and we have escaped. (8) Our help is in the name of Yahweh who made heaven and earth.
This psalm is filled with poetic repetitions. The first line, “If it had not been Yahweh on our side,” is repeated as the first line of the second verse (vss. 1 & 2). These two “if” statements are then followed by three “then” statements (vss. 3, 4, & 5). The last of these repeats the message of the previous verse in slightly different words (vss. 4 & 5). The emphasized phrases include “over our soul,” “would have swept,” and “flood.” “Our soul” occurs twice (vss. 4 & 7). Also “escape” and “snare” are repeated in the same verse (vs. 7).
At least two reasons for these frequent repetitions come to mind. First, they give emphasis to the important truths the psalm sets forth . Even more importantly, they provided a memorable rhythmic cadence to help pilgrims trekking on their journey to Jerusalem to keep in step with one another. We should try to imagine them chanting this psalm as they marched on their way together.
I. Apart from Yahweh we would face certain calamity. (1-5)
II. With Yahweh on our side, we may rest in complete security. (6-8)
Yahweh’s constant protection keeps us safe from our enemies and gives us confidence to remain steadfast.
Our minds sometimes become preoccupied with all the terrible things that might happen to us. We find ourselves dwelling on worst case scenarios and trembling with fear. This is simply unnecessary speculation. Someone has wisely said that the land of “what if” is not God’s territory. Yahweh is the God of what is and what actually will take place. We must learn not to preoccupy ourselves with negative possibilities but rather turn our hearts to focus on what God has promised.
For those who belong to Yahweh, that realm of reality includes his constant vigilance and assured protection. For this reason, we need not worry about the land of “what if.” This does not mean that we should not take normal precautions, avoid reckless behavior or dangerous situations. However, we can always rest secure in the confidence that Yahweh will take care of us no matter what we face.
The next time we find ourselves emotionally paralyzed by playing the “what if” game, falling prey to unnecessary fretting and unproductive worrying, we should discipline our hearts to turn instead to the promises of God’s Word and consciously place our trust in the One who has pledged to protect us. We must focus our minds on great truths like the one found in the last verse of this psalm: “Our help is in the name of Yahweh who made heaven and earth” (vs. 8).