March 23, 2020

Psalm 129

A Song of Ascents.

“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”—
let Israel now say—
“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
The plowers plowed upon my back;
they made long their furrows.”
The LORD is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked.
May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned backward!
Let them be like the grass on the housetops,
which withers before it grows up,
with which the reaper does not fill his hand
nor the binder of sheaves his arms,
nor do those who pass by say,
“The blessing of the LORD be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

One of the great gifts of the Psalms is that they give us a language for lament and even holy complaint (yes, there is such a thing). In this particular Psalm of Ascent the psalmist reflects on a particularly harrowing time in the life of God’s people. In our present crisis we would do well to learn from this psalm how deep trust in God can exist simultaneously with griefs.

Of this Psalm Derek Kidner writes:
“Whereas most nations tend to look back on what they have achieved, Israel reflects here on what she has survived. It could be a disheartening exercise, for Zion still has its ill-wishers. But the singers take courage from the past, facing God with gratitude and their enemies with defiance.”

There are two primary movements in this Psalm of Ascent. The first part (vv. 1-3) reflects on the afflictions God’s people have endured at the hands of God’s enemies. The second part (vv. 5-8) is a curse pronounced upon God’s enemies. In between is verse 4 which is a pivot point between the two: “The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.”

The metaphor used by the psalmist to describe the people’s suffering is gruesome. “The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long furrows” (vs. 3). Picture the blade of a plow meant to cut through fallow ground now employed to dig into the backs of God’s people. The Bible never shies from acknowledging the suffering experience by the righteous in this life. A fallen world provides no small number of opportunities for the people of God to lament. But their griefs are always temporary. This is so because “the Lord is righteous” (vs. 4).

That the Lord is righteous means that he will only ever act rightly. He will never do what is wrong or unjust. He will never withhold from anyone what is due them. Neither will the Lord ever judge in a way that is more harsh than what is deserved. The Lord’s righteousness means that all his actions are in full accord with his perfections. We must keep this in mind in those times when we wonder whether God has dealt fairly with us. His righteousness must also be remembered in those times God’s justice toward the wicked is challenged.

This Psalm promises that the righteous Lord will one day completely vanquish evil. The salvation of God’s people will be fully realized in the age to come when all sin, sickness and death are finally and forever removed. God has worked this victory through the dying and rising of Jesus, the eternally begotten Son. On Christ’s cross the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God collided in the greatest battle ever fought. The Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15) faced off on the execution grounds outside the city of Jerusalem. And at the very moment when it appeared that the Lord had lost, the cry of the Son – “It is finished” – was actually the epitaph of Satan.

We live in that age when the death throws of the serpent are especially violent. We see his hateful thrashings throughout the world. But his days are numbered. The day is coming when the risen Christ will return to judge the living and dead. He will separate his people from the wicked. He will welcome home all those who are his and cast away all those who have remained in their sin. At that moment all that we have hoped for in this life will become sight and death and sin will be no more. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).