Psalm 129 laments persecution and calls down judgment on those who hate the place where God’s people worship. A song sung on the way to worship by Israelite worshipers, the psalm’s words speak of painful assault experienced by the worshiper. Whether the psalm reflects the experience of an individual or the collective memory of the people of God, it records in vivid metaphor the sensations of being physically attacked. The song was led by a precentor who lined out a phrase and then called on his fellow travelers to repeat after him:
“’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’ (Psalm 129:1-2).
The singers continued by singing of attackers scourging them with whips that left wounds like plows leave furrows behind them in a field. As I reflected upon this psalm, I thought of how Jesus was scourged by order of Pilate before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:26). The cords of the whip would have rained down upon his back. The psalm envisions a similar memory of the worshipers. Then however in the next verse of 129, God’s rescue of them is recalled:
“The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4).
God’s grace reverses inescapable doom. His love redefines impossibility, for as Jesus would say, “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Psalm 129 foreshadows the salvific impact of Christ’s resurrection. With that victory over death, in a very real sense, God through Jesus “cut the cords of the wicked.” He removed the scourge. For those who reject grace, judgment remains, judgment that echoes the rest of Psalm 129:
“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!’” (Psalm 129:5-8).
An earlier psalm underlines what grief fills these verses; its singers rejoiced, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy” as they sang of bringing in the sheaves at harvest when the Lord would restore his people’s fortune (Psalm 126:4-6). In this psalm, they bemoan the fate of those who hate Zion. The enemies of God’s people would be like withered grass and plants that were rejected by the workers conducting the harvest.
Worshipers of God still feel the pain of evil plowers making long their furrows. The anguish after bombings of churches in Sri Lanka this past Sunday underlines that truth. The faithful rejoice in their suffering, however, because God has cut the cords of the persecutor’s whip; he has disabled the opponent’s plow. We keep singing in joy because of the salvation God has accomplished.
- Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version
Father of mercies, we praise you and thank you for your amazing grace. We feel the sting when skeptics scoff at our faith. We step back in horror when we see scenes of terror and evil that those who oppose your will and hate those who worship you create with their evil schemes. May they realize that they have turned away from receiving your blessing. They have rejected your grace. May they awaken from their spiritual stupor and realize, as did the apostle Paul, that in their zeal to do your will, they have in fact struck out against you and harmed those who seek to serve you and your Messiah. Guide us in paths of truth and empower us to act with love. Grant us the capacity to forgive. Help us to remember your amazing grace and to make it known in our words and actions. In Jesus’ name, amen.