THE ENEMIES HAVE NOT PREVAILED AGAINST US
Ballard catches the background of this psalm in the following.
"This psalm is among the pilgrim songs, because many a Jew was depressed when he contemplated the long struggle of his people for survival in the midst of an unfriendly world; but in this psalm he turns the minds of his people toward the more cheering aspect of their history, that is, that in spite of their foes, Israel had prevailed by God's grace and continued to live."F1
"The psalm is a lament of the community with overtones of confidence and trust."F2 Looking back over Israel's long past, the psalmist here, "Condenses hundreds of years of their history into four verses."F3
As regards the organization of the psalm, Leupold divided it into two paragraphs: (1) "A confident affirmation that the enemy has not prevailed (Psalms 129:1-4); and (2) a conclusion drawn from past deliverances, namely, that Zion's enemies shall perish (Psalms 129:5-8)."F4
THE ENEMY HAS NOT PREVAILED
Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up,
Let Israel now say,
Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up;
Yet they have not prevailed against me.
The plowers plowed upon my back;
They made long their furrows.
Jehovah is righteous:
He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked."
Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up, Let Israel now say, Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up: Yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back; They made long their furrows. Jehovah is righteous: He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
(Psalms 129:1). Israel's youth was theft sojourn in Egypt (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:15).F5
Let Israel now say
(Psalms 129:1). Israel is speaking in this psalm, not the individual.F6 It must therefore be considered the cry of the whole nation and not that of a mere individual.
Many a time have they afflicted me
(Psalms 129:2). Many of the ordeals of Israel, unlike the Egyptian bondage, were punishments; but God's character was righteous; and, therefore, through them all, he shines as The Rescuer of Israel.F7 As the pilgrim singers dwelt upon this thought, they were encouraged and lifted up in confidence that, after so many deliverances in the past, God will surely not forsake them.
The plowers plowed upon my back. long their furrows
(Psalms 129:3). The usual interpretation is to be preferred here, that underlying this metaphor is the notion of scourging.F8 The long furrows are to be understood as the lash marks of the whips upon their backs. The Old Israel, in some ways, was the Old Testament Type of the True Israel, who is Christ; and Allen pointed out that these lines suggest the scourging that was laid upon the back of Jesus Our Lord, as prophesied in Isa. 53:5.
Jehovah is righteous; he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked
(Psalms 129:4). This is a very subtle figure of speech. The plowing of that generation was done with oxen drawing the plow. The necessary equipment in such activity included the cords that bound the yoke to the necks of the oxen; and we deeply appreciate the discernment of Allen who observed that, Jehovah prevented the wicked from continuing their oppression by, as it were, breaking the harness.F9
Spurgeon also understood this passage in the same way.
"If any man would have his harness cut, let him begin to plow one of the Lord's fields with the plow of persecution. The shortest way to ruin is to meddle with a saint. The Divine warning is, `He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye.'"F10
ZION'S ENEMIES SHALL PERISH
Let them be put to shame and turned backward,
All they that hate Zion.
Let them be as the grass upon the housetops,
Which withereth before it groweth up;
Wherewith the reaper filleth not his hand,
Nor he that bindeth sheaves, his bosom.
Neither do they that go by say,
The blessing of Jehovah be upon you;
We bless you in the name of Jehovah."
This part of the psalm is an imprecation upon Israel's enemies. It is a prayer that they will be frustrated and turned back from their evil purpose, and that they may be like the grass growing on a rooftop.
The latter figure is taken from the custom in the Mid-East of covering the roof of buildings with a thin layer of earth. This is done because of the insulation provided from the severe heat of that area. Of course, when a shower came, the grass at once sprang up; but, due to the shallow soil and the hot sun, it quickly withered without producing anything of value.
Let them be put to shame and turned backward, All they that hate Zion. Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, Which withereth before it groweth up; Wherewith the reaper filleth not his hand, Nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom. Neither do they that go by say, The blessing of Jehovah be upon you; We bless you in the name of Jehovah.
(Psalms 129:5). As Kidner noted, If Zion were merely the capital of fleshly Israel, such an imprecation as this would appear as, Mere petulance and bluster.F11
However, the Zion of the Psalter is something of exceedingly great importance. "It is the city of our God" (Psalms 48:1); "The mount for God's abode" (Psalms 68:16); and the destined mother-city of the world (Ps. 87). It is a type of the New Jerusalem that cometh down from God out of heaven; and even all the Gentiles must confess that, "All our springs are in Zion" (Psalms 87:7).
"In this light, it is appropriate therefore that, laying all metaphors aside, they that hate Zion are not only choosing the way of hate, which is soul-destroying; but they are setting themselves against God, which is suicide."F12
As grass upon the housetops
(Psalms 129:6-7). This is a prayer for the enemies to be as certain of withering death as the dried up grass that sprouts on the roof after a shower of rain. The reaper will not cut it, and the `binder of sheaves' will not carry an armful of the hay to his gamer. This stands for total worthlessness.
Neither do they that go by say, The blessing of Jehovah be upon you; or we bless you in the name of Jehovah
(Psalms 129:8). Such expressions as these were the customary greetings of the Jews who might pass by where an abundant harvest was being gathered. This crop of rooftop grass was so utterly worthless that, as Yates said, It was not even worth the customary greeting of those passing by.F13
Footnotes for Psalms 129
1: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. IV, p. 674.
2: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Old Testament, p. 543.
3: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 532.
4: H. C. Leupold, p. 898.
5: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 386.
6: H. C. Leupold, p. 898.
7: Derek Kidner, Vol. II, p. 444.
8: Leslie C. Allen, Vol. II, p. 187.
10: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Vol. II, p. 247.
11: Derek Kidner, op. cit., p. 445.
13: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Old Testament, p. 544.