November 11th – Les Kovacs Psalm 129
Observe: Psalm 129 is the tenth of the fifteen Songs of Ascent. As the people journeyed in groups to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the religious festivals, they sang these Psalms. This Psalm remembered the occasions when God delivered them from their enemies and brings a curse down on the heads of their oppressors.
In the opening 4 verses the psalmist describes how they were oppressed from their youth, and how these oppressors bound them in cruel slavery. Yet though they were oppressed, they were not defeated, because the Lord had cut their cords of bondage.
The final 4 verses call for retribution on all who hate them. The psalmist wants them all to be covered in shame, and to wither and die like grass on a roof. No blessings from God are to be offered to them.
Interpret: When you read Psalm 129, you can sense the psalmist's pain, an enduring pain that lingers from the time he was a child. It is a pain that has left bitterness in his heart. It is expressed as a personal pain, but it is one that that is shared with all the people of Israel, a kind of collective, national lament. The psalmist invites the other pilgrims to repeat the line with him, "Let Israel now say.” Their oppressors were cruel and brutal. "The Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long." (verse 3) referring to the welts and scars on his back made by flogging and beating that remind him of a plowed field. The suffering was painful and long, but now it is over. The Lord is just and righteous. He has delivered them out of their slavery. The Lord has cut the ropes and they are free, He has cut the “cords of the wicked" (verse 4).
Even though the Lord has freed them from their oppression, the bitterness of the experience remains, and the psalm concludes with a curse on the enemies who have done this to him and to Israel. The curse expresses the animosity built up in them towards their enemies. Their oppressors had shamed Israel in the past, so now let them be ashamed and defeated. Let their assault on God's people be turned back on them.
In ancient Israel, neighbors would usually greet one another as they walked by saying, "God bless you." But for the enemies of Israel, the psalmist declares that no one should greet them and wish them well. No one. “May those who pass by not say to them, “The blessing of the Lord be on you;” (verse 8)
Application: As Christians, it can be difficult for us to reconcile the psalmists asking God to curse their enemies, sometimes in the cruelest of terms, while Jesus calls us to forgive them. Is that a contradiction in scripture? Does God curse people? No. Absolutely not. Any hardships, difficulties, or challenges we face in life, the “curses” as the psalmists put it, are a result of sin, either ours or someone else’s, not God. Nothing about living a “cursed” life is willed by God, just the opposite! His will for us is clearly revealed through Jesus Christ in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
What we see here is an example of "progressive revelation". These are scriptural truths that are revealed gradually, over time. Remember that the Patriarchs actually met the Lord, but they weren’t shown everything about His whole character or His righteousness. The psalmists experienced God, but they weren’t given complete understanding of His grace and love for His people. It is through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ in the New Testament that we begin to understand what real love, mercy and grace means. And even when we do understand it, we find it hard to put it into practice in our daily lives.
As we endure our own injustices, we may empathize with the writer of the psalm as we cry, “But they deserve to be cursed! They're evil! They're unjust! They’re cruel!” as we wallow in our bitterness and resentment. But Jesus brings us a new truth, a new way to live. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-44)
Psalm 129 teaches us that while we may be sorely afflicted by various oppressions, we are not defeated because the Lord has "cut the cords of the wicked" and set us free. However, it has little to teach us about grace. It takes Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for us to learn about grace and to extend that grace even to our enemies.
Furthermore, we sometimes forget that we too may be counted among the wicked for the various sins we commit against each other and against Him. None of us can stand before God in our own righteousness. Jesus took our curse of our sins upon Himself and stood in our place before the Judge of all Creation. His sacrifice cut the cords of all the wicked, once and for all.
Prayer: Thank you for delivering us from our afflictions, O Lord. Thank you for cutting the cords of the wicked in answer to our prayers. And thank you for taking our curse upon yourself, so that we need not curse our enemies, but rather love them with the radical love that we find at the cross. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Song: Psalm 129 – Jason Silver
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.