The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 129

Psa 129:1


FROM MY YOUTH: A brief glance at all of Israel's checkered history: from her youth, spent in Egyptian bondage (Hos 2:15; 11:1; Jer 2:2), to the present time she has been afflicted by the wicked. Yet Israel still lives, while the chariots of Pharaoh and the swords of the Philistines, the scornful words of Rabshakeh and the host of Sennacherib, are no more.

Psa 129:2

FROM MY YOUTH: (NT) When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hos 11:1). Jesus was afflicted from his youth; even the birth of this holy child brought death in its wake. The swords of Herod's murderous "men of war" did their heartless work; anguished cries arose to heaven as mothers clasped lifeless forms to their breasts. Yet the power of the enemy could not prevail against God's Anointed. In Egypt he was sheltered until the death of the mad Herod, and from there he was brought back to the Land of Promise. It was a prelude to the Father's purpose to be accomplished in him -- that one day many sons and daughters would be delivered from "Egyptian" slavery through divinely-arranged trials to eternal glory.

Psa 129:3

PLOWMEN HAVE PLOWED MY BACK AND MADE THEIR FURROWS LONG: In this unusual figure of speech, Hezekiah seems to identify himself with the Land itself, the very soil of Abraham's promised possession. God loves this Land, and He has caused His Name and His glory to abide there. Even when He has put a curse upon it, and it is defiled by the tracks of alien chariots and the furrows of alien plows, still God delights in His Land, and still His ultimate purpose is that it will one day blossom as the rose. (Cp, generally, the prophecy by Micah that Zion or Jerusalem would be plowed like a field: Mic 3:12; Jer 26:18.)

(NT) The Messianic passage of Isa 50:6 -- a part of the "Suffering Servant" prophecies that answer so well in the first place to Hezekiah -- tells of a circumstance similar to this verse: "I gave my back to the smiters." The cruel strokes of the Roman scourge (Mat 27:26; cp Isa 53:5) are compared here to the furrows of a plow, they are so deep and long. The afflictions of Jesus, as the ideal "Israel" and the perfect man, culminated in the extremity of scourging, buffeting, and spitting. (Compare also the experiences of Paul and others, by which they came to understand the "fellowship of his sufferings": Phi 3:10; Acts 16:23; Col 1:24; Heb 11:36; Gal 6:17; 2Co 11:24).

Psa 129:4

THE LORD IS RIGHTEOUS: Both in the tribulations He brings on His people, and in the retribution He metes out to their cruel adversaries. As in Lam 1:18, the most intense chastenings call forth from the best of men the recognition that God is indeed righteous, and that man suffers justly (Luke 23:41). The strokes from the Lord are designed to recall man to the traces of patient service.

THE CORDS OF THE WICKED: This links this verse with the preceding one. God has cut the cords of the plow that oppressed Israel, and it is fallen useless to the ground. God has cut the cords that bound Israel to Gentile servitude, and she is now free to serve her Lord.

(NT) The cords which bound Jesus to the "altar" (Psa 116:3; 118:27).

Psa 129:5

ALL WHO HATE ZION: And its temple and its God. A study of the tirades addressed to Hezekiah and Jerusalem (Isa 36; 37) and also the "idolatry" chapters in Isaiah (Isa 44, 46, and others) reveals that the driving motive for the invasion was to vindicate the greatness of the gods of Nineveh (humbled by Jonah two generations earlier), and to humiliate Yahweh and those who worshiped Him.

TURNED BACK IN SHAME: The king of Assyria returned to his own land in shame: "And the Lord sent an angel which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land... Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side" (2Ch 32:21,22; Isa 37:22,28,29,35).

Psa 129:6

GRASS ON THE ROOF, WHICH WITHERS BEFORE IT CAN GROW: Travelers in the Holy Land have corroborated this striking imagery. Thomson tells of climbing to a rooftop in Jerusalem for a view of the Tyropean valley; he found that grass which had grown over the roof during the rainy season was then entirely withered and perfectly dry. If the eastern sun did not destroy this housetop foliage, then the constant trampling of feet would, for the roof was a favorite resort of city folk during the summer (LB 682). Only other occurrences of this figure: 2Ki 19:25,26; Isa 37:26,27. "All flesh is grass" (Isa 40:6-8; Mar 1:3; Joh 1:23; 1Pe 1:24). Also, Psa 37:1,2.

Psa 129:7

And so the Assyrians in their military ranks -- generals, officers, companies, platoons, right down to the last youthful recruit, 185,000 of them -- a great "crop" of mankind, a glorious panoply that had struck terror in the hearts of a dozen peoples... perished as the grass of late summer. Like the lilies of the field, their glory was a vain abbreviated show; like the grass on the housetops, their high place was their ruin; like the seed of Christ's parable that sprouted in shallow soil, their strength was without root.

Psa 129:8

The psalm closes with two harvest blessings, drawing our minds back to Psa 126. As for the grass that withers before it grows up, the passers by will never say to its reapers, "The blessings of the Lord be upon you." Neither will the reapers respond with their greeting, "We bless you in the name of the Lord." These were the traditional words of blessing at the ingathering. With such words the angel of the Lord met Gideon as he threshed wheat in a winepress, hiding from the Midianites (Jdg 6:12). In such manner Boaz blessed his workmen and they returned his salutation (Rth 2:4; cp also 2Th 3:16).

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