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Psalm 129

Jorine Johnson

1 “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”

    let Israel say;

2 “they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,

    but they have not gained the victory over me.

3 Plowmen have plowed my back

    and made their furrows long.

4 But the Lord is righteous;

    he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”

5 May all who hate Zion

    be turned back in shame.

6 May they be like grass on the roof,

    which withers before it can grow;

7 a reaper cannot fill his hands with it,

    nor one who gathers fill his arms.

8 May those who pass by not say to them,

    “The blessing of the Lord be on you;

    we bless you in the name of the Lord.”

This is a psalm to the Lord about the oppression of God’s people and how the oppressors will stand in judgement of the Lord. The first insight informs how long the oppression has been for Israel, and the reference to youth may mean that Israel’s oppression has existed since they were a young nation in the promised land. This could be the cycle of oppression that occurred in Israel by hostile nations that oppressed. In judges we read how they stole food, took land, and made life very miserable for the Israelites. And it is possible that the oppression still took place in the time of this psalm whether it was during the time of the kings or the exile or even after the exile when other nations and groups of people would still oppress the Israelites like in the time of Nehemiah. 

But the psalmist says despite the oppression — that “they have not gained victory over me” (v 2). This is an incredible statement to say when we read the next verse of how the oppression looks like. 

They have plowed their backs which is certainly a form of exaggeration to explain the pain that they experience at the hand of the enemies. The furrows are by definition a “long narrow trench made in the ground by a plow, especially for planting seeds or for irrigation.” It’s possible with the plowed back, this could be a reference for them digging graves for the Israelites. 

And the psalmist says that despite all of these oppressive actions taken against the Israelites, that he recognizes the power of God and His righteous judgement. Because of the righteousness of God, he cut the cords or released the shackles of the wicked. They are full of shame like grass on the roof without root and with a temporary existence before it becomes wiped clean and removed. They will not prosper and are withheld from the blessings of God. Psalm 127 explains the blessings of God, and that is the exact opposite for the wicked who do not fear God nor obey Him (Ps 126:1).

For believers, redeemed by Christ Jesus and set free, we know that any ties of the enemy cannot keep us enslaved and in oppression. We are set free from the slavery of sin so that the power of sin cannot control us. Even death cannot entrap as death has lost its sting. What have we to fear? We have victory in Jesus Christ!

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