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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 129

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Psalms 129:1-8

Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.

The persecuted condition of godly men on this earth

As suffering under the hand of wicked persecution. The persecution here referred to was--

1. Of early commencement (verse 1). It is ever so; the persecutions of godly men begin in this life in the very youthhood of their religion.

2. Frequent in its occurrence.

3. Violent in its character (verse 3). (Isaiah 51:23; Micah 3:12.) This language finds its application in--

(1) Christ.

(2) His Church.

As engaging the merciful interposition of heaven (verse 4).

1. He is engaged in sustaining them. The bush burned on, but was not consumed. The branches were torn up, but the roots struck deeper. Not all the enemies of Christ “prevailed” against Him. Heaven always sustains the good.

2. He is engaged in delivering them. The plough is fastened by “cords” to the yoke of the oxen, and they draw its tearing iron through the ground. If you would stop the plough you must cut the “cords.” This is the figure, God in righteousness will one day stop the plough of persecution, He will deliver His people out of all their troubles.

As rising triumphantly over all their enemies (Psalms 129:5-8). Persecutors will be utterly routed, driven back with burning shame, with panic dread. This was the case with Pharaoh, Sennacherib, with Haman, Herod; aye, with persecutors in every age. “I will break your church in pieces with a hammer, if you do not obey me,” said a French monarch to a Protestant pastor. Calm and dignified was the reply: “This anvil has broken many a hammer.” (Homilist.)

Persecuted, but not forsaken

The life of the Lord Jesus Christ is the picture of the life of His people. “As He was,” says Paul, “so are we also in this world.” This is so remarkably true that, in the Psalms, we sometimes can hardly tell whether the writer is describing himself or the Lord Jesus. Shall the disciple be above his Master,? Shall the servant be above his Lord? If they have persecuted Him, they will also persecute us.

First notice, concerning Israel’s affliction, whence it came: “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.” Who was it that afflicted Israel? The text says, “they.” And why is the word “they” used? Because to enter into particulars would rather obscure the sense than impress anything upon the memory. “They.” I hardly like to think of who they are who, in many cases, have afflicted God’s true servants; but it is still true that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” A woman is just brought to Christ, and her greatest trouble comes from him whom she loves best of all living mortals; her husband becomes her terror. Outside, in the world, the Christian man frequently meets with those who would rejoice to see him halt, who try to make faults where there are none, and exaggerate little mistakes into great crimes. He is a pilgrim through the midst of Vanity Fair whom the traders there cannot understand. In his case, that ancient word is again fulfilled (Jeremiah 12:9).

How does this persecution come? The psalm says, “Many a time”; that means very often. So, then, you who are faithful to God must expect that you will frequently be assailed.

What is the reason for all this persecution? There are two reasons; and the first is the hatred of the serpent and his seed. There are two things that are inconceivable in length and breadth. The first is the love of God to His people, which is altogether without limit; and the next is, the hatred of the devil, which is and must be finite, for he is only a creature; but, still, it is as great as it possibly can be. Still, there is a higher reason for the persecution of the saints. The second reason is because God permits it. Why does He permit it? Well, very often for your safety. The Church of God has often been preserved by persecution; she was never purer, she was never truer, and she never lived nearer to God and more like her Saviour, than when she was persecuted. Next, it is for our trial and testing, to separate the precious from the vile. Satan, in persecuting the saints, is simply a scullion in Christ’s kitchen, cleansing His pots and pans; they never are so bright as when he scours them, and it is a scouring with a vengeance. Yet, in that way, ha separates, or God through him separates, between the precious and the vile.

The blessings which come to the tried children of God through their troubles. I do so enjoy the reading of that part of the psalm where it says, “But they have not prevailed against me.” You see a troop of horsemen riding into the very midst of the battle, and you lose sight of them for a moment amidst the dust and smoke; but out of the middle of that cloud you hear the brave captain’s cry, “They have not prevailed against me.” You see that little band advancing into a yet more crowded host, all glaring upon them like wolves. Surely they will be cut to pieces now; but in the very centre of the struggling mass you see the banner still waving, and again comes the cry, “They have not prevailed against me.” That is, in brief, the story of the Church of Christ, and that shall be the story of every man who puts his trust in God; he shall have to say, at the close of every trouble,--aye, and even in the midst of it,--“They have not prevailed against me.” What is the reason why the enemy cannot prevail against the saints? “The Lord is righteous.” He may delay the overthrow of His people’s foes; but He will in the end take their part, and display His almighty power. For the present, He is patient; He bears long with the ungodly; but He will not always do so. The fact that “the Lord is righteous” is the pledge that the wicked shall not prevail over His saints. Then notice the next sentence: “He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.” Literally, “He hath cut the traces of the wicked.” They are ploughing, you see; and, in the East, the oxen are fastened to the plough by a long cord. What does God do in the middle of their ploughing? There are the bullocks, and there is the plough; but God has cut the harness; and how wonderfully He has sometimes cut the harness of the persecutors of His people! Look at the way He did this for our poor hunted brethren in Piedmont. They were likely every one of them to be crushed; and, apparently, there was nobody to protect them. The Duke of Savoy, whose subjects they were, had given them up to be destroyed. The next country was France, and the King of France was a Roman Catholic, and as eager for their destruction as was the Duke. But, one day, Oliver Cromwell sent for the French ambassador, and said to him, “Tell your master to order the Duke of Savoy to leave off persecuting my brethren in Piedmont, or he shall hear from me about the matter.” “Sire,” said the ambassador, “they are not the subjects of the King of France; he has nothing to do with them. The Duke of Savoy is an independent prince; we cannot interfere with him.” “I do not care for that,” replied Cromwell; “I will hold your king answerable if he does not stop the Duke of Savoy from persecuting the Piedmontese.” And they knew that “Old Nell” meant what he said; so, somehow, the King of France managed to interfere with that precious independent prince, and told him that he had better cease his persecutions, for, if he did not, Oliver Cromwell would take up the quarrel. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The afflictions and triumphs of the Church of Christ

The afflictions and triumphs of the Church of Christ. Scarcely was the Church organized, after our Divine Redeemer’s ascension into heaven, when she was assailed by three descriptions of enemies, either all at once, or consecutively, viz. the prejudices of authority and human wisdom,--the violence of persecution,--and the errors and heresies of false teachers. In all these respects the Church has been afflicted from her youth, yet her enemies have not prevailed against her.

The impressions which the contemplation of the afflictions and triumphs of the Church of God ought to produce upon our minds.

1. In the Church, always afflicted and persecuted, yet still subsisting,--like the bush, burning but unconsumed,--behold a confirmation of our faith, and an evident demonstration that the religion of Jesus Christ is from God.

2. Further, the conformity of our own reformed Church, as well as of all the other orthodox Protestant Churches, with the primitive Christian Church, in her afflictions and triumphs, furnishes us with an irrefragable proof of the truth of the holy religion which they and we profess.

What, now, are the practical instructions which we may derive from the important topics which we have been considering?

1. Since God has, in His mercy, called us out of papal darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel, let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; seeing that it is based, not upon unauthorized human traditions, but upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone;--the great and fundamental object of all the predictions of the prophets, and of the preaching and writings of the holy apostles.

2. Let us devoutly bless the Father of Mercies, who remembered the Church of Christ in her low estate, for His mercy endureth for ever; and through whose propitious aid, and providential interpositions, the Reformation was accomplished, and our civil and religious liberties have been secured and transmitted to us.

3. Let us pity and pray for those nations of the earth who are yet under the yoke of papal dominion and superstition,--would that I could say, are groaning under it.

4. Above all, since the Almighty, when lie bestows extraordinary favours upon man, expects from him a proportionate return of gratitude, let us remember the solemn obligations under which we are individually laid, as Protestant Christians, to exhibit a corresponding excellence of Christian character, as the necessary result of “a true and lively faith”; since we enjoy advantages and privileges which involve the possessors of them in no ordinary degree of moral responsibility. (T. H. Horne, B. D.)

Affliction may strengthen

Care must be taken not to make too much account of the effect exercised by the great convulsions of nature on the moral condition of a people. The need of this precaution is well shown by the social history of Iceland. This country has for the thousand years of its history been subjected to imminent peril from the instability of the earth as well as from the inhospitable nature of its climate. In almost every century of the world’s history famine caused by the accidents of the earth and air has menaced the life of the population. Many successive volcanic outbreaks, attended by serious earthquakes, have convulsed this island, and yet amid these mishaps the people have maintained the highest measure of social order in any state of which we have a history. The Icelanders have had the moral strength to rise superior to such afflictions. In this state, as in certain individuals, chastise-merit which would have destroyed weaker natures served to affirm the vigour of the strong people. (Shaler: “Aspects of the Earth.”)

Verse 4

Psalms 129:4

The cords of the wicked.

Cumulative power of cords of sin

“The other day,” says the Rev. F. B. Meyer, “I had to address some two thousand children, and, fearing that I might fail to secure their attention, I called a lad of twelve into my pulpit, and proceeded to wind around him a long knotted entanglement, first cotton, then string, next twine, next small cord, afterwards rope, ending with a chain and padlock. Of course he could break the cotton, but this led swiftly to the string, and this to a stronger, and so on, till at last the clasp of the padlock made him fast, my prisoner, ‘bound by the cords of his habits.’ And I think those boys and girls will never forget the lesson of the inevitable connection between thoughts--acts--habits--character--destiny.”

Verse 6

Psalms 129:6

Let them be as the grass upon the housetops.

The unholy life

Such a life is--

Transient (verse 6). Wickedness is inimical to longevity. What are all-the possessions, pleasures, the pomps, and grandeurs of unholy men l Mere fading flowers of the field.

Useless (verse 7). Ungodly men may leave behind them their worldly possessions that may become useful to others; but what they leave behind them morally in the way of sound teaching and life-example is worth nothing; nay, it is worse than worthless.

Unblessed (verse 8). Who can bless the memory of the wicked, the memory of those who have lived lives entirely selfish, sensual, secular, utterly regardless of the interests and rights of others? They can only be cursed. (David Thomas, D. D.)

Unstable prosperity

In the East, the houses have generally flat roofs. These are covered with a kind of compost or cement. This should obstruct all vegetation; but if chipped and broken up in any part, grass seeds carried there by the wind take root and grow. The plant springs up rapidly, from the thinness of the soil, and from its warm exposure. From its elevated situation it is seen at a distance, and makes a goodly show. But the same causes make the plant feeble and shrivelled, and it withers before it reaches maturity. Who would covet such prosperity as this? It is not the tall, majestic tree, which has withstood the winds and storms of centuries. It is as grass; not even as grass sown in the humble valley, full of moisture, and rich in beauty: it is as grass on the housetop, which dies before the ears are fully formed. Their prosperity has no stability: its roots are not deep in the Divine blessing. (N. McMichael.)

An emblem of Israel blest by the Lord

is a wide field of thickly-growing corn stirred by gentle breezes under a ripening sun. As the labourers, humming or shouting snatches of cheery song, bind the sheaves, and carry load after load away, they receive friendly salutations from people passing by. Nearly two hundred years before this psalm was produced, Isaiah sketched the pride, impotence and ruin of Israel’s foes. They that hate Zion are “as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up” (Isaiah 37:27). The flat roof of an Eastern dwelling is no more the place for vegetation than Jerusalem is a proper field for Gentile and Samaritan ploughers; but so long as there are winds to blow particles of earth into crevices and corners, dews and showers to moisten the drifted dust, and birds of the air to sow seeds, the best cemented housetop is not proof against the appearance of straggling and struggling blades. The enemies of Israel shall be “as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up,” which for want of nourishment at the roots dries and dies before it can be pulled: “wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.” Let who will express approbation of the salutations interchanged by Mohammedans when they meet, so long as they do not speak of them as if they originated with Turks and Moors. Such greetings are the remnant, in many countries, of a beautiful primitive custom. The Book of Ruth supplies a delightful glimpse of a harvest field thirteen hundred years before the Christian era (Ruth 2:4). The thought is ridiculous of housetop harvesting occasioning such benedictions. Equally out of question is it for the Church’s adversaries to be blessed by God or man. (E. J. Robinson.)

Verse 8

Psalms 129:8

The blessing of the Lord he upon you.

Mutual benediction

Although mutuality is beautiful, we are not to be, as Christians, dependent on it. “Bless them that curse you.” “Being reviled, we bless.” Our responsibilities are the same, under all conditions of human life. Bug it is a pleasant and helpful thing when there is mutuality of blessing.

The spirit of the Christian life is that we should live in others. This is not merely a doctrine of abstract truth; it is a revelation of the life of God in Christ. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life,--His life of thought, His life of toil, His life of pity and compassion, His life of sorrow, His life of suffering, even unto death, for our sakes. So His whole history was a benediction, and He has left us as partakers of the Divine nature through Him the legacy of His joy and of His peace.

There are special occasions for the ministration of blessing; seasons when we are more alive to our own mercies; seasons when our warm fire-light contrasts with the cold hearths of the poor; seasons of health and strength, when we are called to sympathize with hopeless and incurable disease.

The spirit of blessing is the spirit of universal ministry. We are not all called to do the same thing, we are not all called to be bishops, or deacons, or teachers. There are diversities of operation. God chooses His instruments, calls them to their work. You cannot find the man or woman, child or father, master or servant you cannot bless. You may be ineloquent, but you can bless with a look. You may find yourself so nervous that your words are inaudible before man, but for you the whisper at the Throne of Grace is possible.

The spirit of mutual blessing acts as a reminder of mercies. We are too apt to forget them, too apt to take them for granted, too apt to have the blessing and not to trace it up to the great Giver. Perhaps I have taken God’s mercies as though it was natural and proper for me to receive them, as though the consciousness of having done my duty ought to lead me to expect reward; as though my endeavour ought to have been so honoured; as though living a pure life I ought to have health; as though being friendly I ought to have friends. The text reminds us it is “the blessing of the Lord.” We shall never know the meaning of the word “blessing” until we look back upon life from the great battlements of heaven, and see all the way that the Lord led us in, to humble us, to prove us, and to try what was in our heart.

The spirit of mutual blessing is the spirit of the sanctuary. “We bless you in the name of the Lord,” and in another part we read, “We bless you out of the house of the Lord.” That is to be, as I take it, the spirit of the Church, and the Church has need to learn in all ages that lesson. The Church of Christ is to be the Church of restoration. If a man err, we are to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness. If men are cast down, we are to lift them up; we are to strengthen the hands that hang down and the feeble knees, and to say to them that are of a fearful heart, “Thy God reigneth.” (W. M. Statham.)

An ancient salutation

This ancient salutation still lingers in the East. And a delightful thing it would be were there a greater manifestation of courteous and devotional feeling in the harvest fields at home. Beyond the sacred circle of the Church, there is no sight so cheering under the broad vault of heaven as a rich field of corn, and the reapers cutting it down. It fills the heart with gladness, and sends the thoughts upward to Him who sends His sunshine, and rains, and dews, and crowns the year with His goodness. An abundant harvest is an unmixed benefit. It sometimes happens that the prosperity of one man is purchased at the expense of others; and that, to make his lamp burn brightly, many a lamp is extinguished, or sends forth a faint and flickering light. But here all are gainers, and none are losers. And hence we can ask the Divine favour to descend upon those who are engaged in cutting it down; and we can say with an enlightened conscience, The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we bless you in the name of the Lord. The reapers, too, on the harvest field should recollect, more than is always done, that God whose bounty is seen in every handful of corn they lay hold of. Why should God be so distant from us, when engaged in the ordinary pursuits of life? Why not acknowledge Him in all our ways? Why should it be supposed that He has nothing to do with us, and that we have nothing to do with Him, except on Sabbaths and in sanctuaries? Why should not the law of kindness be on our tongue, and the spirit of courtesy sweeten our daily intercourse? Why should we not care for each other’s welfare, and supplicate God, in the fine devotional feeling of the ancient world: “We bless you in the name of the Lord”? (N. McMichael.)


Psalms 130:1-8

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 129". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-129.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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