Our psalm for consideration today as we prepare to worship at our sovereign God’s footstool is Psalm 129. This is the tenth of the “song of degrees” or “ascent”, sung by the Israelite pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the solemn seasons of worship according to the law of the Lord. As they made their way to the city of God, they were conscious of many things, including their enemies, as we have seen previously (see especially Psalms 120, 124).
According to Psalm 129 the people of God were conscious of these foes of the Lord and themselves again and sang this song along the way:
Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say:
2 Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.
4 The Lord is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:
7 Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
8 Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we bless you in the name of the Lord.
Why sing of such haters of Zion? Why sing/pray for the ruin of these enemies of the church? Because Israel realized how important her cause and calling was. The worship of the one, true and living God was the highest activity in which Israel could be engaged. It is the chief purpose of the church to praise and glorify the God of the whole earth, the God Who is her Lord by creation and redemption in Jesus Christ. God must be exalted – in the church and among the nations. He must be shown to be God alone and all idols shown to be nothing.
And therefore, the worship of this one, true God was Israel’s holiest activity and her highest witness to the wicked world around her. And as the NT church, we must know that our worship of the Lord still is this.
Which is why this worship is so hated, so despised, and so opposed. This is why Zion, God’s true, worshiping church in the world is so afflicted, even from his youth (vss.1-2). Because the wicked and unbelieving cannot stand to see the one, true God exalted and praised and their own idols and worship condemned and put down. Their carnal enmity against God is roused when they see Zion marching to worship Him, and so they attack God’s people and try to prevent them from worshiping (v.3). They would never give their blessing and encouragement to the church in her journey to Jerusalem (v.8).No, they hate Zion and curse her (Remember Balak?!).
And again, as God’s NT church, we must know it is still the same. We may not experience that hatred and opposition so directly in this country (Though it is increasing all the time!), but in many parts of the world believers in the true God and Father of Jesus Christ do. The persecution of God’s true worshipers continues to this day.
And so the church then and now may and must sing the words of Psalm 129. Such words may be viewed as “intolerant” in our day; they may be viewed as “hate speech” on the part of the church. But these inspired words of God are also put into her mouth: “Let them be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.” For, yes, our God is righteous (v.4)! He is the just Judge of all men, including the wicked Who hate Zion.
In praying for the overthrow of her enemeies the church is not acting out of personal spite or revenge. She is commiting her way to the Judge of heaven and earth. She is seeking the revelation of the perfect justice of the righteous God, Who blesses and rewards good-doers and Who curses and punishes evil-doers. This God is the great Savior and Defender of His church (v.4). He protects His true worshipers so that the wicked do not prevail against them (v.2b). And therefore to this God Zion prays.
And so, as Israel sang this as she went up to Jerusalem, so do we who go up to the spiritual city of God. Conscious of our foes, as the OT church was, we sing with her, “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth….” May our sovereign Savior and faithful Father hear our prayer and answer us in mercy. For Christ’s sake, because as sinners, we too are by nature the enemies of God. But now, for Jesus’ sake, we are covenant friends. Let us draw near and worship!
If you should desire to reflect on Psalm 129 through the music of the Psalter, I point you to this special versification of it found in the songbook the PRC uses in public worship. Below are the lyrics; at the link provided here you will also find piano accompaniment.
1. Through all the years, may Israel say,
My bitter foes have oft assailed,
Have sought my hurt in fierce array,
Yet over me have not prevailed.
2. Though scars of conflict and distress
Remain to tell of trials past,
Jehovah in His righteousness
Has safely brought us through at last.
3. The foes of Zion shall be brought
To hopeless flight and put to shame;
Their wicked plans shall come to nought
And all mankind forget their name.
4. To them no kindly friend shall say,
God bless you now and speed you well;
No grateful heart for them shall pray,
May God’s rich blessing on you dwell.