PSALM 129 OVERVIEW.
Title. A Song of Degrees. I fail to see how this is a step beyond the previous Psalm; and yet it is clearly the song of an older and more tried individual, who looks back upon a life of affliction in which he suffered all along, even from his youth. Inasmuch as patience is a higher, or at least more difficult, grace than domestic love, the ascent or progress may perhaps be seen in that direction. Probably if we knew more of the stations on the road to the Temple we should see a reason for the order of these Psalms; but as that information cannot be obtained, we must take the songs as we find them, and remember that, as we do not now go on pilgrimages to Zion, it is our curiosity and not oar necessity which is a loser by our not knowing the cause of the arrangement of the songs in this Pilgrim Psalter.
AUTHOR, ETC. -- It does not seem to us at all needful to ascribe this Psalm to a period subsequent to the captivity ... indeed, it is more suitable to a time when as yet the enemy bad not so far prevailed as to have carried the people indo a distant land. It is a mingled hymn of sorrow and of strong resolve. Though sorely smitten, the afflicted one is heart whole, and scorns to yield in the least degree to the enemy. The poet sings the trials of Israel, Psalms 129:1-3 ; the interposition of the Lord, Psalms 129:4 ; and the unblessed condition of Israel's foes, Psalms 129:5-8 . It is a rustic song, full of allusions to husbandry. It reminds us of the books of Ruth and Amos.
Verse 1. Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say. In her present hour of trial she may remember her former afflictions and speak of them for her comfort, drawing from them the assurance that he who has been with her for so long will not desert her in the end. The song begins abruptly. The poet has been musing, and the fire burns, therefore speaks he with his tongue; he cannot help it, he feels that he must speak, and therefore "may now say" what he has to say. The trials of the church have been repeated again and again, times beyond all count: the same afflictions are fulfilled in us as in our fathers. Jacob of old found his days full of trouble; each Israelite is often harassed; and Israel as a whole has proceeded from tribulation to tribulation. "Many a time", Israel says, because she could not say how many times. She speaks of her assailants as "they", because it would be impossible to write or even to know all their names. They had straitened, harassed, and fought against her from the earliest days of her history -- from her youth; and they had continued their assaults right on without ceasing. Persecution is the heirloom of the church, and the ensign of the elect. Israel among the nations was peculiar, and this peculiarity brought against her many restless foes, who could never be easy unless they were warring against the people of God. When in Canaan, at the first, the chosen household was often severely tried; in Egypt it was heavily oppressed; in the wilderness it was fiercely assailed; and in the promised land it was often surrounded by deadly enemies. It was something for the afflicted nation that it survived to say, "Many a time have they afflicted me." The affliction began early -- "from my youth"; and it continued late. The earliest years of Israel and of the Church of God are spent in trial. Babes in grace are cradled in opposition. No sooner is the man child born than the dragon is after it. "It is", however, "good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth", and he shall see it to be so when in after days he tells the tale.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. In the "degrees" of Christian virtue the Psalm corresponds to the tenth step, which is patience in adversity. --H. T. Armfield.
Whole Psalm. The following incident in connection with the glorious return of the Vaudois under Henri Arnaud is related in Muston's "Israel of the Alps": -- "After these successes the gallant patriots took an oath of fidelity to each other, and celebrated divine service in one of their own churches, for the first time since their banishment. The enthusiasm of the moment was irrepressible; they chanted the seventy-fourth Psalm to the clash of arms; and Henri Arnaud, mounting the pulpit with a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other, preached from the Hundred and twenty-ninth Psalm, and once more declared, in the face of heaven, that he would never resume his pastoral office in patience and peace, until he should witness the restoration of his brethren to their ancient and rightful settlements."
Verse 1. Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.
- How old these afflictions are: "From my youth." Aye, from my infancy, birth and conception.
- There is the frequency and iteration of these afflictions. They were oft and many: "many a time."
- There is the grievousness of these afflictions, expressed by a comparison. "The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows." So these were old afflictions -- from her youth. They were many a time: more times than can be numbered. And then they were grievous, even like iron ploughs, drawing deep and long furrows on their back. --Alexander Henderson.
Verse 1. Many a time have they afflicted me, etc. God had one Son, and but one Son, without sin; but never any without sorrow. We may be God's children, and yet still under persecution; his Israel, and afflicted from our youth up. We may feel God's hand as a Father upon us when he strikes us as well as when he strokes us. When he strokes us, it is lest we faint under his hand; and when he strikes us, it is that we should know his hand. -- Abraham Wright (1611-1690), in "A Practical Commentary upon the Psalms."
Verse 1. They. In speaking of the enemies of Israel simply by the pronoun "they", without being more specific, the Psalmist aggravates the greatness of the evil more than if he had expressly named the Assyrians or the Egyptians. By not specifying any particular class of foes, he tacitly intimates that the world is filled with innumerable bands of enemies, whom Satan easily arms for the destruction of good men, his object being that new wars may arise continually on every side. History certainly bears ample testimony that the people of God had not to deal with a few enemies, but that they were assaulted by almost the whole world; and further, that they were molested not only by external foes, but also by those of an internal kind, by such as professed to belong to the Church. -- John Calvin.
Verse 1. They afflicted me. Why are these afflictions of the righteous? Whence is it that he who has given up his Son to death for them, should deny them earthly blessings? Why is faith a mourner so frequently here below, and with all that heroic firmness in her aspect, and hope of glory in her eye, why needs she to be painted with so deep a sorrow on her countenance, and the trace of continual tears on her check? First, we reply, for her own safety. Place religion out of the reach of sorrow, and soon she would pine and perish. God is said to choose his people in the furnace, because they most often choose him there.
It is ever from the cross that the most earnest "My God" proceeds, and never is the cry heard but he speeds forth at its utterance, who once hung there, to support, to comfort, and to save.
As it is only in affliction God is sought, so by many it is only in affliction God is known. This, one of the kings of these worshippers of the Temple found. "When Manasseh was brought to affliction, then he knew that the Lord he was God": 2Ch 33:12-13.
But, further, it is only by affliction we ourselves are known. What is the source of that profound and obstinate indifference to divine truth which prevails among men of the world, except the proud conviction that they may dispense with it? It is only when they are crushed as the worm they are made to feel that the dust is their source; only when earthly props are withdrawn will they take hold of that arm of omnipotence which Jesus offers, and which he has offered so long in vain.
While men know themselves, they know their sin also in affliction. What is the natural course and experience of the unbelieving of mankind? Transgression, remorse, and then forgetfulness; new transgression, new sorrow, and again forgetfulness. How shall this carelessness be broken? How convince them that they stand in need of a Saviour as the first and deepest want of their being, and that they can only secure deliverance from wrath eternal by a prompt and urgent application to him? By nothing so effectually as by affliction. God's children, who had forgotten him, arise and go to their Father when thus smitten by the scourge of sorrow; and no sooner is the penitent "Father, I have sinned" spoken, than they are clasped in his arms, and safe and happy in his love.
It is, further, by affliction that the world is known to God's children. God's great rival is the world. The lust of the flesh, pleasure; the lust of the eye, desire; the pride of life, the longing to be deemed superior to those about us, -- comprise everything man naturally covets. Give us ease, honour, distinction, and all life's good will seem obtained. But what wilt thou do, when he shall judge thee? This is a question fitted to alarm the happiest of the children of prosperity.
What so frequently and effectually shows the necessity of piety as the sharp teachings of affliction? They show what moralists and preachers never could, that riches profit not in the day of death, that pleasures most fully enjoyed bring no soothing to the terrors which nearness to eternity presents, and that friends, however affectionate, cannot plead for and save us at the bar of God. "Miserable comforters are they all", and it is for the very purpose of inspiring this conviction, along with a belief that it is Jesus alone who can comfort in the hour of need, that affliction is sent to God's children. --Robert Nisbet.
Verse 1. From my youth. The first that ever died, died for religion; so early came martyrdom into the world. --John Trapp.
Verse 1-2. -- 1. The visible Church from the beginning of the world is one body, and, as it were, one man, growing up from infancy to riper age; for so speaketh the church here: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth. 2. The wicked enemies of the church, they also are one body, one adverse army, from the beginning of the world continuing war against the church: "Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth." 3. As the former injuries done to the church are owned by the church, in after ages, as done against the same body, so also the persecution of former enemies is imputed and put upon the score of present persecutors: "Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say." 4. New experience of persecution, when they call to mind the exercise of the church in former ages, serves much for encouragement and consolation in troubles: "Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel mow say." 5. Albeit this hath been the endeavour of the wicked in all ages to destroy the church, yet God hath still preserved her iron age to age: Yet they have not prevailed. --David Dickson.
Verse 1-2. When the prophet says twice, "They have afflicted me", "they have afflicted me", the repetition is not superfluous, it being intended to teach us that the people of God had not merely once or twice to enter the conflict, but that their patience had been tried by continual exercises. --John Calvin.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. Affliction as it comes to saints from men of the world.
- Reason for it -- enmity of the serpent's seed.
- Modes of its display -- persecution, ridicule, slander, disdain, etc.
- Comfort under it. So persecuted they the prophets: so the Master. It is their nature. They cannot kill the soul. It is but for a time, etc.
- How far persecution for righteousness' sake may go.
- It may be great: "afflicted", "afflicted."
- It may be frequent: "Many a time."
- It may be early: "From my youth."
- How far it cannot go.
- It may seem to prevail.
- It may prevail in some degree.
- It cannot ultimately prevail.
- It shall cause that to which it is opposed increasingly to prevail. --G. R.
Verse 1-4. Israel persecuted but not forsaken. Persecution.
- Whence it came: "they."
- How it came: "Many a time", "from my youth", severely: "afflicted", "ploughed."
- Why it came. Human and Satanic hatred, and Divine permission.
- What came of it: "not prevailed" -- to destroy, to drive to despair, to lead to sin. God's righteousness manifested in upholding his people, baffling their foes, etc.
Verse 1-4. The enemies of God's church.
- Their violence: "The plowers plowed", etc.
- Their persistency: "Many a time ... from my youth."
- Their failure: "Yet they have not prevailed."
- Their great opponent: "The Lord ... hath cut asunder."