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Suffering Grows Us - Psalm 129

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me.
Let all Israel repeat this:
From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me,
but they have never defeated me.
My back is covered with cuts,
as if a farmer had plowed long furrows.
But the Lord is good;
he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly.

May all who hate Jerusalem (Zion)
be turned back in shameful defeat.
May they be as useless as grass on a rooftop,
turning yellow when only half grown,
ignored by the harvester,
despised by the binder.
And may those who pass by
refuse to give them this blessing:
“The Lord bless you;
we bless you in the Lord’s name.”
-Psalm 129 (NLT)

It came as a surprise to me that I had enemies.  I never learned that in church growing up, or from the older men who discipled me, nor from my parents.  Then, we had a song that I heard, that was based on Psalm 18, that had the words, "so shall I be saved from my enemies".  "My enemies?  I don't have enemies", I reasoned.  I guess I was in for a rude awakening.

If you are working your way through these songs of the steps, they are a journey that has surprises.  So, you might be surprised at the suffering awaiting you.  Or, you might join right in with this song, being encouraged in it, as an affirmation.

We, who suffer, are not alone, but are part of a long stream of God's people who have suffered.  If you have not suffered or have run from it, then Psalm 129 teaches you that suffering is part and parcel of the life of walking towards God.

Psalm 129 comes after Psalms 126-128, and to review:
  • We discover that there is more or we have lost something and ask God for it and learn to release the grief of our hope differed, through tears and we persevere in our walk towards God, with weeping as we walk, and experience astonishing joy from God. (Psalm 126)
  • We learn to trust God to build everything, and we labor under God in building, learning to enjoy finding rest, and becoming aware of the gift of and responsibility  of raising children for God. (Psalm 127)
  • We learn that the result of a life of revering God and walking with him is fruitfulness, which means children: your own or spiritual, or metaphorical; and having grandchildren is the end result of a blessed life. (Psalm 128)
After these good messages, we come to Psalm 129, that is a harder word. It tells us that we have enemies.  But, there is a "but".  The "but" is that the psalmist says that these enemies have never defeated us.  This reminds me of Jesus words:
"Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Suffering is part of the Christian life.  Jesus suffered, the first disciples suffered, and the authentic church has always faced suffering.  Some people today, come to Christ, having not been told that suffering awaits.  I didn't hear much and perhaps nothing, about suffering, when I grew up in the church.  Maybe I didn't want to hear it and avoided it.

Not matter what happens to us, God promises to keep his covenant with us.  The covenant is made with the blood of Jesus, and it is a promise of salvation.  He saves us in life and he saves us in death.  We all will die and some people die too early.  But even in our deaths, God carries us; so we do not fear death.

Let's look at Psalm 129:
A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me.
Let all Israel repeat this:
From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me.
The repeat is not an accident.  It means that God's people have a target painted on their backs, as they say.  Persecution or affliction will very likely happen to you and it is normal.  You have enemies and God also allows afflictions to come into your life to train you.
But they have never defeated me.
We will get hit, but God is with us and God compensates us for each attack we endure (Isa. 61:3).  In the kingdom of God, there is a permanent year of jubilee, where stuff that was stolen is given back (Isa. 61:2, 2 Cor. 6:2).  There is divine compensation.  Look for it.

Apostle Paul wrote:
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. (2 Cor. 4:8-12)
The good news are the "but" parts of what Paul wrote.

  • You will have troubles, but be crushed.
  • You will get perplexed, but not go into despair.
  • You will be hunted down, but never abandoned by God.
  • You will get knocked down, but not be destroyed.

 Psalm 129:
My back is covered with cuts, as if a farmer had plowed long furrows.
Do you long to know Jesus Christ more?  You will discover that part of the package is to have fellowship with him in his sufferings (Phil. 3:10).  Remember when Jesus said that unless you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you will not have his life (John 6:48-66)?  He was not espousing cannibalism, but was talking about feeding on him to have life, in this life, and eternal life.  We get to have his life in our lives and live through him, which includes suffering.

Your back will be covered with cuts.  This means you are going to get hit.  You are going to get wounded.  You may get betrayed or wounded in the house of your friends (Zech. 13:6), just like Jesus did.  "Why oh why does God allow any of this", you might ask.

A.W. Tozer said that, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  That is a hard saying that is true.  It comes from Tozer's book, The Root of The Righteous, that is based on Col. 2:6-7:
"And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."
We have seen an ongoing theme of not only trusting God, but trusting him as you follow him.  The life is worked out in the walk.  God is building us into portable temples and lives that bear fruit.  And the roots into Christ bring the fruit.

I wondered about the context of that quote from A.W. Tozer, so here it is:
The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at any cost is not often found among us. We expect to enter the everlasting kingdom of our Father and to sit down around the table with sages, saints and martyrs; and through the grace of God, maybe we shall; yes maybe we shall. But for the most of us it could prove at first an embarrassing experience. Ours might be the silence of the untried soldier in the presence of the battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and who have scars to prove that they were present when the battle was joined. Thus, it is necessary for God to use suffering in his holy work of preparing his saints, it is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.

Back to Psalm 129:
But the Lord is good; he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly.
Do you know that God is good?  Other translations say, "the Lord is righteous".  What he does is right.  I read what a brother had to say about the plowing that God allows in our lives, to humble us and bring us into Christ-likeness.  He said to see the suffering that God sends your way as from him and thank him for it and tell him that you need it.  Like, "thanks Lord, I needed that".

Have you been set free?  Many people have not and are bound by something.  The key might be to allow the Lord to be Lord in that area.  Pray, and ask God if you are bound up somewhere in your life and cry out for freedom.  There are people serving their time who are free and there are people who are free, but are bound up in some way, in bondage they choose to not get free of.

At the end of Psalm 129, we have the curse that is upon those who oppose God:
May all who hate Jerusalem (Zion) be turned back in shameful defeat.
May they be as useless as grass on a rooftop, turning yellow when only half grown, ignored by the harvester, despised by the binder.
And may those who pass by refuse to give them this blessing:
“The Lord bless you; we bless you in the Lord’s name.”
This is what God says will happen to the hateful ones who oppose his people.  They will be defeated, there harvest is shallow and  not useful, and they miss out on a blessed life.

How do we reconcile, that it says here that the haters will not receive a blessing from those who pass by, with Jesus command to, "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28)?  The picture of the curse awaiting the people who hate God's people is a picture of a bad harvest, a useless harvest that is not harvest-able, and so it is despised.  No one will admire it or praise you for it.

It is like this.  When the proud are humbled, no when blesses that.  No one blesses a bad and backwards harvest that is the result of arrogant disregard for one's neighbors.

Another way to look at it is that we don't bless a criminal's behavior that has led him to being arrested or disciplined.  We don't release a blessing, onto the toxic harvest.  We don't bless bad fruit that is the result of the curse that the person came under by hating God's people.


This was out tenth of fifteen songs of the steps, or ascent, or degrees, or pilgrim songs (Psalms 120-134). To review Psalms 120-129, as steps of degrees:

  1. We learn to call upon God and that God saves us and answers prayers.
  2. We learn that God is our guardian, watching over us.
  3. We learn to be worshipers, desiring God.
  4. We choose to humble ourselves as servants as we ask for mercy.
  5. We cultivate seeing God's workings in our lives, then sharing the stories.
  6. We learn to live a life of trusting the Lord, that brings security.
  7. We discover that there is more or we have lost something and ask God for it and learn to release the grief of our hope differed, through tears and we persevere in our walk towards God, with weeping as we walk, and experience astonishing joy from God. 
  8. We learn to trust God to build everything, and we labor under God in building, learning to enjoy finding rest, and becoming aware of the gift of and responsibility  of raising children for God.
  9. We learn that the result of a life of revering God and walking with him is fruitfulness, which means children: your own or spiritual, or metaphorical; and having grandchildren is the end result of a blessed life.
  10. We learn that suffering is part of the faith walk towards God.  God uses suffering to grow us up into Christ-likeness.  This may surprise us after we have done so well, 'going wide', in learning to walk with God, cultivating a rich relationship with him, and learning to enjoy the blessings.  After learning to 'go wide' with God, having an enlarged 'God life', we begin to learn to 'go deep'.





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The painting about is from Glenda Mathes blog post, Plowmen Have Not Prevailed

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