New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 129:1

A Song of Ascents-
Or 'degrees'. Hezekiah’s response to being granted another 15 years of life was to edit and produce the Songs of Degrees, so named after the degrees of the sundial. Four of the 15 Psalms were by David, one by Solomon; and the other 10 it seems Hezekiah wrote himself but left anonymous. These ten Psalms would reflect the ten degrees by which the sun-dial went backwards. The point to note is that Hezekiah taught others in an anonymous way in response to the grace he had received. True preaching reflects a certain artless selflessness. These songs of ascents were presumably also intended to be sung by the exiles as they returned to Zion, and then every time they went up to Jerusalem to keep a feast. But there is no evidence this happened. For they didn't return in the kind of faith implied in these Psalms. The plural "ascents" would then be an intensive plural referring to the one great ascent, to Zion. Much of the language of these Psalms is typical of David's language when under persecution by Saul. But the Psalm was reapplied to Hezekiah, and then to the exiles on their return from Babylon, and then by extension to all God's people on their journey zionwards.

Many times they have afflicted me from my youth up. Let Israel now say-
The returning exiles were to remember their national afflictions. And yet the generation of exiles who returned hadn't physically suffered much in exile; the majority preferred to remain there rather than return to Zion, and the book of Esther gives the impression of a prosperous, popular community. The afflictions which were to be the "push" factors in leading them back to Zion were therefore only spiritually perceived; Isaiah presents Babylon as a prison house of darkness, but that was only true in spiritual terms.

Psa 129:2

many times they have afflicted me from my youth up, yet they have not prevailed against me-
The idea of this Psalm is that those who had "afflicted" Israel would now be judged (:5-8). This was intended to come about at the time the exiles returned to Zion and the Kingdom of God was restored. Hezekiah failed to realize this potential, and the exiles who returned likewise. The punishment of those who "afflicted" God's people was only to come "If you shall indeed obey His voice" (Ex. 23:22 s.w.), but this didn't happen. And so the destruction of all Israel's afflicters didn't happen as was hoped for in this Psalm and as was potentially possible. The "affliction" of God's people was however because they had sinned and broken covenant, in terms of the covenant agreed in Dt. 28:52 (s.w.). This Psalm lacks the confession of sin and acceptance of the rightness of this punishment which was required to trigger the fulfilment of the restoration prophecies at that time. Instead the focus is all upon lamenting the results and pain of the punishments / afflictions, without accepting that they had been justified and without any clear statement of repentance. David often uses the word for his afflicters or enemies which arose as a result of his sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 23:5; 31:11; 42:10 and very often); but he likewise tends to bemoan his afflictions rather than recognize their appropriacy and express lasting contrition for his sin. In the context of the exiles, we note that the same word for "affliction" is used of what Haman did to the Jews (Esther 8:1; 9:10,24 and often).  

Psa 129:3

The ploughers ploughed on my back; they made their furrows long-
This presents the picture of scourging. The Lord Jesus was the "suffering servant" in that in His sufferings, He bore the punishment for Israel's sins as their representative whilst personally innocent. It was only through personal identification with Him (now through baptism into His death and sufferings) that God's people could be saved. In this sense "by His stripes [the marks of scourging] we are healed / saved" (Is. 53:5). "Made long" is a term usually used in the sense of prolonging a period of time; the complaint of the exiles was that the period of 70 years exile was being prolonged, as Ezekiel often had to encounter. But this was because of their impenitence, rather than God's inability or forgetting.

Psa 129:4

Yahweh is righteous; He has cut apart the cords of the wicked-
This is the time of Ps. 46:9, when the enemies of Israel through the entire eretz promised to Abraham would be "cut apart" (s.w.). This is stated in the past tense in faith that it would soon happen. Hence "let them be..." in the future tense in :5,6. The fulfilment of this prayerful request was not granted at the time of the exiles in Babylon, but it will ultimately happen at the return of the Lord Jesus. The decree of Cyrus did cut apart the cords- but most of the exiles didn't make use of that potential and preferred to remain in exile.

Psa 129:5

Let them be disappointed and turned backward, all those who hate Zion-
The "return" of the exiles to Zion was to coincide with the 'turning back' [s.w.] of her enemies. But this depended upon the people of Zion returning both to their God and to their land, and most of the exiles chose not to do so. The time of judgment for those who "hate" God's people is when the promises to Abraham are fulfilled (s.w. Gen. 24:60), and this is now reapplied to the time of the return of the Lord Jesus, Abraham's seed, to the earth.

Psa 129:6

Let them be as the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up-
This imagery is used in Is. 40:8 but with the message that "all flesh" is like this, God's people just as much as their enemies; and only attention to the prophetic word of Yahweh of restoration of the Kingdom would impart any hope of immortality. But the term "grass on the housetops" is only used in the context of the nations surrounding Judah at the time of the Assyrian invasion (Is. 37:27). These words had potential fulfilment in Hezekiah's time, but he instead chose to befriend the Babylonians and preclude any fulfilment of the prophecies of a restored Kingdom of God on earth at his time. 

Psa 129:7

with which the reaper doesn’t fill his hand, nor the binder of sheaves his belt-
The idea is that this withered grass is useless for anything. "The reaper" is presented as repentant Israel, the exiles who had once sowed in tears now reaping with joy at the restoration (Ps. 126:5 s.w.). Those Gentiles who would not accept the word of Yahweh, which changes us all from withered grass (Is. 40:8), would not be gathered in by the repentant exiles. The idea was that they would gather in repentant Gentiles, but not impenitent ones. These great possibilities didn't come about; they were precluded by the impenitence of the exiles as well as of the Gentiles.  

Psa 129:8

Neither do those who go by say, The blessing of Yahweh be on you. We bless you in the name of Yahweh-
"Those who go by" is literally 'those who cross over', related to the word "Hebrew". The returning exiles who were crossing over from Babylon to Zion would be unable to bless these Gentiles. Repentant Israel were intended to be a blessing to the Gentile world- but they couldn't be if the Gentiles didn't repent. The sadness however was that according to Ezekiel, the exiles went the way of the Gentiles rather than being their guides towards Zion and the God of Israel. But the essence of the prophetic picture of the restoration will come true in the last days, and also in spiritual terms in the things of the Lord Jesus and the new Israel formed in Him.