This psalm is another of the series of fifteen titled A Song of Ascents. As the pilgrims came to Jerusalem to remember God’s many past deliverances (such as in the Feasts of Passover or Tabernacles), they prayed confidently for God’s continued protection and the defeat of their many enemies.
“Whereas most nations tend to look back on what they have achieved, Israel reflects here on what she has survived. It could be a disheartening exercise, for Zion still has its ill-wishers. But the singers take courage from the past, facing God with gratitude and their enemies with defiance.” (Derek Kidner)
A. God’s goodness to afflicted Israel.
1. (1-3) Israel afflicted but not destroyed.
“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth,”
Let Israel now say—
“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth;
Yet they have not prevailed against me.
The plowers plowed on my back;
They made their furrows long.”
a. Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth: The psalmist presented this as the testimony of Israel (let Israel now say). The covenant descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have endured unique and evil affliction throughout their history.
i. “‘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.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “From my youth; from the time that I was a people, when I was in Egypt and came out of it, which is called the time of Israel’s youth, Jeremiah 2:2,Ezekiel 23:3.” (Poole)
iii. The statement is repeated twice for emphasis, and rightfully so. The Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Syrians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Roman Catholics, the kings of Europe, the Muslims, the Czars, and the Nazis all have done their best to wipe out the Jews. Yet they remain.
iv. One might say that the chief accomplishment of the Jewish people has been survival. “The Jews are the longest-enduring distinct ethnic people on the planet. They have been slandered, hated, persecuted, expelled, pursued, and murdered throughout their long existence, but they have survived intact.” (Boice)
v. “These repetitions are after the manner of poetry: thus she makes a sonnet out of her sorrows, music out of her miseries.” (Spurgeon)
b. Yet they have not prevailed against me: This is the happy testimony of Israel. Jew-hatred has raged against them for centuries, yet the enemies of the Jewish people have never ultimately succeeded or prevailed against them.
i. “What a wonder it is that Satan and man do not prevail against the saint! There is no way of accounting for it, except in God’s election. Because God has chosen us for Himself, and redeemed us at great cost, He cannot afford to hand us over to the will of our enemies.” (Meyer)
ii. “There is a forceful Christian battle cry, composed in Latin and placed next to the burning bush: Nec tamen consumebatur! It means ‘Yet not consumed.’ God’s people may be oppressed, but they are never consumed.” (Boice)
iii. “The right use of retrospect is to make it the ground of hope. They who have passed unscathed through such afflictions may well be sure that any tomorrow shall be as the yesterdays were, and that all future assaults will fail as all past ones have failed.” (Maclaren)
iv. In a New Covenant context, we can be confident in Jesus’ promise that the strategies of hell will never prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). “The Church is invincible…. the Church shall stand firm, because founded on a rock.” (Trapp)
c. The plowers plowed on my back: The psalmist described the many afflictions of Israel as if their enemies ran over their stretched-out bodies with a plow. This is a vivid picture of suffering and subjugation, being utterly laid low before one’s foes.
i. “The afflicted nation was, as it were, lashed by her adversaries so cruelly that each blow left a long red mark, or perhaps a bleeding wound, upon her back and shoulders, comparable to a furrow which tears up the ground from one end of the field to the other.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The word horsu, which signifies to dig, or cut the ground, and so, to plow, is also used simply for cutting, carving, or engraving; see Exodus 35:33; Jeremiah 17:1.” (Horne)
iii. “While there is evidently a sense of danger in the mind of the singer, there is an utter absence of despair.” (Morgan)
2. (4) The God who delivers.
The LORD is righteous;
He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked.
a. The LORD is righteous: God promised to preserve His covenant people of Israel, and His faithfulness in delivering them is a demonstration of His righteousness. The fact that the LORD is righteous means He has and will keep His promises to Israel.
i. “The survival of this people, so hated but so resilient, bore silent witness to their Preserver (as, one may feel, it has continued to do).” (Kidner)
b. He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked: Israel’s foes were strong and clever, but not greater than God, who could deliver. The ways the wicked restrained and enslaved God’s people would be cut in pieces.
i. “The ‘cords’ denote the yoke as a whole, which was fastened to the neck of an animal (Psalm 129:4; cf. Jeremiah 30:8).” (VanGemeren)
B. Asking God to turn back those who hate Jerusalem.
1. (5-7) Shame for those who hate Zion.
Let all those who hate Zion
Be put to shame and turned back.
Let them be as the grass on the housetops,
Which withers before it grows up,
With which the reaper does not fill his hand,
Nor he who binds sheaves, his arms.
a. Let all those who hate Zion be put to shame: The psalmist prayed that not only would the Israelites be delivered from their enemies, but that God would also apply His righteousness to their enemies. They should be shamed and turned back.
i. Some take offence at the prayer the psalmist made against the enemies of Israel, yet there is really no basis for such offence. “It is striking in this case at least how mild these imprecations are. The psalmist is not asking that those who have harmed Israel be sent to hell, or even that they experience the same sufferings they have inflicted on others. He asks only that they and their designs might not prosper.” (Boice)
ii. “At the heart of high and holy patriotism there must ever burn a divine anger with all that is opposed to the purpose and plan of God. To hate Zion is to hate God. To tolerate those who do so, is to be confederate with their wickedness.” (Morgan)
iii. This is “…a proper wish, and contains within it no trace of personal ill-will. We desire their welfare as men, their downfall as traitors. Let their conspiracies be confounded, their policies be turned back. How can we wish prosperity to those who would destroy that which is dearest to our hearts?” (Spurgeon)
b. Let them be as the grass: Grass that grows in the rainy season (especially on the housetops of the ancient Middle East) quickly withers as the weather becomes warm and dry. He prayed that the present green season of Israel’s enemies would be short-lived.
i. “The graphic image of the grass on flat housetops of clay, which springs quickly because it has no depth of earth, and withers as it springs, vividly describes the short-lived success and rapid extinction of plots against Zion and of the plotters.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Thus, while the felicity of Zion’s children is rooted and grounded in Christ, that of her enemies hath no foundation at all.” (Horne)
iii. “Grass on the housetop is a nonentity in the world: the house is not impoverished when the last blade is dried up, and, even so, the opposers of Christ pass away, and none lament them. One of the fathers said of the apostate emperor Julian, ‘That little cloud will soon be gone’; and so it was. Every sceptical system of philosophy has much the same history; and the like may be said of each heresy.” (Spurgeon)
c. With which the reaper does not fill his hand: The grass of the previous verse was useless for the reaper or those who gather grain (he who binds sheaves). The psalmist wanted the uselessness of the wicked enemies of Israel to be exposed and evident to all.
i. “While the church subsisteth from generation to generation, the kingdoms and empires that have persecuted her, fade and wither away of themselves.” (Horne)
ii. “Study a chapter from the ‘Book of Martyrs,’ and see if you do not feel inclined to read an imprecatory Psalm over Bishop Bonner and Bloody Mary.” (Spurgeon)
2. (8) Denial of blessing for those who hate Zion.
Neither let those who pass by them say,
“The blessing of the LORD be upon you;
We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
a. Neither let those who pass by them say: The psalmist prayed that these enemies of Israel would not enjoy the blessing of the LORD upon them. He prayed that the pleasant picture of happy harvest work found in Ruth 2:4 would never be fulfilled for these enemies of Israel.
b. We bless you in the name of the LORD: The blessing of God is the greatest thing any human life can enjoy, giving goodness to every aspect of life. The psalmist prayed that none of this goodness would be given to those who hated Jerusalem and Israel.
i. “In harvest times men bless each other in the name of the Lord; but there is nothing in the course and conduct of the ungodly man to suggest the giving or receiving of a benediction.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org