Thoughts on Psalm 129, from a sermon preached at First Reformed Church, February 9, 2014.
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. (Psa 129:1-8 KJV)
This is a psalm about evil men.
I recognize that there are Christian people who sin against each other. This Psalm isn’t about them.
I recognize that there are even unbelievers who sin against Christians – this Psalm isn’t about them, either.
This Psalm isn’t about the hurts and pain of living in a cursed world, caused by friction between Adam’s race, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But this Psalm isn’t about that, either.
This Psalm is about a class of people that the Bible calls “Children of the Devil.” Or even, “Sons of Belial” (worthlessness).
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it”. (Joh 8:44)
This Psalm is speaking of those men and women who have so united their hearts to the works of the evil one that they are called “the children of the devil”. Their works are not characterized by even the simplest forms of common human decency. The common decency of men are gifts are given even to unbelievers by the common grace of God. This Psalm, on the other hand, speaks of those who are characterized by two words: murder and lies.
Everything that they do is for the purpose of destroying the image of God in man, but they conceal their true motives by a false front of sorrow for sin, contrition, pious platitudes about religion, and a front of kindness and strength. But under it all is murder, hatred and destruction.
We don’t know when this Psalm was written. We know that there were many times in Israel’s history when they were greatly abused by the kingdom of Satan. Both Assyria and Babylon were renowned for their cruelty – smashing the heads of babies against the walls, beating and abusing children, raping women and children – all under the front of honor and glory. They were murderers and liars.
There was a servant in the land of Syria named Hazael. He was a servant to the king of Syria. God sent him to the prophet Elisha and told Elisha to anoint him king over Syria. When Hazael got there, we read that Elisha stared at him until it was uncomfortable. Then Elisha wept.
12 And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.
13 And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. (2Ki 8:12-13 KJV)
Hazael eventually showed that his words and his actions were all a lie. He was intent on murder and destruction and became one of the most corrupt and violent kings of the ancient world. It was not that he lied once, or even that he got angry and killed a man. It’s that his whole life marked him as a child of the devil. Every thought and every pursuit of his hand was dedicated to destruction and lying.
This Psalm is about these people.
They still show up today. Often they show up in the church of God. Jesus said that they would. And the church, for the most part, has handled everything about them wrongly.
Too often we hear of men who are well-thought of in church. They know all of the right phrases, and know when to shed the right tears. They sing with gusto and say “Amen” at the right places in the sermon. But when they go home and are alone with their wives and children, they think only of destruction and murder. They systematically seek to destroy the image of God in their family.
They are the king of the castle and smack their loved ones around just to make sure that they remember it. They belittle, despise and ridicule their wives. They beat and abuse their children.
They do these things not because they lose control of their temper. As horrible as it is to be out of control of your temper, these people are even worse. These are those who plot iniquity on their beds, and their plots are meticulous, planned and systematic, designed to hurt and destroy. They are not governed by passions, they are governed by their father, the devil. Since they are murderers, they think only of destruction and tearing down. Since they are liars, they do it all under a cloak of feigned decency.
They will be in the middle of a tirade against their families and the phone will ring, or the police will show up, and immediately they are under control, speaking reasonably and with such concern for their families. But their wives and children are left terrified, broken, bloodied, and have learned how to keep all their feelings, thoughts, and opinions carefully hidden, so as not to enrage the father.
We know these people. We have seen them before and will see them again.
They are not sinners – even like David – who committed adultery and murder but was himself broken and brought to repentance. They are not sinners like Paul, who obtained mercy because he did it in unbelief. They are children of the devil. They know what they are doing, they plan it, they think through it, they carry it out.
Because they are liars, as soon as they are exposed in the church they know how to weep and stress how sorry they are. And the church usually starts talking about forgiveness. When the children become adults, or when the abused spouse is finally free from the abuser, they get counsel from the church. They are told, “You need to forgive them.”
“You need to reach out to them.”
“You need to give them another chance.”
And when the wives and children are strong enough to acknowledge that their abuser is a murderer and a liar and refuse to allow themselves to be abused again, the church often disciplines the abused! The church throws salt on the plowed wounds and disciplines, for “not being forgiving”, for getting a divorce, for speaking badly of such a nice man who made a few mistakes. And thus we often become partakers of another man’s sins, thinking that we should be more loving than God is, heaping even more affliction on the abused.
But the fact is – God hates abuse even more than we do. A man who systematically beats and terrifies his wife hasn’t “made a few mistakes” or “committed an indiscretion”. He is a child of the devil. A man who will molest a child isn’t a nice person with a personality flaw. He is a child of the devil, and the works of the devil are what he does.
It is true that the Bible commands us to lay aside all bitterness, wrath, and desire for revenge – as befits a forgiven child of God. It is true that we are commanded to do good, even to our enemies. The question is how do we do that? How can we finally be free from the bondage of bitterness and isolation and terror that flow from abuse?
That is what this Psalm is about.
First, be honest with the damage caused by evil men
Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows. (Psa 129:1-3 KJV)
Our Creator does not want us to deny the damage and the hurt that has been done. This Psalm was written by someone who knew what it was to be as helpless as a field under the cruelty of a plow. Look at the imagery – the plowers plowed on my back. Those who afflicted me from my youth stood over me, hurt me, shredded me, tore me, and I had no power. All I could do was lay there and take it. It didn’t happen once, it didn’t happen twice. It happened many times. They hurt me over and over again. I was continually hurt and abused by those who were stronger and greater than I was.
When I cried out, no one heard me. When I spoke, no one believed me. That isn’t my fault. It isn’t my fault that I was a field under a cruel plow. It isn’t my fault that I was hurt so badly. They did this to me.
The word “afflict” means to bind tightly, to wrap with cords, to tie up. In other words, it is the action of an enemy that is designed to keep you under control, to completely subjugate you to their power – to destroy the image of God in you. Ultimately, our afflicter is the devil. He seeks to destroy you and keep you under his bondage and control. So he convinces you that what happened was your fault, that it wasn’t so bad, that you caused it to happen. He convinces you that it is just how people are. Why does he do this? Because he is a liar and a murderer.
For this reason, the first step in dealing with abusive men is the truth. Quit lying to yourself about it. You were hurt badly by evil men who wanted to destroy you because they are children of the devil. They didn’t smack you around because you mouthed off. They didn’t ridicule and belittle you because you were stupid and foolish. They didn’t blow up at you because dinner was late. They didn’t lose their temper because you just didn’t listen to them. They didn’t molest you because you were seductive or provocative. None of this is true. They did what they did because they are liars and murderers and children of the devil, and they hurt you very badly. You were powerless and as free from fault as a field is under the blades of a plow.
But while you are being honest with the damage caused, there is one more step that you need to take. They tried to destroy you because they hated God – but they didn’t succeed!
Notice what he says in verse 2: “Much have they afflicted me – bound me, constricted me, bent me to their power and control – but they had no ability over me.” In other words, they didn’t succeed in doing what they wanted to do.
How is that?
You are here. You are alive, you are you, you are greatly loved by God. They plowed you under because they wanted to destroy you. God allowed it because he wanted your field to bring forth much fruit. And they didn’t destroy you, for now you are bringing fruit to God.
The only way that you survived the abuse of abusive men, the only way you survived the all-out assault on the devil, is that God did not give them the ability to do what they really wanted to do. They could do nothing except further God’s plan for you.
It hurts, it was evil, it left scars. But it didn’t destroy you. The destroyer did not win.
Second, understand that in Christ, the bondage to abuse does not need to control your life.
4 The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked. (Psa 129:4 KJV)
Those cords of oppression that Satan has sought to bind you with have been cut asunder by God.
You cannot serve two masters. Satan wanted to control you; when you came to Christ, you turned your back on Satan in order to embrace Christ – and God has broken his power over you.
It is a shame that so many in the church speak of forgiveness in such muddled language. Forgiveness in the Bible is acknowledging that the blood of Christ has covered the sin of the sinner. When you forgive a Christian, you are promising to remember it no more, just as God in Christ forgave you. Since the abuser is not a child of God, but a child of Satan, the word “forgiveness” doesn’t really apply, and is meaningless.
What we must do is acknowledge that the cords of Satan no longer bind us. For too long we have allowed self-protection, isolation, bitterness, distrust, rage and denial to control us – but when these things are broken by God in Christ, we can let them go, leaving vengeance in the hands of the One Who is Far More Capable of Righteous Wrath Than I Am. We are not talking about forgiving an enemy of God. We are talking about laying aside all thoughts of revenge, putting away bitterness, and not letting Satan have dominion over us. We are talking about opening up the door of your heart to truly trust and love and receive love – even though it is risky. I’m not speaking about trusting and loving a child of the devil, but trusting and loving God and your neighbor as becomes a child of God. Because the alternative is the hatred and strife of the devil.
The only way to do that is to understand that God’s work – sending his Son to break the cords of the devil once and for all – has freed us from the bondage and misery of sin. It is also to understand this: Evil and abusive men may have fooled everyone else; but they never fool God. God has a very special care for his little ones, and when men abuse and molest little ones, it is as if they were molesting and abusing God himself.
Jesus said, But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mat 18:6 KJV)
My prayer is that the Church would grow more and more like Jesus Christ, and have the same view of abuse and molestation that Jesus himself has.
And third, pray for justice.
God will certainly hear the prayer. The judge of the earth will do right.
The next four verses are listed in the form of a prayer – let them be ashamed – let them be as grass on the roof. The Hebrew itself could either be interpreted as a prayer, or as a statement of fact. It is in the future tense and the words would be identical in either case.
In other words, the psalmist could be saying “Let them be ashamed,” or he could be saying “they will be ashamed.” Either way, properly understood, the meaning is the same, for God certainly hears the prayers of his people, and how much more does he hear inspired prayers that are written for the godly to pray. We pray with the Psalmist “Let them be ashamed,” and the promise is for us “They will be ashamed.”
“Ashamed” doesn’t mean “embarrassed and sorry”. It means that everything that they hope to have accomplished will come to nothing. They seek to keep their victims under their power and control – but no one can take us from God’s hand. They seek to destroy and to murder you, but God will not allow his sheep to perish. They seek to keep up the front of respectability and godliness, but they will be exposed before the angels in heaven and the whole world, alive and dead, for what they really are. Everything that they sought to accomplish will come to nothing. Satan himself, the great abuser, will be cast into the lake of fire forever – and with him will go every one of his children. They will be ashamed.
God hates abusers and molesters with a perfect hatred, a hotter and fiercer anger than anything that we feel on this earth, and he will certainly do right.
But not only will there be eternal judgment, they will not even succeed in accomplishing what they desire on this earth. For a time, they may appear to be growing in power, untouchable, as tall and lush as the grass that grows. But that grass is growing on the top of the roof. There’s no depth of soil there. As soon as the sun arises, that grass will wilt and wither and blow away.
Don’t fear their power, their money, or even their fame. They might be famous directors or actors or writers or artists, or even pastors. What Does God care for their lawyers, their money, or their friends? Ultimately, they are grass growing on the roof. Whenever God desires, their fear is gone. The wealth is gone. Their life is gone. So their power over you is gone now.
In verse 3, the church suffering abuse was compared to a field being plowed. We know that the devil seeks to destroy us, but God is seeking our produce. In Christ, we WILL bring forth fruit – the fruit of love and joy and peace and faith, hope and self-control. These things come by the power of the Holy Spirit, but they come through the trials that God brings to us. We can look at the damage of the past through the eyes of faith and see that God has used that to make us who we are today, and who we are promised to be tomorrow.
But what about the plow? What about those who have done such great damage? When the reaper looks for fruit, there isn’t any. There is nothing there. There was just wind and noise all along. In fact, when the mower finally cuts them down, there won’t even be enough dead grass there to fill a hand. When we are under the plow, when we are being afflicted by the children of the devil, we think that our abuser is all-powerful, all-wise, and terrifying.
When we succumb to fear, we think that they have far more power, reputation and charm than they actually have. This Psalm is calling us to see them as God sees them. As dry grass on top of a roof, weeds to be plucked down and thrown into the fire.
Finally, look at verse 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. (Psa 129:8 KJV)
In Israel, this was a common greeting when passing by a field. We see it in the book of Ruth
And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee. (Ruth 2:4 KJV)
Among the godly, it was a way of saying hello. but more than that, it was a prayer for God’s blessing. This verse is one of the most freeing verses for those who have suffered at the hands of the children of the devil. How can you pray for or expect God’s blessing on those whom he has given over for destruction? You cannot.
I am not at all saying that the blood of Christ cannot save certain people. He certainly does. But at the same time, we must remember that there are many passages of scripture that speak of those whom God has devoted to destruction, those who have turned the truth of God into a lie, those for whom the fire of judgment is reserved forever.
It is true that all men are sinful and in desperate need of Christ’s blood. Even as Christians, we still sin and hurt each other, and need to seek forgiveness and healing. But, as I said, this Psalm isn’t about that.
The Bible teaches that there are those whom God has removed his hand of restraint, who give themselves over completely to their own lusts, and are full-blown children of the devil. They are characterized, as Jesus said, by their relentless pursuit of murder and destruction, covering it all with a veneer of lies. When these are the people we are dealing with, it is an abomination to God to bless them in the name of the Lord, even as a greeting.
May they be exposed and outcast, may the church see them for who they are, may they be stripped bare and left outside.
It is about time that the church stopped worrying about hurting the feelings of the abusers and started giving the abused the opportunity to heal.
For all who have suffered this kind of trauma, you may have been told how harsh you have been towards your abuser. You may have been commanded to forgive them. You may have been instructed to let them back into your life. Your abuser may have confronted you with tears, demanding reconciliation. You may have forgiven your oppressor again and again and again, only to be abused again and again and again.
How can you be set free? Only by the truth. Quit offering the blessings of Zion to the children of the devil.
How can you tell who is who? How can you tell the difference between David and Hazael? You don’t have to. That’s the beauty of it. God knows whom he will save, so leave him to it. You, as a human being, have only limited knowledge. You cannot know the heart, you can only know the fruit. Jesus told us to deal with men based on their fruit. When a man hurts, lies, and seeks to destroy the children of God, that fruit is the fruit of the devil, and he may be judged accordingly, even while we pray for true repentance. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. God knows who belongs to Him. And God also knows whom he will judge, so leave him to that, as well.
We must understand that these people have always been the same. Here’s a Psalm written thousands of years ago dealing with a very current problem. They seek to destroy and murder you and as long as you keep allowing them into your life, they will continue to do so. It is true that you must put off hatred and bitterness and desire for revenge; but the only way to do that is to leave their judgment or their salvation in the hands of God.
If they come again crying for forgiveness, this in no way obligates you to allow them back into your life where they have caused so much damage. If they are truly repentant, they will rejoice in salvation and understand the depth and depravity of their sin, and will understand and respect your desire to be left alone as a just consequence of their sin which they committed. But on the other hand, if they are not truly repentant, but merely seeking another entrance to cause you more damage, they will accuse you of hard-heartedness. They will get as many of the gullible and untaught on their side as they can. They will seek to manipulate you with their tears. They will continue cause you as much grief as you allow them to.
Put them in God’s hands, and leave them there. When a man plows a helpless back as he would plow a field, just because he can, he has forfeited all right and all expectation of any relationship – and again, this isn’t your fault. He caused it. Not you.
Leave the rest in God’s hands. The judge of all the earth will do right. When you leave it all in God’s hands, you can finally know the freedom that you have been given when God cut those cords from you.
Now live like it.