A SONG OF ASCENTS.
“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”- let Israel now say- 2 “Greatly 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 has cut the cords of the wicked. 5 May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward! 6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, 7 with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms, 8 nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) One scholar summarized the theme of this psalm in this way: “Whereas most nations tend to look back on what they have achieved, Israel reflects here on what she has survived.” Despite the hardships the people of God suffer, they still sing in gratitude to God. For this psalmist, the endurance has been long, “from my youth”. The faithful in Israel faced such challenges many times in her history, suffering for years under foreign oppressors or wicked kings, and this psalm could easily fit with all of them. But for those who know God, they can also say, “yet they have not prevailed against me.” The suffering described is graphic, plowing great furrows in your back. They wicked are perhaps trying to sow and reap a harvest of wickedness on the backs of the oppressed people of God, leaving deep scars. But God enables his people to endure. The North Country here is known for it’s rocky soil, and the frequent harvesting of stones needed before you can plant your crops. That is a good picture of the long resistance God’s people offer to the wicked here. She refuses to be easily plowed and subdued to the plans and demands of the wicked.
2) Then a single line of praise to God erupts in vs. 4. ” The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.” Because the Lord is righteous, he will not let the wicked endure forever against his people. They will not always prevail. God will eventually cut the cords of bondage and set the captives free. This universe created by God is a moral universe, where the wheels of God’s justice grind out slowly and methodically according to his good wisdom and plan, while simultaneously building up his Church. The power of the crucified and risen Christ sustains the life of his persevering Church. The plans of the wicked may seem to prevail for a day, but God’s plan for his Church prevails in the end.
3) After reflecting on the suffering of God’s people, the righteousness of God, and the inevitable salvation that will come, the worshiper turned this theology into a prayer for salvation. He prayed God would cause the plans of the wicked to fail and force them to retreat. He prayed they would wither like grass on poor soil in the dessert heat, before it could ripen and be harvested. And this should be a frequent prayer of God’s people not only for the Church but for the communities around her, that the plans of wickedness sown all around her would whither and die before they come to fruition and “bless” the wicked with satisfaction in their sin. By rejecting Zion, the place of God’s throne and people, the wicked set themselves on the course of self-destruction. And God chooses to use our prayers as a means to bring that destruction about while at the same time saving those who repent and trust in him.
These promises are grounded in the death and resurrection of Christ. His back was plowed over deeply by his enemies, but he endured it in order to save us from our sins. They intended to kill him, but he intended to turn that death into salvation for his people, and ultimately defeat his enemies. And he calls us to endure like he did, enduring suffering, faithfully serving and praying, while looking forward to our inevitable deliverance in glory. By reflecting on the work of Christ, and the long perseverance of the Church throughout world history, we can find hope to endure in the Lord ourselves.