The Songs of Ascent are the songs of pilgrims. The collection of Psalms from 120-134 is believed to the collection of songs sung by pilgrims as they made their way from their home villages to Jerusalem during the great annual festivals of Judaism. Full of encouragement, wisdom, and guidance, these psalms are like a map of faith which show us the geography of a life traveling to meet God.
Psalm 129 is not a happy traveling song but a psalm of hardship. The psalmist doesn’t look to future victories but to past sufferings. The reflection on the past is not an embittered, vengeful tirade; it is a hardening endeavor in the face of present hardship. It is defiance. Hardness is not in every way bad. Granted, a hard heart can be without compassion, a hard head likely refuses instruction, and a hard will can be senselessly stubborn. However, hardness against quitting a difficult but good endeavor, giving over to faithlessness, or failing to persevere in love? This kind of hardness is a necessity for the pilgrim on pilgrimage. Psalm 129 is a rallying cry to remember the hardship and to resolve to endure and persevere and to not give way in either envying the wicked or calling the wicked blessed.
Psalm 129 reads,
“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
If helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
Since my youth, they have afflicted me–
Foremen who furrowed my flesh of life,
Who scourged, whipped, beat and knifed–
The plowers who plowed in red.
Let all those trodden upon and left for dead
Say it with me. Say it with me!
“Though greatly afflicted, yet they have not,
They have not prevailed over me!”
Let the deeds they sow, though they sprout and grow,
Wilt, wither, and waste in the sun’s heat;
Let their garnered glory fade in defeat,
Leave them nothing in their hand.
Bind them to emptiness as with a band.
May these wicked be cursed, never know
The peace of fullness, for they have not
Prevailed, not prevailed, let them know.
The Lord is good. He is just. He alone, right.
He perseveres his people, breaks their chains;
With the iron scepter of his rule and reign,
He dashes as clay their oppression.
But he delivers by his own dispossession,
Takes the mortal cords, enters the night,
Gives his back to plowers, who plow up his life
To bury in death, snuff out the Light of lights.
This was the plan, the eternal decree,
That the Sower furrow into the ground,
That in his plowing, bury death down,
Beyond the tomb’s door sealed.
Greatly afflicted, by your stripes I’m healed;
The limbs of your cross, my life-giving tree,
My glory and boast over my enemy,
My sin, which shall never, never prevail over me.
© Randall Edwards 2017
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
artwork: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.