Today’s Chocolate: Theo Organic 70% Dark Chocolate w/ Coconut
Today’s Passage: Psalm 129
Got enemies? Foes? Nemeses? If you’re doing something right, you’re probably going to draw some heat for it. (Let the record show that I don’t have any enemies.) Psalm 129 is a song for coping with having enemies, if you’re ancient Israel. It’s also a Song of Ascents.
What is a Song of Ascents? We’ve read ten of them already. Psalms 120-134 are designated Songs of Ascents, and after two weeks of seeing those words at the head of my chapter every morning, I finally got curious. As you likely know, the city of Jerusalem holds the high ground, and GotQuestions.org tells us: “Jews traveling to Jerusalem for one of the three main annual Jewish festivals traditionally sang these songs on the “ascent” or the uphill road to the city.” Chabad.org cites a bit more ambiguity, offering possible meanings based on musical tone and melody, temple architecture, liberation from the Babylonian Captivity, and theology of praise with God as the object of exaltation. What is a Song of Ascents? It’s lyrics set to music, related in some way to ascension. Bam, Definition City.
This particular Song of Ascents is about Israel’s persecution at the hands of their haters, and Israel’s survival in the face of it, through God’s power. The line “The plowers plowed upon my back; they lengthened their furrows” (129:3) particularly stood out to me, bringing to mind images of Roman soldiers with whips turning Jim Cavaziel’s back into practical-effects hamburger in The Passion of the Christ. As figurative language goes, it’s brutal. And unless you or I have suffered physically at the hands of our enemies, I doubt we’d be justified in using such a metaphor to describe our torment.
Nonetheless, Israel stands. The psalmist enjoins his countrymen to sing, “Many times they have persecuted me from my youth up; yet they have not prevailed against me” (129:2). And they have endured with the Lord’s help. The psalmist states: “The Lord is righteous; He has cut in two the cords of the wicked” (129:4). Though evil men attempt to restrain the people of Israel, God liberates them and breaks their bonds. Here, God is a judge and a freedom fighter who comes to the aid of the oppressed.
The second half of the psalm, however, is a prayer for rebuke against “those who hate Zion.” The psalmist wishes to deny Israel’s foes any gift from God; he ends his song with the lines: “Nor do those who pass by say, ‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you; we bless you in the name of the Lord'” (129:8). Isn’t this the same attitude that Jesus denounced when he commanded, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)? Maybe–but if we consider that God himself has chosen Israel as a people to call his own, it drains at least some of the vengeance from the psalmist’s words. The evil men here have been plowing the backs of God’s adopted sons and daughters, and he would be entirely justified in bringing them to shame and denying them good things. These guys want blessings? Maybe they should consider not hating Zion first.
But I’m playing devil’s advocate. Real talk: the last four verses still seem kinda spiteful to me.