The Pilgrim’s Imprecation Against the Enemies of Christ and His Church

a brief study of Psalm 129, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 29 July 2011 


Psalm 129 is another Psalm of Ascent or a Pilgrim Song. It was used by the pilgrims of old on their way up to Jerusalem to celebrate their annual feast days. It is also a kingdom song for the church to sing in union with the King as we ascend to the Celestial City with Him as the Captain of our Salvation.

But Psalm 129 is a very unique pilgrim song, for it is an imprecatory psalm. It is easy to remember what it is. Just as Psalms 69 and 109 are imprecatory psalms, so is Psalm 129. There are others, but this is just a convenient memory aid since Psalms 69 and 109 are famous imprecatory psalms. An imprecatory psalm is a psalm which we may use to remind God’s enemies and our enemies that God will execute judgement. And God’s condemnation is often worded as a curse or malediction, which is really the opposite of blessing and benediction.

We may entitle this psalm, “The Pilgrim’s Imprecation Against the Enemies of Christ and His Church.” It has two stanzas. The first stanza recounts the wicked deeds which the enemies of God had afflicted against the Church. The second stanza is essentially the word of imprecation against the enemies.


1. The Affliction upon the Church

1 Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say…

Israel is another name of the Church. The apostle Paul calls her “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). Israel is special not because of her locality, and not even primarily because of her people. She is special because of the Lord Jesus Christ, her Redeemer.

So closely united are Jesus and Israel that some prophetic statements may be applied to both at the same time. For example, Matthew reminds us that when God called for the child Jesus to return to Israel after the death of Herod (Mt 2:15), it was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea about Israel. The prophetic statement reads in full: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (Hos 11:1).

In any case, Israel was constantly harassed and afflicted by God’s enemies from the time she was in her youth. Even before she was known as Israel, she was harassed when Cain killed Abel through whom the Church was to be built. Then during the days of Noah, the Church was again vexed so greatly that God had to protect her in an ark while He destroyed the world. But the afflictions did not stop. We think of how Pharaoh and Egypt tormented God’s people. We think of the oppression of the Philistines, the Midianites, the Edomites, the Syrians, etc.

And not only were there enemies from without. There were also enemies from within. Satan had planted his cohorts as spies within the army of Israel. Think of the wicked, idolatrous kings that split the nation and led the large part of the nation into apostasy during the days of the kings. Or think of the legalistic and hypocritical Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees during the days of our Lord and His apostles. Or think of Rome and the cults; and the heresies, division and worldliness within the church in our own days.

1  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:…

But thank God, He is a jealous God. He would not allow the gates of hell to prevail against the Church. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa 59:19).

Therefore, we have yet a ‘yet’ to sing. Now may Israel say: “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me” (v. 2).

Indeed, verse 3—

3 The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.

The enemies of God had no regard for the felicity of God’s Church. They tormented her. As it were, they plowed upon the back of the church, making long, deep furrows. A plow in those days is essentially a wooden frame holding a vertical wooden stick that may be tipped with iron. The frame is yoked to a bullock. The plowman would plunge the plow stick into the ground and then prod the bullock to pull the plow so as to make a deep furrow in the soil. The picture here is that the enemy of God is guiding the plow, but the teeth of the plow stick is not digging into the soil. It is cutting into the back of Israel, making deep furrows and crimson rivers of blood.

Israel is helpless. But God is not. He is a righteous God who loves His people. He cannot stand by to watch them being tormented and do nothing. He arises with vengeance and falls upon the wicked tormentors of the church.  “The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked” (v. 4).

The cords here could refer to the harness connecting the bullock to the plow frame. If this is the case, then God is simply disengaging the plow from the bullock so that His enemies cannot continue to plow on the back of Israel. But perhaps Augustine is right that it refers to the neck or the spinal cord of the tormentors. In any case, one thing is sure: God does not stand idly by. He has judged the enemies of God’s people and He will continue to do so. We think of the flood, the judgement on Pharaoh and Egypt, the destruction of the Canaanites; the slaying of the prophets of Baal in Carmel; the casting away of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC; the destruction of apostate Israel in AD 70, etc.

God’s people can find comfort in affliction in the knowledge that God will vindicate and take vengeance against their enemies which are His enemies. In fact, the Son of God has given us the words of this psalm that we may sing to warn the wicked and to comfort one another. We may sing it to warn the wicked not to touch the apple of God’s eyes. We may sing it to comfort our hearts in the knowledge that God will take vengeance. We may sing it to call upon the LORD to intervene.

Consider therefore the words of…


2. The Imprecations upon the Enemies

     5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.

To be confounded is to be put to shame. Let all who hate God’s people be turned back from the malice against the church and put to shame.

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.

Let them, in other words, be weak and insignificant. Let them be like the weed that grows on rooftops. In those days, rooftops were mostly flat, so dirt would accumulate on the rooftops. When that happens, sometimes seed and spores may find themselves lodged on the rooftops and start to grow on the roof. But as soon as the sun would come up in strength, they would be scorched for there is no deepness of earth.

We must pray that this will be so for the wicked, even that they will be so few in numbers, and their labours so ineffective that the church will not be hindered in her work.

Furthermore, we must pray that God’s people will recognise evil for what it is and not bless them or bid them godspeed. It was customary in ancient days that when God’s people saw anyone labouring in the field, they would yell out a blessing. Boaz said to his men: “The LORD be with you.”  And they replied: “The LORD bless thee” (Ruth 2:4).

We must not take these words of greetings and blessings lightly. The apostle John warns us that those who bid a heretic godspeed “is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jn 1:10-11):

So we sing, verse 8—

Neither do [or “Let not”] they which go by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD.”

Those who oppose the Kingdom of God or seek not her prosperity deserve not the blessing of the Lord. Let them rather experience the curses of the Lord so that they may be awakened to repent of their sin against God’s people before it is too late and they face the full-blown wrath of God for all eternity!


Conclusion

This, beloved brethren and children, is the message of Psalm 129. It is a psalm which Christ our King has given to us to sing with Him to pour out our soul and to comfort one another as we face the afflictions of the wicked in this life.

Isn’t it true that sometimes when we look at what the enemy of God is doing to us, we just don’t know what to say? We are at a loss of words. And we feel helpless. We feel emotionally bottled up. Thank God, therefore, for words to express our feeling, to sing, to encourage ourselves, to pray, to warn, all rolled into one.

Thank God for historical records that testify of the truth of what we sing in the first Stanza. Thank God for His faithfulness that testifies of how He will indeed do according to the desires of Christ and His Church as expressed in the second stanza. Amen.