Read Psalm 129
A song of ascents.
1 “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”
let Israel say;
2 “they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
3 Plowmen have plowed my back
and made their furrows long.
4 But the Lord is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”
5 May all who hate Zion
be turned back in shame.
6 May they be like grass on the roof,
which withers before it can grow;
7 a reaper cannot fill his hands with it,
nor one who gathers fill his arms.
8 May those who pass by not say to them,
“The blessing of the Lord be on you;
we bless you in the name of the Lord.”
Psalms 120-134 are known as the “Psalms of Ascent” or “Pilgrim Songs.” Every year as the Jews traveled uphill towards the city of Jerusalem to participate in one of the three Jewish festivals, these are the songs they would sing. They became a staple of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem back then and now they serve as a helpful template for us as we worship today.
Psalm 129 finds our psalmist crying out for help from the Lord, that He might grant His people strength and liberty from their oppressors. Another one of the Songs of Ascent, this is a psalm the Jewish people would sing when traveling to Jerusalem for festivals and sacrifices.
The plight of this unnamed psalmist might feel familiar. It is easy to look at the injustice around us, sitting in the midst of a sin-ridden world that appears increasingly averse to the Church and her mission. We can feel hopeless at even the best of times. Here, the psalmist models for us the fact that we have permission to cry out to God and ask Him to enact His righteous will in power, and to deliver the weak and the oppressed.
It is also easy to read this psalm and to be confused. If there is a New Testament command to love our neighbor, even our enemy, as ourself, how can we pray that our enemies “be put to shame and turned back” (v. 5)? We sit in the midst of a great tension in this and other outcries of the oppressed in the Old Testament. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and those who persecute us. What this psalm helps us see is that, while we are called to graciously pray for those who persecute us, we cannot sit idly by when we see oppression and injustice.
We are to pray earnestly to the Lord that He would shatter oppression wherever it stands, and that in its place He would expand the ground of His kingdom here on the earth (Matthew 6:10). God is in ultimate, sovereign control of all things, but He also wants us, as the psalmist shows us here, to care about what breaks His heart, talk to Him about it, and ask Him to change things like a child would ask his Father.
- What in your life is making you cry out to God right now?
- How do you participate in advocating for the hurting and oppressed?
- How has the Lord cut you “free from the cords of the wicked” (v. 4)? Spend a moment thanking God for how He has delivered you in the past.
Lord, would you show me what it is to care for the oppressed? Break my heart for what breaks your heart, and give me eyes to see the downcast and the oppressed where I have not before. Would it never be said of me that I turned away when I saw another hurting, but make me instead into an advocate for the oppressed and the wounded. Would your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? Let the taking of kingdom ground begin in my heart and spread to all those around me. Amen.
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