Tom Lowe


Psalm 129: Many Times They Have Afflicted Me


Text: Psalms 129 1-8 (KJV)

1{A Song of degrees.} 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: yet they have not prevailed against me.

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

The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.

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

Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:

Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.

Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD.



This is the last in the second group of 5 psalms in the songs of degrees, it is another of those psalms which seem to revolve around the circumstances of Hezekiah and the Assyrian invasion. In this short hymn we see Israel and her foes. Israel has always been surrounded by hostile neighbors, yet no nation that has persecuted her has ever done so with impunity. The blessing of the Lord is with this nation as with no other nation on earth.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was described by the prophets as “plowing” (vv.3-4; Isa. 51:23; Mic. 3:12; Jer. 26:17-18), so this psalm was probably written after the exiles returned to the land. There they were surrounded by enemies who hated them. The psalmist speaks for the nation and states that, no matter how severe the persecution, nothing can destroy the people of Israel. But God’s church has also suffered severe persecution throughout the centuries, and faithful individual Christians face personal hostility. “Yes. And all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12, NKJV).

The implied hope of the psalmist is that the Lord will come to His people and turn around their fortunes by frustrating those who hate Zion. To him Zion represents the community of the faithful and all for which the worshipping fellowship stands.

 The first part of the psalm (vss. 1-4) looks back at the long centuries of suffering which the nation has experienced. The “me” and “my” of these verses represent the personification of Israel. It is the nation as a whole which the poet here represents as speaking. The “they” refers to no one particular group but includes the historic national enemies of Israel. The Israelites suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, Philistines, Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Persians. These were the great powers. But they suffered also at the hands of the smaller nations that surrounded them and took advantage of their exposed situation—the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites.


Commentary: Psalms 129:1-8 (KJV)

 1. {A Song of degrees.} Many a time{4] have they [My enemies or oppressors] afflicted me from my youth [from the very beginning], may Israel now say:

The psalmist points out that Israel has been victimized in 3 ways:

1 Frequent Persecution

2 Fruitless Persecution

3 Frightful Persecution

Persecution is not something strange in the life of either Israel or the church (1 Pe. 4:12). When the Lord called Abraham, He revealed that some would bless the Jews and others curse them (Gen. 12:1-3). However, the more they were persecuted, the more they increased (Ex. 1:9-14), and there the family of Jacob was molded into the nation of Israel. Israel has suffered more than any nation in history, yet Israel has not been destroyed.

Anti-Semitism first assumed epidemic proportions in Egypt when the reigning pharaoh viewed with growing dislike and apprehension the multiplying millions of Hebrews in the land of Goshen. He decided upon what Adolph Hitler later called the final solution to the Jewish problem: genocide, the murder of a race. Goshen became the pharaoh's gas chamber. Hebrew boy babies were the victims. Pharaoh hoped that within a generation he would have solved his problem by wiping out this dreaded and detested people. Within a generation, however, Egypt suffered the most humiliating and horrifying series of disasters and defeats ever recorded by any nation in all of history.

God sent Moses back to the courts of Pharaoh, armed with miracles that defied Egypt, then when pharaoh persisted in defying God’s orders, God met him and his armies in flood tides of wrath at the Red Sea. There He inflicted on him a defeat that is still talked about and remembered today nearly 3500 years later. God wanted the world to learn a basic lesson: don't tangle with Israel. That was history's first major affliction of Israel and God made an immediate example of it.

After Israel left Egypt there was war with Amalek, then war with the remnants of the Giants, then war with Moab, and with the kings of Canaan.  No nation ever prospered that lifted the sword against Israel: no nation ever will. Then came the days of the judges and constant harassment from the surrounding nations—God permitted afflictions as chastisement for Israel’s national sins, but he never failed to avenge afflictions. We can trace the same story through the long history of the Israeli and Judean kings. Nations warred against Israel and in the end paid for it in full.

Syria to the north and Egypt to the South, both became major offenders. Then at last came a world superpower, Assyria, whose tyrannies and atrocities dwarfed those who had gone before. Assyria carried ten of the tribes into captivity. The land was desolate, and its peoples marched away into oblivion.


 2. Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me.

There is a reason for the persistent phenomenon of anti-Semitism in the world. It has its roots in the fact that Satan is the god of this world, this world’s prince. He works behind the nations of the world, using His fallen angels and demons to accomplish his will. He has divided the heavenly hierarchy into nations; to correspond with the nations of earth; over each nation of mankind he sets his own secret government in the unseen world. He sets a prince over every nation. These princes make up the “principalities and powers,” spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 6:12.

Satan is behind the persecution of Jews; always has been. He uses people to

achieve his evil purpose of inflicting God’s people with suffering. But he can go only so far because God has set limits on what he can do. And sometimes He changes things so that his followers are persecuted instead of the people of God. For example: The Persian soothsayers tried to throw Daniel to the lions but God rescued him and the lions killed the soothsayers instead (Dan. 6). Hitler killed over 6 million Jews in his gas chambers but he was soundly defeated, and the nation of Israel was born a few years later. The church of Jesus Christ has experienced persecution, but it still stands and will continue to stand until Jesus returns (Mat. 16:18). Every true believer can identify with Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. When it comes to suffering for the sake of the Lord, we must first of all accept it.


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

“The plowers plowed upon my back{1],” says the psalmist. Perhaps this is one of those prophetic foreviews of the suffering Messiah seen so often in the Old Testament. The picture of plowing on a person’s back is a graphic way of depicting frightful sufferings. Who can read the history of the Jews in the middle Ages without being deeply moved by the sufferings of this people? The barbarous acts of the Nazis against Jews demonstrated that anti-Semitism is still very much alive as late as WWII. Atrocities against the Jews will come to a head during the Great tribulation yet to be launched by the antichrist.

The nation of Israel has been plowed long, deep, and often, but what a harvest of blessing it has brought to the world! The day came when God cut the cords that tied the oxen to the plow and then Israel was free (see 124:7). The exiles returned to their homes wiser and better people because they had felt the pain of the plow. Instead of blaming God for their suffering, they confessed, “the Lord is righteous.”


 4. “The LORD is righteous [faithful or merciful]: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.”

The reference seems to be to the cords which bound the victim of the lash.  The Lord steps in and cuts the victim free, throwing back in confusion those ill-treating him. The reason why the cords of the wicked cannot ultimately prevail is because the Lord is righteous. If wickedness were allowed to triumph finally on the earth, then either the Lord would not be impeccable, or else He would not be omnipotent. Since he is both good and great the cords of the wicked can never prevail in the end. He may allow wicked men to flourish for a little while—He even uses them to discipline others—but in the end He cuts their cords and vindicates His righteousness.

Israel has a long history, and we have already recited some of it. We have thus far given most of our attention to what amounts to “ancient history.” From here on let’s delve into more recent history. I hope you enjoy hearing the history of Israel as much as I do.

The Mid East became alive with troubles and intrigue. The Jews needed a place to go, a land they could call their own. The League of Nations mandated Palestine to Britain to administer the area, with a view to establishing a national home for Jews in the area. Things did not work as they were planned. With troubles looming on the horizon, with vast, oil rich lands at stake, with the Germans intriguing with the Arabs, against the Jews and against Britain. Then Britain moved to greatly restrict Jewish immigration into the area.

Then after WWII Britain elected a leftist government which had no love for the Jews. The actions taken by the British eventually led to Britain’s ignominious withdrawal from Palestine. The mandate came to an end in bitterness and recrimination and a disgruntled British administration saw to it that the key military. God cut the cords of empire and Britain lost everything.

History tells us that the Lord’s righteousness is upheld. He sticks to his original pledge to Abraham to bless those who bless him and his seed, and to curse those who curse him.


 5. Let them all be confounded and turned back{2] that hate Zion.

Where there has been no plowing, you will not get much of a harvest. The psalmist prayed that those who hated Zion would perish quickly like the useless grass on the roof. But why would anybody want to hate the Jews? Is this hatred born of envy? The most logical answer is that Satan hates Israel and has always been at war with her (see Rev. 12). Satan is also at war with the church (John 17:14; 1 John 3:13).                                   


6. Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth{3] afore it groweth up:

7. Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.

The schemes of those who hate the Jewish people may flourish at first, but they are counterproductive. In the end they come to nothing. God dries them up and blows them away. Their success is futile and profitless. God only needs to blow on it and it is gone. OPEC is a prime example. When the oil-producing Arab states suddenly realized what a potent weapon oil could be in their hands, they set about blackmailing the world. They realized fabulous wealth from the oil that lay buried beneath the sand of their desert lands as the price of Gold sored. Inflation gripped the world. Nations borrowed money feverishly just to stay afloat. Undeveloped nations quickly suffered.

The new wealth was invested in world banks, in assets in foreign countries, in fabulous spending sprees at home, in bankrolling terrorism, in buying sophisticated pro-Arab anti-Israel propaganda around the world. God has shown how He can so easily blow away this newfound wealth. Nations tightened their belts, found unsuspected oil resources, researched possibilities for alternate energy. The Arab stranglehold on oil flourished for a while, but then economic depression hit the industrial, oil consuming nations and oil prices fell. OPEC members started squabbling about quotes and prices and suddenly the cartel did not seem nearly so ominous as it had been. The Arabs have found themselves saddled with vast socialistic enterprises at home and falling revenues. They are particularly vulnerable to upheavals within, to invasion from without, and to the seizure of their invested wealth in foreign lands. Their power in the world is like the grass on the housetops─swift and spectacular growth, but with shallow and unsubstantial roots.


 8. Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD.

Those who curse and afflict the Jew reveal a state of soul completely out of touch with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Neither do they which go by say, ‘The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD.’” Such was the cherry greeting of those passing by the harvest fields in Israel. The enemies of the Jew know nothing of the blessing of God on their lives. In typical “wisdom fashion,” the godly are to be blessed, and the wicked are to perish. This is not just a wish, but a prediction. It cannot be otherwise, at least in the long run, in a universe governed by a holy and just God.

The psalm teaches us a great truth─God has a covenant tie with Israel that He has with no other nation on earth. Nations which attack Israel will have God to contend with. All history proves that to be true. Let the nations of the earth beware.


Special notes and Scripture

[1} They ploughed upon my back. They have not only thrown me down and stepped on me, but have cruelly tormented me, wounded and mangled me, and had no more pity upon me than the ploughman has upon the earth which he cuts up at his pleasure. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the slave drivers lash which would bite into the backs of his victims.

[2} Confounded and turned back. Forced to retreat and disperse with shame and disappointment.

[3} Which withereth afore it groweth up. The house tops there were flat, and therefore more capable of grass or green corn growing between stones than ours are. But that which grows on the roofs has little depth of soil which will not allow the roots to grow to maturity. Therefore, the plants do not grow to maturity but wither and die.

[4} Many a time. A better translation would be “much” or “greatly”