Do me a favor and please read Psalm 129.
How does one push on today when yesterday was so rough? When we’ve gone through the fire, when oppression has sunk its teeth in us, when destruction and desolation know me by name – how will I respond? When I’ve been wounded since childhood will I carry that with me today? And when I see it STILL HAPPENING to others where will I stand? What voice will I use? And how will I respond? These are but a few of the questions that pop up as I read this psalm.
We don’t know much about this psalm or the psalmist in general. It’s in the “song of ascents” portion of the book and so it’s to be reflective, praise-worthy, and hopeful. These song of ascent psalms would have been sung as the people came “up” to Jerusalem from their homes (Jerusalem was always “up” from wherever you were) which is why they are hopeful, challenging, and reflective. They are meant to be songs of response, songs of hope, and songs of preparation for the people of God as they enter into His presence.
As I read this psalm I cannot help but feel the pain that Israel has endured and sings. Verse 2 begins with not only an oppression but one that has lasted for as long as the author can remember. Verse 3 speaks of “plowman” “plowing” their back and making their “furrows long.” So they have not only been beaten but their backs have been trenched deeply and with long deep cuts (a “furrow” is a trench – so imagine a long “trench” of an open wound down your back). But in both of these cases while these events may be fresh in their minds it’s not where they ultimately land in response. Oppression may have happened since their youth but that doesn’t mean that evil is victorious. My back may have been plowed and furrowed but the righteous Lord has removed the whips and bindings of my oppressor. And while their hope is striking and challenging in its reflective nature the REAL challenge for us comes in their response to their oppressors. Sin, anger, hatred and evil was done to them…but do they respond with that same sin? Does the anger they have for what has happened to them find a voice? Do they respond with evil as evil has been done to them? No. Their response to all of this is that God would intervene and simply allow evil to have no voice, no work, no say, no strength, and no fields to reap or sow. In essence: do not allow evil to have a space to even begin to work.
Nearly every time evil has been done against me there was a welling up of evil inside that wanted to respond. And many of those times I allowed it to not only fester but boil over and come out – and it never ended well. Often times we allow the “eye for an eye tooth for a tooth” response to take hold even while “love thy enemies” is rolling around in our heads. I picture the old cartoons where there is a good angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other and both are trying to convince the person why their response to a situation is best. While the angel is saying, “Just turn away and forgive” the devil is whispering “Yeah, but payback feels sooooo much better!” Often times we know we ought to forgive and ignore and yet we find ourselves repaying evil with evil, anger with anger, and hatred with hatred. And yet here, on this praise of the people as they head up to the presence of God what do they do? How do they respond to their oppression, slavery, and abuse? Their response is that it simply crawl back from where it came and never to find food to feast on and give it strength and power.
Verse 8 is a really good challenge for me. The psalmist is asking that evil not only not prosper but may it not be rewarded and encouraged. Why? Because when it is rewarded or encouraged then it sinks its teeth in deeper, prospers, and gains strength and power. Think about the time you responded with evil with more evil. Did it work? It hasn’t for me. It only made things worse. And why? Because evil feeds off of more evil. Think about darkness and light. Does darkness push out darkness? No. Only light does. Or think of when two storms or two tornadoes collide. They don’t knock each other out as a boxer would. Instead, they get stronger. They get bigger. Sin and evil is the same way.
So what does Psalm 129 do for us? It reminds us that sin and evil exist and that bad things happen to people. But it CHALLENGES us to respond not in the way we often find ourselves WANTING to respond or even how we have in the past. Instead we should respond in a way of love by not returning evil with evil. The psalmist’s response to their own pains should challenge us to not seek revenge but to seek God’s ability to remove the evil all together. If we want a candle to burn out we don’t add another flame or more oxygen. Instead we remove the oxygen and allow the flame to burn out. And what snuffs out evil more than anything? Love. So in one sense our challenge should simply be to love. Allowing love to respond in all situations and allow evil to consume itself because it has nothing to feast on. THAT is our challenge and yet there is a “reminder” in this psalm too: evil will not win.
We read in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 that we may be afflicted but we are not crushed. That we may be perplexed but never driven to despair. That we may be persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. And why? Because God wins. Because Jesus took on evil and won. And he didn’t do it by more evil – he did it by love. I cannot think of a better song to sing as you enter into the presence of God than of his loving work.