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Psalm 129

Facing relentless opposition

God’s enemies bitterly oppose his people for submitting to his sovereignty over the world. In response, the psalmist celebrates God’s protection and asks him to totally nullify his foes’ opposition.

A song of ascents.

1 Though they’ve brutally attacked me
ever since I was young—
let Israel say it.
2 Though they’ve brutally attacked me
ever since I was young
they’ve never managed to destroy me.
3 Plowers drove their plow down my back
cutting long furrows in it.
4 But Yahveh the Just
cut away the fetters
the wicked had bound me with!

5 May all who hate Zion
be driven back in disgrace.
6 Make them like grass on a rooftop
scorched by a desert wind
before it can grow
7 big enough to fill a reaper’s hand
or be put into a farmer’s sheave.
8 And let no passersby say to them:
“Yahveh’s blessings be on you!
We bless you in Yahveh’s name!”

With Pharoah determined to hold onto his slaves, Yahveh divided the sea before the Israelites. Thus, Israel was a people born under attack. Ripping the Israelites’ backs open with inhuman floggings, the Egyptians had tamed them like a plow tames a stubborn field. Then, bursting their bonds, Yahveh set his people free. As surrounding nations viciously attacked them in the following centuries, God defended them similarly. From the first, Israel’s patriarchs had faced hostility too. Because God’s enemies always oppose those representing his claim over the earth.

Facing similar opposition, the psalmist asks God to defeat his enemies again, making them like grass so stunted and scorched the reaper doesn’t give it a second glance. She ends praying that no one will wish God’s blessing on his enemies when they try to harvest the fruit of their labor.

While the New Testament calls us to bless our enemies, Jesus taught us to pray for God’s reign to come also. This involves his ending all his enemies’ efforts to oppress and dehumanize others and block his gracious rule. Thus, prayers for the forgiveness of God’s enemies—as Jesus prayed on the cross—are compatible with prayers for their resounding defeat. We must hold these prayers in tension.

Submitting to your rule, Jesus, means facing the world’s opposition, taking up my cross and following you. Grant me grace to await your judgment of evildoers and to lavish your love on them even while praying against their evil attempts to block your just rule over the earth. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Plowers drove their plow down my back
cutting long furrows in it.
But Yahveh the Just cut away the fetters
the wicked had bound me with.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.