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Psalm 129

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
A Prayer for the Overthrow of Zion's Enemies
MT Intro
A Song of Ascents
Song of Victory Over Zion's Enemies Prayer for Deliverance From National Enemies
(A Lament)
A Prayer Against Israel's Enemies Against Zion's Enemies
129:1-4 129:1-4 129:1-8 129:1-4 129:1-2
        129:3-4
129:5-8 129:5-8   129:5-8 129:5-8b
        129:8c

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This is a national lament. For the use of "son" for Israel, see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE SON OF GOD.

B. The second stanza (Ps. 129:5-8) is a curse on Israel's persecutors, who apparently are foreigners.

C. Many of the images referring to Israel's life and faith are drawn from agriculture. It is crucial that we remember the following truths when we interpret the Psalms.

1. they are OT and not NT

2. they relate to an ANE setting

3. they focus on covenant obedience and the centrality of national Israel in the plan of God

4. they must be reinterpreted in light of the NT gospel

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 129:1-4
 1"Many times they have persecuted me from my youth up,"
 Let Israel now say,
 2"Many times they have persecuted me from my youth up;
 Yet they have not prevailed against me.
 3The plowers plowed upon my back;
 They lengthened their furrows."
 4The Lord is righteous;
 He has cut in two the cords of the wicked.

129:1-2 Psalm 129:1, line 1 seems, at first, to address the situation of a faithful individual but the verb of line 2 (BDB 55, KB 65, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense) shows this is a national lament. This Psalm does not state why Israel is persecuted so often. Like most of the Psalms, the admission of sin of the covenant people is not expressed, but assumed. The terrible realities of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28 have become a national reality.

129:2b The fact that national Israel remained in existence is a tribute to the mercy (cf. Malachi 1) and purpose of God (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

129:3 This is agricultural imagery denoting suffering and pain.

129:4a Israel remains because of their God. He is true to His character (see SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS) and purpose (cf. Gen. 3:15; Exod. 19:5-6; Isa. 2:2-4; Mic. 4:1-3).

129:4b This ("cords," BDB 721) may refer to

1. the trapping of animals (cf. Ps. 140:5)

2. the bindings of a yoke of oxen (cf. Job 39:10)

3. the bindings of a prisoner

AB (p. 231) suggests that this line of poetry be understood as a jussive (as is Ps. 129:5-6), which would denote a prayer. If YHWH has already "cut" (BDB 893, KB 1125, Piel perfect), why the curses of Ps. 129:5-6? Dahood makes it a precative perfect, which he notes is often found in parallel with jussives. If this is true, then Ps.129:4 begins a new strophe (i.e., Ps. 129:4-8), therefore, a translation like "Let YHWH cut the cords (i.e., oxen plows) of the wicked." Most English translations (NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, JPSOA, REB) translate the verb as a past event.

129:4-8 This strophe describes a curse on all who hate Zion (i.e., meaning YHWH and His people). In this context, Zion refers to national Israel with its center being the temple in Jerusalem.

1. be put to shame - BDB 101, KB 116, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, Ps. 129:5

2. be turned back - BDB 690, KB 744, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense, Ps. 129:6

3. let them be like grass upon the housetops - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, Ps. 129:6

a. it withers before it grows, Ps. 129:6b

b. the reaper has no fruit from it, Ps. 129:7

4. no one blesses them, Ps. 129:8

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 129:5-8
 5May all who hate Zion 
 Be put to shame and turned backward;
 6Let them be like grass upon the housetops,
 Which withers before it grows up;
 7With which the reaper does not fill his hand,
 Or the binder of sheaves his bosom;
 8Nor do those who pass by say,
 "The blessing of the Lord be upon you;
 We bless you in the name of the Lord."

129:5b "put to shame" This term (BDB 101, KB 116) denotes someone out of fellowship with YHWH and under His judgment. It can be used of

1. foreigners

2. rebellious Israelites

It denotes the consequences of unfaithfulness or unbelief mentioned in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-30 as becoming a reality (see NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 621-627). For "ashamed" see note at Ps. 119:6.

129:8a-b This may refer to the blessing that friends, family, and neighbors shouted to the harvesters (cf. Ruth 2:4).

129:8c See Special Topic: "The Name" of YHWH.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Does the opening of this Psalm imply a liturgy?

2. Why is Israel called "a youth"?

3. To what does "cords" of Ps. 129:4 refer?

4. Define "shame."

5. What is the possible historical setting of Ps. 129:8?