Saturday, October 12, 2013

Psalm 129

For my write-up today about Psalm 129, I'll post the Psalm in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will transcribe my thoughts that I wrote in my notes, along with some parenthetical elaboration on my part.

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.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.
4 The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:
7 Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
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.

My ramblings: v 2 says that they have attacked "me" from my youth, yet they did not prevail.  (The reason that I put "me" in quotation marks is that Psalm 129 uses the first-person singular, yet it is probably about foreign oppression of Israel rather than of a single individual, as v 5 seems to indicate.  Sigmund Mowinckel says that this sort of thing occurs often in the Psalms: a person speaks for the nation.)  What does the enemies not prevailing mean?  W.O.E. Oesterley mentions Israel's national independence, and yet vv 3-4 say that Israel's back has been plowed, and that the wicked are binding "me" with cords.  And yet, God has cut those cords, and so, in a sense, notwithstanding their successes, the enemies of Israel have not prevailed, at least not ultimately.

But the Psalmist wishes for more: divine vengeance on the enemies, the ones who hate Zion.  He wants for them to experience shame, fruitlessness, withering, and loneliness----as no one passing them by blesses them in the name of the LORD.  Why would these foreign enemies want to be blessed in the name of the LORD, however, when the LORD is not even their God?  Maybe, by this point, the foreign enemies recognize the power of Israel's God.

How could v 6 liken the foreign enemies to grass that dies before growing up, when these foreign enemies of Israel had grown up, in the sense of being powerful and established nations?  The idea, at least in part, may be that there is a limit to how far these nations can go, due to their lack of roots and good soil.  At the same time, v 6 says that they wither before they are plucked up.  John Gill says that their desire for happiness will never be realized.

(The Hebrew word in v 6 that the KJV and other versions translate as "groweth up" actually means to draw or to take off.  Brenton's translation of the Septuagint says that the grass "withers before it is plucked up."  But Edward Cook's English translation of the Targum has that the grass has withered before blossoming.  Perhaps the grass would be plucked up only after it had matured.  Or could the idea in Psalm 129:6 mean that the Psalmist hopes that the nations will decay before God steps in and plucks them up by destroying them?  Another view is that the Hebrew word's meaning of drawing or taking off is consistent with the grass growing, since the grass is extended, or drawn out, when it grows.)

Psalm 129 is raw, and it seems to lack love for enemies.

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