Theme: The LORD Is with Us
In this week’s lessons, we learn about God’s triumph for his people over persecutions.
Scripture: Psalm 129:1-8
Derek Kidner begins his study of this psalm by commenting, “Whereas most nations tend to look back on what they have achieved, Israel reflects here on what she has survived.”1 It seems a strange thing to say or do, bordering even on paranoia. But it is not strange when you think about Israel’s long history. The Jews are the longest-enduring, distinct ethnic people on the planet.
They have been slandered, hated, persecuted, expelled, pursued and murdered throughout their long existence. But they have survived intact. In fact, many are now back in their own traditional land, in Israel. They are a brilliant, talented people. But survival has been their chief achievement. It is the greatest accomplishment of all.
Near the end of the eighteenth century Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia, was having a discussion with his chaplain about the truthfulness of the Bible. The king had become skeptical and unbelieving, largely due to Voltaire, the famous French rationalist skeptic. He said to his chaplain, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be capable of very brief proof. So often when I have asked for proof of the inspiration of the Bible I have been given some enormous volume that I have neither the time nor disposition to read. If your Bible is really from God, you should be able to demonstrate the fact simply. Forget long arguments. Give me the proof of the Bible’s inspiration in a word.”
The chaplain replied, “Your Majesty, it is possible for me to answer your request quite literally. I can give you the proof you ask for in a single word.”
Frederick looked at the chaplain with amazement and asked, “What is this magic word that carries such a weight of proof?”
The chaplain answered, “Israel, your Majesty.” Frederick, the story goes, was silent.
The point of the chaplain’s argument is what we are talking about, of course, and it is what Psalm 129 describes. It is the survival of the Jews in spite of centuries, even millennia, of persecutions, and the explanation of this, which is the sovereign will and protecting presence of God. Nothing else can explain the Jews’ survival. As an explanation of Israel’s history only God will do. This is the point of the psalm’s first stanza (vv. 1-4): “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth—let Israel say—they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me. Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long. But the LORD is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”
This psalm is a lot like Psalm 124 in its theme and form, especially in its call for repetition of the opening line by someone like a cantor at the poem’s start. In the earlier poem the cantor throws out the lead line (“If the LORD had not been on our side—”), then calls for its repetition by the people: “let Israel say—if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us.” At this point the people are presumably with him, repeating or singing the psalm, which describes their deliverance and survival by God.
It is the same in Psalm 129. Here the cantor calls, “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth—let Israel say—.” And the people begin, “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me” (vv. 1, 2).
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975). p. 444.
Why does Derek Kidner say Israel reflects on its survival? Why is this remarkable?
How is Psalm 129 like Psalm 124?
Key Point: It is the survival of the Jews in spite of centuries, even millennia, of persecutions, and the explanation of this, which is the sovereign will and protecting presence of God.
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “The Privilege of Israel.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)