The preservation of Israel is a miracle past and present; encouragingly, it is also promised for the future. The antagonism from Zion’s enemies is inexplicable through rationalist explanations such as envy, ignorance or otherness. The Jewish people have endured more intense and prolonged persecution than any other people group on the face of the earth. History testifies that empires have collapsed, yet God’s chosen people remain and it has never bode well for her oppressors. The central connecting verse of this psalm explains the unnamed psalmist’s hope and assurance “The Lord is righteous; He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked (Psalm 129:4).”
In the Stone Edition Tanakh, the corresponding an apt inscription for the psalm title is, “Israel’s survival against all odds attests to God’s providential control of its destiny.”[i]In the Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald used ‘The Harvest of Anti-Semitism’[ii] as his heading for the commentary on this psalm. Both headings are accurate and applicable. The Jewish Publication Society Jewish Study Bible, notes that the opening four verses speak of past persecution from enemies, whilst the latter verses are an imprecation against all those who hate Zion.[iii]
The opening statement repeats the fact that Israel has been afflicted many times since its youth and mirrors Psalm 124. If the Lord had not been on our side when men came up against us they would have swallowed us alive. Israel has faced and survived persecution from its youth. The Exodus from Egypt is indelibly remembered and celebrated each year at Passover. The burning bush, which was not consumed, speaks of many things, though reminds us that although the Jewish people have faced innumerable trials they have endured, survived and even thrived. Although Israel has been afflicted many times from their youth (Egypt) and are still persecuted, their enemies have not prevailed.
The Jewish people survived through the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires and through numerous expulsions from many European countries including our own, plus the Crusades, the Inquisition, Pogroms and the Holocaust. In 1948, upon the re-establishment of Israel as a Nation State they were attacked immediately and survived against astonishing odds. They have been attacked again and again and prevailed in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. On October 7th Hamas attacked Israel in a chilling and evil series of coordinated, systematic aggressive acts during the Jewish holidays at Yom Kippur. This happened fifty years after the Yom Kippur war.
Israel has a remarkable defence force that is respected worldwide yet many from the IDF are seeking deliverance from the Lord. They are dealing with more than flesh and blood. This is the time to stand with Israel, being the very apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8) and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). This is the time to encourage, support and stand with your Jewish friends. This is the time to reach out to the Jewish community and make Jewish friends. This is the time to honour the Lord’s chosen people and not to hold your silence like so many did during the Holocaust. Those who bless the Lord’s people He will bless and those who curse Him, the Lord will curse (Genesis 12:3).
A word to the wise. Do not blindly and uncritically accept everything reported on the television concerning Israel, undertake proper research, learn about Jewish history and first and foremost study Scripture.
Deliverance comes from the Lord
Remember this is a song of ascents when the Jewish people would make Aliyah to Jerusalem thrice annually during the great feasts which were linked with agriculture and especially the harvests. Agricultural imagery is employed with the ploughers ploughing on the back of Israel and making their furrows long. The prayer was that as grass on the rooftops has no deep soil to root itself, the plans of their enemies would wither before they came to fruition. Deliverance came from the Lord who was with them and fulfils their future, promised through biblical prophecy.
In support, Walvoord and Zuck state, “Deliverance comes from such suffering is attributed to the righteous Lord (v.4). He had cut them loose. Perhaps the figure from verse 3 is continued here: God may have broken the plower’s harness so the plowing could not continue.”[iv]
Ultimately deliverance comes from Messiah who suffered for the sins of the world, the One who died and rose and will return to rule and reign as King Messiah. Messiah Ben Joseph is the same Person as Messiah Ben David. The third Servant song of Isaiah similarly foretells the suffering of Messiah. “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50:6).” Flanigan considers, “It is touching to compare this (Psalm 129:3-added), with Isaiah 50:6, and to remember that He who must have joined in the singing of this Psalm with the pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem, Himself gave His back to the smiters and was cruelly scourged by the Romans.”[v]
Never forget that our Messiah and Saviour is Jewish and salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). Yeshua (Jesus) means ‘Saviour’ and He is the only Saviour, the most famous rabbi and the most worshipped person in history. A Roger Carwell tract explains that Jesus never had a top job, never travelled far and never wrote a book, though changed history forever. Jesus was a Man of sorrows and He gave His life to make atonement for sin. He left from the Mount of Olives and He will return there, not as the sinless, suffering lamb but as the Lion of Judah. We have all broken the Law of Moses and require forgiveness. Turn to Him and trust in Him and you will be saved from the wrath of God and have assurance of life eternal.
Praying for deliverance
The psalmist prayed that those who hate Zion be put to shame and turned back. The late Jonathan Sacks explained how anti-Semitism has morphed. In the Middle Ages, Jewish people were hated for their religion, in the 19th and early 20th Century they were hated for their race and now they are hated for their nation-state, the state of Israel.[vi] It is one thing to criticise Israel but another thing to deny Jewish people to be treated as free and equal human beings.
In the first paragraph I mentioned the irrationality of antisemitism. Now it is time to uncover the underlying reason for hatred towards Jewish people. When natural explanations are exhausted and unable to explain the inexplicable, one must consider the spiritual root. Warren Wiersbe helpfully summarises, “The most logical answer is that Satan hates Israel and has always been at war with her (see Rev. 12). Satan is also at war with the church (John 15:18-25; 17:14; 1 John 3:13).[vii]
The songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-134) cannot be separated from Aliyah (going up to Jerusalem and the great feasts (Passover, Shavuot & Sukkot) and the Lord’s plans and purposes cannot be separated from His covenants to His chosen people. The Abrahamic covenant that the Lord unconditionally established for Abraham would be further established through Isaac and Jacob and is an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:8-19). The greatest blessing of Abraham was the Son of Abraham. The Davidic Covenant promised a throne and a kingdom that would be established forever through the greater Son of David (2 Samuel 1:1-17). The New Covenant includes the house of Israel and the house of Judah and the seed of Israel shall not cease from being a nation before the Lord forever, unless the sun, moon, stars and waves cease from their ordinances which God has appointed (Jeremiah 31:31-37). Selah.
[i] The Stone Edition Tanakh General Editors Rabbi Nosson Scherman/Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz (Mesorah Publications Ltd, 2000; Brooklyn), p1553
[ii] Wiliam MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995; Nashville), p757
[iii] The Jewish Study Bible (JPS, 2004; Oxford), p1429
[iv] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty (Victor, 1989; USA), p886
[v] J. Flanigan What the Bible Teaches Psalms (John Ritchie Ltd, 2001; Kilmarnock), p564-565
[vi] Jonathan Sacks The Power of Ideas Words of Faith and Wisdom (Hodder, 2023; Great Britain), p351
[vii] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bibe Commentary The Complete Old Testament in one volume (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p1030