Psalm 129 (NIV)
- 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.
- May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame.
- May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow;
- with it the reaper cannot fill his hands, nor the one who gathers fill his arms.
- May those who pass by not say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you; we bless you in the name of the LORD.”
This psalm is all about God delivering the Israelites from oppression. The Bible is full of scriptures where God wants to deliver His people. Exodus, anyone? In Psalm 18:19, David writes about how God delivered him from Saul – “He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.” I can recount many times in my life when God has brought me out of dark places into places of spaciousness where EVERYTHING seemed different because of the opportunities and possibilities. One of those times was when we moved from my hometown several years ago. Now, at first, I was not excited about this move AT ALL. I would be leaving my entire family and all of my friends (except for one 😉 ). It was scary. But this was where the Lord was leading us, of that I have no doubt. We moved out of a place of financial turmoil, job insecurity, and a VERY bad situation with a questionable “business” and were given a completely fresh start with secure jobs, better finances, and much needed space between us and people who were intrusive, demanding, and using us.
The first lesson on this psalm deals entirely with oppression and how experiences with that can color a person’s entire life if they do not break free. Oppression can come from a number of different circumstances and scenarios. I don’t want to completely quote the entire lesson, but Beth made three important points about oppression, and I think they are very relevant to my life.
1. When oppression begins in our youth, one oppressor can ultimately turn into many. Beth states:
Keep in mind, you don’t have to be abused when you’re young to develop an oppression addiction. I have friends who were oppressed by parents bound by religious legalism, robbing them of joy and freedom in Christ. Those friends equated authority with domination; and rebellion was the great escape.
She could easily have been talking about me. But since I was immersed in learning about God and true freedom through him from a young age, it helped me to not get caught up in the legalism that was going on around me. I know that going to church, studying my Bible, and eventually attending a Christian college all worked together to keep me from completely rebelling against both my parents and God.
Oppression can also come in the form of controlling parents or family members, people who try to guilt-trip you into doing things, or people who just love to push your buttons.
2. Each individual reacts to the same oppression differently.
I rebelled in my own way. I listened to (*gasp*) rock music, then later contemporary Christian music. I snuck a (*gasp*) non-KJV bible into my room. More generally, I basically did everything I could to make my life separate from those around me. I learned early on that I had to educate myself and seek the Truth in my own way (not to be confused with seeking my “own truth” – which is a load of bull). A benefit was that I learned independence and self-reliance.
Others in my situation outright blatantly rebelled. Some turned to drugs. Some got in trouble with the law. Some turned back to God after a time. Others did not. Others blamed all of their problems on their parents or circumstances.
Beth says, “Hurtful situations hurt, and if they don’t . . . We’ve grown callous and cold. One common reaction for many of us is to develop a victim mentality.”
3. People oppressed from youth often grow up to let strong personalities walk all over them.
This could easily have been me. I was incredibly shy and introverted growing up. I credit the college I went to, and the Godly professors there who poured their lives into us students, with really opening my eyes to who I was and, more importantly, WHOSE I was. As my pastor says, “God doesn’t make no junk.” I have no problem looking people in the eye now, or standing up for myself (hopefully in love – at least most of the time 😉 ). There was a time when I never thought that would ever happen.
Isaiah 51:22-23 tells us that sometimes we lay down and let people walk all over us. We can invite oppression by giving people permission to mistreat or abuse us based on how we react to their demands. For example, for several years after we moved away from home, my parents would give me a guilt trip every single time I talked to them. I always hung up the phone feeling horrible that I had moved away and taken their grandson with me. I finally had to stand up and tell them that, even though I missed them and loved them, we had to do what was right for OUR family, and that was moving away, so stop giving me a guilt trip every time I talk to you. lol Just because you are a nice person, it doesn’t mean that you have to take all the lumps people throw at you. Beth says “we can offer people our love without offering them our backs.”
At the same time, I need to know when to NOT stand up for myself and to let God handle it. Isaiah 51:22 also tells us that God defends His people. I absolutely LOVE Isaiah 49:25.
But thus says the LORD: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible be delivered; for I will contend with him who contends with you, and I will save your children.”
God will contend with those who contend with me. I love how that is worded! God is always loyal. I had never thought about God in those terms before. It is almost incomprehensible. God doesn’t owe me loyalty. I owe Him loyalty. That He is loyal to me is incredible and totally undeserved. Beth says:
Comprehending God’s loyalty to us and consciously leaving all vindication to Him is crucial if you and I don’t want to inadvertently go from being oppressed to being an oppressor.
How, then, is the psalmist’s request for vengeance on Israel’s oppressor explained? Psalms like this are called imprecatory psalms, ones that, basically, ask God to hurt their enemies. There are 18 psalms that contain this type of language. The beautiful part of the psalms is that they show us how we can effectively, without being sinful, blow off steam. We take our complaints to God and turn over the problem to Him.
Psalms like this show us that we can come before God and pour our hearts out with total honesty. But we have to actually let it go afterwards and let Him deal with it. Beth gives the example of David, the “man after God’s own heart.” He wrote more imprecatory psalms than anyone, but exhibited the opposite behavior in real life. I believe he was able to pour his frustrations out on paper and get it off his chest. Beth says:
Maybe David’s actions echoed Romans 12:17-21. Vengeance is God’s right alone. The man after God’s own heart refused to be overcome by evil. Rather, he overcame evil with good. Still, he felt free to be heard in his strong but momentary emotion.
This is Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna’s description of the psalms. It is absolutely insightful.
In the Law and the Prophets, God reaches out to man. The initiative is His. The message is His. He communicates, we receive. Our God-given free will allows us to be receptive, to be accepting, to turn a deaf ear, to reject. In the Psalms, human beings reach out to God. The initiative is human. The language is human. We make an effort to communicate. He receives; he chooses to respond or not, according to His inscrutable widsom. He gives His assent or withholds it. In the Psalms, the human soul extends itself beyond its confining, sheltering, impermanent house of clay. It strives for contact with the Ultimate Source of all life. It groups for an experience of the divine Presence. The biblical psalms are essentially a record of the human quest for God. Hence, the variety of forms in which the ancient psalmists expressed themselves, reflective of the diverse and changing moods that possessed them as they do all human beings. In short, the psalms constitute a revealing portrayal of the human condition.
I normally insert my version of the psalm at this point, but I am not going to do that this time, as it is very personal to me.