Plowing My Back
(H) A Song of Ascents. (1) “They have greatly afflicted me from my early years,” let Israel now say. (2)“They have greatly afflicted me from my early years, yet they have not prevailed against me.” (3) The plowmen have plowed upon my back. They have made their furrows long. (4) Yahweh (is) righteous. He has cut off the cords of the wicked. (5) Let all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned back. (6) Let them be like grass on house roofs which withers before it shoots up, (7) with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves (carry) in his arms, (8) nor do those passing by say, “The blessing of Yahweh (be) upon you! We bless you in the name of Yahweh!”
This psalm both opens and closes with quotations. In the first statement, Israel testifies regarding the abuse she suffered at the hands of her enemies. The repetition of “they have greatly afflicted me” (vss. 1 & 2) along with the vivid agricultural metaphor of plowing on her back (vs. 3) effectively convey what the chosen people have endured over many centuries of affliction. Today we could include in this testimony the horrors of the Holocaust during World War II. The ugliness of anti-Semitism should never cease to cause us outrage.
The second quotation (vs. 8) voices a prayer that Israel never wanted to hear offered for her enemies, namely that Yahweh’s blessing (found twice in vss. 7 & 8) might rest upon them. In this second half of the psalm (vss. 5-8) the pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem asked Yahweh to defeat and destroy those who hate Zion. For this reason, Psalm 129 should be classified as another of the imprecatory psalms that call for God to avenge injustice done to his chosen people.
I. Israel’s enemies have continually mistreated her. (1-3)
II. Israel asks Yahweh to avenge her afflictions. (4-8)
Because of the way Israel’s enemies have continually mistreated her, the nation appeals to Yahweh to avenge her afflictions.
We should take time to ponder the implications of the third verse. It is one thing to say, “They have greatly afflicted me” (vs. 2). It is far more potent to use a strongly evocative metaphor to convey the same message.
What comes to mind as we consider the image of “plowing my back?” First, we realize that this is premeditated, deliberate torture. In order to plow a field effectively, a farmer must think ahead and plan what he is doing. Also, this is prolonged cruelty. Plowing a field takes a long time, row by row by row. Each furrow must be turned slowly, carefully, methodically. This suffering lasts a long time. And note the statement, “They have made their furrows long.” These torturers have deliberately maximized their infliction of pain. Additionally, this is torture that leaves permanent scars. Just as plowing physically alters a field, so plowing a back, if it could be done, would disfigure the victim for life. One final thing, this is cruelty against the defenseless. By visualizing the posture we would have to assume to have this done to our backs, we realize that we would have to be held down on our stomachs, arms and legs made fast, helpless to prevent such torture.
Is it any wonder that the psalmist prays for Yahweh to avenge such cruelty? Paul set forth how the godly should deal with deliberate abuse whatever form it might take: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Knowing that God will someday repay every wrong done to those who are his can give us great comfort in the midst of our afflictions.