We have a lot to learn from farmers. They are often associated with hardship, because their work can be back-breaking, and it never stops all year round. They’re also considered a picture of patience, having to wait for good weather – which is completely out of their control – and having to wait a long time for the seed they have sown to produce a harvest.
We live in a world that is full of hardship, but devoid of patience; yet the latter is often the antidote to the former. So there is much wisdom for us in this song’s imagery of farming.
This Psalm is particularly concerned with the hardship of oppression. We see oppression throughout our world today, between nation states, and between individuals. The Bible later describes oppression as having three sources, ‘the world, the flesh and the devil’: it comes from real people, from our own bodies or minds, or from the reality of spiritual evil that is present in daily life. And oppression’s pain is real, and makes us wince (see its description in v3). We long for our oppressors to be stopped and to face justice (v5).
In the face of such oppression, this song – perhaps surprisingly – calls us to patience. How is it possible to be patient in the face of oppression? We can only be patient if there is a bigger picture we can cling to for hope. Christianity claims there is a bigger picture: that there is a God, bigger than those who oppress us, who is just, and who is able to cut us free from their grip (v4). Knowing that he is for us and that he is committed to making all things right helps us remember that although they may hurt me, my oppressors will not win (v2); their attempts to quash me is like grass in shallow ground (v6), which bursts up quickly but cannot grow. They will not reap what they sow (v7), so no-one will congratulate them on their harvest (v8).
But why should we wait on God for this? How can we know he is for us?
The Christian God is not a god who remains aloof, hidden in a cloud, immune from our pain. He feels it deeply, and enters into our pain. In fact, this song is a picture of the life of Jesus. He was hounded by people who hated him his entire earthly life (v1-2). He was literally flogged (v3; see also here). And even though he was entangled in the cords of death (v4; see also Psalm 18:5), his Father in heaven cut him free and raised him back to life after three days (read about it here). Even the Devil’s apparent moment of victory at Jesus’ death was like grass in shallow ground (v6), a brief victory that didn’t last.
Be assured in your pain today that God sees what you’re going through, and he cares; he offers to cut you free from the cords that bind you, and he promises that one day he will bring judgement to all oppressors.
PRAYER God thank you that you are there, and you care for the oppressed. Thank you that no act of oppression goes unnoticed by you, and that you promise to bring all oppressors to account. Help me to trust that you will do this. Help me to know you are with me today. Amen.
A song of ascents.
1 ‘They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,’ let Israel say;
2 ‘they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
3 Ploughmen have ploughed my back and made their furrows long.
4 But the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.’
5 May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame.
6 May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow;
7 a reaper cannot fill his hands with it, nor one who gathers fill his arms.
8 May those who pass by not say to them,
‘The blessing of the Lord be on you; we bless you in the name of the Lord.’