Psalm 129: Oppression
July 6, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Oppression and injustice are real experiences for millions of people in our world—some of them also being Christians. The reasons for such oppression and injustice are complicated, and beyond the scope of this devotional to adequately discuss, but the cause is simple, if simply devastating. We live in a fallen world, and while our fellowship with God is on the basis of Christ’s justification, our relationships to each other, and especially to the fallen world around us, are liable at all times to have at least vestiges of depravity and disease stubbornly resisting the progress of the gospel.
Perhaps you have had some injustice committed against you. This psalm is not focused on the individual experience of injustice—as pertinent and painful as that can be—but on the corporate experience of suffering, in particular the oppression of God’s people as a body. What should God’s people do when they are being oppressed?
The first thing from this psalm is to be honest about it in our relationship with God: “‘Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth’—let Israel now say” (129:1). Honesty with God is not only good practical policy (for he knows all already), it is also a salve against the temptation to hypocrisy. Mental and spiritual health alike are furthered by the integrity of mind that grasps the truth of things, even if that truth is painful.
The truth is that Israel had been oppressed. But there is a counter, glorious, and wonderful truth: “yet they have not prevailed against me” (129:2). Once we admit that there have been difficulties and injustices against God’s people, we are then also drawn quickly to the counter truth: God has been faithful to his people down through history! In fact, “He has cut me free from the cords of the wicked” (129:3, NIV).
Now the psalmist is thinking about himself as an individual (“me”), for while are a part of the body of Christ we do not thereby lose or diminish our individuality. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). The rescue of God’s people is also a rescue of an individual person; of “me,” of you. Remember, then, when you think of oppression and injustice, think not only of God’s faithfulness to his people, but of his faithfulness to you.
Verses 5 to 8 are a prayer for judgment—the kind of prayer that modern people find almost impossible to accept. Certainly, we must be careful not to cast anathemas around with unthinking vim or viciousness. Neither should we equate opposition to us as necessarily opposition to God. If you turn up to late to work every day of the week for a month and you are fired, you are not being fired because you are a Christian, you are being fired because you are late to work repeatedly. But to systematically, deliberately, aggressively pursue the oppression and the persecution of God’s people is to put yourself in danger of this very judgment.
Not that there cannot be rescuer as for the oppressed. Paul who persecuted God’s people was rescued, even as he was told that in persecuting God’s people he was persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4). Also, our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of this dark world (Ephesians 6:12). Plus, these verses are inspired Scripture; none of us can be as confident about the real motivations of someone who it appears is oppressing God’s people.
But, nonetheless, these verses still serve as warning: do not stand against God’s people, for then you stand against the Almighty God Himself—which is a comforting thought for God’s people when they are oppressed or suffer injustice. There may be oppression for a season, but as the psalmist puts it, “they have not gained the victory over me.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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