Psalm 129 sets forth one notable feature of our journey of faith that we’d rather not talk about – suffering. In fact, many religions say that it’s an illusion. For some who profess faith in Christ, it causes them to abandon their journey of faith entirely. Where do we find hope when we suffer?
Hear the Word of God from Psalm 129:
1 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” – let Israel now say—
2 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”
4 The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!
6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up,
7 with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms,
8 nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
How do you tend to respond when you suffer? Have you ever said or thought something like the words of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Some of us are prone to get angry with God at his apparent indifference to our plight. We tend to charge Him with wrongdoing. We doubt His goodness and question His love and power. Some of us sulk and wallow in self-pity. Others of us take vengeance on our pain with the unrelenting pursuit of illicit pleasure. Others of us blame and shame others. Psalm 129 reminds us where to find hope in the midst of our suffering?
We generally need to recall God’s Pattern. It was his pattern with Israel, Jesus, and with us. Cross and crown … tragedy and triumph… sufferings and glories to follow.
Israel – Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, The Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the Muslim crusaders, and the Nazis. Why such persistent antisemitism? Satan absolutely hates Israel as the people through whom God promised to send the Messiah. Why is this? The Apostle John declares that “the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
Listen to how the Psalmist describes Israel’s suffering: They “plowed upon my back.” This is a powerful metaphor combining the idea of a vicious, painful scourging with the painstaking and thorough effort a farmer would make to plow a field.
But they have “not prevailed against me” (v. 2). They did not gain the victory. Persecutors never completely prevail over God’s people. For the Lord cuts the cords of the wicked.
Have you ever wondered why God persist in using this pattern of suffering before the glories that follow? This pattern can easily be traced in the life of Israel, in the life of Christ, and in the lives of Christ’s followers. One reason He does this is so that the world might know that the power is not from ourselves but from God.
But what would life be like in our fallen world if God eliminated suffering? Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and journalist answers: “Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered” (Jesus Rediscovered, 1969. pp. 199-200).
We need to specifically remember Good Friday. Indeed, the Psalmist laments the repeated and frequent afflictions of his people, but this Psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah on the day that we call Good Friday. For Jesus is the ultimate sufferer whose back is plowed to bring healing to us… His sin-sick people.
What do we do on Good Friday? We worship our suffering Messiah who willingly dies on our behalf. We recall His cross, we take time to relive the anguish, and renew our vows to live as His followers.
Why did He suffer so? Our salvation was contingent upon Jesus’ suffering. One of the things we remember on Good Friday is that the Messiah had to suffer. He suffered to ultimately end all suffering.
But notice that it doesn’t end with suffering. Paul spells out Jesus’ exaltation to the church at Philippi: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-10).
For Jesus, He endured the cross before He received the crown. The way of humiliation and suffering prepared and led Him to great glory. God uses this same pattern with us. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
May you find on this Good Friday renewed hope to persevere in your own suffering as you remember the One who suffered and died for you.