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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 129


Out of some deadly peril Israel looks for deliverance to the righteousness of Jehovah, which from the childhood of the race has repeatedly manifested itself in help and deliverance. As the cord of bondage was cut in Egypt so will it be cut again, and the same shame and confusion overtake the present oppressors which fell upon the Pharaohs. But of the precise time and occasion there is no indication. The two stanzas into which the poem falls would be perfectly similar but for the last line, which looks suspiciously like an after addition of some copyist to bring the harvest scene into exact correspondence with the picture in Ruth. (See Note to Psalms 129:8.)

Verse 1

(1) Many a time.—Or more literally, much. (See margin.)

From my youth.—Here, of course, not the youth of a person, but of the nation. The poet glances back even to the Egyptian bondage. (See Hosea 2:15, “as in the days of her youth, and as in the days when she came up out of the land of Egypt;” comp. Ezekiel 23:3; Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 22:21, recalling all the long series of oppressions suffered by the race.)

May Israel now say.—There is in the original no adverb of time: “let Israel say.”

Verse 3

(3) Furrows.—The Hebrew word only occurs once besides, in 1 Samuel 14:14, where the margin renders as here, furrow—a rendering which plainly there is not intelligible. “Half a furrow of an acre of land,” as a space in which twenty men were killed, gives no clear idea to the mind. But Dr. J. G. Wettstein, in his excursus at the end of Delitzsch’s Commentary, explains the ma’an to be the strip of ground which the ploughman takes in hand at one time, and round which consequently at the end of each furrow the plough turns. Delitzsch’s “furrow-strip,” therefore, more exactly reproduces the word, though here doubtless it is used with a poetic freedom and may be translated furrow. The double image, suggesting the lash given to a slave, and at the same time the actual and terrible imprints of oppression left on the country as well as the race, is as striking as poetry ever produced. It, in fact, combines two separate prophetic figures, Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 51:23.

Verse 4

(4) The Lord is righteous.—This expression of faith, introduced without any conjunction, is itself a revelation of the deeply-rooted religion of Israel.

Cords.—Literally, cord. As in Psalms 124:7, the net was broken and the bird escaped, so here the cord binding the slave (comp. Psalms 2:3) is severed and he goes free.

Verse 6

(6) Which withereth afore it groweth up.—This clause, with its Aramaic colouring, probably contains a textual error. The context seems certainly to require the meaning “before it is plucked up,” and many scholars get this meaning out of the Hebrew verb used elsewhere of “plucking off a shoe” and “drawing a sword.” They give, which is no doubt legitimate, an impersonal sense to the active verb, “which withereth before one pulls it up.” The LXX. (received text), the Vulg., Theodotion, and the Quinta favour this rendering. On the other hand, the image of grass withering before it comes to maturity is exactly what we should expect here, growing as it does without soil (comp. the “seed on the rock” in the parable of the sower), and suggests a more complete and sudden destruction of the enemies, who perish before the abortive plans of evil can be carried out. The rendering of the Authorised Version is therefore to be retained, and is actually supported by Aquila, Symmachus, the Sexta, and in various readings of the LXX. A thatched cottage in our country might present the picture suggested by the verse, but it was much more familiar where the housetops were flat and plastered with a composition of mortar, tar, ashes, and sand, which, unless carefully rolled, would naturally become covered with weeds. Indeed, in many cases, especially on the poorest sort of houses, the roof would be little better than hard mud. For similar allusions comp. 2 Kings 19:26 and Isaiah 37:27.

Verse 8

(8) This harvest scene is exactly like that painted in Ruth 2:4, and the last line should be printed as a return greeting from the reapers.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 129". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.