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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Psalms 129

The End of the Oppressors of Zion

Just as Psalms 124:1-8 with the words “let Israel say” was followed by Psalms 125:1-5 with “peace be upon Israel,” so Psalms 128:1-6 with “peace be upon Israel” is followed by Psalms 129:1-8 with “let Israel say.” This Psalms 129:1-8 has not only the call “let Israel say,” but also the situation of a deliverance that has been experienced (cf. Psalms 129:4 with Psalms 124:6.), from which point it looks gratefully back and confidently forward into the future, and an Aramaic tinge that is noticeable here and there by the side of all other classical character of form, in common with Psalms 124:1-8.

Verses 1-2

Israel is gratefully to confess that, however much and sorely it was oppressed, it still has not succumbed. רבּת , together with רבּה , has occurred already in Psalms 65:10; Psalms 62:3, and it becomes usual in the post-exilic language, Psalms 120:6; Psalms 123:4, 2 Chronicles 30:18; Syriac rebath . The expression “from my youth” glances back to the time of the Egyptian bondage; for the time of the sojourn in Egypt was the time of Israel's youth (Hosea 2:17, Hosea 11:1, Jeremiah 2:2; Ezekiel 23:3). The protasis Psalms 129:1 is repeated in an interlinked, chain-like conjunction in order to complete the thought; for Psalms 129:2 is the turning-point, where גּם , having reference to the whole negative clause, signifies “also” in the sense of “nevertheless,” ὅμως (synon. בּכל־בּכל ), as in Ezekiel 16:28; Ecclesiastes 6:7, cf. above, Psalms 119:24: although they oppressed me much and sore, yet have they not overpowered me (the construction is like Numbers 13:30, and frequently).

Verses 3-5

Elsewhere it is said that the enemies have driven over Israel (Psalms 66:12), or have gone over its back (Isaiah 51:23); here the customary figurative language חרשׁ און in Job 4:8 (cf. Hosea 10:13) is extended to another figure of hostile dealing: without compassion and without consideration they ill-treated the stretched-forth back of the people who were held in subjection, as though it were arable land, and, without restraining their ferocity and setting a limit to their spoiling of the enslaved people and country, they drew their furrow-strip ( מעניתם , according to the Kerî מענותם ) long. But מענה does not signify (as Keil on 1 Samuel 14:14 is of opinion, although explaining the passage more correctly than Thenius) the furrow (= &#תּלם גּדוּד ), but, like Arab. ma‛nât , a strip of arable land which the ploughman takes in hand at one time, at both ends of which consequently the ploughing team ( צמד ) always comes to a stand, turns round, and ploughs a new furrow; from ענה , to bend, turn (vid., Wetzstein's Excursus II p. 861). It is therefore: they drew their furrow-turning long (dative of the object instead of the accusative with Hiph., as e.g., in Isaiah 29:2, cf. with Piel in Psalms 34:4; Psalms 116:16, and Kal Psalms 69:6, after the Aramaic style, although it is not unhebraic). Righteous is Jahve - this is an universal truth, which has been verified in the present circumstances; - He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked ( עבות as in Psalms 2:3; here, however, it is suggested by the metaphor in Psalms 129:3, cf. Job 39:10; lxx αὐχένας , i.e., ענוק ), with which they held Israel bound. From that which has just been experienced Israel derives the hope that all Zion's haters (a newly coined name for the enemies of the religion of Israel) will be obliged to retreat with shame and confusion.

Verses 6-8

The poet illustrates the fate that overtakes them by means of a picture borrowed from Isaiah and worked up (Psalms 37:27): they become like “grass of the housetops,” etc. שׁ is a relative to יבשׁ ( quod exarescit ), and קדמת , priusquam , is Hebraized after מן־קדמת דּנה in Daniel 6:11, or מקּדמת דּנה in Ezra 5:11. שׁלף elsewhere has the signification “to draw forth” of a sword, shoe, or arrow, which is followed by the lxx, Theodotion, and the Quinta: πρὸ τοῦ ἐκσπασθῆναι , before it is plucked. But side by side with the ἐκσπασθῆναι of the lxx we also find the reading exanthee'sai; and in this sense Jerome renders ( statim ut ) viruerit , Symmachus ἐκκαυλῆσαι (to shoot into a stalk), Aquila ἀνέθαλεν , the Sexta ἐκστερεῶσαι (to attain to full solidity). The Targum paraphrases שׁלף in both senses: to shoot up and to pluck off. The former signification, after which Venema interprets: antequam se evaginet vel evaginetur , i.e., antequam e vaginulis suis se evolvat et succrescat , is also advocated by Parchon, Kimchi, and Aben-Ezra. In the same sense von Ortenberg conjectures שׁחלף . Since the grass of the house-tops or roofs, if one wishes to pull it up, can be pulled up just as well when it is withered as when it is green, and since it is the most natural thing to take חציר as the subject to שׁלף , we decide in favour of the intransitive signification, “to put itself forth, to develope, shoot forth into ear.” The roof-grass withers before it has put forth ears of blossoms, just because it has no deep root, and therefore cannot stand against the heat of the sun.

(Note: So, too, Geiger in the Deutsche Morgenländische Zeitschrift, xiv. 278f., according to whom Arab. slf ( šlf ) occurs in Saadia and Abu-Said in the signification “to be in the first maturity, to blossom,” - a sense שׁלף may also have here; cf. the Talmudic שׁלופפי used of unripe dates that are still in blossom.)

The poet pursues the figure of the grass of the house-tops still further. The encompassing lap or bosom ( κόλπος ) is called elsewhere חצן (Isaiah 49:22; Nehemiah 5:13); here it is חצן , like the Arabic ḥiḍn (diminutive ḥoḍein ), of the same root with מחוז , a creek, in Psalms 107:30. The enemies of Israel are as grass upon the house-tops, which is not garnered in; their life closes with sure destruction, the germ of which they (without any need for any rooting out) carry within themselves. The observation of Knapp, that any Western poet would have left off with Psalms 129:6, is based upon the error that Psalms 129:7-8 are an idle embellishment. The greeting addressed to the reapers in Psalms 129:8 is taken from life; it is not denied even to heathen reapers. Similarly Boaz (Ruth 2:4) greets them with “Jahve be with you,” and receivers the counter-salutation, “Jahve bless thee.” Here it is the passers-by who call out to those who are harvesting: The blessing ( בּרכּת ) of Jahve happen to you ( אליכם ,

(Note: Here and there עליכם is found as an error of the copyist. The Hebrew Psalter, Basel 1547, 12mo, notes it as a various reading.)

as in the Aaronitish blessing), and (since “we bless you in the name of Jahve” would be a purposeless excess of politeness in the mouth of the same speakers) receive in their turn the counter-salutation: We bless you in the name of Jahve. As a contrast it follows that there is before the righteous a garnering in of that which they have sown amidst the exchange of joyful benedictory greetings.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 129". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.