Beaten But Not Defeated

Psalm 129

For much of Bible, have at least basic idea of historical setting… both of author and what is being described. More than 30 psalms have no author cited; sometimes can speculate, others not. Several like present text have no indication of who penned it beyond possible indicator v.1&2 – from my youth, not a young fellow any longer! No specific clues within text of psalm to indicate time or circumstances of writing. All that is certain: follows / in response to extended time of affliction.

Given that Israel is in view here, affliction has three possible objects: nation, church, individual. Parallels institutions God has ordained – family, church and state. Each has sphere of responsibility, but none is independent of the others. Like three balloons, inflated to perfectly fill shoe box – when one changes size, either of both of others adjust.

If Job’s friend Eliphaz was right, “man is born to trouble, As the sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7 Question then is how will you deal with affliction? Will hardship get the better of you? or will you persevere? if so, how? Maybe it has already brought you right up to point of defeat – if so, hang on, there is hope!

One more kind of technical point: what’s up with v.1-2 – opening line, then “Let Israel now say”, then opening line again? Possible explanation: singing led by precentor, sets tune, then lines out the song, singing one line at a time followed by congregation. Sang first line, stopped and said “if you know it, sing along with me”, then started again and completed the song. Now what about the ending? v.8? Depends on where you put quotation marks! For sake of simplicity, will treat separately, assume the final line has different audience. More on that when we get there.

A. many afflictions v.1-2a

appears to be long-standing pattern of hardship, affliction, attack over extended period of time – “since my youth”

not short-term situation, somebody having bad day, wrong place at wrong time; describes repeated action with intent of wearing down

like pain or illness – can endure pretty intense stuff when it’s short; chronic pain or disease usually far more debilitating, often provokes bad response

ongoing repeated attacks have different results based on which entity is in view

on government – look at older history of Cold War, current issues between two Koreas: one side pokes, other side may not respond; poke, nothing; repeat…; poke, angry response; poke, huge angry reaction; escalates quickly because of pent-up hostility/frustration

on church – do the right thing, stick to right principles… for a while; government/culture keep pushing against church, eventually it moves, gives up the fight and figures out how to accommodate; sometimes circle wagons, grow unhealthily inward-focused

on individual – shrug it off, move on to next thing; then, frustration and fatigue, maybe angry reaction; if it keeps up long enough… give up/give in, no strength left to resist

source of affliction: those who at root are enemies of Zion, hostile to God and his people (Christ and the church)

basically all who are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Eph. 2:12

be sure to remember: only reason affliction doesn’t come our way all the time from all unbelievers is because God restrains

unregenerate conscience still functions at some level; civil government does not wield sword in vain – most people don’t want to risk penalty of lawbreaking, at least on big stuff

affliction psalmist talking about – comes primarily from those who are active enemies, quick to express hostility toward God

nature of affliction – whatever causes harm, not limited to physical harm; can be physical, spiritual, emotional, financial/material

which institution is in the sights affects strategy – Koreas, e.g., using tactics that are intended to cause both physical and emotional harm: artillery and land mines, loudspeakers

took a page right out of Sanballat’s playbook – ridicule (Neh. 2:19); entrapment (Neh. 6:2), propaganda (Neh. 6:5), similar to Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:19-27)

early church suffered physical harm (Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter), resulting emotional harm; spiritual harm in Galatian church (who has bewitched you)

converted Saul (apostle Paul) suffered all of the above as did Jewish people numerous times during their history, sometimes by their own doing (God’s correcting their bad behavior) but not always

affliction not something new on stage of human history – promised as result of sin and Curse: “enmity between…” Gen. 3:15

been part of family life since beginning – think Cain and Abel, first issue between them not likely what happened at church that day

goes with the territory of being God’s people, in Israel or in the Church – Bible full of descriptions about that

B. deep afflictions v.3

again, not just surface irritations that can just shrug off like cow twitches off flies; are deep, painful, long-lasting, not quickly healed

just like farmer plows field – methodically, repeatedly going back and forth, leaving no spot unturned – this kind of affliction intended to hurt, crush, ultimately destroy

in no way accidental, absolutely purposeful with end goal in mind; must realize – many act as agents of Satan, unwittingly working toward his end goal

individual may not consciously set out to destroy you, however they willingly go along with Satan’s incentives to cause hurt

same true in larger contexts – church and government; mastermind behind corporate evil is unseen Father of Lies himself

then there are those who are fully aware of what they are doing, may even take perverse pleasure in causing harm to others

intentionally set out to destroy reputation, confidence, faith of other person; failing that, destroy the person entirely

those who torture Christians for their faith make up mental picture – countries that are closed/hostile to the Gospel

are others who behave similarly – neighbors, co-workers, family members, random members of society who hate Christ and Christians: set out on agenda to methodically attack and harm until their goal is reached

So how do we avoid defeat even though beaten up, beaten down?

C. powerful God v.2b, 4

have clear testimony of God’s servant – “they have not prevailed against me”; “they have not defeated me”

enemies keep coming back, over and over and over, with hardly break between attacks – yet God’s child was not overcome

one thing you won’t find here – reliance on own toughness; is not personal strength or fortitude, national might (military or otherwise), church’s determination to hold fast to its confession of faith

in fact, scenario described by psalmist kind from which there is no humanly explainable escape; it is all of God and his power

notice: God did not prevent certain amount of hurt coming to his people – they experienced real affliction… for long time

situation far from hopeless – God will not allow his people to be finally and irrevocably overcome by their enemies

is not God’s power that takes center stage, is instead his righteousness – must keep in mind power is not the deciding factor

not that God is bigger than schoolyard bully and can take him out; is that God is righteous, does what is righteous, has the power to do what is righteous in any/all circumstances, and… uses his power for that purpose

in light of God’s righteousness, can be confident of righteous outcome for our affliction when God moves to deliver us

significant element to God’s exercise of power on our behalf – to govern his creation and our lives so even most awful things ultimately serve good purpose according to his plan

since God is righteous, can count on him to deliver us from enemies (Lord’s Prayer – deliver us from Evil One) at precisely right time

God will never expect us to endure more affliction than is necessary, less affliction than will achieve his good purpose for us

D. protected church v.5-8

focus changes from past to future – how should God treat his sworn enemies who have attacked his people

prayer in this section really that God would deal justly with his enemies – those who are committed to hating Christ’s Church

must keep in mind – attack on Church, body of Christ, equals attack on Christ: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4

God doesn’t always bring hammer down on enemies; e.g., converted one of greatest enemies, Paul, into friend and follower

at same time, should not, must not expect God to compromise his character – cannot overlook evil indefinitely

as God carries out his decrees in his works of providence, preserving and governing his creatures and their actions, has Church specially in mind and focus

sentiment expressed: may God bless those who love his Church, deal justly (judge) those who hate and try to harm his Church

Christ loved the church, gave himself for her, is preparing a place for her, will come back for her, will finish preparing her for full union with him – Son and Father do not work at cross purposes, God-in-three has single purpose

means everything that God allows or directs toward the Church designed to strengthen her, purify her, prepare her for heaven

some specifics requested here with regard to treatment of Church’s enemies

lose their credibility, evil purposes be exposed and so humiliate them

frustrate their purposes, prevent from achieving their intended goal, show their boasts to be empty

end up producing nothing of value or substance, dry up and blow away; be like a flash in the pan with no endurance – leave no legacy to continue persecution

obvious they are objects of God’s displeasure, not his blessing; clear and present sense of God’s righteous anger can be means of moving individual toward conversion

would be wrong to expect God to prosper individual or government who is actively trying to harm his Church

I know, that’s a hard one, especially when you live in country becoming increasingly hostile toward Gospel and God’s people

Conclusion: is right to look around gathered church and say “We bless you in the name of the LORD!” Can do that if last sentence has own set of quotation marks! Can rightly say it – those who are genuine members of Zion, the true Church, can expect God’s rich blessing.

The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment that God makes to us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination; it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms. It is out of such a reality that we acquire perseverance.” Eugene Peterson


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