This special meditation has been prepared by PRC home missionary, Rev. Aud Spriensma.
The Farmer's Psalm
Meditation on Psalm 129: 3
The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.
The psalmist is making a picture of the afflictions that come to God’s people. The picture is that of a field which the famer is plowing in springtime. He is making the field ready for planting and of course, a field prepared for harvest. Today there is a lot of no-till farming. But as a boy, our Case tractor could only pull a four-bottom plow through the heavy clay. In the psalmist’s day, the plowman had oxen pulling a single blade plow through the soil of Israel. Maybe you remember Elisha, who was plowing his field with twelve yoke of oxen. When the call came to follow Elijah, Elisha took a yoke of oxen and killed them and boiled the flesh with fire made from the plow. Elisha fed the people and went after Elijah and ministered unto him.
In this psalm, the furrows plowed in the field are a picture of the afflictions brought upon God’s people, Zion. The entire history of God’s people is one of suffering . The song sung was “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.” Their youth was their early days in Egypt when they were made slaves for Pharaoh. Heavy tasks were thrown upon them, with taskmasters taking their whips upon their backs. Furrows were dug into their back by bits of bone or metal on the ends of the whips. The little male babies were to be thrown into the Nile River. Coming into Canaan, Israel was surrounded with wicked neighbors. Israel brought trouble against themselves with their idol worship. The remnant of true worshippers suffered also.
We should not be surprised when we too, for the sake of the gospel, suffer, hated and persecution. Here in the States, it is mainly ridicule. In many other countries, it is prison or death. The entire history of the church is that of martyrs for the faith. The apostle Paul tells young Timothy about the persecutions and afflictions which had come upon himself. He writes, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). Do you remember to pray for the martyred church today in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East? Do you have scars for serving Christ? Maybe it is family that reject you or co-workers that mock you for your faith.
Did you notice how personal this psalm is? “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth… the plowers have plowed upon my back.” This singular pronoun is used collectively for the church. But the psalm is not ultimately about Israel. It is the voice of Jesus Christ, the suffering servant, the true Israel. He suffered for us. He came down from heaven, born in a cattle stall, suffered from His youth, yea, His whole life. He had to flee with His parents from Herod. “He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (see Isa. 50:5,6 52:13,14 53: 3). Do you see the whip upon His back tearing furrows into it and the blood flowing? Do you see the crown of thorns upon His brow? Do you see Him hanging upon the cross, and the spear that is thrust into His side? Why did He suffer so? He suffered not merely at the hands of wicked men, He suffered the wrath of God in our place. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed…Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him: he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed…” (Isa. 53:4,5,10). But God raised Him from the dead. “The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4)
What is the result of this plowing of the field? The wicked grow up like grass on a rooftop, which amounts to nothing when the hot sun of summer beats upon it. Those who belong to Jesus Christ are like the luxurious wheat fields being harvested this week. “By his stripes we are healed…He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 51: 5,11).
The furrows upon the back of Jesus bear rich fruit. It is a field white unto harvest. Sinners such as you and I are by faith alone made righteous by the blood of Jesus. What about the afflictions that we as God’s people are made to suffer? Oh, the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. God turns for good what is meant for evil. Think of Joseph’s brothers’ treatment of him, selling him. God used it for the preservation of His people during the great famine. Though the Sanhedrin and the Roman soldiers put Jesus to death, God saved us through that death. So let us say with the psalmist, “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me” (Ps. 129:2). Let us learn the lesson of the plowed field!
Affliction has been for my profit, that I to thy statutes might hold;
Thy law to my soul is more precious than thousands of silver and gold. (Charles H. Gabriel)
Sure as thy truth shall last, to Zion shall be given the brightest glories earth can Yield, and brighter bliss of heaven. Amen (Aaron Williams 1731-1776)