Too often we hear of men who are well-thought of in church. They know all of the right phrases, and know when to shed the right tears. They sing with gusto and say “Amen” at the right places in the sermon. But when they go home and are alone with their wives and children, they think only of destruction and murder. They systematically seek to destroy the image of God in their family. They are the king of the castle and smack their loved ones around just to make sure that they remember it. They belittle, despise and ridicule their wives. They beat and abuse their children.
Thoughts on Psalm 129, from a sermon preached at First Reformed Church, February 9, 2014.
Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say:
2 Many a time 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 hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:
7 Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
8 Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD. (Psa 129:1-8 KJV)
This is a psalm about evil men.
I recognize that there are Christian people who sin against each other. This Psalm isn’t about them.
I recognize that there are even unbelievers who sin against Christians – this Psalm isn’t about them, either.
This Psalm isn’t about the hurts and pain of living in a cursed world, caused by friction between Adam’s race, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But this Psalm isn’t about that, either.
This Psalm is about a class of people that the Bible calls “Children of the Devil.” Or even, “Sons of Belial” (worthlessness).
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it”. (Joh 8:44)
This Psalm is speaking of those men and women who have so united their hearts to the works of the evil one that they are called “the children of the devil”. Their works are not characterized by even the simplest forms of common human decency. The common decency of men are gifts are given even to unbelievers by the common grace of God. This Psalm, on the other hand, speaks of those who are characterized by two words: murder and lies.
Everything that they do is for the purpose of destroying the image of God in man, but they conceal their true motives by a false front of sorrow for sin, contrition, pious platitudes about religion, and a front of kindness and strength. But under it all is murder, hatred and destruction.
We don’t know when this Psalm was written. We know that there were many times in Israel’s history when they were greatly abused by the kingdom of Satan. Both Assyria and Babylon were renowned for their cruelty – smashing the heads of babies against the walls, beating and abusing children, raping women and children – all under the front of honor and glory. They were murderers and liars.
There was a servant in the land of Syria named Hazael. He was a servant to the king of Syria. God sent him to the prophet Elisha and told Elisha to anoint him king over Syria. When Hazael got there, we read that Elisha stared at him until it was uncomfortable. Then Elisha wept.
12 And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.
13 And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. (2Ki 8:12-13 KJV)
Hazael eventually showed that his words and his actions were all a lie. He was intent on murder and destruction and became one of the most corrupt and violent kings of the ancient world. It was not that he lied once, or even that he got angry and killed a man. It’s that his whole life marked him as a child of the devil. Every thought and every pursuit of his hand was dedicated to destruction and lying.
This Psalm is about these people.
They still show up today. Often they show up in the church of God. Jesus said that they would. And the church, for the most part, has handled everything about them wrongly.
Too often we hear of men who are well-thought of in church. They know all of the right phrases, and know when to shed the right tears. They sing with gusto and say “Amen” at the right places in the sermon. But when they go home and are alone with their wives and children, they think only of destruction and murder. They systematically seek to destroy the image of God in their family.
They are the king of the castle and smack their loved ones around just to make sure that they remember it. They belittle, despise and ridicule their wives. They beat and abuse their children.
They do these things not because they lose control of their temper. As horrible as it is to be out of control of your temper, these people are even worse. These are those who plot iniquity on their beds, and their plots are meticulous, planned and systematic, designed to hurt and destroy. They are not governed by passions, they are governed by their father, the devil. Since they are murderers, they think only of destruction and tearing down. Since they are liars, they do it all under a cloak of feigned decency.
They will be in the middle of a tirade against their families and the phone will ring, or the police will show up, and immediately they are under control, speaking reasonably and with such concern for their families. But their wives and children are left terrified, broken, bloodied, and have learned how to keep all their feelings, thoughts, and opinions carefully hidden, so as not to enrage the father.
We know these people. We have seen them before and will see them again.
They are not sinners – even like David – who committed adultery and murder but was himself broken and brought to repentance. They are not sinners like Paul, who obtained mercy because he did it in unbelief. They are children of the devil. They know what they are doing, they plan it, they think through it, they carry it out.
Because they are liars, as soon as they are exposed in the church they know how to weep and stress how sorry they are. And the church usually starts talking about forgiveness. When the children become adults, or when the abused spouse is finally free from the abuser, they get counsel from the church. They are told, “You need to forgive them.”
“You need to reach out to them.”
“You need to give them another chance.”
And when the wives and children are strong enough to acknowledge that their abuser is a murderer and a liar and refuse to allow themselves to be abused again, the church often disciplines the abused! The church throws salt on the plowed wounds and disciplines, for “not being forgiving”, for getting a divorce, for speaking badly of such a nice man who made a few mistakes. And thus we often become partakers of another man’s sins, thinking that we should be more loving than God is, heaping even more affliction on the abused.
But the fact is – God hates abuse even more than we do. A man who systematically beats and terrifies his wife hasn’t “made a few mistakes” or “committed an indiscretion”. He is a child of the devil. A man who will molest a child isn’t a nice person with a personality flaw. He is a child of the devil, and the works of the devil are what he does.
It is true that the Bible commands us to lay aside all bitterness, wrath, and desire for revenge – as befits a forgiven child of God. It is true that we are commanded to do good, even to our enemies. The question is how do we do that? How can we finally be free from the bondage of bitterness and isolation and terror that flow from abuse?
That is what this Psalm is about.