“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,” let Israel say; “they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.
Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long.
But the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been teaching me about patience. Please notice, I didn’t say it has been producing patience in me, but it has certainly been teaching it. What the pandemic is teaching me, or more accurately, what God is teaching me through it, is quite simply that I don’t have much patience for patience! And I don’t think I am alone in that! As Lijia Xie recently observed in his article, Patience in the Pandemic, our rapidly advancing technologies and problem-solving abilities have made us modern humans increasingly less patient. We have come to expect our actions to be rewarded quickly; we recoil at the thought of any prolonged struggles or suffering, we demand immediate results and instant relief. We shouldn’t be expected to wait!
Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way…because God doesn’t work that way.
The author of Psalm 129 begins his song of ascent, “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth” (vs. 1). The psalmist doesn’t tell us who “they” are or what his oppression looks like, but he lets us know that he has been enduring it for a long time, “from my youth.” And yet, “they have not gained the victory over me” (vs. 2). This isn’t a momentary, singular challenge the writer had to get through, it is a sustained and ongoing attack. Even though he isn’t defeated, he remains in the midst of the struggle.
“Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long,” he continues (vs. 3). This is a puzzling word picture that has intrigued scholars for centuries. The image might gruesomely describe the physical “furrows” left by the scourge of the whip, as the songwriter’s oppressors “plowed his back” (see Isaiah 51:23). Equally plausible, the metaphor might suggest that the oppressors have yoked God’s people to the hard-labor of slavery—and that the “furrows” they are demanding have proven to be impossible and interminable (see Exodus 5:6-17).
But as I consider this image, the question I want to ask is, “what are the furrows for?” The metaphor is familiar to farming, of course, where the furrows are plowed for a purpose—whether planting or irrigation. So, what “seeds” are being planted in the broken soil produced by the psalmist’s suffering? What is being “irrigated” by the blood of oppression? What fruit does this kind of patient and faithful endurance yield? Is it possible that suffering and hardship can actually grow something good in us? (see Romans 5:1-5)
The world wants to entice us with quick-fixes, fleeting pleasures and short-lived successes, but God offers a harder and better way—the way of patience and hope. We might be tempted by promises of instant results, but God provides eternal blessings to those who persevere through the long furrows of life—what Eugene Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction.”
We have endured quite a lot in the wake of this pandemic. We may rightly feel oppressed, but we do not need to let the enemy gain the victory over us. We may be “hard pressed on every side,” but by God’s grace we are “not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:7-9). God promises that “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5). He assures us that “at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). The furrows may be long, but the fruit is forever. I can endure whatever hardship may arise, the song reminds us, because “the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4)
The pandemic won’t last forever, but God’s Word will. Stay patient, stay strong, and stay close to Jesus. He is Living Water in life’s desert, so stay thirsty, my friends!