The Secret of Patience (Psalm 129)

The Secret of Patience
(Psalm 129)

Jerry Clark

Mr. Jerry Clark of McMinnville, Tenn., continues to provide us with practical teaching in this his tenth of fifteen studies on Psalms 120-134.

A song of the goings-up:

1. “Much have they persecuted me from my youth,”
let Israel now say,

2. “Much have they persecuted me from my youth;
But they could nor prevail against me.

3. Upon my back the plowers plowed,
they lengthened their furrows.”

4. The LORD is righteous:
He has cut asunder the cord of the wicked.

5. All those who hate Zion
shall be ashamed and driven back.

6. They shall be as the grass of the housetops
which withers before it has grown up;

7. With which the reaper does not fill his hand
or the binder of sheaves his lap.

8. And those who pass by do not say:
“The blessing of the Lord be upon you:
We bless you in the name of the LORD.”

God’s Word makes it plain that there are only two basic classes of people in the world. Those two types of individuals have contrasting attitudes toward God and, therefore, toward life. Because of this they have contrasting effects on the lives of others and — ultimately — they have contrasting destinies.

These two classes are often referred to as children of Satan (John 8:41-44) or, more simply, as the righteous and the wicked.

This contrast between the righteous and the wicked is a constantly recurring theme in the Psalter (cf. Psalm 1) and forms the subject of Psalm 129. Here, however, we see an additional truth brought before us: not only is there a contrast between these two groups of people, there is also a very definite conflict between them. And, amazingly enough, it is this very conflict which helps us to “go up” (i.e., grow up) in Christ by teaching us one of the most truly “Christ-like” of all virtues: patience.

I. The Need for Patience (1-3)

The first fact we must consider in a study of the “righteous” and the “wicked” is simply this: who ARE the righteous and who are wicked? What is the essential difference between these two types of individuals?

The basic root meaning of righteous is simply ‘right’; the root meaning of wicked is ‘wrong’ — but right and wrong in relation to what standard? the Biblical revelation is that only God is ultimately and absolutely righteous; therefore, righteousness is conformity to God’s own nature, making us ‘right’ with God because we are righteous. This righteousness, however, cannot come from ourselves for all OUR righteousness are as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6); it must come from another. This “other one” is Jesus Christ who, being God, is absolutely righteous and gives this righteousness to us as a free gift (grace)- when we place our faith in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Because the righteous man is right with God, he conducts his life on a new basis: a right motive (selfless, God-like love) producing right actions (ethical and moral purity; i.e., practical conformity to God’s will expressed in His Word).

The wicked, however, are motivated by a wrong motive (selfishness) which produces wrong actions (rebellion against God’s Word and will which is practical wickedness). Among these rebellious actions is persecution of those who represent God’s will and purposes in the world: His people.

Here we see this represented in the experience of Israel, a nation well familiar with persecution. Indeed, Leupold questions: “What nation has suffered as this one has?” (Exposition of the Psalms, Baker). The Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Midianites, the Philistines, the Assyrians and a host of other peoples have conquered, subjected and persecuted this tiny nation.

The Christian church can make this confession. The persecution of the church “in her youth” was at the hands of the antagonistic Jews, the Romans and others. Today, her persecution continues in various forms, some direct, others indirect. It is obvious from a consideration of God’s people in ANY age that persecution is common and we know that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

This fact of enmity between those who are ‘for’ God and those who are ‘against’ Him indicates the need for patience on the part of God’s people. Since we DO live in the midst of persecution, how will we react? With animosity ourselves, imitating the wicked? No, the believer must react ‘righteously’ and this means patiently.

Patience in the Old Testament is a concept applied almost exclusively to God (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15; Jer. 15:15). The basic idea is that of “long suffering,” an attitude which does NOT expect immediate resolution of all problems or situations but is willing to wait (even a lifetime if necessary) to see the expected outcome. This attitude implies acceptance of God’s will (Phil. 4:11, 12), realizing that even persecution is a part of God’s sanctifying — and hence benefitting — will for our lives.

The opposite of patience is first worry and then rebellion. To worry and chafe under persecution will produce a state of mind which rebels against what is happening to us and causes us to strike back at people or circumstances. True patience can meet persecution with joy (Matt. 5:10-12), even praying for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

II. The Secret of Patience (4-8)

Admitting that the life of the believer — particularly as we encounter persecution — requires patience, the question is: how can we have this patience? How can we endure suffering and ridicule without rebelling against it? The secret is found in the principle expressed in verse 4 and illustrated in verses 5-8.

First, the “LORD is righteous” and because He is, he identifies with those who are righteous: that is, His people. This means that those who hate Zion (God’s people, which people represent God’s purposes in the world and hence God Himself) are actually hating God: they are His enemies and they take out their enmity against Him on us (cf. Acts 9:5).

Second, because the LORD is righteous (just), the wicked must ultimately be “cut off” and the righteous vindicated. God cannot allow wrong to triumph forever, nor can He allow the righteous to suffer indefinitely. In fact, this situation continues only as it works out God’s purpose, which purpose includes the conforming of His people to the image of Jesus Christ for His own glory (cf. Ps. 76:10).

Verses 5-8 indicate the ultimate fate of those who are wrong — who hate Zion: they are like the grass which springs up on the clay-coated roofs of the Palestinian home after a rain: short-rooted and short-lived, lasting only until the blistering sun withers it away. It is worthless, never harvested by the reaper for it never bears “fruit.”

The righteous have this assurance of ultimate vindication and, because they do, they can afford to wait: i.e., to have patience. The secret of the believer’s patience and even joy in the face of persecution — so puzzling to the world — is simply faith: faith in the LORD, in His righteousness and in His assurance that ultimately —though not immediately — all things will be put right and we will be shown to have been right (cf. Ps. 23:5; Rev. 3:9). Because this vindication of our righteousness is ultimate and not immediate, we must have patience; but because it IS ultimate we can have this patience!

The persecution of the righteous at the hands of the wicked is very real. Let us beware, however, of taking the “short view” which results in chafing, impatience and rebellion against God. Let us go into the sanctuary and see the “end” of our persecutors (Psa. 73:17) and THEN we will neither envy them nor fear them. Instead we will endure suffering, allowing our tribulation to produce in us “patience” (Rom. 5:3), the very patience of Christ Himself!