"Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows." Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms. Psalm 129:3, 6-7The psalmist describes his affliction in terms of plowing, an analogy used sometimes in Scripture for punishment, but only this once for the suffering of the righteous. It interests me. Why plowing? I think the comparison between the righteous and the wicked in this Psalm yields great theological fruit.
Notice, first, that the suffering of the righteous is as plowing- the wicked make "long their furrows" upon the back of the righteous man. The text doesn't explicitly say this here, but Scripture always testifies to the connection between plowing and harvesting. Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap iniquity and trouble (Job 4:8). The lazy man doesn't plow, and so never collects a harvest (Proverbs 20:4). According to Paul, plowers should plow in hope of the harvest (1 Corinthians 9:10).
Though the Psalmist doesn't speak of harvesting in respect to the righteous, he does in respect to the wicked. In his curse he says "let them be like the grass on the housetops which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms" (vv. 6-7). The harvest here is connected with the last verse of the Psalm: people who pass by them will not say, "the blessing of the Lord be upon you!" (v. 8).
Here's my point: harvesting comes after plowing. The plowing here is suffering; the harvest is God's blessing. Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 119: "This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life" (Psalm 119: 50). His hope of the harvest comforts him during the plowing. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me" (Psalm 119: 67, 71, 75).
Weary and afflicted believer, listen: God knows your pain, and he does not delight in it for its own sake. But you do not know the full scope of his work in your life, and in the life of his church; he has afflicted that he might raise up. If you are now being sown in weakness, know that you will be raised in power. Know that he who afflicts you is faithful, and faithful are the wounds of a friend. If we suffer with him, we will be glorified together. This is only the planting; soon comes the harvest.
Be still my soul, your Father knows your pain,
The Spirit's groans are mingled with your own.
O troubled soul, Christ underwent the same-
What sorrow have you which he does not know?
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).