I’m still here and I’m not going away
Straight on the heels of Psalm 128 which is all about joy, happiness and blessings from God comes this one, a song about the need for perseverance. They couldn’t be more different.
A song of ascents.
1 ‘They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,’
let Israel say;
2 ‘they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
3 Ploughmen have ploughed my back
and made their furrows long.
4 But the Lord is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.’
5 May all who hate Zion
be turned back in shame.
6 May they be like grass on the roof,
which withers before it can grow;
7 a reaper cannot fill his hands with it,
nor one who gathers fill his arms.
8 May those who pass by not say to them,
‘The blessing of the Lord be on you;
we bless you in the name of the Lord.’
The Songs of Ascents or Songs of Degrees are calls from the world to God. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, the Songs of Degrees make up the Eighteenth division of the Psalter and are read on Friday evenings at Vespers throughout the liturgical year.
Don’t lose heart
Oasis sang Don’t look back in anger, but here the Psalmist does just that. The previous psalm was praise for God’s blessings, but we praise God in our adversary. Here the psalmist looks back at how the nation has been treated and he or she is angry. The second half of the psalm is another rant. Look at this from the New Testament:
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?2 Corinthians 11:23-29 NIV UK
The experience continued into New Testament times, Paul comes out with a rant of his own, not corporate like the Psalm but individual. And the experience goes on today. Christians around the world are facing more persecution than at any time in the past, I recommend Open Doors to find out about this.
This persecution did not put the Psalmist or Paul off from following God. They are determined to carry on until the end no matter what the cost. It was Paul who whilst in prison said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
Ranting is not the opposite of rejoicing
The Psalms of Ascents are sequential and accumulative. If the first of these, Psalm 120, were the only rant in these psalms it would be possible to say that when we encounter God we should move on from this. But whoever compiled the psalms of ascents puts this rant in well over halfway through. Paul, in his letters, is capable of ranting as well as rejoicing too, even to the point of using very strong language which unfortunately English translations do not convey well. It is from a position of praise, of rejoicing in God that we can bring the things that anger us to God without holding back. If we use language that is appropriate to describe frustration and anger that is all right, God accepts our honesty. Praise the God who looks after us, rejoice in God’s overwhelming love and rant away.