Psalm 129 Translation and comment

A song of ascents or degrees

“Since I was a boy they have bound me often -“

Sing it now Israel –

“Since I was a boy they have bound me often

But they have not overcome me.

Their plowmen ploughed over my back

Fashioning long furrows.

But Yahweh is just:

He has sliced through the ropes of the wrongdoers.

May all haters of Zion

be humiliated and driven away!

May they be like herbage on housetops

That withers before it is plucked;

That does not fill the palm of the reaper

Or the lap of the one who gathers the grain.“

And no harvesters will hail them,

“Yahweh’s blessing be on you!“

“We bless you in the name of Yahweh!”

I think I have made a small discovery in this psalm. The verb in the first line is usually translated, “attacked, afflicted, persecuted,” but it can mean simply “bound” which fits an image of captives, and of harvested sheaves, but also relates to the otherwise strange image of the broken ropes later in the poem. The psalmist, in my interpretation is referring to attacks on Israel which have led to slavery for some. The rescue attributed to Yahweh, breaks the bonds of the captives and sets them free. The image of Israel being ploughed over is a vivid depiction of conquest. The curse prayer at the end depicts the enemy as not worth harvesting.

My translation allows the first verse to fit into an complex stream of imagery which compares conquest to harvesting, and may owe something to the incident which the rabbis call “the binding of Isaac.”

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