The people living in ancient China wanted security from the invading marauders to the North. So, they built the Great Wall of China. It stood 30 feet high, 18 feet thick, and 1,500 miles long. It was a seemingly impregnable defense, and the people certainly believed that they were unconquerable because of this great defense. Yet in the first 100 years of its existence, China was successfully invaded three times. Why? The wall was too long for the enemy to go around. It was too high for them to scale. It was too thick for them to batter it down. But the enemy found a way. They simply bribed a gatekeeper and marched through an open door.[i]
It’s not that way for followers of Jesus Christ on a journey into the presence of God. We are unconquerable!
“The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.” The Lord is righteous; He has cut the cords of the wicked.” (Psalm 129:3–4, ESV)
As the pilgrim singer considers the journey before him, he is filled with joy and confidence because of God’s work in his life in the past.[ii] He celebrates the fact that God takes care of His people – they may be beaten or oppressed, but they cannot be overwhelmed or ultimately defeated because God is with them.
As we journey together on our pathway to the presence of God, we need to have the same confidence. Christ cares for us. We may walk through the valley of the shadow, but we need not fear evil because God is with us from beginning to end. Christ cares for us and we are unconquerable in Him!
We will not be defeated
The apostle Paul proclaimed this truth: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). What are “all these things”? It is the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword.[iii] Even facing the most dire straits, we can be confident of the victory that Jesus Christ delivers by His love.
The psalmist reflects on Israel’s history through the lens of his own experience, and he declares that, with God, we are unconquerable.[iv] God gives us strength in the midst of attack. From youth, people have attacked God’s children. They have been oppressed because of the world’s hatred for God, but they have never been defeated. Because God has given us the strength we need, we are unconquerable.[v]
God delivers us in the midst of personal pain. God’s people are scourged so that their backs become like furrows of a ploughed field,[vi] but God’s faithfulness brings deliverance from the harness of their attacks. The “cords of the wicked” paint the picture of the harness attached to the yoke by which the animal is hitched up. God smashes the cords and we are free!
We are unconquerable! We give thanks to God who always leads us into triumph through our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 2:14).
God stands between us and the enemy
We are unconquerable because God stands between us and the enemy. The psalmist proclaims his confident expectation that God will continue to intervene. He demonstrates God’s retribution on those who would attack the people of God.
Who are the persecutors? Persecutors are the “haters of Zion.” Zion is the imagery of God’s presence and purpose.[x] Those who hate Zion are those who despise God’s presence and purpose. They may be within the church or in the world, but they oppose what God is purposed to do. They attack Zion, and, in essence, attack God Himself.
What happens to persecutors? They will be put to shame and turned back. They will be frustrated in their attacks by the strong arm of the Lord which pushes them back from the refuge that He has provided for His children.
They will wither. When someone rejects Zion, they reject the river of life (Ps 87:7). Life will not be theirs because they have opposed the Author of Life, and they will wither. Even their plans will dry up with them and never produce fruit. In the end, they will not experience the blessing of the Lord.
So, how does this help us on our journey into the presence of the Lord? Each day, we face danger and disaster threatening our well-being. Some of these dangers we see, but we can be confident that God will guard and protect us. Some of these dangers we will never see because God has already destroyed the threat.
Sometimes, we will find ourselves strapped to the hot-seat of suffering and struggle, but we can be confident that victory is on the way. Times may be tough on this journey, but they will not defeat God’s purpose working in and through us. People may hurt us, but God’s compassionate presence will give us the strength we need to move forward victoriously.
In the end, every painful turn on our journey into the presence of the Lord is an opportunity for God to shine His greatness through us. It is an opportunity for us to be completely satisfied in Him, even when nothing around us would promise satisfaction. It is an opportunity for us to grow ever closer to the only One who can give us the courage and confidence to face every storm with victory. With Christ Jesus, we are unconquerable.
God, I think of those around me struggling under the burden of persecution and defeat. I pray for them. I pray that Your glory might shine through them, and that You would overwhelm the enemies that threaten them with pain. I pray that You would awaken the unconquerable spirit in their soul this morning and give them the strength and the victory!
[i]James Emery White, You Can Experience a Purposeful Life (Nashville: Word, 2000).
[ii]See, M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 230. He suggests that this psalm is a communal complaint.See, Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms, trans. K. R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1965), 81. He calls it a communal thanksgiving. See, A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 871-72. He calls it a communal song of confidence. I take Anderson’s suggestion for the purpose of the psalm.
[iii]“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”” (Romans 8:35-36, NKJV)
[iv]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 461-62. He writes: “The history of Israel is one single passion narrative.”
[v]H. J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 462.
[vi]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 444. Kidner notes that the horror of oppression is poignantly pictured in this imagery.