Verses 1–4

The church of God, in its several ages, is here spoken of, or, rather, here speaks, as one single person, now old and gray-headed, but calling to remembrance the former days, and reflecting upon the times of old. And, upon the review, it is found, 1. That the church has been often greatly distressed by its enemies on earth: Israel may now say, “I am the people that has been oppressed more than any people, that has been as a speckled bird, pecked at by all the birds round about,” Jer. 12:9. It is true, they brought their troubles upon themselves by their sins; it was for them that God punished them; but it was for the peculiarity of their covenant, and the singularities of their religion, that their neighbours hated and persecuted them. “For these many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.” Note, God’s people have always had many enemies, and the state of the church, from its infancy, has frequently been an afflicted state. Israel’s youth was in Egypt, or in the times of the Judges; then they were afflicted, and thenceforward more or less. The gospel-church, ever since it had a being, has been at times afflicted; and it bore this yoke most of all in its youth, witness the ten persecutions which the primitive church groaned under. The ploughers ploughed upon my back, Ps. 129:3. We read (Ps. 125:3) of the rod of the wicked upon the lot of the righteous, where we rather expected the plough, to mark it out for themselves; here we read of the plough of the wicked upon the back of the righteous, where we rather expected to find the rod. But the metaphors in these places may be said to be crossed; the sense however of both is the same, and is too plain, that the enemies of God’s people have all along used them very barbarously. They tore them, as the husbandman tears the ground with his plough-share, to pull them to pieces and get all they could out of them, and so to wear out the saints of the Most High, as the ground is worn out that has been long tilled, tilled (as we say) quite out of heart. When God permitted them to plough thus he intended it for his people’s good, that, their fallow ground being thus broken up, he might sow the seeds of his grace upon them, and reap a harvest of good fruit from them: howbeit, the enemies meant not so, neither did their hearts think so (Isa. 10:7); they made long their furrows, never knew when to have done, aiming at nothing less than the destruction of the church. Many by the furrows they made on the backs of God’s people understand the stripes they gave them. The cutters cut upon my back, so they read it. The saints have often had trials of cruel scourgings (probably the captives had) and cruel mockings (for we read of the scourge or lash of the tongue, Heb. 11:36), and so it was fulfilled in Christ, who gave his back to the smiters, Isa. 50:6. Or it may refer to the desolations they made of the cities of Israel. Zion shall, for your sake, be ploughed as a field, Mic. 3:12. 2. That the church has been always graciously delivered by her friend in heaven. (1.) The enemies’ projects have been defeated. They have afflicted the church, in hopes to ruin it, but they have not gained their point. Many a storm it has weathered; many a shock, and many a brunt, it has borne; and yet it is in being: They have not prevailed against me. One would wonder how this ship has lived at sea, when it has been tossed with tempests, and all the waves and billows have gone over it. Christ has built his church upon a rock, and the gates of hell have not prevailed against it, nor ever shall. (2.) The enemies’ power has been broken: God has cut asunder the cords of the wicked, has cut their gears, their traces, and so spoiled their ploughing, has cut their scourges, and so spoiled their lashing, has cut the bands of union by which they were combined together, has cut the bands of captivity in which they held God’s people. God has many ways of disabling wicked men to do the mischief they design against his church and shaming their counsels. These words, The Lord is righteous, may refer either to the distresses or to the deliverances of the church. [1.] The Lord is righteous in suffering Israel to be afflicted. This the people of God were always ready to own, that, how unjust soever their enemies were, God was just in all that was brought upon them, Neh. 9:33. [2.] The Lord is righteous in not suffering Israel to be ruined; for he has promised to preserve it a people to himself, and he will be as good as his word. He is righteous in reckoning with their persecutors, and rendering to them a recompence, 2 Thess. 1:6.