Psalm 129:6
Let them be as the grass on the housetops, which wither before it grows up:
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(6) Which withereth afore it groweth up.—This clause, with its Aramaic colouring, probably contains a textual error. The context seems certainly to require the meaning “before it is plucked up,” and many scholars get this meaning out of the Hebrew verb used elsewhere of “plucking off a shoe” and “drawing a sword.” They give, which is no doubt legitimate, an impersonal sense to the active verb, “which withereth before one pulls it up.” The LXX. (received text), the Vulg., Theodotion, and the Quinta favour this rendering. On the other hand, the image of grass withering before it comes to maturity is exactly what we should expect here, growing as it does without soil (comp. the “seed on the rock” in the parable of the sower), and suggests a more complete and sudden destruction of the enemies, who perish before the abortive plans of evil can be carried out. The rendering of the Authorised Version is therefore to be retained, and is actually supported by Aquila, Symmachus, the Sexta, and in various readings of the LXX. A thatched cottage in our country might present the picture suggested by the verse, but it was much more familiar where the housetops were flat and plastered with a composition of mortar, tar, ashes, and sand, which, unless carefully rolled, would naturally become covered with weeds. Indeed, in many cases, especially on the poorest sort of houses, the roof would be little better than hard mud. For similar allusions comp. 2Kings 19:26 and Isaiah 37:27.

129:5-8 While God's people shall flourish as the loaded palm-tree, or the green and fruitful olive, their enemies shall wither as the grass upon the house-tops, which in eastern countries are flat, and what grows there never ripens; so it is with the designs of God's enemies. No wise man will pray the Lord to bless these mowers or reapers. And when we remember how Jesus arose and reigns; how his people have been supported, like the burning but unconsumed bush, we shall not fear.Let them be as the grass upon the housetops - The housetops, or roofs of houses, covered with sand or earth, in which seeds of grass may germinate and begin to grow, but where, as there is no depth of earth, and as the heat of the sun there would be intense, it would soon wither away. See the notes at Isaiah 37:27.

Which withereth afore it groweth up - This, even if it has any meaning, is not the meaning of the original. The idea in the Hebrew is - and it is so rendered in the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and by Luther - "which before (one) pulls it, withers." Grass would wither or dry up, of course, if it were pulled up or cut down, but the grass here spoken of withers even before this is done. It has no depth of earth to sustain it; having sprouted, and begun to grow, it soon dies - a perfect image of feebleness and desolation; of hopes begun only to be disappointed. "This morning" (says Dr. Thomson, "Land and the Book," vol. ii., p. 574) "I saw a striking illustration of this most expressive figure. To obtain a good view of the Tyropean, my guide took me to the top of a house on the brow of Zion, and the grass which had grown over the roof during the rainy season was now entirely withered and perfectly dry."

5, 6. The ill-rooted roof grass, which withers before it grows up and procures for those gathering it no harvest blessing (Ru 2:4), sets forth the utter uselessness and the rejection of the wicked. The house-tops there were flat, and therefore more capable of grass or green corn growing between the stones than ours are.

Which withereth afore it groweth up; which having no deep root, never comes to maturity. And so all their designs shall be abortive, and never come to perfection. Let them be as the grass upon the housetops,.... The tops of the houses in Judea were flat, and so grass grew upon them, being covered with plaster of terrace; though it was but small and weak, and being on high was exposed to the scorching sun, and soon withered (b); and Menochius says (c) he saw such roofs in the island of Corsica, flat, and having earth upon them, smoothed and pressed, on which grass grew of its own accord; but being burnt up in summertime by the sun, soon withered, as here said. But what Olaus Magnus (d) relates is somewhat extraordinary; that, in the northern Gothic countries, they feed their cattle on the tops of houses, especially in a time of siege; he describes their houses as built of stone, high and large, and covered with rafters of fir and bark of birch; upon which is laid grass earth, cut out of the fields foursquare, and sowed with barley or oats, so that their roofs look like green meadows; and that what is sown, and the grass that grows thereon, might not wither before plucked up, they very constantly and diligently water it; but in the eastern countries, which are hot, and have but little rain, grass could not retain its verdure long, as follows;

which withereth afore it groweth up; to any height, the usual height of grass: or, "before it is plucked up", as the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, and Arabic versions; and so Jarchi. And this was their usual way of gathering in their corn; and which continues to this day, as Mr. Maundrell (e) affirms, who was an eyewitness to it in many places; where they plucked it up by handfuls from the roots, leaving the most fruitful fields as naked as if nothing had grown on them; and this they did for the sake of the straw, which was generally very short, and necessary for the sustenance of cattle; to which he thinks there is here a manifest allusion; but not corn, but grass, is here spoken of. The Targum is,

"before it flourisheth, an east wind cometh, blows upon it, and it is withered;''

and to the same purpose the Syriac version,

"which when the wind comes upon it, it fades and withers.''

This expresses the high and elevated state and condition of wicked men, the pride and haughtiness of their hearts; yet their weakness and frailty, and the danger they are exposed unto, through the wrath and vengeance of God upon them; when they consume and wither away like grass on the housetops, and never come to the happiness they are hoping and wishing for; see Isaiah 37:27.

(b) See Shaw's Travels, p. 210, 211. (c) De Republica Heb. l. 7. c. 5. p. 666. (d) De Ritu Gent. Septent. l. 9. c. 12. (e) Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, p. 144. Ed. 7.

{c} Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:

(c) The enemies who lift themselves high, and as it were approach the Sun, are consumed with the heat of God's wrath, because they are not grounded in godly humility.

6. as the grass upon the housetops] Cp. Isaiah 37:27. Grass or corn springs up quickly on the flat roofs of oriental houses, but having no depth of soil (Matthew 13:5 f.) it withers prematurely away, and yields no joyous harvest.

afore it groweth up] Lit. before it has unsheathed, put out its flower-stalk and given promise of fruit. So let Zion’s enemies perish before they can mature their plots. The rendering of P.B.V., afore it be plucked up, is that of some MSS of the LXX, and the Vulg. (‘priusquam evellatur’), but though possible, is less suitable.Verse 6. - Let them be as the grass upon the housetops; literally, they shall be as the grass of housetops. The fiat roofs of Oriental houses are usually covered in early spring with a crop of bright-green grass. But the scorching rays of the sun soon burn this up, and it becomes dry and withered (see 'The Land and the Book,' p. 682; and comp. Isaiah 37:27). Which withereth afore it groweth up; literally, before it is unsheathed; i.e. before the blossom has left the sheath in which it is formed. Pointing back to this charming picture of family life, the poet goes on to say: behold, for thus equals behold, thus is the man actually blessed who fears Jahve. כּי confirms the reality of the matter of fact to which the הנּה points. The promissory future in Psalm 128:5 is followed by imperatives which call upon the God-fearing man at once to do that which, in accordance with the promises, stands before him as certain. מציּון as in Psalm 134:3; Psalm 20:3. בּנים לבניך instead of בּני בניך gives a designed indefiniteness to the first member of the combination. Every blessing the individual enjoys comes from the God of salvation, who has taken up His abode in Zion, and is perfected in participation in the prosperity of the holy city and of the whole church, of which it is the centre. A New Testament song would here open up the prospect of the heavenly Jerusalem. But the character of limitation to this present world that is stamped upon the Old Testament does not admit of this. The promise refers only to a present participation in the well-being of Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:15) and to long life prolonged in one's children's children; and in this sense calls down intercessorily peace upon Israel in all its members, and in all places and all ages.
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