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 Plowmen have plowed 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.”
“But” can be such a transformative word.
“My enemies have beaten me down” is transformed by “but” from a statement of despair into a declaration of hope: “they haven’t won”. The hopelessness of being “tied up with ropes” is turned around by “but the Lord sets me free”.
It’s really easy to understand the psalmist’s desire that their enemies should receive the harm they intended for Israel. But Jesus said “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28) That’s not so easy. But if I can allow Jesus to turn my heart around it turns that cycle of hate and harm around into grace and love.
The phrase “but God” is used over and over again in the Bible. Sometimes it’s “But God was angry” (Number 22:22) but the vast majority of them speak of his grace towards us in spite of what we are: “But God heard” (Genesis 21:17); “But God did listen!” (Psalm 66:19); “But God remembered” (Genesis 8:1); “But God, who encourages those who are discouraged” (2 Corinthians 7:6); “But God had mercy on me“ (1 Timothy 1:16); “But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.” (2 Samuel 14:14); “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us” (Romans 5:8); “But God released” (Acts 2:24); “But God raised him from the dead!” (Acts 13:30); “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much” (Ephesians 2:4).
Father, thank you for the many times you speak a “but God” into my life: thank you that you turned me around from being your enemy to being your precious child. Turn my heart around to bring your transforming love into the parts of my life that seem to have least room for it.
Written by David Cornell