Psalm 126 is a Psalm of Ascent, most likely written by Ezra or a prophet or psalmist in his immediate proximity. It is generally read as a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving for those who have been released from their Babylonian captivity, and a prayer of encouragement for those who have yet to make their way home. It is broken down into two parts of three verses each.
Verses 1-3 reads “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.: The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.”
Verses 3-6 read “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out in weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves in with him.”
I love the way this Psalm starts, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” It paints an incredibly relatable picture of the collective mindset for those who were taken captive, living in a stupor and a daze, unable to cope fully with the reality of their home lost to invaders and no joyful prospects. The Lord had called them to weeping, to a deafening silence as their harps were hung upon the branches of the willow tree. He then mourns to them in turn and laments unto His people before finally reversing their exile and sending them on their way whereupon Israel’s voice breaks out in song and celebration.
Like waking suddenly from a nightmare, their misery was quickly swallowed up by songs of joy at the deliverance of the Lord! It is those who, by means of their captivity, repented, and turned again to their God. Repentance led to reformation and resulted in joy.
By these facts we observe 3 things:
Yet not all was well even in the midst of God’s deliverance. There were many obstacles yet ahead and many distresses upon those who returned home to find their city in ruins. Larger still must have been the harsh realization that they must keep their repentance nearby so that this national trauma would not be repeated. Finally, two last verses that remind us all that even though troubles come and sorrow may abound, the Lord will remain with His people and “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”
If this Psalm is to serve us today as modern Christians, the most obvious way in which it can be applied is first as an acknowledgement of our constant need of Christ in a world that seeks to keep us captive to sin and the patterns of this age. We are still sinners, yet we are called not to submit again to the slavery of sin, but to Christ. We are called to not use our freedom as a cover-up for sin, and to make every effort to kill those sins which crop up in our hearts.
The Lord is in the business of breaking chains and setting His people free, so do not lose heart, and do not give up on repentance. Acknowledge that which is keeping you from His presence as sin; confess it to Him and resolve once more to crucify the flesh and keep in step with the Spirit. It is here that we find not only humbling and painful reminders of our own sinful tendencies, but the overflowing grace and love and joy of the Lord by which we ought to live.
It can be so hard to give these our cherished sins up to God, but if we only turn our joy into sorrow in response to our own wickedness, the Lord shall see that we “come home with shouts of joy.”
Thank you, Lord, for your incredible grace and patience. Thank you for calling us to you and for loving us even when we were still sinners. Show us our sins for what they are, and show us your own holiness and goodness, that by tasting your goodness we might put to death those sins which cling so tightly. Amen!
Song: I Will Wait For You (Shane & Shane)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.