Psalm 126 (NIV)
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
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This is a psalm that celebrates the glorious deliverance of God. The people of Israel had been judged by God, defeated by their enemies, and endured seventy years of captivity in a foreign land. Now, their long night of suffering was over. God brought them back from captivity, restored them to their land, and renewed their joy. This psalm is the worshipful remembrance and overflow of that joy. “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” (vv. 1–2). You can almost feel the joy bursting forth from the page over God’s great work of restoration.
However, a careful look at the imagery of the psalm points us to the two ways God restores us and renews us. The first image is that of the quick, decisive work of God. He restores us “like streams in the Negev” (v. 4). This is an image of a dry riverbed suddenly receiving the powerful, life-giving rush of water. When these streams come rushing into the desert, it is a dramatic and immediate source of joy and relief. The second image is that of the sower who sows seed even in the midst of tears and disappointment. But gradually, over many months, the harvest does come and we “return with songs of joy, carrying [our] sheaves” (v. 6). This is the restoration of hope that comes after sowing and months (or years) of waiting for the harvest. Sometimes God delivers us in dramatic, immediate ways. Other times, God’s work unfolds slowly over time, and only in looking back can we fully capture the slow work of God in our lives. May the Lord help us to be patient and attentive to all the ways he is working in our lives.