1 A song of ascents.
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men 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, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
Psalm 126 – Sowing tears—reaping joy
(Verses 1-3) Psalm 126 marks some unspecified joyful event in Israel’s national history. It seems highly likely that it was written about one of the three returns from the Babylonian captivity, whether under Zerubbabel, under Ezra, or under Nehemiah. Zion, and its temple and worship, are now in the minds of the worshippers. The psalm is probably true of each partial return and also of the three as a whole. God’s people were so used to captivity that the prospect of returning seemed like a dream to them. Laughter and joy are theirs now! Other nations recognise what God has done for them. So do they. They are quick to give the glory to God: ‘The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.’ The same sentiments are often expressed when someone trusts in Jesus Christ and finds his life is changing. Also, Christians who have backslidden and then come back to the Lord often express those same sentiments and thank God for restoring them. In each case, onlookers who know the people concerned often comment on the change the Lord has made in them. Some of the unconverted onlookers also come to realise that Jesus bore their sins and judgment and receive Him in their hearts as Lord and Saviour. Others who are believers are often challenged to come afresh to the Lord to surrender to Him again. It is a joyful and ‘great’ thing to sing about, and to tell others about, when you are made right with God!
(Verse 4) In summer the southern area near Beersheba, called the Negev, is very dry and parched. But when Spring comes the streams are swollen and flowing, thus changing the arid area into one where things grow, and people are not thirsty. It could be that this return is not the final of the three returns and so, by asking God to ‘restore our fortunes like streams in the Negev,’ the psalmist may be urging God to complete Israel’s return. Doubtless, he also asks God’s blessing on the return in question. We rejoice to receive a ‘spiritual Spring’ of conversion, restoration, or renewal from God. He waters us spiritually each day through His Holy Spirit and through His word, as we pray and study the Bible individually. In church life, those ‘streams’ of blessing flow through prayer meetings, Bible studies, worship and hearing God’s word on the Lord’s day.
(Verses 5-6) Sowing in tears probably refers to repentance in captivity by disobedient Israel. True repentance towards God always brings forgiveness and restoration, and joy as a result. But there is a gospel application, often made, too. Those who truly come to know Christ long to see others also trusting Jesus for forgiveness, eternal life and a home in Heaven forever. With compassion for lost people (‘tears’) they sow the ‘seed’ (God’s word as contained in the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus). There will be a harvest (‘sheaves’) of people who also turn from sin, receive Christ, and are won for God. And that brings ‘joy’ to all! Do you have compassion for lost people?