Reflections on Psalm 126

Over the past few weeks, our world has seen particular violence and outcries to that violence. It’s a violence that has made us forget that there was even a pandemic and has reminded us vividly that our humanity and our world and our history is still broken and groaning for redemption. I know that all of us have been reflecting in many different ways. So I wanted to encourage us briefly out of Psalm 126.

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.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

The nation of Israel, God’s chosen nation, had a very checkered life amidst the nations. For as many years that they enjoyed fruitfulness in their obedience, they also saw many years of failure, faithlessness, and destruction in their disobedience. God was gracious in mercy to restore to Israel what had been lost — to bring them out of Egyptian captivity and place them in a land where a sowing and harvest could take place that would feed them and the whole world.

“It was a restoration that was so real and effectual, that it became visible.”

Here, the Psalmist remembers that when God brought them out of captivity, when he restored them and all that they were, it was the fulfillment of their greatest dreams. What they had so longed for, waited for, and hoped for had happened. And it was too good to be true. God had redeemed them and given them a forever home. Such a reality put laughter and singing back in their mouths; it infused joy and gladness back into their words. It was a restoration that was so real and effectual, that it became visible. The nations saw it. And they said, and Israel agreed — “the Lord has done great things for them.”

In verses 1 through 3 the psalmist remembers God’s past faithfulness to his people; he is nostalgic over the historical grace of God. And then the psalmist asks God to do again what he did before; to bring restoration to them “like streams in the Negeb,” he says. Evidently, Negeb is a desert valley in south Israel where no water exists. He acknowledges the parched souls of his people and begs God to bring renewal. And in this slow path to renewal, the psalmist asserts, it is those who sow with tears that will reap a harvest. It is those who weep in the wilderness who will reap a harvest of joy in the new land.

“But there is no harvest in selfish sorrow.”

Now, there is a way to sow selfishly — to mourn in a way that is only self-referential; to mourn COVID or racial injustice as only an annoyance; to only want difficult things to be over, or for stay-at-home to be lifted. But there is no harvest in selfish sorrow.

If we, in this wilderness of COVID and injustice, offer the world the tearful prayers of the body of Christ, if we sow for our brothers and sisters of color the seeds of mourning and grief over our own sin and injustice and the injustices of generations past — there will be a harvest of joy produced through that sorrow. Though we know our inheritance in Christ is unfading, we can ask God today to restore again the fortunes of his church and beg him to do again what he’s done before. To reestablish his people in a way where their mouths are filled with words of life and the nations are fed by God.

“The One who sowed tears in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Mount of Calvary, reaped a harvest of joy in every one of us. He reaps even today.”

The reality of this psalm was never clearer than it was in the life of our King. The One who sowed tears in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Mount of Calvary, reaped a harvest of joy in every one of us. He reaps even today. His was the ultimate sowing of tears for the world and it brought the ultimate harvest of joy. And so we, as his body, knowing that our King sowed tears for us, join him today in sowing our tears for others so that our arms might be full of sheaves from the harvest of joy that will come, in time, by his grace.