Summary: Stand amazed at the infinite mercy of God!
A HARVEST OF JOY
The common heading within this group of fifteen Psalms (Psalms 120-134) is “A Song of degrees” - a reference, some believe, to the miracle of the sun going back by ten degrees as a pledge to King Hezekiah that the LORD would extend his life by fifteen years (Isaiah 38:4-8). Certainly Hezekiah appears to have been involved in the compilation of the Book of Psalms (2 Chronicles 29:30). Or perhaps these are songs for the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem for the solemn feasts (Exodus 23:14-17), or even “songs of ascent” up the steps towards the Temple.
Despite some ambiguity concerning the right interpretation of the Hebrew tenses, Psalm 126 appears to first look back to past mercies (Psalm 126:1-3), pause to pray over a present situation (Psalm 126:4), then looks forward with keen anticipation of future blessings (Psalm 126:5-6). This seems to be the most natural reading of the text. It is certainly a sound method of prayer to build a case for our petitions based in the past mercies of God, rather than diving in headfirst with our shopping list of requests.
The occasion of the Psalm’s composition, and the events referred to throughout are purposely vague. Historically, the turning of the captivity of Zion (Psalm 126:1) might reach all the way back to the release of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. In Hezekiah’s day this concept could be applied to the close call which Zion herself (Jerusalem) had when the Assyrians threatened her borders (Isaiah 37:33-36).
Psalm 126 would later also apply to the Jews returning to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. There were returns under a Davidic prince named Zerubbabel, as well as under Ezra and under Nehemiah. The end of their captivity was not achieved overnight: there were tussles with enemies within the holy land, giving rise to the need for more prayers for deliverance at each phase.
This Psalm is also a song for the church, and for God’s people in every generation. The salvation which is ours in Christ Jesus is the greatest deliverance of all. Beyond that, there have been divine interventions in our lives from time to time, concerning health, or finances, or answers to prayer on behalf of our families, communities, churches and friends.
In the face of such blessings, we are as those that dream (Psalm 126:1). We stand amazed at the infinite mercy of God. We laugh and sing for joy (Psalm 126:2), and even those of our acquaintances who do not believe as we do cannot deny the wonder of God’s dealings with us.
Our testimony backs up the impression that others have of us. With a shout of triumph and a cry of victory, we proclaim that the LORD has indeed done great things for us (Psalm 126:3). This intense joy resonates throughout the Psalm (Psalm 126:2; Psalm 126:5; Psalm 126:6).
Psalm 126:4 asks God to bring greater deliverance even than that which has gone before, just like He fills the watercourses of the Negev - the dry parched desert in the south of the land - with torrents of water. There is no holding back in the Psalmist’s prayer, so well does he know his God. This is in keeping with the church’s prayer in every age: ‘Revive thy cause in the midst of the years, in wrath remember mercy’ (Habakkuk 3:2); ‘Wilt thou not turn again and quicken us O Lord, that thy people may rejoice in thee?’ (Psalm 85:6).
The agricultural couplet at the end of the Psalm (Psalm 126:5-6) suggests several layers of application: literal, metaphorical, spiritual, and eschatological (pertaining to the end times). It is not without parallels in the realm of Christian living (Galatians 6:8); and giving (1 Corinthians 9:11). It is a source of great encouragement to those who labour in the gospel: the key concept being perseverance (1 Corinthians 3:6).
It is good that we sow - our prayers, our money, our time, our efforts - into the Lord’s ministry, even if we do have to water our seed with tears. After all, sowing time is not the time for floods in the watercourses. Yet those who go forth weeping return rejoicing, with a harvest of whatever it is they have invested in: whether we reap a harvest of souls for the Lord; or a harvest of blessings proportional to our efforts to be a channel of God’s blessing to others.