Summary: Year C. Fifth Sunday in Lent April 1st , 2001
Year C. Fifth Sunday in Lent April 1st , 2001
Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church
Web page http://lordofthelake.org
By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor
Title: “God will do it again.”
It was written after the Exile. In the heading it is called “A song of Ascents,” that is, a song to be sung while going up to Jerusalem or entering the Temple. While most scholars think this is an error, that it is a Lament not a “processional hymn,” even though it appears within the collection of Psalms 120-134, all of which have this title. Yet, given our present state of knowledge, there is nothing in the psalm that would prevent it from being used as an appropriate song while advancing toward Jerusalem to celebrate the Autumnal Festival or Feast of Tabernacles. The metaphors associated with rain and sowing and reaping as well as reference to Yahweh’s mighty works reinforce this interpretation.
The Exile was the second most important historical event of Jewish history, the first being the Exodus. It was remembered and reflected upon constantly. It became a major paradigm for interpreting all sorts of situations – especially seemingly hopeless ones. In the psalm the author looks back upon the return from exile with gratitude, but also hope, hope that God will do it again in the present situation. The return was not all the people had hoped it would be. Jerusalem was not restored to her former glory, nor was the Temple as magnificent as before. It was a great deliverance, yes, but there was much more to be done.
The structure of the psalm reflects this kind of situation.
In verses one through three, “remembers God’s miraculous deliverance from exile,” verse four prays for the repetition of that miracle or its completion; and verses five and six, is a proverb promising that the miracle will be repeated or completed, given the modus operandi of God.
Although the Psalm principally reflects the return from the Babylonian Exile in 537BC, still this return became typical of each pilgrimage to the holy city as well. It could also be used as a private prayer for any “return” to God’s good graces.
In verse one, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,” “To restore the fortunes of” was an expression for realizing salvation. It was used in the cult in this sense, but also in ordinary life to indicate a return to a good state of affairs after a bad turn. “Zion” was the hill on which Jerusalem was built and where the Temple was. The term was used to indicate Israel as a people whose spiritual home was Jerusalem. The return home from exile was seen as God saving his people in the concrete historical realm.
“We like those in a dream,” This expresses the people’s utter amazement at what God has “pulled out of the hat.” Who would have ever thought that the huge, powerful Babylonian Empire would be defeated, without a “shot” being fired, and, then, the new king actually freeing the Israelites and letting them go home and rebuild their city and Temple. It seemed like they were dreaming.
In verse two, “Then was our mouth filled with laughter,” this is a picturesque way of saying they were overjoyed.
“Then they said among the nations,” Even the other nations, who were Israel’s enemies and quick to ridicule them for belief in a God who had let them be taken into exile in the first place, had to stand up and notice the “great things” their God had done for them.
In verse five, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of Negev.” This is a prayer for God to do again what he once did at the time of the exile. In its original context it may mean for Yahweh to complete the process of return – to bring back all the exiles, to let the city and Temple return to their former glory, to motivate all the people to a zealous conversion of life. Over time this prayer would be appropriate for any situation which needs correcting, restoration or renewal.
Like the dry stream beds of the Negev: “Negev” is a region in Judah, S. of Hebron. It is also used as an equivalent of “the south,” a semi-arid country. This became a proverbial expression for a sudden change. The dried up wadis could turn into raging torrents in a very short space of time as a result of the winter rains. There was at one time refreshing, life-giving waters when Yahweh changed Zion’s fate and restored her fortunes. Now, once again, the valleys of the brooks have dried up. The prayer is for Yahweh to renew the exhausted springs and change the state of affairs in the present as he did in the past.