Harvesting joy, Psalm 126

Harold Camping has nothing on true believers. He may attempt to predict the future, but we have seen the future. And our future is joy.

In Psalm 126, God grants us a glimpse of the future by first reminding us of his goodness in the past.

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 (1-3, ESV).

When a faithful remnant returned to Israel from the Babylonian captivity, the collective mouth of the people filled with laughter and their collective tongue shouted for joy. During the celebration that dedicated the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem, the people “offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (Nehemiah 12:43). The joy in Jerusalem was so great that neighboring people heard their elated celebration.

True believers can look back at the great things God has done for us in the past. Merely considering his free gift of eternal salvation gladdens our hearts. And God has done so much more than that for each of us. Time and again he has delivered us from illness, despair, anxiety, and even persecution. He has blessed us with families and friends who love us and enrich our lives in numerous ways. The old song about counting your many blessings and naming them one by one conveys this truth: remembering God’s past blessings fills our hearts with gratitude and present gladness.

But in Psalm 126 God does more than remind us of past goodness to Israel and present salvation in our lives, he comforts us in our seemingly endless adversity. He assures us that the great things he will do for us are so certain that he speaks of them as already accomplished. Even before we see the good God does, we can rejoice in the knowledge of his sure goodness.

The last three verses of Psalm 126 portray the main petition in agricultural imagery (4-6, ESV):

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.

With the psalmist, we wander in a desert where sparkling streams are only a memory. But God sends refreshing rains to course through empty ravines, watering the dry desert and restoring life to its dying plants.

Although we water the hard ground with bitter tears as we plant, we will bring home an abundant harvest with joyful shouts. In one short growing season, God sends a complete emotional reversal. The  sorrowing planter has become the joyful harvester.

Knowles Shaw wrote his “Bringing in the Sheaves” hymn in 1874, based on the last verses of Psalm 126. I’ve never been fond of that hymn, which I always considered saccharinely evangelistic and which often has been caricatured in modern media. But Psalm 126 speaks about more than missionary struggles to convert recalcitrant tribes. It speaks directly to each one of us in our specific adversity.

God will do great things for us. He will reverse the effects of sin’s curse. He will flip sorrow on its head and restore joy to our hearts. Our neighbors will witness God’s great reversal in our lives and will say in amazement, “The Lord has done great things for them.”


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