Prayer for complete national restoration (Psalms 126) February 14-15
Psalm 126, the first song of ascents in the third set of three (of the five sets of three), returns to the theme of distress in this world, as most of Israel remains in exile and the psalm speaks of sowing in tears (compare verses 4-5). Exile was a consequence of disobedience, as was hinted at in the previous psalm. However, there is also great joy for those restored to Zion-another theme repeated from the previous psalm. "Ps 125 and 126 are thematically linked and precisely balanced, each being composed (in Hebrew) of 116 syllables. Their juxtaposition was no doubt deliberate" ( Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 125).
This psalm poses a difficulty for those who would link King Hezekiah with the songs of ascents-since he lived prior to the return from Babylonian Exile apparently referred to in this psalm. However, as was noted at the outset with respect to this idea, it is possible that the psalm was originally written about what was yet to come and that the specific wording was modified following the return from captivity. In any case, the psalm as we have it appears to date from after the Exile. Even so, there is a prophetic aspect regarding the complete return from captivity in the future.
We previously read Psalm 126 in the Bible Reading Program in conjunction with Ezra 6:14-22, the account of the completion of the rebuilding of the temple following the Exile. Some of what follows is a repeat of earlier comments.
The return from captivity in Babylon had been anticipated for so long that when it came, it seemed like a dream (verse 1). Was this really happening? It was! And when the reality set in, joy was overflowing in laughter and song. The events that Judah experienced through the decrees of the Persian emperors Cyrus and Darius and the temple reconstruction all stood as a great testimony among other nations (compare verse 2). And it was a great witness to those who returned of the reality and power of their God. "The Lord has done great things for us," they cried, "and we are filled with joy" (verse 3, NIV).
Still, all was not yet accomplished. God had "brought back the captivity of Zion" (verse 1). And yet the people pray in verse 4, "Bring back our captivity, O Lord …" Only a small percentage of the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon had returned. And the rest of the tribes of Israel, taken away previously in the Assyrian captivity, remained scattered. Ultimately, therefore, this prayer was for the end-time work of Jesus Christ in bringing Israel and Judah back from around the globe.
"…As the streams in the South [the Negev]" (same verse) is a request that this happen quickly and with great force. "The wadis in the steppe south of Hebron, around Beersheba, were generally dry; but on the rare occasions when during the winter months it rained even as little as one inch, the water ran down its 'streams' with great rapidity and often with destructive force…. Roads and bridges [have been] destroyed by the force of these torrential streams. The 'streams in the Negev' are not ordinary phenomena, as much as they represent proverbially the sudden unleash of God's blessing" ( Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 4).
Verses 5-6 give us the beautiful word picture of sowing in tears yet reaping in joy. All our wearisome toil and trials in this life, including Israel's exile, is working toward a wonderful outcome. "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17, RSV). How well this is symbolized in God's festivals, which celebrate in part the harvests of produce after the toil of planting and tending crops. Pentecost is alternatively referred to as the Feast of Harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles is also known as the Feast of Ingathering-and it is to be kept with rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). The ancient Jewish return to the Promised Land after decades of loss, heartache and shame was a source of great rejoicing. How much more joyful will it be when the people of all Israel are at last gathered again to their homeland at the establishment of God's Kingdom-simultaneous with the reunion of God's spiritual family!
As we assemble annually to observe God's feasts, let us all go with such a mindset-as if leaving the captivity of this world to rejoice before the Almighty King who has done great things for us, knowing that all our toil and sorrow in this age will ultimately reap a joyous reward in His presence for all eternity.