A SONG OF ASCENTS.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 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.” 3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. 4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! 5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! 6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) In this psalm, the worshiper remembered how God delivered Israel in the past from a serious danger. Perhaps it was a foreign invasion, plague, or famine. Whatever it was, their deliverance from it was unexpected and surprising like a “dream”. When things appeared darkest, they were surprised by joy and gladness when God acted for them. We see this pattern often in biblical history. Israel is brought to a low point and then God acts to save them. It is a common pattern in church history as well. And perhaps you have experienced this at points in your life too. Dark times gave way to moments of joy and gladness. But the point of remembering past deliverance provided the theological foundation for the present crisis.
2) The psalmist applied the reality of God’s acts in the past, and asked for God to do it again. “Restore our fortunes”. Israel was in another dark situation and only God could help them. And he used two pictures to describe what he was looking for from God. The first was “like streams in the Negeb”. The Negeb was the arid wilderness in southern Israel. It was usually dry and barren. But for a short time in the rainy season, it was transformed into an abundant grassland. That is the kind of deliverance the worshiper asked for, complete transformation of his dark circumstances from dry and barren to lush and fruitful. The second picture is one of sowing and harvesting. The worshiper was sowing with tears. It was hard labor. But the abundant crop at the end brought joy and the realization that all the toil was not in vain. This was the encouragement the worshiper offered to Israel as they labored and toiled faithfully under their dark trial. Eventually their work would be rewarded with abundant joy. That is often the case in the Christian life. We must endure hard work or difficult trials before we enjoy the fruits and rewards of those labors. And this is the ultimate fulfillment we look forward to in heaven after all labor and tears are done. Christ will say “well done good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt 25:21).
It is likely that many of you may be entering into some of those dark toilsome times again given our current circumstances from this pandemic. But this psalm can help fortify our faith in preparation for that time. God has delivered his people through such hard times before. And he will do it again. Press on in the duties God lays before you now, faithfully plod on in the dark, knowing that you will have an abundant harvest of joy later.