As we enter the Lord’s gates of righteousness and joy today (Ps.118:19), we consider together Psalm 126, the seventh of the songs of ascent sung by God’s OT pilgrim people as they journeyed to Jerusalem for worship. Here is the Word of God in this song:
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.
3 The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.
5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
We can see immediately that the setting of this psalm is a late event in the history of Israel – the return from captivity in Babylon after 70 years (see also Psalm 137). And we also catch the note of joy and gladness – this is a celebratory psalm! The OT church is celebrating the joyful event of the return to Israel and Jerusalem with laughter and singing because it was the work of their sovereign God and Savior, v.2-3. Though it was the Persian king Cyrus who granted them release from Babylon, it was the Lord of Persia and Cyrus Who “turned again the captivity of Zion”, v.1 (Read the history of this again, especially in Isaiah, to see the Lord’s sovereignty over all the details of this event. You will recall that Cyrus is even called the Lord’s anointed servant, Is.45:1.)
In fact, it was the “LORD” – Jehovah, the faithful God of the covenant, the One Who remembered His promise to His own and Who never forgets or forsakes His people, no matter how much time goes by or how many events take place. The Lord of salvation set His people free from Babylon and restored them to the land of promise. And He did that in His love, mercy and grace for His elect remnant, because Christ was in them and they were in Him.
No wonder then that their mouths were filled with laughter and their tongues with singing! No wonder they sang praise to God and attributed this saving event to Jehovah! “The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad”, v.3. As in the time of harvest, God had turned their weeping into joy, vss.5-6. Sowing in tears, they now reaped with rejoicing, because the Lord had turned all things – even the troubles and temptations of the captivity in Babylon – for their good.
This glad song is also ours today. And even more so. For we know about a greater return from captivity. We know the reality to which the return from Babylon pointed and still points: to our release from the bondage of sin and the return to the joyful freedom of serving God! To the perfect work of God’s highest Servant, Jesus Christ, Who for us miserable sinners went to Calvary to pay the full price of our release and return, even the wrath of God and the sufferings of hell. But Who also rose again from the dead for us and went to heaven for us and is coming again for us, so that someday we may fully leave the Babylon of this world and enter the joy of our Lord!
O, what great things the Lord has done for us! And for this we are glad, so glad! O, how our weeping has been turned into joy! So we laugh and we sing, and we worship and shout our praises to the God of our salvation! Today, on the Lord’s Day, the day of our risen, victorious Savior! And every day! For we have begun to live the endless life of our return to God, and the full day of rest is not far off. God’s Servant, our Savior, is soon coming to set us fully free and bring us home!
And so, we, like the OT church, still pray, “Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south” (v.4). Even as we celebrate God’s work of turning again the captivity of Zion, we long for the full and perfect day. For we are still sit in the Babylon of this world. We still suffer from the remnants of our bondage to sin. Satan can still hinder us and hurt us. But our Lord is coming! The day of our full return is seen on the horizon! “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” May that be our prayer as we laugh and sing and celebrate God’s work for us today.
1. When Zion in her low estate
Was brought from bondage by the Lord,
In ecstasy we sang for joy,
By grace and wondrous love restored.
2. The Lord in greatly blessing us
Before the world His power displays;
Yea, great things God has done for us,
And filled our hearts with joy and praise.
3. O Lord, refresh us by Thy grace,
Revive and quicken all our powers,
As failing streams are made to flow,
Replenished by abundant showers.
4. The sower bearing precious seed
May weep as in his toil he grieves,
But he shall come again with joy
In harvest time with golden sheaves.