Read Psalm 126
A song of ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Psalms 120-134 are known as the “Psalms of Ascent” or “Pilgrim Songs.” Every year as the Jews traveled uphill towards the city of Jerusalem to participate in one of the three Jewish festivals, these are the songs they would sing. They became a staple of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem back then and now they serve as a helpful template for us as we worship today.
The title given to this psalm—Zion’s Restoration, A Pilgrim Song/A Song of Ascents—provides the backdrop for the passage. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a pilgrim as “a person who travels to a holy place for religious reasons.” In this context, the sacred place was Jerusalem, often referred to as Zion, as Jews were most likely returning from Babylonian captivity. It seemed they were living in a dream after 70 years of exile; joy, laughter, and songs radiated from them as they journeyed back to their homeland, giving credit to the Lord who had done great things for them (v. 2-3). As the returning exiles caught sight of Mount Zion, they were filled with gratitude to be back in their own land. The surrounding nations were familiar with their captivity and took notice, and they looked in awe of God who had fulfilled His word and brought His people back.
The closer they drew to Jerusalem, the more apparent it became that their homeland was in desperate need of restoration. Think of returning to a childhood home after many years and finding a dilapidated house with overgrown landscape, but on a much larger scale. The Israelites looked upon their city and realized there was much work to be done. Life is often like a set of parallel railroad tracks, as joy and sadness can coexist. One does not negate the other. What a gamut of emotions the people must have experienced as described in verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” The people acknowledged that God had done an amazing work in the past, and begged and trusted Him to do it again.
One of God’s past works they surely recalled is found in Joshua 4. This speaks of the memorial stones the Jews took from the middle of the Jordan River after God parted the waters during the spring flood stage and commanded them to cross over, requiring great faith from the people. Joshua knew the importance of remembering: “When your children ask their fathers in the future—what is the meaning of these stones—tell your children Israel crossed over on dry ground. This is so all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and that you may always fear the Lord your God” (Joshua 4:22, 24).
- Are you in a place of captivity right now, desperate for release? Are you daily trusting God to use this time to refine and shape you for His purposes?
- If you are in a place of freedom, have you shared your story with fellow believers to encourage them on their journeys? Share this with your Life Group this week.
- What are your “stones of remembrance” where you have seen the hand of God move mightily? Write them down for future reference.
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