Have you ever felt so happy that it seemed like a dream? We sometimes call a happy turn of circumstances "a dream come true." The person who wrote Psalm 126 certainly had that experience: "When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting…" (vss. 1-2) What was happening to them was so wonderful it just seemed like it couldn't be true - and yet it was! They had been suffering under the heel of the Babylonians for seventy years and for about fifty of those years they had been exiled from their beloved land of Israel, knowing that the once glorious city of Jerusalem and its splendid temple, built by Solomon, lay in desolate ruins. But God had sent them a deliverer: Cyrus the Great, king of the Medes and Persians, who defeated the Babylonians and released them from exile to return to their land. Now they were home, rejoicing with all their hearts!
Their rejoicing was so great, in fact, that the other nations of the region took note: "Then they said among the nations, 'The LORD has done great things for them!'" The Psalmist agrees, saying "The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad!" (vss. 2-3) But then he also notices that not all of the effects of their exile have been reversed. Once they returned to the land and to Jerusalem, they saw again the destruction the Babylonians had wrought and, on top of this, the Gentiles (non-Israelites) who had taken over many of their homes and farms were not happy to see them. The years immediately following their return to the land of Israel and Jerusalem were difficult ones and it took a long time to finally complete the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem.
That is why he goes on to ask the Lord, "Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South." (vs. 4) A more literal rendering would be, "Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the stream-beds in the Negev." The Negev was, as it is today, a desert with many dry stream-beds that would become filled with water during rare cloud-bursts. The Psalmist is likening the returned exiles to such a stream-bed, needing a revival from on high! And God did provide it, first, by sending the prophets Haggai andZechariah to encourage the Jews to rebuild the Temple and then the governors Ezraand Nehemiah to bring the people back into obedience to God's law and to help them rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. (You can read about it in the books bearing the names of these Jewish prophets and leaders.)
The Psalmist concludes with a wonderful promise to those who persevere in doing God's will despite trials and persecution: "Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." (vss. 5-6) Now, this is what thePsalm 126 meant in its original Old Testament context, but as you should know, it also has a New Testament application because the experiences or the Old Testament saints are meant to foreshadow (symbolize) those that we, the inheritors of the promises of God, are meant to experience today. (1 Cor. 10:11) How should we then apply it?
The return from exile in Babylon pictures the experience of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is our Cyrus who rescues us from Satan who has made us his captives through sin. When we became aware of our captivity and felt "burdened and heavy-laden" (Mt. 11:28) under the weight of our guilt and slavery to sin, then the message of the gospel became truly glad tidings. Having embraced the offer of pardon and peace through Christ and having realized that we were now free, we rejoiced with "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8). I well remember the joy of sharing the story of my salvation with others when I first became a believer in Jesus Christ. For so long I had resisted His love and grace, compounding further my guilt and aggravating my hostility toward Him. I hadn't wanted the gospel to be true because I preferred another way to save myself - through meditation, yoga and healthful living. But when I finally realized that my condition was far worse than these things could cure and that only the blood of Christ and the working of His Spirit could heal my sin-sick soul, what a wonderful relief it was to fling open the doors of my heart and welcome Him in!
When we receive Christ as our Savior then others will see the great things He has done for us and, like the nations who witnessed God's deliverance of Israel from captivity in Babylon, they will likewise be impressed by the goodness of the Lord to us. People will then be drawn to the Lord and they will long for the same blessings we have received. David prayed, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You." (Ps. 51:12-13) When lost sinners see the joy of our salvation and the eagerness we now have to serve the Lord, this will have a converting affect upon them.
But after out conversion to Christ we then begin to see how great damage sin and Satan have done to our souls. It is then that we pray, with the Psalmist, "Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the stream-beds in the Negev [desert]." This damage will take a long and sometimes bitter fight to undo. We trudge into the barren, desolate fields of our hearts bearing our sack of seed (the word of God) and begin to sow in hope of a harvest. We may have to wait long, all the while harassed and opposed by the adversary of our soul but the day of harvest comes! As Jesus says, "first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head." (Mk. 4:28) Our hearts become like a fertile field, yielding much fruit for God - the fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…" (Gal. 5:22-23) Then our tears will be changed to joyful shouting! This again will be an opportunity for the lost to see what great things the Lord has done for us and lead them to seek Him for themselves.
So, if you have not yet received Jesus Christ as your Savior and welcomed Him into the center of your life, why do you hesitate? What have you to lose except your chains? And what joy you will receive when you finally know that your sins have been forever removed "as far as east is from the west" (Ps. 103:12)! But to those who have received the Lord and known the joy of sins forgiven, you also know that sin has left much destruction and desolation in your heart. Don't despair and don't give up! Take the seed of God's word into your heart day by day, letting it germinate and take root within your soul. Yes, it will seem like it takes forever for even the first blade to appear (let alone the grain!) but remember His promise: "He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." This harvest will not only be your own spiritual fruitfulness but also a harvest of souls won to Christ by the example of the great things He has done for you!