For our faith ancestors, Psalm 126 was traditionally known as a “Psalm of Ascent,” which meant that it was sung by travelers as they made their way to the Temple. Of particular interest is the understanding that this is not a Psalm of David, but one that was probably written during the return to Jerusalem around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, one caution would be to hinder the usefulness of the Psalm by tying it too tightly to its historical circumstances. While historical context is enlightening, God’s people are always in need of salvation and the Lord’s strength to restore us from our chaos and terrible choices.
126:1 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 Note about the Streams of Negeb (or Negev in the NIV) - These streams are well-known for being dry and being dry often. However, these stream beds can suddenly be rushing floods when the seasonal rains arrive. So, we can see the imagery here of a lack of hope suddenly turning into the arrival of life-giving deliverance.
The point of this Psalm is that we as God’s people live by both memory and hope. During this Christmas time, we remember the story of Jesus’ birth and what his coming means for us. We reflect on the cross and the resurrection as we take the Lord’s Supper. We hear the teachings of Jesus proclaimed and lived out as we interpret the Scriptures. We try to become like him as we live in the community of the church. And yet, through the tears, sorrow, and hard times—we hope. We hope that Christ is coming again, and our memory of what Jesus has done compels our belief in what He will do! Like the memory of Jesus burst on the scene unexpectedly and without warning, so we prepare ourselves for the hope of Jesus’ coming that will complete all things. Within these boundaries, we are a glad and joyful people!
In Matthew 5, Jesus speaks from a mountain telling the people who have gathered there, “Blessed are…” Some contemporary translate that to mean, “Joyful are those” in that same text. However, if you read those “Beatitudes” you will find that the attributes mentioned by the Lord Jesus are not the usual list of “a few of my favorite things.” Well, some of the questions that we so often must come to terms with is why is the Lord God praiseworthy? How do we know God? When can we see God? I believe Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, is encouraging and reassuring a group of people gathered there while also challenging and condemning a group of people not present on the mountain, but present in the socio-religious landscape of everyone assembled there.
So, Jesus clarifies who gets to see God, participate in God’s work, and understands the real reasons to praise God. God has a long history of taking care of the broken, healing the sick, and being a helper in the time of need. Of course, if we never consider ourselves broken, sick, or in need—then there isn’t much need for God. The horrifying prospect here is not just that, but also that there isn’t produced in our lives the JOY of the Lord.
Let me focus us on Psalm 146:5-10 and notice the first line, “But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper…”
5 But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
7 He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
9 The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.
Praise the Lord!
Here in Psalm 146, the reasons to praise the Lord are abundant. Praise the Lord for creating sky, earth, and sea, and all that is in them and for keeping promises without ceasing (verse 6). Praise the Lord, too, for giving justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to the imprisoned, and sight to the blind, not to mention a few other items, such as protecting strangers and supporting widows and orphans (verses 7-8). There’s a lot of praiseworthiness here. Simply put, the psalm gives credit where credit is due.
Of course, the flip side is also quietly present, “But miserable are those who do not have help from the God of Israel…” Flip the psalm and hear the list of those who might not witness the help of God and I wonder this—What fills our time and energy? Are we busy seeking those things that make us strong and powerful and whole and secure? Are we crying out to God for HELP!
Can we claim that the source of our JOY most certainly is the response to our deepest longings? May the Joy of the Lord be your strength, may God be the deepest longing of our hearts, minds, and souls.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.