The Songs of Ascent, Text: Psalm 126, Title: Reaping in Joy


The journey begins again in this Psalm. It begins with joy, but the Psalms are not chronologically arranged and Psalm 137 is a Psalm of the captivity, so listen to the lament in verses 1-4, By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? But here in Psalm 126 they are leaving the captivity and they can again sing the Lord’s song. This psalm is essentially a celebration of God’s covenant faithfulness. Through all their trials the people have persevered in the covenant promise of the Lord, and thus we see first the reason, and then the rejoicing, and finally the reward.

I The Reason for Perseverance

The reason is the faithfulness of the Lord and we see this in verses 1,3 and 4, When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Israel’s history is the story of their unfaithfulness and God’s faithfulness. God brought them out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand. They balked at the Red Sea and said Moses brought them out their to die, but God opened the way through the waters. They murmured and complained in the wilderness wanderings, but God preserved them. They were afraid to enter the land of promise and God punished them, but he brought them in under Joshua. He delivered them from Midian through Gideon, from the Philistines under Jepthah, and from the Assyrians under Hezekiah, and many other times. And the prophet Jeremiah had predicted that their captivity in Babylon would last seventy years and it did, Jeremiah 25:8-11, Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp.  This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. God kept His Word and they rejoiced again in His faithfulness. Long before Isaiah had prophesied in chapter 35 of his prophecy, Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert...and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. Here in this psalm as they sing with joy at returning to Zion they envision streams in the Negev, which is the desert to the south just as Isaiah said. Ultimately we persevere in the covenant promise because the greatest promise of all is the promise of Messiah, of a Savior and that has been fulfilled, and therefore as Paul says in II Corinthians 1:20, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Three hundred fifty years ago the Puritan Thomas Stint reminded us, “In my opinion they (interpreters) go near the the true sense of the Psalm who do refer it to the great and general captivity of mankind under sin and death and the devil...For what great matter was it for these people of the Jews, being, as it were, a little handful delivered out of temporal captivity in comparison with the exceeding and incomparable deliverance whereby mankind was set at liberty from the power of eternal enemies.”

II The Rejoicing in Perseverance

In verse 2 we see the uncontainable relief; the joy, freedom, and laughter of release from captivity, 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.” This arises both from the opportunity to return to their homeland, and also from the vindication before others that they feel though it is ill-deserved since it is all of grace. Are they happy? Yes! But they are happy because of what the Lord has done for them. Happiness does not yield to desperate seeking. As someone has said, “To be wealthy you must pursue riches; to be learned you must study hard and continuously; but happiness evades the pursuer." The reason is that we cannot control our circumstances. God is in control. The word happiness contains the root of its spoilage. Happiness comes from happen, meaning for most people chance. Joy on the other hand comes from within. It is the laugh of faith that says whatever “happens” my joy is unaffected, because God is in control. Ultimately true joy comes from giving God the glory as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” When we enjoy God, we have true joy as Paul says in Philippians, the epistle of joy, in 4:11-13, I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians is a “prison” epistle and Paul’s circumstances are certainly not rosy, but he is content and contentment in every situation is the secret of true joy. I am not sure how the Israelite captives being released viewed this, but I know that we as followers of Jesus Christ should rejoice evermore because of our deliverance from sin and death. So, as we persevere in Christ, we are on our way rejoicing.

III The Reward of Perseverance

The psalmist directs our attention to the future with verses 5 and 6,  Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.  Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning, says Psalm 30:5. The penitent weeping of the pious Israelites has issued in the blessing of restoration, but there is a greater reward. Paul says, Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. Jesus said, He that endures to the end shall be saved. When we sow the gospel seed in word and deed we shall return with songs of joy. Paul says in Romans 5:1-5, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. We rejoice even in trials because sometimes God must turn our happiness into sorrow in order to turn our sorrow into joy. James says the same thing as Paul in 1:2-4, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Thus we clearly see that as followers of Jesus, perseverance brings the ultimate reward.