Keeping Hope Alive
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion (Jerusalem),We were like those who dream [it seemed so unreal]. Then our mouth was filled with laughterAnd our tongue with joyful shouting;Then they said among the nations,“The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us;We are glad! Restore our captivity, O Lord,As the stream-beds in the South (the Negev) [are restored by torrents of rain]. They who sow in tears shall reap with joyful singing. He who goes back and forth weeping, carrying his bag of seed [for planting],Will indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
As one very nauseated passenger leaned over the rail of the cruise ship, a steward walked by, sized up the situation and offered encouragement, “You’ll be okay. Just remember, no one’s ever died yet of seasickness.”
The ashen-faced man looked up and replied, “Oh, don’t say that. It’s only the hope of dying that’s keeping me alive.”
This psalm is the seventh in a series of fifteen psalms of ascent, a collective of prayers by pilgrims on their way up the difficult climb to Jerusalem. Their prayers are in upward toil become models for our own struggles to surmount life’s difficulties.
Let’s face it. Sometimes you are worn out from the struggle of trying to make progress. You feel like the seasick passenger—“When will this be over?”
Psalm 126 provides the twin pieces of advice that help keep hope alive: Don’t forget the past and do remember the future.
Psalm 126 pictures the writer praying this prayer about halfway up the steep climb to Jerusalem. He exhausted and winded so he takes a few steps off the trail and sits down upon a large boulder. Looking out over the panoramic view of the Jordan Valley below toward the east, he remembers all those who have made the journey before him. In particular he remembers the Jewish exiles as they had returned home from captivity. On their way back home they had climbed the very same trail. It was just a few weeks before that they had languished in Babylon, helpless and hopeless with freedom seeming like a dream which had now turned into the reality of joy and grateful recognition of what their Lord had done for them(verses 1&3).
You can almost see the wheels turning in the mind of the psalmist: “If God did that for them, won’t He do the same for me?”
We don’t arrive at that place of reflection accidentally. It doesn’t seep into our emotions unless we take time to let God and His Word speak to us about what He does for His people; one of which is that He delivers! By faith we place ourselves among those who are the people of God and we say: “He didn’t just come and release them. Our day, too, is coming.”
As Christians we often may find ourselves starkly contrasted emotionally to the joy experienced by those first disciples to whom Jesus first appeared after resurrection. Like the writer of Psalm 126, we need to find a rock to sit on and take in the panoramic view of biblical history. We have a much better perspective since we live in A.D. rather than B.C.
Looking far down below and across the plains we see and hear the distant shouts of joy unspeakable in the overpowering celebration of those welcoming the dawn of the golden age of grace: “He is risen!” Can you see the holy men and women of God in their joy of shouting defiantly their faith in the midst of flaming and consuming fires. The whole plain appears filled with the cries of saints who have won the victory, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, doctors, missionaries, healers, and servants. These are the company of the liberated saints of God who have experienced pain, sorrow and suffering. But that is all gone now and as the sound of their of their shouts reach us today, we can feel their joy and it fills us too.
We can know that there is no pit too deep, no night so dark, no fire too hot nor prison too secure that Christ is not in it with us.
Psalm 126 ends by presenting the contrast between the present and the promise of what is to come. Now we are surrounded by the desert- the Negev- that period of desperate thirst. In the promise of that to come, streams will flow in the very places we are now parched and dry.
Now we may not be seeing the results of prayer, labor, or continuing to do our best in a difficult situation. We may now be limited to sowing but harvest time is coming. Jesus has promised that one day our grief will turn into joy(John 16:22).
Today we find ourselves in the moment between “great things he has done(verses 1-3) and “songs of joy”(verses 4-6). It’s time to get back on the trail and continue the upward climb. It’s no time to quit now!
Dr. John Thompson