Psalm 126:1-6 The Greatest Future Is Yet to Come
“Bringing in the Sheaves,” a hymn in the Baptist Hymnal was written by Knowles Shaw, is based on the last verse of Psalm 126. Mr. Shaw was born October 13, 1834. When Knowles was about twelve, his dying father gave him his cherished violin and told him to live for the Lord. The boy grew up to become a “singing evangelist” who led eleven thousand souls to Christ. His singing brought in the crowds and his preaching converted them. In 1878, while traveling by rail across Texas, he told a friend he never became discouraged, for he loved his work and had confidence in the gospel’s power. Moments later, the train careened off the tracks and Shaw was killed in the wreck. His last words were: “It is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ.”1
This psalm is a reminder that the grandest thing is to rally people to the cross of Christ. The greatest future for the church’s work is yet to come. This psalm is written by a person who reflects upon God’s work in the past, his own silent relationship with God in the present, and then looks forward to the results of God’s work in the future.
I want to take this psalm and see its application for our church today. While viewing this psalm as a way that applies to the church, I think you should see how this psalm also applies to your personal walk as well. Let’s dig in and see how Psalm 126 speaks to us today.
God has been faithful in the past (Psalm 126:1-3)
This psalm begins with a nostalgic look at the past.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1, HCSB)
The Jews had been held in Babylon. They now had the chance to worship God in Jerusalem. This had a been a dream of the people for seventy years. After being held captive in Babylon, being able to travel to Jerusalem to worship God must have indeed seemed to the Jews like a dream too good to be true.2
I have been silent in the present (Psalm 126:3-4)
“The Lord had done great things for us; we were joyful.” (Psalm 126:3, HCSB)
“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.” (Psalm 126:4, HCSB)
Normally in a psalm, one could see the word “Selah” meaning pause. Here, I think the change in context is another kind of pause. Before, the psalmist was describing events in the past. He relates how God had done great things. As a result, they were joyful.
Yet in Psalm 126:4, we see a shift, a shift to the present. Things are not like they used to be. Instead of being joyful about God and the great things He has done, the psalmist is asking God to restore fortunes. He compares them to “watercourses in the Negev.”
Their spiritual condition, at that time, reminded the psalmist of the southern region of their land. Drought always dried up the streams in that area, but then the rains would come and those dry stream beds would be filled with torrents of water. With that picture in his mind, the psalmist was, therefore, asking God to do in the spiritual realm what he did in the natural realm. He was asking for an outpouring of God’s power and grace, one that would take away their dryness and cause them to rejoice again.3
Many of us today are in the present, with thoughts of the past. We look at the past with nostalgia, and yet we wonder if our best days are behind us. The psalmist doesn’t stay stuck in the past. Instead, he’s taking inventory of the present.
I think between Psalm 126:3-4, the psalmist has taken a good hard look at his life’s situation. He has realized that the way things worked in the past won’t continue to work in the future. He’s also realized that fact that he has stopped depending upon God.
I think the greatest liability of any church is not just thinking upon the past. The greatest liability is when the past looks better than the future. The difference between a nostalgic church and a dead church is one of degree. They both are looking to the past, without asking God for help to the future.
We have been operating in this mode for some time. As a result, some people have been expecting this church to operate like it did in the past. When times were looking great, many people were expecting the church to do many things for them. But once some people felt that with a new pastor, they needed to go elsewhere to see the latest thing, the commitment to this church has wavered with some.
Then some people didn’t want to stay in unity with the rest of the church. Some wanted to do things their own way without accountability. And then the church stopped praying.
Like the events of the psalmist, joy in the past turned into silence. Now that silence has been deafening. God’s not hearing from us like He should. Sure, we have a few people praying, but we don’t spend time in corporate prayer like we should. Sure, we post requests on email and Facebook. But I have never seen anyone write online in the five years that I have been pastor that we should pray for the church. I have never seen a post about praying for the lost. I have never seen people post publicly what they should be praying privately.
As a church, we need to start taking a good inventory of our situation. Yes, we have built great things for God. Yet, have we done great things for Him?
Past-thinking churches raise monuments. Forward-thinking churches raise missionaries.
God is looking forward to working with me to build a new future. (Psalm 126:5-6)
“Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126:5, HCSB)
Sowing and Reaping
Sowing and reaping. The process is a picture of the faithfulness of God. We have our work and God does His work. We sow and God reaps.
Sometimes the sowing is a difficult work. We cry as we work the field of God. People don’t want to let the Seed enter their hearts. People don’t want the fruitfulness of God in their lives. We see people. We talk to them, building relationships with them. We share the hope we have in Jesus Christ and they reject it. We wonder if this Gospel is worth sharing.
Then we hear the news that God has done a wonderful work in the life of someone we tried so hard to reach. We hear how God had done a miraculous work in their lives. A son was healed from a painful illness. A sister overcomes a drug addiction. We hear the stories about how God used difficult circumstances to show His power.Joy springs out of our hearts as we celebrate the work that God has done. The harvest, of which God was faithful in bringing, is a time for the people of God to thank God. We are sad in the planting season. But we can have confidence that we will be happy during the harvest season. We only have to have faith that God will help us. 4
“Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.” (Psalm 126:6, HCSB)
Sowing the Seed in Hard Soil
Del Tarr grew up in parsonages in Minnesota and South Dakota, and most of his friends lived on farms. Crops were sown, cultivated, and harvested, but never once did he see farmers weeping over the seed. Later, as a Bible student, he was perplexed by Psalm 126. Why did the sower go forth with weeping?
Later, Del served as missionary just below the Sahara Desert in West Africa, where the climate is similar to that of Bible lands. The rainfall comes in May through August. The other eight months are bitterly hot and bone dry, dust from the Sahara getting inside of everything—mouths, houses, even wristwatches.
No farming is possible those eight months. Everything must be grown May through August. In the fall, granaries are full and so are stomachs. The people seem happy, their lives overflowing in song and dance and fellowship. By December supplies begin to recede and families begin eating but one meal a day. By February, people feel hungry. By March, food is rationed to one-half meal a day, and the children cry from hunger.
April is the month that haunts my memory. The dust filters down through the air, and sounds carry for long distances. April is the month you hear the babies crying at twilight. Their mother’s milk is now stopped. …
Then, inevitably, it happens. A six- or seven-year-old boy comes running to his father one day with sudden excitement. “Daddy! Daddy! We’ve got grain! Out in the hut where we keep the goats—there’s a leather sack hanging on the wall—Daddy, there’s grain in there.”
The father motionless. “Son, we can’t do that,” he softly explains. “That’s next year’s seed grain. It’s the only thing between us and starvation. We’re waiting for the rains, and then we must use it.”
Instead of feeding his desperately weakened family, he goes to the field and—I’ve seen it—with tears streaming down his face, he takes the precious seed and throws it away. He scatters it in the dirt!
Why? Because he believes in the harvest.5
Realize that sowing and reaping involve not just techniques and principles. The process involves emotions as well as faith. Have you felt this way? Have you felt like the soil has been hard? It makes no sense sometimes when God asks us to plant seed. As a church, like this illustration, we used to live on more than three meals a day. Now, the meals are farther and farther apart. We’ve learned to live on less, financially. There is a value in learning that. We need to trust God and be faithful in planting the seed in the present. Then God will be faithful in bringing in the harvest in the future, just as He did in the past.
The final two verses in the psalm employ agricultural imagery, particularly that of sowing and reaping. Some have suggested that this imagery may have been adapted from agricultural rituals in the Ancient Near East related to the dying and rising of the gods. Given the largely agrarian nature of that society we should not be surprised that the metaphors employed are frequently agricultural. But the use of such imagery does not require a one to one correspondence to a presumed ancient ritual.
I would suggest that the psalmist adopted such imagery in an effort to reinforce the notion of restoration and reversal found throughout the psalm, but even further, such imagery introduces the idea that restoration may not be instantaneous. Those who sow, do so without guarantee, but in anticipation of what will come. The psalmist prays that what began in tears and weeping will end with shouts of joy and arms filled with proof of God’s great work in their midst.
Psalm 126 reminds us that “the Lord has done great things for us.” Even further, like the dreamers of old, we are called to live expectantly, fully convinced that the tears and weeping of our day will not have the last word. The God we serve is the God of restoration and reversal.6
“A song of ascents.” (Psalm 126:title, HCSB)
One final note. The reason this song is called a “song of ascents” is because the people were looking up as they were traveling to Jerusalem to worship. They were looking up to a new future, where God was going to be faithful again to His people.
1 Robert J. Morgan, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2010).
2 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 155.
3 Roger Ellsworth, Opening up Psalms, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 88.
4 Jim Erwin, “Emotions of the Harvest,” Psalm 124:5-6, Lectionary Reflections Year B (2014-2015), Logos Bible Software Notes, 11 December 2014, Internet, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2014/12/11/emotions-of-the-harvest/, accessed on 21 June 2017.
5 Robert J. Morgan, “Precious Seed,” Psalm 126:1-6, From This Verse: 365 Scriptures That Changed the World, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000).
6 W. Dennis Tucker, “Commentary on Psalm 126,” Working Preacher, 28 October 2012, Internet, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1476, accessed on 22 June 2017.