GETTING THE MESSAGE/Glorify God and enjoy Him forever
The purpose or goal of redemption is that we might glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Christ is the door to enter into the enjoyable presence of God. He came not only to atone for our sin but that we might know God. Since we were sinners, he didn’t come to improve us but to make us new creatures, cleansed from sin and fit to worship and have joy in God.
In this world, Christians face obstacles and difficulties in living in the joy of the Lord. We have afflictions and tribulations, but also, the allurements of the world, temptations from the devil, and our sinful nature hinder our joy in Christ. So, we must live by faith. Psalm 126 teaches us that reflecting on a deliverance God rendered in the past and the joy that was in it helps us to call on the Lord for strength to meet the trials of the present.
In verse 1, the psalmist remembers a deliverance so miraculous that “We were like those who dream.” Many think the deliverance the psalmist remembers is the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. They were wretched before but then became incredibly joyful. This was a vivid national memory, like an intensely happy dream.
The bondage was so complete, their oppressors had been so strong, they were so completely helpless that the nations around them were also amazed and said, “The Lord has done great things for them” (verse 2). The Lord does great things for His people that His name might be great and that His people may derive joy from it.
The deliverance of Israel could only have been wrought by God, and it is a type or pattern of the sinner being delivered from the captivity of sin. The keynote in Psalm 126 is that the Lord “restored the fortunes of Zion” (verse 1). This phrase has the meaning of a complete turnaround. It points to conversion, restoration to the Lord God.
It is God who must do this work in us. Our bondage to sin and death is so complete that God must initiate our conversion. He must give us life, change our hearts so we might see our sin and misery, and enlighten our minds to the knowledge of Christ.
When you reflect on knowing Christ, it should be like a dream, a joyous dream. It is not a normal state for sinners. It comes from a work of God, a great work of God. We might ask, “How can this be?” And hear the Lord say to us, “My Spirit overshadowed you and said let there be light in the darkness.” You were wretched before, but now you know Christ, the redeemer of your soul. The keynote of the gospel is “You must be born again.”
In verse 4, the psalmist, after reflecting on the past deliverance, turns it into a prayer for present help. He pleads, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.” The plea is for another work of the Lord that brings about radical change. But this time it is to correct the spiritual apathy of God’s people. So, he prays an outpouring of God’s Spirit. In times of spiritual drought, we need living water.
The use of the phrase “O Lord,” shows the sincerity of the prayer. We need the “O Lord” in our prayers. The contrition of the petition is also reflected in the appeal that the Lord come to them, “like streams in the Negev” (verse 4). The Negev was an extremely dry area, but when rain came torrents of water would stream down the gulleys and water the valleys.
If the Holy Spirit is poured out on us, we have the foundation of humble faith and joy joined, which produces good fruit unto the Lord. The language of sowing and reaping in verses 5 and 6 shows the good work the Spirit does in His people. Sowing in tears and weeping points not only to humility, but serving the Lord in affliction, opposition, and all manner of trials. Such are the things we face in this world. In such times, we have opportunities to honor our Lord.
Coming “home with shouts of joy and bringing his sheaves with him” (verse 6), reflects the hope of an abundant crop from service to our Lord when we leave this world. The apostle Paul was fruitful because he believed it was better to depart and be with Christ. His pattern was the same as the psalmist: joy for past deliverance, prayer for present help, and anticipation of future blessedness with the Lord.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.