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This Psalm was penned with reference to some great deliverance of the people of God out of bondage and distress, most likely their return out of Babylon in Ezra’s time. It is very beautiful and highly descriptive of the circumstances which it represents. The liberation of the captive Hebrews was a type of the redemption of the human race, and the return to Zion of such as improved their opportunity a figure of the salvation of believers.
DELIVERANCE A THEME FOR JOYOUS SONG
I. Because of the misery from which it emancipates. “The Lord turned again the captivity of Zion” (Psalms 126:1). To a free and privileged people it is a painful indignity to be robbed of liberty and treated as slaves. Though the captivity of the Jews in Babylon might not be marked by any acts of cruelty, it was suffering keen enough to feel they were in bondage at all. But, lo! how real, how degrading, how miserable is the slavery of sin. To liberate from sin is a Divine work. The LORD must turn again our captivity.
II. Because of its unexpectedness. “We were like them that dream” (Psalms 126:1). The deliverance was so unlooked for, and came upon them with such a surprise that it seemed more an illusion than a reality. But when the full meaning of the event dawned upon them, their joy knew no bounds. A similar incident is recorded by Livy, when the Romans, having conquered Philip of Macedon, restored liberty to all the Grecian cities. The proclamation was made by the herald in the midst of the circus when a vast multitude of the Greeks were assembled to witness the Isthmian games. The people were so stunned with the news that they could scarcely believe their own ears. They “were like them that dream.” But when, at their request, the proclamation was repeated, and the glad tidings thus confirmed, they shouted and clapped their hands with such vigour as showed how heartily they appreciated the blessing of liberty. The Lord often surprises and gladdens His people with His marvellous deliverances.
III. Because of its reviving effects. “Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams of the South” (Psalms 126:4). Accomplish our deliverance, as well in delivering of our brethren which are yet remaining in Babylon, as in fulfilling of ours, who yet lie languishing under grievous burdens; that it may be such a comfort and refreshing to us as watering is to dry and desolate places, which are refreshed and flourish again by the coming in of running streams (Diodati). Drought and barrenness disappear under the showers of Divine blessing; and the Church is quickened with new life and hope.
IV. Because of the irrepressible gladness it occasions. “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing” (Psalms 126:2). It was like being in a new world. Our deliverance came upon us with such a surprise, that we could not contain ourselves. We burst into a transport of rapture, and laughed and sung in turns with delirious joy. The heathen, who had rejoiced in our captivity, noticed the gladness occasioned by our deliverance, and acknowledged its Divine source. “Then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them” (Psalms 126:3). How much more is our deliverance from sin and death the theme of endless rejoicing and praise!
V. Because of its evidence of the Divine mightiness. “The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad” (Psalms 126:3). The predictions of Isaiah and Jeremiah were fulfilled (Isaiah 52:9-10; Jeremiah 33:10-11). The Lord has more pleasure in exerting His power to deliver His people than in creating a world, or in sustaining the whole fabric of existing things.
“’Twas great to speak a world from nought,
’Twas greater to redeem.”
1. God is not unmindful of His captive people.
2. Deliverance is near when we least suspect it.
3. Every act of Divine deliverance is an occasion for joyous praise.
SOWING AND REAPING
Sowing and reaping, tears and laughter, are never far asunder in a world like this. The Jews who escaped the captivity of Babylon were not without their trials. The joy of deliverance was sobered by their toils and difficulties. Their journey to Zion was long, wearisome, and full of peril. When they reached their beloved country it was to find it a wilderness waste—Jerusalem and its Temple in ruins. How great must be the labour and sacrifice, and how long the period before the city could be restored and the Temple once more erected. Pestered by violent enemies, and invaded by bands of roaming robbers, it was with trembling the Hebrew husbandman ventured into the field and hastily buried the grain, not knowing whether he or the enemy would reap the harvest.
It is ever so in every work we do for God—the tears of anxious labour give place to the gladness of success. “Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing; onward through life we go.” Observe—
I. That the time of sowing is often attended with anxiety and sorrow. “They that sow in tears: he that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed.”
1. Because of the high estimate we have formed of the value of the seed sown. “Precious seed.” The teacher of God’s holy Word, whether from desk or pulpit, cannot be too strongly imbued with the unspeakable value of the Divine treasure which is thus put into earthen vessels. The views that are sometimes caught of the grandeur and appropriateness of the Divine Word are overwhelming; and the human vehicle trembles with fear lest the truth should lose any of its Divine force and meaning in transmission—in the act of sowing.
2. Because of the toil involved in becoming possessed of the seed. The greatest prizes of life are not obtained without pains. The blessing that does the most in elevating and perfecting the human soul, and in conferring the greatest good on others, is secured only after numberless failures and infinite efforts. No wonder that is “precious” to man which has cost him so much. The gardener values the plant the more which has involved so much care in bringing to its present state of perfection and beauty.
3. Because of the meagre results witnessed in comparison with the effort put forth. True worth is not always appreciated. It is the fate of every man who raises himself by his talents and industry above the common level to be abused and hated by those whom he has eclipsed. Joseph was envied by his brethren, and David was persecuted by his. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who bewailed the fallen fortunes of Jerusalem, and whose fate was like Cassandra’s, always to speak truth but never to be believed, pathetically exclaimed, “O my mother, thou hast borne me a man of strife!” (Jeremiah 15:10). And it is often cause of bitterest sorrow to the Christian worker that so few accept his testimony, or understand the nature and drift of his most unselfish labours.
II. That the time of reaping is one of inexpressible joy. “Shall reap in joy: Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
1. Because it is the realisation of patient hope. The man who blossoms suddenly into a genius has often been toiling and suffering for years in obscurity, though assured in himself his day of triumph would come. There is a kind of prophetic instinct in great minds that tells them of the bright prospects in reserve for them, and whispers to them the secret of their after greatness. In early youth, Joseph saw by anticipation his sheaf higher than all the sheaves of the field, and the sun and moon and the eleven stars bowing down to the soles of his feet. Nelson, stung by the neglect of his superiors to his professional claims, said, “I shall one day have a gazette to myself”—and he had. Raffaelle, in youth, triumphantly exclaimed, “I, too, am a painter;” and posterity endorsed the estimate he had formed of himself. It is with every true work, as with every true worker: patient waiting and working will bear fruit in joyous success.
2. Because it brings blessing to many for whose welfare we have been painfully concerned.
3. Because it is an additional evidence of the Divine faithfulness (Isaiah 61:11).
LESSONS:—Here is encouragement—1, To the Christian thinker; 2, the true patriot; 3, the faithful preacher; 4, the Sunday-School teacher; 5, the anxious parent.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 126". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20