The LORD Has Done Great Things for Us
Have you ever been delayed against your will? Perhaps you have waited a long time for a late appointment. You may have been stuck in an elevator, or caught in rush hour traffic, or waited for hours at an airport. We can all identify with the feeling of relief when the ordeal is over and we are free to move on.
There was a time long ago when, for their disobedience, God's people were sent far away and detained against their will. King Nebuchadnezzar took Judah to exile in Babylon about 586 B.C. along with "all the treasures of the house of the LORD" (2 Kings 24:13). Later, his captain of the guard, Nebuzaradan, burned the temple and the great houses of Jerusalem; only the "poorest of the land" remained (2 Kings 25:8-12).
For those in exile, most everything they identified with was gone: their land, their temple, their inheritance, and all Zion their capital meant to them. They were left with memories in a foreign land. Their most valuable possession was the Law that reminded them of the God they had rejected. God's mighty people were captives. A strange land became their habitation.
After a time, a better day came. They were free to return. Psalm 126 tells us how they felt. Please join with me in a reflection on this beautiful Psalm which shows us that hope for the future can come from remembering all that God has done for us.
The first line of Psalm 126 tells that, after being home from exile for a while, the people of God looked back to remember a time in the past "When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion." They were now fully aware of the One to whom they owed their freedom, it was the Lord who brought them back.
This psalm uses a special name for Him, it is Yahweh. He is the God of Moses, the great "I AM" (Exodus 3:14b). Wrapped up in the meaning of this personal name for God is the reality of "being" (a thorough exploration of this thought is found in an article by D. N. Freedman, M. P. O'Connor and H. Ringgren in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, volume 5, pages 500-519). Yahweh is the One who is, and always was, and always will be. He is the God who brought Israel, His people, into being. Their identity comes from His being their God.
Though they had once resented and disobeyed Him, now they were giving Yahweh full credit for bringing them back. This psalm exudes the joy and relief that comes from knowing that it is Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, who is protecting and providing for you.
Scholars tell us that we can also understand the term "Restore our captivity" as a restoration of "fortunes" (James Luther Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching [Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994], 399; Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150: A Commentary [Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1989], 448). Even if this were not the case, we can easily see that a return from captivity is to a great extent a partial return of their good fortune. They would appreciate freedom in a whole new way, as a prisoner of war set free or a calf released from its stall (see also Psalm 29:6; Malachi 4:2). What a feeling of relief. And, Yahweh finally gets the credit he deserves!
How did they take it at first? "We were like those who dream" (v. 1a). "At first it seemed like a dream," as the Jerusalem Bible puts it. Can this really be happening? After the loneliness of exile, can we really be home? We might say, "Pinch me! I must be dreaming." Another rendition might be, "Then we were as men who had been healed" (John Strugnell, "A Note on Ps. CXXVI. 1," The Journal of Theological Studies 7 : 242) Yahweh can heal the wounds and hurts of the past.
Listen to what joy the Lord inspired in His people by returning them to their homeland:
And 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. (Psalm 126:2-3)
God's people now recognize the source of their blessings, it is the LORD. So they petition Him to "Restore our captivity" (v. 4b), or fortunes, continually. The returned captive ones of Zion compare the answer to their plea with the streams of the South Country (the Negev). Though they are dry as the desert, they fill completely with water in winter to fertilize the ground around them (The Jerusalem Bible, 914-915). In the same way, Yahweh can do even more for them, though they "sow in tears" (v. 5b), after time has passed for their crops to grow, they "shall reap with joyful shouting." The one who had gone "to and fro weeping" will come with "a shout of joy" bringing the fruits of harvest, sheaves for food and preservation.
Do we not all want this sense of relief and joy in our lives, the hope of a harvest? Yet we often feel the loneliness of exile and despair. What affections or addictions hold us captive, away from the God who wants to return us home? We may have escaped the snare of sin only to find ourselves again enmeshed. We need the LORD to restore us. He is the One to whom we must constantly turn; we never get past the point of needing Him.
We need Yahweh to bring us back from captivity, and to keep us out of it. He is ever present with us. He has provided a way back through the spiritual desert by the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. When we are baptized into Him, we are set free from sin and death; we are free to "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4b).
God has been good to us. He has provided for our spiritual freedom and brought us to "Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22b). Through faith in Him, we can "reap with joyful shouting," by bringing others to Him. We can say with the returned captives of Zion, "We are glad," we have hope, because "The LORD has done great things for us."