Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (chapter 15)
These edited transcripts are taken from Dwight's most loved audio series, Highways in Their Hearts. Click here to see the downloadable audio version in our online store.
We are reading, listening to, and studying the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) as a means of reimagining what it means to be disciples of Jesus. They offer us powerful lessons in spiritual pilgrimage, what it means to go up to the City of God together, experiencing His presence and power in our lives. They provide a vocabulary for hearts hungry to know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).
Turning our attention to Psalm 126, we see that, like Psalm 125, it is communal and builds on the theme of trust. Our last study showed how those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion. Here, we see evidence, in a wonderful way, of one who recognizes and recalls what God has done in the past. And based on the confidence that inspires, they petition Him to act in the present.
By recalling God’s decisive acts in the past when he delivered the children of Israel from captivity in Babylon (grounded in and built on His covenant faithfulness displayed in the Exodus), the psalmist now expresses great confidence and certainty that in the present distress, the LORD will restore the fortunes of His people. God will consummate the deliverance which He had previously begun.
This psalm is a fine example of how the people of God have trusted and held fast to Him throughout their history, believing in times of distress that He alone is their deliverer.
As we go through Psalm 126 verse by verse, I would like to explain some things and then derive, as we have done with the other Psalms, some applications and spiritual principles that will help us grow to maturity.
Verse 1: When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Martin Luther translated this in the future tense, “when the LORD shall free Zion’s prisoners.” But the Hebrew is unambiguous; it references a past event. The psalmist is remembering and reflecting on something that has been done. At the time of writing, it is not a future hope but an accomplished fact.
The language here is quite beautiful. It is a unique construction in Hebrew. First, you take a verb (shūv) and follow it with the same word in the noun form (shëvūt). By doing so, you emphasize and strengthen the character of the verb. The verse highlights a decisive act by God (the subject of the action) on behalf of Israel (the object of His action).
When the LORD returned (turned, or made a decisive change in, or brought about a transformation), we were like people in a dream. The restoration that the LORD accomplished happened suddenly, dramatically, so overwhelmingly, it was as if they were dreaming.
My own experience was like that when the LORD brought me to Himself. Can anybody relate to this dream-like character when you encountered the Living God? It is like you are in a whole new world, a different dimension if you will. It was an incredible new world suffused with joy, love, laughter, and hope. These captives felt the same way. God’s dramatic intervention and action on behalf of his people brought about deliverance, redemption, and restoration.
Verse 2: Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Joy is the mood of redemption, and praise is the expression of joy. Praise is the declaration of God’s deeds. Praise rises from a heart of joy and declares aloud what He has done and who He is.
Contrast this with their lament in Psalm 137: By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? Their memory of the pain of captivity is an integral part of their witness. Now, after the deliverance, comes a time of joy and rejoicing, which is also an essential part of their witness.
Verses 2-3: 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.”
It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, and as I was preparing this study, I was thinking, “What is my speech currently saying about my heart?”
Think about yourself over the course of this last week—even yesterday or today. What do your words say about God and the world? What does that tell you about the spiritual condition of your heart? Let me go back to something I said very early on in our study.
“The problem is God rescues us but we quickly learn to adapt as the troubles begin to fade. He meets us at the place of our repentance, and we are satisfied—for the moment. Once the distress dissipates we gradually accommodate ourselves to this world’s comforts, conveniences, and culture.”
“We turn our back on the One who delivered us into His Kingdom, only to resettle in the world. We become sated, no longer hungering and thirsting. No more do we cry out to Him out of spiritual poverty.” (The LORD Answered My Cry)
Verse 4: Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev!
This petition, restore our fortunes, O LORD, is the key text of Psalm 126. Here, you have the very same play on words as in verse 1; the verb and noun are put together as shevut. Literally, it reads restore our restoration. Said another way, the pilgrim cries out to the LORD to bring what He began to fulfillment, to fruition, to act now as He did in the past.
The point is this, you can be confident of God’s help in the present—and you can have confidence in petitioning him for present help—because of His decisive actions on behalf of His people in the past. He is both the Creator of the world and the Sovereign Lord of its history. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not a jot or a title from God’s Word shall pass away until everything is restored and accomplished.
The concept of remembrance (zikaron) is crucial in Judaism. When they remember, they commemorate. For example, the Passover. We need to learn from them to do the same. Our memories are short and our attention spans are fleeting. We are like the people described in James 1 who look in the mirror but forget what we’ve seen the moment we turn away.
Remembering and rehearsing what God has done for us—both biblically and personally—is essential to living in the present with confident trust and the future with expectant hope.
The image used for restoration is so vivid. The Negev is in the south of Israel. It is basically a synonym for the desert or the wilderness, as it is called in the New Testament. It is barren and dry, receiving less than 2 inches of rainfall annually. Yet when the mountains meet the desert, the result is natural reservoirs and channels called wadis.
When winter rains from a sudden storm come, they instantly turn a dry desert wadi into a torrent of water cascading down the mountains. The psalmist is painting this breathtaking picture. “Act decisively, O LORD, restore our fortunes as before by overwhelming us with your abundant rains. Let your salvation course through our lives like the wadis of the Negev.”
I don’t know about you, but my heart says, “Yes, Lord! I’m all in. Restore me, and through me, let your restoration flood the lives of others.”
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
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