Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (chapter 16)
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.
5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
These verses close Psalm 126 and illustrate the powerful concept of parallelism that characterizes Hebrew poetry (Chapter 1, The Hebraic Quality of Psalms). Here, the main idea in verse 5 is emphasized, expanded, and expounded in verse 6.
One aspect of the Jewish liturgy in the Temple was how the people and the priests would express a petition to God, and then the priest would turn around and answer the people on behalf of GOD. I see that dynamic at play here. As the psalmist petitions in verse 4 to restore their fortunes, the LORD responds with verses 5 and 6.
Some scholars interpret this psalm with an eschatological bent, saying it speaks of a future end-time redemption. Yes, there will be, of course, a final consummation, but I don't think that is the focus here. Rather, the emphasis is on present distress and a trusting, confident expectation that as God has delivered before, He is willing and able to do it again.
I began this study in the Psalms of Ascent with a question. "How many of you want to join me in going up to the LORD in ever-increasing intimacy, knowledge, and fellowship?" Psalm 126 puts our answer to the test, it challenges our status quo.
Just as the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion (126:1, NKJV), I believe He desires to turn us again, from our captivities.
What do I mean? We can all relate to captivity and enslavement associated with sin. We have all experienced our Babylons, places of confusion, alienation, and exile from God. We know what it is to be stuck in captivity perhaps to self, to sin, maybe to satan, maybe to the world's system and values.
We know what it is to be estranged and far from where God dwells, to live away from his presence and power. And we know the joy of his redemption: when he saves us, redeems us, when he brings us into His community.
Here is the point. Though God sets us free through Jesus Christ, often, we are unwilling to walk in that freedom. We espouse biblical liberation and believe that God has acted decisively in the person of Jesus to give us redemption. But are we intentionally, daily, actively following Him? What are we doing with our freedom?
We are saved by grace through faith. I'm asking the question, "How are you doing walking in the grace that comes by faith (Titus 2:11)?"
Picture this. Of the more than 500,000 Israelites that went into Babylonian captivity, only a small remnant returned. Exile is confusing, but in many ways, it is comfortable; we get used to it. But getting up, leaving our comfortability, and journeying up to God? That, as the old saying goes, is a horse of a different color.
Here are two applications that can help us move from prison to pilgrimage, from captivity to consecration. The first comes from the image in verse 4, streams in the Negev. The second is found in verse 5, those who sow in tears.
Streams in the Negev
This psalm brings to mind an image that has always impressed me since my first visit to Israel. There is a sea in Israel's Negev (desert, wilderness) called the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea in the south is completely different than the other large body of water in Israel, the Sea of Galilee in the north. And yet, the two are connected by the same source, the Jordan River.
Starting at the foot of Mount Hermon, the Jordan River begins a descent and flows into the Sea of Galilee. From there, it meanders south through the land some 110 miles; by the time it empties into the Dead Sea, it has descended 3000 feet arriving at a staggering 1300 feet below sea level—the lowest occupied place on planet Earth.
Nothing lives in the Dead Sea while the Sea of Galilee teems with life. Sodom is the biblical city associated with the Dead Sea. It was in this wilderness that Jesus resisted and defeated Satan. Capernaum is the biblical city associated with the Sea of Galilee. It is here Jesus lived during his three years of ministry.
Why is one the place Jesus wanted to be and the other a place where demons dwell? Why are they so different? For one reason, the Sea of Galilee takes in water, which flows through it and from it. The Dead Sea takes in the water but has no outflow, it stagnates.
Let me combine this description with a familiar saying of Jesus found in John 7. If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."
The grace of God flows into our lives, and we receive it, but if we lack wisdom and maturity, it does not flow through us. It is necessary for you to drink. But it is also necessary for the waters to flow out of you and into the lives of others.
In American-style Christianity, there are more consumers than overcomers. There are more drinkers than disciples. We do far more grasping after rather than giving out. We drink but it does not flow. We stagnate and, as a result, do not give life to our surroundings.
We could summarize the principle like this. Spiritual maturity means you produce more than you consume. You serve more than you sip.
Those Who Sow in Tears
This is also a powerful image for spiritual maturity because sowing in a time of famine and in a desert place is an incredibly risky thing to do. Seed is precious, and yet you are literally called upon to throw it away, to bury it in the ground. It seems foolish at worst and risky at best. To sow seed in those times and those places requires trust and confidence.
It also requires a conviction that there is no reaping unless you first sow. That is why Jesus says unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces a rich harvest, just as He did, ultimately being buried in the ground and rising to a new life that you and I now share.
We all have needs and times of dryness and barrenness of soul. Every one of us can pray, "Restore my fortunes O LORD." And when we do we will hear, Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! Therein lies the vital lesson, if you want to succeed spiritually in times of barrenness, the way to do so is by sowing. You must sow in order to reap.
Let me be clear here. I am not talking about seed the way Christian television personalities do. They try to convince you that the biblical picture of seed and sowing means you giving your money to them to receive a blessing. The give-to-get mentality of the so-called "prosperity preachers" is the exact opposite of what I am talking about.
For those who have chosen the way of pilgrimage, here is some good biblical seed you can sow:
Repentance: Daily, continually turning your heart to God by seeking his face.
Obedience: Do whatever is right and good to those close to you, even in times of bareness when the temptation is to get absorbed in your own distress.
Trust: Have a confident expectation that God is working for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Patience: Learn to do the above while waiting upon the Lord for what you need.
Faithfulness: Don't give up on God because He doesn't give up on you.
Some of you really need to hear this right now: GOD is faithful.
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
- Hosea 10:12
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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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