Psalms of Ascent: 126

1   When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2   Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3   The Lord has done great things for us;

we are glad.

4   Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

like streams in the Negeb!
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.

This week begins the start of a new year. While pandemics and other hardships don’t pay any mind to our calendar, the new year is a reminder of fresh starts, new beginnings, and the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. Psalm 126 is, coincidentally, a perfect song for us to study as we transition from 2020 to 2021.

In the first half, (v. 1-3) the nation of Israel is praising God for bringing them out of exile (most likely from Babylon) and back into their promised land of Israel. It is a return to normalcy, identity, home, and favor with God. It seemed too good to be true, like it was all a wonderful dream they were about to wake up from. They celebrated their return in such a way that it made the other nations around them believe in the power of the Israelite God.

While the psalmist likely had a specific event in mind, the Israelites who sang this every year would have had all of Hebrew history as context for this celebration. Israel’s entire history is one of restoration: The reconciliation of Joseph with his brothers when he fed during a famine in Genesis, the return of God’s people out of Egyptian slavery in Exodus, the reclaimation of the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines in 1 Samuel, the rebuilding of the temple after it’s destruction in Ezra and Nehemiah. I could write these out all day!

The Israelites had a lot of restoration to celebrate, and their remembrance of all that God had done in their lives gave them hope for what God would do in the future. The second half of Psalm 126 is a prayer that God would continue his work of restoration. And he did not disappoint.

If you are reading this, you survived 2020. You made it to the end. You may be worn down, grieving, financially struggling, sick, exhausted, or lonely. But by God’s grace, you are alive. In this new year, celebrate your survival. Remember all the things God has brought you out of, and let that give you hope for the future.

God is good even when we can’t see it. He is with us even when we can’t feel him. And he loves doing the work of restoration even when we think our lives and our world are too broken to be fixed. His mercies are new every morning. Let us pray that God would restore us this year.