Keep Sowing - Psalm 126
Psalm 126 probably refers to when the Jewish people were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and taken captive by the Babylonians. Not all of the biblical commentators agree with that thought. In researching, I did not find enough documentation to support the idea that this psalm refers to a different captivity. The Israelites were in captivity at other times but I am of the opinion that this psalm refers to the Babylonian captivity.
Not all of the Jews were carried away from their homeland as a result of this invasion but many were. Some of the Israelites were left in Jerusalem but the city was ransacked and the temple destroyed. To give some perspective of how devastating this was for them, think about how the United States was overwhelmed with grief and shock and fear when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York. Most U.S. citizens didn’t live in New York or work there or even anywhere near there. And yet the effect on us as a nation and as individuals was catastrophic. Israel’s beloved city was left in ruins and the temple that was the epicenter of their worship was disrespected in a horrific way. The invaders had no reverence, no regard at all for a monument that meant so much to the Jewish people. Being victims of such an ordeal crushes the people’s spirits, causes mass confusion and totally disrupts the stability of everyday living.
Although the Jews were under tremendous pressure while they were held captive, they were able to maintain their cultural customs and religious identity. They were allowed Elders who supervised the Jewish communities. Ezekiel, Ezra and Isaiah (45:1-3) are three of the biblical writers who wrote about this part of Israel’s history. This might have been the time when synagogues were first established so the Jews could keep their religious observances since there was no temple, of course, in Babylon. Prior to this, all of their formal religious practices were done in the temple.
Eventually when Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler, is in power over Babylon, he makes a proclamation and sets the Jewish people free. He also said that “The Lord God of heaven” charged him to build the Lord a house or rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. No specific details are given as to why Cyrus says that he was “charged” by God to rebuild the temple. It sounds like he had some kind of direct unction, message, visitation or possibly a dream that communicated this assignment to him. The information that we do have is written in the Old Testament book Ezra 1. Not only does Cyrus decide to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem but he also sent back all the temple treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had taken. All the gold and silver vessels that Cyrus sent to Jerusalem were 5400 items. That is a lot of gold and silver!
Some scholars differ on the timeline but according to Jeremiah 29:10, they were in Babylonian captivity 70 years. For some people that would have been their entire lives. Some of those Jews were born in bondage and died in bondage. Some of them never got to ever see, let alone live in, their precious homeland. Others who were very young children when they were captured, were now well advanced in age. All of this sets the stage for the rejoicing that is expressed in Psalm 126.
I don’t know when this psalm was written but it had to be sometime after the Jewish people were released to go back home to Jerusalem. Some of them went and some of them didn’t. Because remember, some of them had been born in the locations where they were. That was the only home that they knew. Others had gotten comfortable and were established in that place. Maybe all the family they had still living were there in that area. So, they stayed. But to be free, no longer under the Persian ruler’s reign was almost unbelievable to them. This is how the psalmist expressed their feelings about it.
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion (Jerusalem),
We were like those who dream [it seemed so unreal].
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
They were in absolute awe that suddenly, they were no longer prisoners. As mentioned earlier, many of them had been in bondage their entire lives. They had NEVER lived as a free person who could go where they wanted to go and do whatever they wanted to do…NEVER! They said it seemed like a dream…almost too fantastic to be real. And then the joy came. Have you ever gotten news that was so unexpected and so far from what you ever expected to hear that you just began to jump and laugh and were just beside yourself with gladness? That’s how these people were. The joy was so great it was overwhelming! The excitement was probably to such a degree that they really didn’t know how to express it.
When something phenomenal happens for someone, other folks talk about it. Other people get excited about it. It changes the atmosphere. Even neighboring countries and other foreigners were talking about
this freedom that had been decreed for the Jews. It was big news!
The Lord has done great things for us;
We are glad!
Sometimes when something really out-of-this world happens for someone they try to keep cool. They don’t want to seem too overly excited. So, if you ask them about it or want them to tell you what happened they try to downplay it a bit. But not these people! They are so happy to be free and they are acknowledging that exuberance in every way they can. They know only God initiated and caused the actuality of their emancipation. They are not shy about giving Him the glory!
Restore our captivity, O Lord,
As the stream-beds in the South (the Negev) [are restored by torrents of rain].
All of the captives didn’t go back or weren’t released at the same time. Those who have been set free and returned to their native land are offering this prayer for the ones still in Babylon and the other places of captivity where they settled. This waterway that is referred to is unique in that it is a dry bed for almost the entire year…about 11 months. Then during the rainy season, it fills with water and is a strong and rushing stream. The prayer is for the return of the others to be swift, sure and strong.
They who sow in tears shall reap with joyful singing.
He who goes back and forth weeping, carrying his bag of seed [for planting],
Will indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
These last two verses are a sure promise of the Lord. He has established the principle of sowing and reaping. It is a spiritual principle and it is a natural principle. One application of verse five may be that while they were prisoners, away from their homeland, they still had to work and eat. They still had to farm and plant gardens and do all the daily requirements for living. They sowed or planted with tears because they were in a foreign land. There was no enjoyment while they worked and there was no sense of satisfaction after the field was planted or the beans were picked and the potatoes pulled. When tilling your own field, planting your own garden and reaping your own harvest there is a sense of accomplishment that accompanies the work. But laboring under duress does not produce those same feelings. The work seems harder, longer and most of the produce belongs to and goes to the ones who own the land. The Jews did all the work and the Babylonians got all the profit.
We are not always in the situation that we would like to be. Circumstances are not always ideal, but we have to keep going. We have to keep doing what is necessary. Sometimes we might be doing the laundry with tears on our faces and tears in our hearts. We may be driving to the workplace or to pick up the kids or going to the grocery store while burdened with a sorrowful spirit. But these things still have to be done. So, they did what they had to do. They weren’t happy about where they were physically but they kept doing what needed to be done and eventually God brought them out.
The message is to keep sowing. Keep spreading God’s precious seed. Not everyone wants to hear it. Not everyone will receive it. We may lament as it seems like none of what we are doing or saying is making a significant difference. But the psalmist has confidence in the promises of God and so should we. He is saying, “Don’t stop planting. Don’t stop doing good. Don’t stop sowing seeds of kindness even when conditions aren’t the best. Because the Lord is the One who gives the increase.” You will be singing and rejoicing and realizing a huge harvest eventually. It may be at a time when you least expect it. Sowing and reaping originated and have been established by our Creator. The principle doesn’t fail. Don’t give up on God. He has not given up on you.
I don’t know if you are or were ever part of a fellowship that sings or sang the hymn “Bringing In the Sheaves”. *The song was written in 1874 by Knowles Shaw. Knowles Shaw started preaching at age 26 and became known all over his home state of Indiana as the ‘Singing Evangelist’. Brother Shaw was killed in a train accident at the age of 43. Sometime during his short life, he wrote the words to this song “Bringing In the Sheaves” based on Psalm 126:5-6. Sheaves are bundled crops. (Genesis 37:5-6)
Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve, waiting for the harvest and the time of reaping - - We shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.
Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows, fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze, by and by the harvest and the labor ended - - We shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.
Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master, tho the loss sustained our spirit often grieves, when our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome - - We shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.
Praying that the psalm and the song will help encourage you to keep sowing for the Master. There will be a great reward afterwhile. Blessings to you.