Thursday, April 24, 2014

Return From Captivity: Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is celebrating Cyrus’ decree and Israel’s return from captivity. Isaiah prophesied Israel’s return over 100 years earlier (Isaiah 44:28-45:7). The Bible is rooted in history, and this Psalm is no exception. It can be difficult at times to understand the Bible in its historical context, but it’s crucial because history is important to the Christian faith. Some people find history quite dull, but God’s work is rooted in history. 
Recently, I had the privilege of attending LifeFocus, a week-long conference in Topeka, Kansas, where we explored the Psalter all week. One of the lectures was on Psalm 126 and the history behind it. We learned that for centuries, the only record of the Jewish return from exile and Cyrus’ decree came from the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 126. No other sources mentioned this decree, even though it had such a great impact at the time. People began to doubt the Bible’s historical authenticity and reliability. Then, in 1879, the Cyrus cylinder with the decree was discovered by a British Museum exhibition that was digging in Babylon!

Now that we have a bit of historical context for this Psalm and Israel’s return from Babylon, we can look at and better appreciate the beauty of Psalm 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.”

This is a Psalm about the history of mankind being brought back from captivity (v. 1).  There are many captivities throughout Scripture--the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt, the Babylonian captivity, and even individual captivity (see Psalm 42). This Psalm likely refers to the return from Babylon in 586 BC, but it’s also part of a much larger story. Throughout history, man has a history of captivity and return. The principle captivity in the Bible is found in Genesis 3 and the fall: the captivity and bondage of death.

3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!

Notice that verse 1 (“restored”) is past tense, praising God for His deliverance. Verse 4 (“restore”) is present tense, praying to God and awaiting deliverance. 

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.

We live in an age in which all nations can return from captivity. These verses apply not only to the past, but also to the future and to our history, if we are in Christ. John Calvin said in his commentary on this Psalm, "In order then that joy may succeed our present sorrow, let us learn to apply our minds to the contemplation of the issue which God promises. Thus we shall experience that all true believers have a common interest in this prophecy, That God not only will wipe away tears from their eyes, but that he will also diffuse inconceivable joy through their hearts."

The decree of salvation is even more important than Cyrus’ decree releasing the Israelites. Restoration from sin and death itself (Genesis 3) has been accomplished through Christ. There is also a future restoration promised in this Psalm. Though in this lifetime we may sow in tears and hardship as we proclaim God’s decree to the nations, God’s word does not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11).

We will come home with shouts of joy. 

No comments:

Post a Comment