God’s Word for You
Psalm 126:1 Dreamers
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 26, 2022
1 A song of ascents.
Psalms 126 and 127 are the center of the group we call the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 121-134). This Psalm might have been used in the temple liturgy, or it may simply have been a pilgrim song sung by Israelites as they traveled for one of the great festivals. This Psalm expresses confident faith and especially calls to mind the joyful certainty of the resurrection. The final verses would be especially appropriate and comforting for a family that has lost a child, along with Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:2).
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
Before we begin to consider this Psalm, we need to look at the phrase “brought back the captives.” The question is whether shivut means “captives” or something like “fortunes.” In Hosea 7:1-2, we have “I would restore the fortunes of my people… I would heal them.” There is Psalm 14:7, “restores the fortunes” (also in Psalm 53:6), and the same phrase in Psalm 85:1. In Job 42:10 this is said of a man who was never a captive: “The Lord made Job prosperous again.” Dr. Brug says in his commentary, “It seems clear that the basic idiom means ‘restore the fortunes.’ It does not refer directly to captivity but may allude to it” (Volume II p. 401). Therefore, to consider this Psalm and apply God’s word to our hearts, we may want to look again at the words of this verse:
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like dreamers.
The nature of dreams today is rarely a communication from God, because we have his complete communication in his word, the Holy Scriptures. This isn’t to insist that God could not ever speak to someone in a dream. Warnings in particular might occasionally come in this way as they did to certain men in ancient times (Genesis 20:3, 40:16-17). Today, “a dream comes when there are many cares” (Ecclesiastes 5:3), but a dream can also refer to a desire for something that seems to be unattainable. A dream is the arm of the desire stretching as far as it can until all the rest of the dreamer’s being wonders, can it be reached? The desire of the lonely is to find companionship. The desire of the hated or the unloved is to be loved. The desire of the oppressed is to be set free. When anything is lost, the natural desire is for that thing to be restored.
There were many times when the people or the fortunes of Israel were restored by God. When famine swept through Canaan, Israel’s sons discovered that their own brother was one of the most powerful men in Egypt. Their lives were saved, and their wealth and status grew throughout their lifetime (Genesis 47:27). When Israel crossed over into the Promised Land led by Joshua, there was a certain amount of apprehension in the camp due to the military conquest that lay ahead, but God was with them and gave them success (Joshua 6:27, 10:42). When the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines in the days of Samuel and returned on an ox-cart, the people were happy but uneasy because when the cart stopped at a certain village some men were tempted and looked into the ark and were put to death by the Lord (1 Samuel 6:19). We can go on with the history of God’s people, but we should eagerly apply this verse to ourselves.
How is it that God restores our fortunes? It is not military victory or financial security that matters most. The true fortune of God’s people is the forgiveness of our sins through Christ. This truth is what makes us feel like we’re dreaming, because the prospect is so unthinkable. God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. What makes us truly appreciate what we have is when we equally appreciate what it was that was lost. Paul explained this to his friend Philemon regarding the runaway slave: “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good” (Philemon 1:15).
We become conscious of sin through the law (Romans 3:20) in order to lead us to grieve over our sin and be turned by the gospel to Christ. This is the restoration of repentance, which will lead to our ultimate restoration, the resurrection of the dead, the victory over death and the grave, and eternal life in Christ. “You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again… My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I, whom you have redeemed” (Psalm 71:20,23). Our desire might reach, as in a dream, for the unattainable wish for forgiveness and salvation, but God’s holy desire is that this very forgiveness would be ours, and so he hands it to us and we grasp it by faith. His mercy has given more than we could ever have hoped for. Through faith in Jesus, we have the hope of everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith