God’s Word for You
Psalm 126:2-3 Joy and peace
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 2, 2022
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy. (NIV)
It’s an unexpected fact that you can easily prove in your own kitchen: Hot water freezes more quickly than cold water. And perhaps in a similar way, people experience a more intense joy when they have been restored from desolation, grief, loss, or imprisonment. The one who has been the farthest away from happiness is bound to appreciate what happiness truly is when it comes. As Augustine said: “He loves most, to whom the most sins have been forgiven.”
The phrase “has done great things” in these verses is a good attempt to make sense of a Hebrew expression that simply doesn’t just slide over into our English. The verbs “he has done” and “he has made great” will battle in the throat of the translator; one of them will remain the verb and the other must become a modifier. I suppose that the rule to be followed is that the simpler, more basic verb must have priority, and “to do” is one of the simplest verbs in any language. Therefore “he has made great” modifies the verb, becoming an adverb, “greatly.” But even “He has done greatly” or “greatly done” doesn’t sound all that elegant to us. But it means that the power of God and the greatness of what he has done is being stressed. This is what has brought joy and laughter and delight to the lips of his people.
This doesn’t mean that a Christian should feel guilty for not always feeling joy. Charles Spurgeon, a Reformed preacher and commentator of the 19th century (1834-1892), bemoaned a prayer he overheard in London “the other day,” in which the petitioner said, “We desire to be glad.” “Surely if God has done great things for us,” he bellows from the page, “we are glad, and it cannot be otherwise. No doubt such language is meant to be lowly, but in truth it is loathsome” (The Treasury of David, comments on this Psalm and these verses). He sounds as if he condemns grief, as if the one praying can never have any other emotion besides joy. Spurgeon comes across like a man who would grab Jesus by the ear when he was weeping over Lazarus and haul him out to the woodshed for a good thrashing with his belt.
When we don’t feel joy, when we feel despair, struck by misfortune, or especially struck by the guilt of our sins, let us run to the Supper of the Lord, to lay down our grief and receive the blessing, forgiveness, and comfort that Christ offers and gives to us in his body and blood. “Who needs the forgiveness of sins,” Luther says, “and God’s grace more than just those poor miserable consciences who are driven and tormented by their sins, are afraid of God’s wrath, judgment, death, and hell, and would be eager to have a gracious God, desiring nothing more greatly than this? These are truly they who are well prepared for the sacrament. For with them these words have found force and meaning, when Christ says, ‘Take and drink, this is my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ Where such a soul believes these words, as it ought, it receives from the supper all the fruits of the supper, that is, peace and joy, and thus is thereby well and richly fed in spirit” (LW 35:109). It is in the gospel of forgiveness and the promise of the resurrection that we find true rest, comfort, and joy. The blackest depths of grief and sorrow are lit up most brightly by Christ, from whom no false light shines, no bullying words, but only the grace, mercy and peace promised in the greetings of the Epistles. For grace is his (Luke 2:40), mercy he gives (Luke 18:39-42), and in his peace we live (John 14:27).
Pastor Timothy Smith