God’s Word for You
Psalm 126:4-6 Sheaves
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 9, 2022
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. (NIV)
The first word of verse 4, shuvah, is a special form known as a long imperative. Recent scholarship, including an article by the sainted professor of Hebrew Paul E. Eickmann, has demonstrated that the long imperative shows that the action of the verb is directed toward the speaker. The regular imperative verb almost always involves action directed toward someone or something else. Here the writer is praying that God would continue to do what he has already done by “restoring our fortunes” (verse 1). This is illustrated by the winter and spring rains filling up the streams in the Negev. The lowland south of Israel is a hot, arid land, and when the gulches are fed with the generous winter rains (Song of Solomon 2:11; Hosea 6:3) the streams and dry beds become raging rivers and the land comes alive with new growth. The 19th-century American naval officer (Lt. W.F. Lynch) was ordered to survey the waters of the Jordan and Dead Sea, and he described the phenomenon in one watercourse as being “in winter, a foaming torrent, but in summer scarce a flowing stream.” The dying trickle of Israel’s fortunes had been restored by the Lord, and now the Psalm writer is praying that God would do it again and again: Keep blessing your people as you have in the past.
The final two verses use a harvest scene to illustrate the restoring of fortunes, especially loss and grief turning to joy. First he gives the actual statement: tears becoming joy. But the writer brings on the illustration by saying, “Those who sow in tears.” Sowing is the practice in ancient times of planting seeds by sowing or strewing, that is, flinging seed into a field as one walked. The gospel promise, preached by our poet, is that the things done (sown) in tears, will yield a happy, joyful harvest.
Think of mourners at a grave. What is it that they grieve? They grieve the loss, thinking of the joys of the past with their loved one. They will miss his voice, his humor, his guidance, his companionship, his loving kindness, his protection, his supervision of the family, or whatever other gifts and talents he brought to their family and their friendship. But then they will think of the future, and what it will mean not to have these things. Perhaps no one can fill his shoes. Will the loss of this man, this friend, this husband, truly mean the loss of so much more?
This kind of loss—death—teaches us to understand the greater loss, which is the second death. The second death is overcome by Christ alone. Here is where our Psalm writer does us a favor by depicting the grieving process as going out to sow. Sowing seed is a regular process, not just once in a lifetime, but again and again each year, once for each crop in each field. Our prayer for God to restore our fortunes is a part of repentance and a prayer for spiritual blessings. Those blessings begin with the forgiveness of sins. This is something we pray for constantly because we sin constantly. “Our sins,” Ezra said, “are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). But the gift that turns everything around is the way God and God alone has restored us. Paul says: I do not have “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9). This righteousness was won for us by the righteous life of Christ, who lived under the law and kept it perfectly to redeem us (Galatians 4:4), and who also paid the price for our sins with his agonizing death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). Now, “Even in death the righteous have a refuge” (Proverbs 14:32). Apart from faith, this refuge is closed; without faith there is only hopelessness. But with faith in Christ comes all of the blessings Christ offers and gives. This is why it is said that “he will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” What else can those sheaves be than the blessings of God, beginning with the restoration of our dead as we greet them in heaven? Our confession matches Mary’s about her brother: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). We believe this, too.
Christ gives us still more. Our own resurrection, the resurrection, restoration and reunion of our loved ones in heaven—these things are certainly ours. But we have blessings now, as well. We have access to God through prayer. Because we have faith, we trust in God’s holy word without reservation or hesitation, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us to give us strength and the ability to live lives that please God, and we have God’s ear and attention as we come to him in prayer.
These are the sheaves that we carry, the blessings of our loving God who turns our tears into songs of joy.
Pastor Timothy Smith