Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
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.’
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
When you consider the goodness of God, is there a particular moment in your life you come back to? An event which always features in your testimony and never fails to give you hope, no matter how dire the current circumstances?
It is this kind of moment that the Israelites are remembering in this psalm. As one of the songs of ascent, these words would have been sung on long journeys, such as the walk to the temple for a religious festival. The moment from which the people of God are drawing such inspiration is likely the end of the exile, their returning home from long years in captivity.
This restoration, for which they had longed for many years, is still very much in the national memory, immortalised in song, and passed down from generation to generation through this ancient tradition. But the people do not stop at the joy and praise. Instead their minds turn to their current situation, which seems to be difficult at best: ‘restore our fortunes, LORD’, they cry.
But the reminder of God’s faithfulness in the past does not lead to bitterness – ‘why hasn’t he fixed it already, like he did before?’ – but to hope: ‘those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy’. And more than that, the language of farming suggests that there is an expectation of toil, of perseverance, of waiting, working, and praying for God to restore what has been lost and broken.
You can probably relate strongly to one of the emotions expressed in this psalm – either joyous praise, or longing for God to intervene. Perhaps you are questioning why he hasn’t already fixed it like he did before. Perhaps you are taking a stand on God’s historic faithfulness to you, clinging in desperation to past actions both in your lifetime and in salvation history, in the hope that soon he will come through once again.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, you are in good company. As it was for the Israelites, this psalm reminds us that there is much to give thanks to God for, but there is also much still to do – to wait for, to work at, to pray for God to restore.
But for now, wherever we find ourselves and however we are feeling, may we take comfort from these words: ‘those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy’.