Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 3 2019 - Psalm 126 – Return from exile

We have been looking at the latter chapters of Isaiah in which the focus is upon the promise of God and the hope of his people for a return from Exile. Psalm 126 is a psalm of praise for that return, but it is also a prayer for the Lord to continue his work of restoring his people.

The first three verses of this psalm express the joy of the Israelites when they had returned from captivity in Babylon. It seemed to them too good to be true – it felt like a dream. Not only were they filled with joyful laughter, nations around them also took notice of the fact that the Lord had come to their aid. Their testimony is that:

The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (v. 3)

Now as the pilgrims make their way to the rebuilt temple to celebrate Passover, or one of the other annual festivals, they remember all that God had done for them in their songs of praise. But, at the same time, they are only too aware that 'things aren’t what they used to be,' nor do they match up to the extravagant promises they had heard from the prophets. The rebuilt temple did not possess the same splendour as Solomon's temple, nor had its dedication been accompanied by the manifest presence and glory of God. The returning exiles were not as numerous as the Israelites had been before the kingdom was divided and its peoples had been scattered. Parts of the land remained in ruins. Their experience had not matched the description given by Amos:

The days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman
    and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
    and flow from all the hills,
    and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. (Amos 9:13-14)

It had been wonderful to return from exile, but at the same time the experience had proved disappointing. God's people had hoped for so much more, and continued to hope for so much more. So thanksgiving for all that God has done turns into prayer for more of the same:

Restore our fortunes, LORD,
    like streams in the Negev. (Psalm 126:4)

The Negev was a dry and arid region to the south where rain hardly ever fell. There were many dry river beds baked hard in the scorching sun. But on occasions, rain falling in the distant hills would result in fresh flowing water suddenly rushing down the slopes to transform these dry wadis. This is what God's people are longing for; not for showers but for torrents of God's blessing renewing their lives and turning their weeping into joyful song.

We can readily identify with this psalm. God has done great things for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. In him we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven and we who once were far off (exiled) from God have been brought to stand in his presence and experience his embrace. We are truly blessed and are deeply thankful. But at the same time it is not enough. We want to be freed of the continued enticement of sin and made perfectly like our Saviour. We want to be freed not only from the fear of death but from death itself and its foreshadowings in sickness, pain and disability. And even that is not enough; we want many more to come to know the salvation of the Lord Jesus. Nor is that enough: we want evil to be exiled from our world; we want war and hatred to cease; we want the whole of creation to be made anew. We long for the exile of this world to come to an end.

Restore, O Lord, the honour of your name, in works of sovereign power come shake the earth again. That [all] may see and come with reverent fear to the living God whose kingdom shall outlast the years.

Peter Misselbrook