Monday, January 31, 2011

Songs of Joy

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

Psalm 126 v6

I almost read this psalm by accident as I had started reading Psalm 125. However as R.E.O White* pointed out, in the NIV Commentary, 126 recalls Psalm 85 which I have just studied. The Psalms have never been a focus of inspiration for me. They can't be said to be contemporary nor are they a reliable source of theology. "The Lord is my shepherd", sounds wonderful but what does that mean to me? But now I'm reading the Bible as a book that cross-references itself from beginning to end. It's fascinating to read each passage as if looking through the fragment of a shattered window. As you look closely through each shard you see the same picture that you would from a single pane but from a unique angle. To read Psalm 126 simply as one of the songs of ascents as they are collectively known (120 through 134) is to lose its significance. What it does is present two views of the same scenario in two stanzas.

"When the LORD [restored the fortunes of] Zion"**

Reads: 'How wonderful it is to be back in Jerusalem after all those years in Babylon. How honoured we are, among the nations, that God should be so good to us'.

"Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev."

Reads: 'Here we are back home but what a mess!' The Negev dried up in the summer so this is a picture of arriving back with the water cut off, no electricity and the house trashed. Isn't this like having a great time at church then, on returning home, arguing over whose turn it was to do the washing up and guess who forgot to defrost dinner. When you sang how God provides you weren't thinking of a frozen chicken. It's about the now but not yet - its like viewing a house and saying it has potential.

The psalmist doesn't scold the people for being downcast - it appears to be a disaster - but encourages them, saying its OK to weep but don't let that stop you sowing for when the rains come (and the streams of the Negev fill up again) because then it will be too late. What you see with your eyes is the same home you saw in your dreams. Hold on to, and live, the promise because it will come to those who are faithful.

* (Elwell, A.E [ed.])

** alternative taken from the NIV notes. The main text reads "When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion..."

References

Elwell, A.E. (1989) The Marshall Pickering Commentary on the NIV (Psalms by R.E.O White)
Marshall Pickering, London

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

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