Theme: Deliverance and Joy
This week’s lessons show us that although things happen that take away our joy, still we can turn to God for healing and joy’s restoration.
Scripture: Psalm 126:1-6
One of the literary techniques that contributes to effective poetry is the use of sharp contrasts, like John Milton’s description of blind Samson in Samson Agonistes:
O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!
Or the opening lines of William Shakespeare’s Richard the Third:
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.
The psalmists use this device, too, and one example is the psalm to which we come now: Psalm 126, the seventh of the fifteen Songs of Ascents. It begins with a scene of nearly delirious joy, a scene from Israel’s past when the people were released from their Babylonian captivity and returned to Zion. The second half jumps to the age in which the psalm was written. It was a very different time, a time of difficult, unrewarding labor and even weeping. This stanza describes these hard times, but it also contains both a prayer for, as well as a prophecy of, better days to come.
How are we to appreciate the opening stanza? It is hard to do, because not many of us have experienced anything quite like this. And even if we have, our reactions were not necessarily those of these ecstatically happy people. They had been released from a dreary, seventy-year-long captivity and returned to their native land, and they were so overwhelmed with this sudden turn of fortune that they almost imagined they were dreaming (v. 1). They go on to say in the next verse, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”
Their deliverance was such a remarkable occurrence that even the Gentiles who were looking on recognized that it had been accomplished by God. “The LORD has done great things for them,” they said. And it was true! “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy,” they respond.
Have you ever experienced anything like that? Perhaps. There are a few experiences in life that might be close. For some people falling in love has been a bit like this “almost dreaming” joy, but in most cases it has lacked the part about release from something terrible beforehand. Recovery from a serious illness might be an example of deliverance, but recoveries like that usually lack the element of suddenness. Besides, after a prolonged illness recovery is most likely to be a sober, cautious thing, like the reaction of Boniface in Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon” who, the poet tells us, regained his freedom “with a sigh.”
Perhaps the closest approach to what Psalm 126 describes is some persons’ experiences of conversion to Jesus Christ, for that really is a deliverance, a great deliverance, and rare is the sudden conversion that is not accompanied by great joy and genuine thanksgiving to God.
But exceptional joy like that usually doesn’t last a long time. It can’t, really, because life is always a combination of ecstasy and agony, good times and bad times, joy and suffering. Joy is wonderful.
Describe the contrast the psalmist uses in Psalm 126.
What made the joy of the Israelites so intense? How did the Gentiles react?
Why is exceptional joy temporary?
Application: Are you going through a low period in life right now, where joy is absent? Ask the Lord to renew you and to give you joy in the knowledge of your salvation, and a persevering trust as you wait upon him.
For Further Study: Throughout our lives, we all experience things that produce many different emotions, such as joy, sorrow, fear, hope, regret, and discouragement. The writers of the psalms experienced these, too, and openly tell God how they are feeling. James Boice’s series on the Psalms is marked by close attention to the text, as well as helpful application. Order your copy of the three-volume paperback set, and receive 25% off the regular price.