Theme: Joy after Sorrow
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
What does the psalmist do after he has remembered those earlier days in which “our mouths were filled with laughter”? As we read in yesterday’s study, one thing he does is ask God for the good times again. We see a second thing in today’s lesson.
2. He prophesies a time of joy to follow sorrow. The second thing the psalmist does is prophesy, though prophecy may not be exactly the right word for what we have in these verses. Prophecy is a prediction of something to come, and this is a prediction. But we usually think of prophecy as a word about the future given to a chosen spokesman by God, and I am not sure that is the best description of these last verses. Isn’t it true that they are more like a proverb than a prophecy in the classic sense? That is the way they have been taken by countless generations of God’s people as they have looked up from the difficulties of their present work expecting blessings from God yet to come.
Those who sow in tears will reap songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping, carrying seeds to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
It is worth noticing the difference between these two images, the sudden filling of the desert streams (in v. 4) and the harvest after the difficult work of plowing and sowing seed (in vv. 5, 6). In the first image the results are sudden and unearned. In the second image the results come only after a long period of hard work and waiting. This is a good dose of spiritual reality. At times God does work suddenly and without any labor on our part. He did it in our conversion. We contributed nothing. But how many returns from captivity are there, after all? Just one! In most situations in life, the rewards only come after much hard work, even when we know that God is the source of the blessing, like the blessing of the harvest.
So what is the message of Psalm 126 for those who are on the pilgrim way? It consists of three things: 1) remember the past and be encouraged by it; 2) keep praying; and 3) keep working, because the Lord who gives us work to do also sends the harvests.
Before we leave this psalm we should note two points of application and encouragement that should be taken from it.
The first picks up on this matter of sowing seed in order to reap in God’s time. It is an obvious point, because it has to do with Jesus’ parable of the farmer who went out to sow seed. Some seed fell on the path, where the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it sprang up quickly but was soon scorched by the sun because the soil was shallow. Some landed among thorns, where it seemed to do well at first but was later choked out by the weeds that sprang up with it. Only a portion of the seed, a fourth part, fell on good soil where it eventually produced a good crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matt. 13:1-9).
When the disciples asked the meaning of the parable, Jesus explained that it had to do with teaching God’s Word, which is what sowing seed refers to. The seed is the Word of God, he said. Some teaching is snatched away by Satan before it sinks into the listeners’ hearts and is able to do them good. Some gain an immediate reception, but it does not last. Troubles come and soon scorch it out. Still other teaching is choked by the deceitfulness of wealth and other earthly entanglements. Only a portion of the teaching takes root and produces a good crop.
But here is the point: a portion of what is sown does take root and does produce a harvest. So don’t despair if the labor is long, the days are hot and much that we do for God seems unprofitable. It is God who is Lord of the harvest, not ourselves. As Paul said when writing to the Christians at Corinth, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6). And God does make it grow! No work that is done for God will ever be entirely fruitless. No word spoken on behalf of the gospel, no kindness practiced out of love for Christ, no righteous stand taken because of God’s righteousness will ever go unnoticed or unrewarded.
So don’t give up. Of course, the labor is hard. This is a hard and sinful world. But the one who sows in tears “will reap with songs of joy.” And the one “who goes out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Is there anything that will ever compare with our joy in heaven when we stand before the Lord together with those who have been saved through our own faithful sharing and teaching of God’s Word?
Paul told the Corinthians, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
How does the psalmist expect joy to follow sorrow? On what is his prediction based?
Why are the psalmist’s words more like proverb than prophecy?
Contrast the images of a desert, stream, and harvest.
Reflection: Have you felt that your work for God amounted to nothing? How does 1 Corinthians 3:6 encourage you?
Application: Sow the seeds of the Word of God to an unbeliever this week. Pray that God will make your seed grow.