1 When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.
3 The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.
5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
We count on God’s restoration of His church during times of great distress.
After experiencing a low point in the history of the church (and all the grief associated with it), our spirits are wonderfully restored when God chooses to restore and reform the church of Christ. This is a joyful song, where we delight in the blessings of God upon His people.
The context of this psalm is the Babylonian captivity: the people of God were taken into captivity in Babylon for a period of 70 years. The last remnant of the church was now in exile, and it was a discouraging time (as depicted in Psalm 137). But men and women of faith were still hoping in God, confident that He would restore His people. God’s people must have been very encouraged and comforted as they returned from Babylon. After all of their rebellion, and the various tribulations God had brought upon His people over the previous 600 years, now it was apparent that the Lord was willing to “give it another try.” This illustrates the covenantal faithfulness of God. For every true believer in Yahweh God, this represented a new start and a reformation of the church.
Have you ever had such a wonderful experience that for a moment you wondered if it could be real? You had to pinch yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming. When God’s people sense that reformation is actually happening in their church community, they experience a great sense of joy. It may feel surreal at first. Do you remember the little girl Rhoda in the Book of Acts? When she saw Peter released from prison, she thought she had seen a ghost. At first glance, she could hardly believe that God was answering prayers. These are times of great celebration, when God has restored a remnant of the church and a remnant of authentic faith.
The joyful church is a singing church. A singing church provides the greatest testimony to the world around it. When we truly reflect joy by exuberant and loud singing, the world cannot help but notice. In New Testament language, when unbelievers hear the convicting Word of Truth preached and sung, they fall on their faces and worship God, confessing that God is in the midst of these people (1 Cor. 14:25). Unbelievers who are warming to the gospel detect the conviction of the truth, because it is present, because it is manifest in the words and the attitudes and demeanor of the Christians there. Given their joy and their confidence in the resurrection of Christ, God must have done great things for them!
The source of our joy is God’s work. We cannot deny that God has done great things for us. What greater things can we think of than transformed lives and new life in Christ?
When a plant withers, it retains seeds that will germinate later. And during times of decline in the church, it appears to be dying. These are sad and difficult days, and hopes grow dim. But God in His providential care of the church will not let it disappear off the face of the earth. Every dying plant retains the seeds, and the “dead” seeds were carried into the Babylonian captivity. God wasn’t finished with His people at this point, for they would come back to the land with Ezra and Nehemiah. However depressing these times may be for the church, the seeds themselves bear hope. We hope for future rejoicing, knowing that the seeds will one day bear fruit again.
If the church is declining and dying in the Western world (England, Scotland, Canada, and America) or anywhere else, we must continue to hope that God will one day germinate the seeds again. Some day, the endless denominational fracturing will end. Some day, the pattern of moral apostasy and spiritual apostasy will reverse its direction. Some day, shallow and man-centered worship will be replaced with God-centered, worship-in-Spirit-and-truth again. The seeds themselves retain hope even in these times of grief.
Perhaps the seeds will go with missionaries and exiles from the Western countries into other nations that have less access to the Gospel of Christ. They may produce more fruit in these foreign nations than in the apostate, hard-hearted Western world
Occasionally, the local church emerges out of periods of decline and apostasy into Spirit-filled revival. These are times of rejoicing, for we know that any evidence of spiritual life is nothing less than a supernatural work of the Spirit.
1. What is the context of this psalm?
2. Who brought the sheaves back to Jerusalem after the exile?
3. What makes this such a joyful time?
4. What two groups recognize the goodness of God upon the people of God (according to verses 2 and 3)?
5. How can we be sure that Christ’s church will never completely die out?
1. In what places is the church in decline today, and where is the church experiencing tremendous growth?