Psalm 126: Restored Fortunes

Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!

–Psalm 126:5 (ESV)

“It’s too good to be true.”  “This can’t be real.”  “I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”  These are common expressions during times of unexpected blessing, for believers and unbelievers alike.  But while the world interprets such statements to imply, “I can’t believe luck dealt me such a good hand,” the Christian frames them in terms of God’s providence.  Thus the believer should have an immediate and intimate connection with the theme of Psalm 126.

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

–vv. 1,2

In v. 3, the psalmist declares, “The LORD has done great things for us,” adding what may be one of the biggest understatements in the psalms—“we are glad.”

But Psalm 126 isn’t entirely a song of thanksgiving.  This Song of Ascents goes on to implore God for his renewed blessing on the nation.  Echoing the language of v. 1, the psalmist cries, “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!” (v. 4).  This is a beautiful pattern that recurs throughout the Scriptures: expressing confidence in the LORD by recalling his mercies in times past.  This overwhelming hope enables the psalmist to conclude his prayer with assurance:

He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

–v. 6

268, “When Zion in Her Low Estate”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Honestly, it hurts to have to give a Psalter Hymnal selection a thumbs-down.  But number 268 seems to be one of those instances in our songbook where some significant remedial work may be needed.

The unnecessary complexity of the text clouds the connection between the thanksgiving for restored fortunes in v. 1 and the prayer for restored fortunes in v. 4, and the powerful simile “like those who dream” is omitted entirely.  The third stanza seems to interpret v. 4 as a request for continued blessing rather than renewed blessing after a period of affliction; such a view is possible, of course, but this versification rather “forces the issue.”  On the positive side, though, the final stanza of number 268 is solid in both poetry and accuracy.

Thankfully, I can’t complain much about the accompanying tune MELMORE.  The part-writing is a bit simplistic, but a re-harmonization could clear that up easily.  It’s not at all a bad tune; if the text were merely adjusted a bit, this could certainly be a viable psalm setting.

Despite its brevity, my study of Psalm 126 reminded me of the glorious hope that is ours through our view of Providence.  Unbelievers can rejoice in prosperity, but only Christians can truly rejoice in adversity.  We know that it is the LORD who has “restored our fortunes” in the past, and his steadfast love will last forever.  The Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 10, Question & Answer 27, explains it thus:

Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

And in response to the next question, “How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?” the catechism responds:

We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.  All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

Amen!  Indeed, the LORD has done great things for us.  May we, too, be glad.

–MRK

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3 Responses to “Psalm 126: Restored Fortunes”


  1. 1 Reita Julien October 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

    My comment for today! 🙂 First, I like the song but I think that Cornerstone sings it WAY to fast. I personally like “peppy” singing, which most everyone would agree with, but that church tends to go a little over-board. If that song is sung a little slower, the words can be thought of just a bit more and then it makes a whole lot more sense. Try it a bit slower and I think you will see what I mean.

    • 2 Michael Kearney October 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

      I think I’d have to agree with you about the tempo of this one. It’s just hard to get all the words out at this speed–let alone think about them. (But I did play number 187 at a pretty wild tempo last night too, so I’m not innocent.)

      –MRK


  1. 1 Psalm 134: Two-Way Blessings « URC Psalmody Trackback on January 28, 2013 at 7:05 am

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