Psalm 126 is an encouraging reminder to saints throughout all ages that, just as the Israelites were saved from Babylonian captivity, God now saves sinners from captivity to sin. We may sow seeds of the gospel in desert places but will one day bear witness to a great harvest with unparalleled joy in our hearts. Though we often find ourselves in hard trials, the Lord will turn our sorrow to joy in his own perfect timing and for his own perfect glory.
That Psalm 126 bears the heading “A Song of Ascents,” and is within the grouping of the Psalms of Ascent is a providential grace of God. Likely penned later than most other Psalms, it offers a great degree of hope and comfort to those weary saints who, like the Israelites of the Babylonian exile, long to be set free from their burdens and trials. It is a Psalm that promises the pious tears of troubled saints will turn to laughter and joy by the grace of God.
This was a miserable time for the people of God, who were not only forcefully removed from their homes, but forced to watch their homes and places of worship desecrated by these foreign Babylonian invaders. Yet, this was the just will of God coming to pass. The people had long been in sin, and God was now fulfilling his promises to bring judgment upon his unrepentant people for their sin.
Of course, God would not punish his people forever. He promised to show his people mercy by visiting them once more and restoring them to their own land (Jer. 29:10-14). They would find joy in their God again.
It is believed that Psalm 126:1 describes the heart of those first Jews being freed from Babylon to return to Jerusalem: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” Have you ever received such great news that you wondered if you were really just dreaming? That was the reaction of the Jews. They could hardly believe that God was showering them with such favor and blessing. They could hardly believe the time had come to return to their own land.
Yet, as they began to recognize the reality of their situation, their hearts turned to praising the Lord. The Psalmist says that “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (vs. 2a). The one who experiences the grace of God cannot help but laugh with joy and praise God with song.