When Yahweh 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; then they said among the nations, “Yahweh has done great things for them.”
Yahweh has done great things for us; we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Yahweh, like streams in the Negev!
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
Two themes stand out in this psalm: restoration and shouts of joy. The psalter begins with speaking about the “restored fortunes of Zion.” This could be restoration from anything. It could be restoration from famine, siege, captivity, or plague. We don’t know. We’re not given any historical context. Yet what we do know is that whatever suffering the psalter and Israel underwent, something miraculous had happened—some miraculous deliverance the psalter attributes to God.
Verse 4 reveals to us that this time of restoration is a distant memory. This restoration had once happened, and now he prays for such a restoration again. He prays first for a heavenly, miraculous restoration like before, “like the streams in the Negev.” The Negev (also spelled “Negeb”) is a desert; abundant streams in this desert place would be a miracle, hence the simile used in the poem.
He then prays for restoration of man’s work—that men would again find joy in their labours. Indeed, there are sorrows—thorns and thistles of work—hence the farming language he uses; yet whatever the sorrows of farming might be, the psalter has hope in God’s harvest.
Why would the psalter place such trust in God? Sure, he recalls a time when God had delivered them from some sort of tribulation. But that can’t merely be it. Why else would he trust in God? I would argue that he has extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, and therefore God’s promise therein: “‘For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth'” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
It was God’s promise to Israel since the days of old to make them into a holy, treasured, prosperous nation. Why did God promise this to them?
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that Yahweh set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because Yahweh loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”vv. 7-8
In other words, because the Hebrews were the lowliest of all peoples on the earth, and God loved them for this; and because of the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In short: because God loves to keep His promises made to His chosen people out of deep love for them.
Now, you may say, “That’s great and all, but I’m not part of Israel since I’m not Jewish.” Yes, you are part of Israel. As Paul says,
For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.Romans 9:6b-8
And how have you received the promise? Through faith in Christ and Baptism—the same faith as Abraham (Romans 4; Galatians 3:1-9, 13-14, 26-27). The hope in this psalm, then, is the same hope we have in Christ—the hope for His harvest, that is, His restoration.
For like the Israelites, we are bound to suffer as God’s people. Jesus warned us as much. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18).
While Jesus was speaking specifically to His disciples here as He sent them out to do His work through the Spirit, His words here hold some similarities to our predicament today. For as we are all disciples of Christ, growing in wisdom and strength, we also must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and some of us are brought before courts to justify our Christian living.
Yet in spite of these tribulations, we have the same hope in the harvest as the psalter. As Jesus says, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). And who is the one who enables us to endure? None other than Christ.
The eschatological promise will come. This promise is our hope:
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a Son of Man, with a gold crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in Your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So, He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.Revelation 14:14-16