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Psalm 126

Sowing with tears

Sometimes our pain and grief make us so desperate to find a way out that we resort to self-centered “positive thinking” or name-it-and-claim-it techniques. This psalm models a far different approach.

A song of ascents.

When Yahveh restored Zion’s fortunes
we felt sure we were dreaming.
2 Our lives became
wild torrents of laughter and song.
Our pagan neighbors saw it and said:
“Yahveh’s done amazing things for them!”
3 Yahveh did such amazing things for us
our joy overflowed.

4 Restore our fortunes again, Yahveh
like the wadis in the Negev—
from bone dry to brimming with life.

5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with joyful songs.
6 Those who carry their seeds out weeping
will dance the harvest home to songs of joy!

The psalmist begins with a backward glance, possibly at the Jews’ astonishing return from Babylon. For any empire to free and send its slaves back home is the sort of crazy we meet in dreams or, if in reality, it brings such joy outsiders can’t help seeing it. But memories of such miracles can mock us later when unanswered prayers leave us in pain and hope seems out of the question. Some Jews who returned felt overwhelmed when they saw the colossal challenges facing them in their homeland.

Situations like this often make us struggle desperately to find a solution. We may even try to strong-arm God through some name-it-and-claim-it scheme, as today’s “prosperity gospel” does, redefining faith, holiness, and more. Such distortions are easily mistaken for truth when mashed together with historic creeds. But however urgent our need, biblical faith is radically God-centered and allows that some of God’s best gifts look like anything but gifts.

What we need most is a heart yielded to the God of all truth and all hope—which is itself a small foretaste of heaven, however daunting our present circumstances are. While God may allow us to weep as we sow our seeds, he’ll assuredly make the day come when we bring the harvest home to joyous song.

Lord, I need only the abundance you bring me, the kind that keeps you front and center. Deliver me from all my attempts to turn you into a glorified heavenly vending machine. Help me know you’re with me and will yet fill me with joy, even if my tears are all that water the seeds I now sow. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Restore our fortunes again, Yahveh
like the wadis in the Negev—
from bone dry to brimming with life.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.