Grief Turned into Joy
(H) A Song of Ascents. (1) When Yahweh restored the captives to Zion, we were like those who dream. (2) Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, “Yahweh has done great things for them.” (3) Yahweh has done great things for us. We are filled with joy. (4) Restore our captivity, Yahweh, like torrents in the Negev. (5) Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. (6) He who goes out weeping, carrying his seed for sowing, will indeed come in with rejoicing, carrying his sheaves (with him).
Several repetitions occur in this brief psalm and point us to its meaning. Immediately we encounter the psalmist’s first use of “restore” (vs. 1). Next, we find two sentences both beginning with “then” which complete the thought of the opening “when” clause (vs. 2). The statement, “Yahweh has done great things” (at the end of vs. 2), is immediately repeated at the beginning of the next line for emphasis (vs. 3). We find the second use of “restore” as the opening word of the following verse (cf. vs. 4 with vs. 1). “Shouts of joy,” occurs three times (vss. 2, 5, & 6).
The psalm closes with two proverbs that convey the same message (vss. 5 & 6). The second expands on the first, an unusual example of synthetic parallelism between two entire verses. Note the repetition of “carrying” in the carefully structured final statement. In the first line the subject of the sentence “goes out weeping, carrying his seed.” In the second line, he will “come in rejoicing, carrying his sheaves” (vs. 6).
I. Praise: Yahweh has restored us from past captivity. (1 & 2)
II. Principle: we rejoice because Yahweh has done great things for us. (3)
III. Prayer: may Yahweh restore us from any future captivity. (4)
IV. Proverbial truth: we can trust Yahweh to turn our grief to joy. (5 & 6)
Those who trust in Yahweh can be confident that he will transform any temporary grieving into permanent rejoicing.
The two agricultural proverbs at the end of this psalm contain timeless truths that apply to all stages of our lives (vss. 5 & 6). They portray a farmer at two points of the growing season. The first lines of both verses picture him in the early spring, sowing his seed in times of struggle, hardship, and, possible famine with no immediate prospect of return. In the second lines of each verse, we find him several months later reaping a bountiful harvest and rejoicing over its abundance.
In the case of Israel, the psalmist uses these proverbs to encourage the nation not to despair in times of national calamity such as deportation and exile. Rather God’s people are to view such tragedies as seed-sowing times, trusting that Yahweh will eventually produce a great harvest of blessing through adversity. As an example, we know of at least one great benefit that emerged from the tragic seventy year Babylonian exile. When Israel returned to her homeland, she never again engaged in the worship of idols. She had finally been cured of her former lusting after the degrading practices of her pagan neighbors.
In the present day believers often apply the promises of these two verses to the specific areas of evangelism and world outreach. In other words, those who obey the Great Commission to go into all the world with the Gospel message may leave home with tears because of the difficulty of abandoning family, friends, and familiar settings to relocate in the far off places of the world. However, one day they will reap an abundant harvest with great rejoicing over many won to Christ, churches planted, and entire cultures impacted for the Gospel.
Whether applied specifically or generally, these verses contain great promises for those who love the Lord and look forward to his return. No matter how painful or difficult our lives may seem to be at present, we can rest assured that God will one day turn our sorrow into great joy. The verse and chorus of an old Gospel song penned by Esther Kerr Rusthoi effectively captures this truth. “Oft times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear. / We’re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair. / But Christ will soon appear to catch his bride away, / all tears forever over in God’s eternal day. / It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. / Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. / One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase, / so bravely run the race ‘til we see Christ.”