A people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. (Isaiah 30:19)
We don’t know who wrote Psalm 126, but we know he had tasted the bitter tears of some awful trial. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!” (Psalm 126:4). The Negeb was a desert region in Israel. In other words, life felt like a desert, with no sign of rain in sight. The trial was drying out his hope in God.
The song, like so many other psalms, was written from some pain and uncertainty to help carry Israel through her long nights of weeping. How many nights have you spent “sowing tears” (verse 5) of pain or loss, of betrayal or abandonment, of disappointment or devastation? Did you know God wrote songs for dry, desert nights like yours?
As the tears fell, Israel remembered a time “when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” (Psalm 126:1). The past tense — “restored” — rings with pain and casts a shadow on the whole psalm. This restoration is a memory, not a present reality. Sweet and bitter mingle, as they so often do in real life. They sang, remembering when God delivered them, and yet he hadn’t delivered them this time — yet. They were hurting and waiting. They knew he could put an end to all their pain — he had done it many times before — and yet he’d chosen not to yet.
God’s people have always endured sorrow and distress by recalling the good he has done in the past. “They said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’” (Psalm 126:2). In the next verse, the psalmist adds his voice to that faint but familiar chorus, even while he sits in the valley: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.” He *has* done great things for us. As much as we’ve suffered and are suffering, he’s never done us wrong. When we see how kind he’s been to us, we’re deeply, durably glad — even while we’re sad, even while we want everything in our lives to change.
Long before the apostle Paul, God’s people were already “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10) — desperate for God to deliver, and yet, in the meantime, still satisfied in him.
God’s people don’t only look back for hope, though — or even mainly. Glances back at what he has done for us in the past are fresh reasons to strain our eyes forward to what he will do.
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. (Psalm 126:5–6)
The God who did deliver them would deliver them again. The tears they sowed now would one day bring forth gardens of healing, comfort, security, and peace. They would soon trade their waiting and weeping for feasting.
If Israel could sing lines like these before they met the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, how much more can we who have seen him die and rise again? They had been delivered from Pharaoh and his armies; we from Satan and all the spiritual forces of evil. They had watched God split the seas; we have watched him tear the veil. They were brought into a land of milk and honey; we into the throne room of God.
In all our valleys, we carry the cross, and with it a promise: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” — he has done great things — “how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
In Isaiah 30, we get to watch the agony and triumph of Psalm 126 play out in real time. Though he had delivered them a hundred times before, God had again given Israel the bread of adversity and the water of affliction. The hordes of Assyria bore down on them, threatening to devour them. Some in Israel may have prayed the exact words, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!”
And how does God respond? “A people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. . . . Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher” (Isaiah 30:19–20). They would be delivered like before, and yet like never before. Before, they had been delivered from terrifying enemies; this time, they would see their Deliverer — and so we will, who hope in Christ.
We will weep no more, because seeing Jesus will dry our eyes (Revelation 5:5). He will not just bring us into a promised land; he will be our Promised Land. He will not just deliver us; he will deliver us to himself. And when he does, we’ll celebrate like people have always celebrated: we’ll sit down and eat together (Revelation 19:7) — and that meal will taste like a thousand answered prayers.
We will feast in the house of Zion;
We will sing with our hearts restored.
“He has done great things,” we will say together;
We will feast and weep no more.