Psalm 126 – A song of ascents
If the Lord was able to do it before, He can do it again
Readings from New International Version (NIV)
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
- The immediate application of this is the restoration of the first exiles from captivity in 538 BC. However relating verse 1 to verses 4-6 gives this a much wider and more contemporary application.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
- The Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, and now brought about a restoration from exile, a joyous turnaround. Both of these happenings said a lot about God’s character to the surrounding nations.
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
- A powerful dimension of breakthrough prayer is praise for who God is, coupled with thankfulness for what God has done. ‘Testimony’ stories which recall what God has done raise the level of faith in both teller and hearer, and are spiritually robust answers to the doubts and discouragements we hear all the time in the enemy’s accusing voice.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
- The Negev is an exceptionally arid area. As the seasonal rains flood the desert wadis, the land turns green again. The prayer looks for Israel’s fortunes to flower again in a similar way.
5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
- This speaks of God’s character: faithfulness to those who have persevered with faith. It applied to the exiles but also speaks to today. “Sowing with tears” is part of the Christian experience, seldom understood at the time, in which God tests us and proves us – do we stay in faith for the promises expressed here?
Luke 1:46-55 – The Magnificat
True dependence on God puts us in place to be part of His next move
- Mary may have made up this song, thinking about the story of Hannah, on her several days’ journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. It borrows much in thought and phrase from Hannah’s prayer, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, but the tone of submission to God is different. It would not be unusual for a devout Jewish girl like Mary to have quite a depth of Scripture knowledge and insight, which she shows here. At the same time, as John Wesley suggests, perhaps Mary sang this Holy Spirit-inspired prophetic song without fully understanding all that she was singing.
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord…
- Older sources based on Latin texts may attribute this song to Elizabeth. But it is Mary’s. Elizabeth’s response (v.42) is an exclamation, a shout, quite different in tone from her quieter cousin’s.
47-49 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
- Amplified Bible: “For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant…” This is Mary describing herself as a sinner and a slave-girl – a humble state, rather than humiliated state.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.
- Mary’s faith, waiting on God to bring His promises to fulfilment (see also v.45), was exemplary, by contrast with Zacharias, Luke 1:18-20 .
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
- “Mercy” is a BIG word, expressing the Old Testament and covenant-language concept of God’s love which is loyal, gracious and faithful. This love comes to those who overcome human pride to look to Him with awe and deep respect.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
- Where people of influence are proud in their thinking and attitudes, problems in society ensue: cause and effect. The kingdom of God, allowing God’s rule and order to have domain in our thoughts and attitudes, stands in direct, confrontational opposition to man’s desire for independence and self-sufficiency.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
- The tenses point to God’s “mighty deeds” of the past but as is often the way of the Prophets, may be using the device of looking back to what God has done, to speak of what God can and will do. The deeds of the past give substance to the promise of the Good News to come.
- The established way of the world is turned upside down in this series of statements where the proud are scattered, rulers are removed from position, the rich miss out while the hungry and humble – those that recognise their need of God – are elevated.
54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”
- Recalls the unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants – and those believing Gentiles like us who are ‘grafted into the vine’, Romans 11:17-19 .
The exiles knew their need of God. They had lost everything – and also lost much of the sense of their national identity as God’s covenant people. But after a generation, and a change of heart, the return began and it was a joyful returning.
Mary knew her need of God. She was young, she felt that she was a nobody, and her situation drew criticism – who else would know what the angel had said? Perhaps she had talked to God about this on her journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. And the evidence is that she had heard afresh from God and now she was rejoicing, knowing that she was blessed, singled out for an important, if challenging, assignment from God.
Sometimes we don’t know what’s going on in our lives. And sometimes it’s too confusing to expect God to tell us. Yet Mary, humble before God and aware of her need, seems to have come through to praise and rejoicing. In her song, she praises God not just for His goodness, but for specific deeds of the past where He has upheld the humble and overturned the self-sufficient.
3. What attitudes are contrasted in these passages?
4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?
5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?