Psalm 126 – Returning

A cool burst of wind turned the falling droplets toward him, christening his face. Looking up momentarily, he drifted off between sleep and waking. His stomach felt queasy on the shifting ship.

But his soul felt numb in gray light between life and death.

He was going home. But there would be no parade. The band wouldn’t play. The people wouldn’t sing. Most folks would probably avert their eyes when passing him for fear of adding to his shame. The great missionary who left Rogersville with a vision from God to convert the Burmese was traveling home a broken, god-forsaken man.

Everything he planted, the soil rejected. He tried to farm but nearly starved. He planted the gospel in the people only to watch a drought suck their faith dry and send them back to their old rituals. The only thing that remained in the soil was the body of his wife and child. Fever and some unknown illness stole her life. All the while he cried out to God, but the heavens were silent.

He sat by his wife and child’s grave for one year. When God refused to kill him as well, he decided to return home from this exile in hell.

Memories of his failure haunted him day and night.

But not today.

He remembered an old Psalm that he taught the people there. Today the words of the song drifted and danced around his half-conscious stare. As the words of the song played over and over in his memory, he began dreaming of another time, another people, another nightmare.

When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream. (vs 1)

The nameless, landless people sat in the darkness of Babylon. Israel ceased to exist. Her children were no longer “children of Israel.” They were exiles. Nameless, faceless people who watched their past burn to the ground. Without a past or a future, they sat and wept.

But the Lord turned with a turning toward them. He called the dead bones back to life. He gave them a name. He gave them back their land. He called a non-existent nation back into existence. And after a 70-year-nightmare, they woke up to a glorious, shimmering dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing. (vs 2)

While their eyes wept, their mouths sounded forth with joyous laughter. And their hearts resounded with singing. As they returned home, “They said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” And the newborn Israel resounded, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (vs 3)

He woke up. And he remembered the faithfulness of the Lord. He remembered how the Lord restored him from the point of death as a child. He remembered the laughter and rejoicing that echoed from house to house throughout the community.

He remembered the dramatic provision the Lord made for him and his wife when they were planning to launch on the missionary trip. As they were saving money for the journey, the community joined in preparations. Strangers even came and blessed them with provision. They went out rejoicing in God’s blessings and looked forward to His continuing blessing.

But then the dry season. Then the failed crop. And then, and then….

His mind drifted back to the song.

Bring back our captivity, O LORD,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him. (vss. 4-6)

The covenant community now living back in the land, remembered and resounded the song of the captives coming home. But even as they did, they cried out for God to turn a turning toward them yet again.

Crops were failing in a life-sucking drought. They watered the ground with tears crying out for God’s face to look upon them, to look upon the land, to heal the land, to resound His word of joy across the land and beyond.

Their tears of anguish in the land reminded him of his tears sown over the land, the people of the land and his own wife and child. He planted his most valuable treasure in that land.

As he reflected, something turned. Something almost imperceptible turned within him, upon him. Something like the first hint of dawn before the sun appears.

In the middle of this moment, he would not have been able to explain this something. He didn’t fully understand it. Yet in the weeks and months ahead, he would talk about this moment. He would talk about this psalm. He would remember the crop that he planted in Burma. He would ask God to tend that crop and water that crop. He would ask the Lord to bring him back home to that crop.

The almost imperceptible moment awakened his dead heart.

Now he realized that his heart was in Burma. He turned back toward Burma. Or the Lord turned him back toward Burma. In this turning, he sensed the face of God once again. And he asked the Lord to turn a turning toward the people and the land.

He continued gazing across the deck of the ship. The droplets now blossomed into a spring shower. He stood up and lifted up his hands and for a moment remained motionless, resting in the falling rain, resting in the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 125 – A Story

Jeshua walked alongside his grandfather Johanan as they sang,

“Trust in HaShem and rest like Mt. Zion
resting and resting and resting.”

With each step they called out, “resting and resting and resting.” Jeshua liked this part and often repeated it.

“resting and resting and resting”

Smiling at his grandson’s energy, Johanan joined and boldly sang out, “resting and resting and resting.”

Soon they would be in Jerusalem. Soon the whole company of exiles would arrive home. Some for the first time. When Ezra announced to the community that he would be taking a group of exiles to Palestine, Johanan immediately told his family that it was time. The responsibilities among the exile community kept his father Azgad from ever making the trip. But he spoke of return and dreamed of return until his final day.

As he walked toward Zion, Johanan fulfilled a promise to his father. The family would once again since out praise to HaShem in the midst of the land.

So he sang out with gusto,
“Jerusalem rests in the circle of mountains
His people rest in the circle of HaShem
resting and resting and resting.”

As he sang, he smiled. The Word of the Lord did not return void. The city that burned. The city that died. The city that vanished into dust was rebuilt. Songs of joy and gladness echoed from the Temple both day and night. The land was waking up. The trees were beginning to clap. And people poured into Jerusalem: coming and coming and coming back to the place God had given them.

Johanan’s mind drifted off to an old story of God bringing His people back. Turning to Jeshua he asked, “Did I ever tell you the tale of the boy King Joash?”

Of course Jeshua knew this story had heard this story and loved to hear Johanan tell the story.

“The boy King Joash?” He replied inquisitively.

“Oh yes. Now that is a story.”

As he talked, Israel’s ancient history came alive in Jeshua’s imagination. Soon he saw pictures of the wicked Athaliah who to tried to seduce and destroy the kingdom of Judah and the throne of David.

Daughter of the notorious Jezeebel, Athaliah had been offered to King Jehoram of Judah. Their marriage would seal an alliance between Ahab and Jehosophat, a hopeful step to restoring the Kingdom of Judah and Israel. But this alliance turned out to be a subtle invasion of Judah.

Athaliah raised her son Ahaziah to follow in paths of Ahab and by the time he became king, he was turning the people of Judah away from HaShem to worship Baal. A dark crimson cloud descended upon Judah as the bloodthirst of Baal was hailed across the land.

In this desperate darkness, the faithful cried out to HaShem for deliverance.

Johanan stopped his story and laid his arm upon Jeshua’s shoulder.

“I’ve known the dark struggle of these people. My father and his father knew the dark struggle. What happens when the wicked rule?”

Almost on cue Jeshua said, “The righteous are led astray?”

“Yes, yes my son. The wicked prowl around like wildcats looking to pounce, looking to kill, looking to destroy the people of God. Watch out! Keep alert! For they are coming for you to!”

Even though Jeshua had heard this before, a cool shudder swept through his body.

“But do not fear my boy. Watch for their footprints. Listen for their seductive words. When you see them coming, look to the Lord. HaShem will give you strength and wisdom to stand against their traps, their seductions, their deceptions.”

“Remember our song.”

Together they proclaimed, “The rule of the wicked will not rest, will not rest, will not rest on God’s people. So the righteous may not fall but walk upright in the land.”

And then, “Trust in HaShem and rest like Mt. Zion
resting and resting and resting.”

A moment later they returned to the terror of Ahaziah’s rule. As the people of God cried out for justice, Ahaziah cried out in terror at the sword of Jehu. The wicked king fell. Upon hearing reports of her son’s slaughter, Athaliah immediately executed his sons and cut down the house of David. In the void, she now ruled with terror and tyranny.

The dark cloud seemed to grow darker. Under her cruelty the people groaned and the land groaned. But the Lord was silent. Was He powerless in the face of the mocking followers of Baal?

Year after year after year passed by. The wicked Queen grew stronger and stronger as each year passed. The land and the people grew weaker and weaker.

Yet the Lord really did surround His people in the midst. For even in the dark days, His hand extended over His people, and His Spirit protected the House of David. One child survived the slaughter of the princes. One child grew up in hiding. One child learned the wisdom and power and faithfulness of HaShem.

That child was Joash.

In his Sabbath year, rest was restored to the land. The Priest Jehoida crowned Joash, son of David, King of Judah. And the people cheered. And their cheers echoed throughout the city and into the ears of the wicked Queen.

In her fury, she tore her clothes and cried, “Treason!” But her restless reign was over. Armed guards removed the wicked Queen and the righteous rule of God was restored in the scepter of a seven-year-old.

As though the song were part of the story, Jeshua and Johanan resumed the chorus,
“Trust in HaShem and rest like Mt. Zion
resting and resting and resting.”

As they sang the final words of this song, the old man and young boy thought of the land beneath their feet. They walked upon the land of their fathers. They walked upon the promise of God fulfilled. They could see Mt Zion in the distance. They could hear the steps of God’s people all around them.

“His people will rest, will rest, will rest in His way.
But the wicked leave the way and the land.
So the land may be Shalom
and Shalom may be the land.”

Psalm 125 – A Translation

I’ve been reflecting on Psalm 125 and trying to write a mini story in it. As a way of getting inside, I thought I’d write my own translation based on the rhythms I am hearing.

Psalm 125
Rest in YHWH like Mt Zion
dwelling, resting, abiding on and on and on.
YHWH surrounds Jerusalem like the mountains
surrounding, enclosing, guarding on and on and on.
NO!
Wicked rulers are not like the mountains
shall not endure
shall not remain
shall not rest
in the land YHWH created
for His people
for His children
to rest
in His way
in His truth
in His goodness
in His love
But to those who hate, who reject, who resist
His way
His truth
His goodness
His love
Remove from the land.
So the land
may be Shalom
and Shalom
may be the land.