• The Sisyphus Psalm


    We might call Psalm 126 “The Sisyphus Psalm.”  Sisyphus was a figure in Greek mythology who was eternally destined to push a heavy rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down before he could get it over the crest.  He’d have to start all over—for eternity.

    Life can seem like that, can’t it?  As soon as it seems we’re making progress or we’ve got something resolved, the stone rolls back down and we have to start over.  Life holds all sorts of setbacks. We grow weary.  We lost heart. We become jaded.  We say, “Why Bother?”

    Psalm 126 helps us to deal with the roller coaster of life.  The theme of the psalm is restoration.  “Restore” ties its two sections together.

    What comes to mind when we think of “restore?” We might think of an antique chair that has fallen into disrepair.  Restoration would involve stripping and staining it, perhaps reupholstering the cushion.  We would return it to its original beauty and function.

    But there are other things that may need restoration.  Broken hearts need mending.  Those crushed in spirit need refreshing.   We may need release from the grip of addiction.  Fellowship with God may need to be restored through confession and repentance.  A marriage that is falling apart may need healing.

    Restoration presupposes brokenness.  It looks to a return to beauty and functionality.  Psalm 126 helps us in the restoration process.

    Restored—How I Love to Proclaim it!

    Most psalms do not give us the historical context from which they arose.  Psalm 126 does, at least at the thought of scholars.  It has the backdrop of return from exile. [When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. (verse 1)] The people of God had been deported to Babylon, exiled because of their sin (see Lam. 1:1-5).  But God in His mercy and covenant love had moved the heart of the king to allow them to return to their land, their home.

    The mood of the psalm is a party. [Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” (verse 2)]  The Lord had restored their fortunes.  It was too good to be true. They must be dreaming.  They were filled with laughter.  The nations heard the frivolity, and they attributed it to the hand of Yahweh.

    Verse 3 gives the bottom line of the spreadsheet of grace. [The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. (verse 3)]

    We cannot but help think of our salvation shadowed by this psalm.  When we were still sinners, exiled in the darkness, help captive by the tyranny of the devil, God came to us. He sent His Son to deliver us.  All this not because we deserved rescue, but because of His mercy.

    This restoration should color our worlds and fuel our worship.

    But from that grand restoration, we experience restorations on a lesser scale throughout our lives.  Our journey is filled with great things our God has done for us.  Sins forgiven.  Relationships healed.  CAT scans clear.  Bank accounts from red to black.  The Lord has met us in messes of our own making, and He has helped us—and we are glad.  Verse 3 is not a one-time statement.  It is a refrain to our lives.

    Restored—How I Long to Procure it!

    Here is where Psalm 126 starts to resemble the story of Sisyphus.  The people of God had been restored to the Promised Land, but new troubles have emerged.  Things have broken down, have started to unravel.  The rock has gone back down the hill.

    We can well relate.  Getting through adversity, experiencing restoration does not mean there will be no more hard times.  Reconciliation in a marriage does not mean no more marital conflicts. The windfall that brought us financial relief does not ward off being snowed under an avalanche of new bills.  Overcoming a sin does not inoculate us from struggling with it intensely again.

    The soundtrack to our lives will include songs of joy and songs of lament, as long as we live.

    That may seem disheartening, but the psalmist encourages us with the thought that the God who restored our fortunes before is with us to restore our fortunes again.  He invites us to cast our cares upon Him.  And that is exactly what the psalmist does.  Verse 4 is a prayer [Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb. (verse 4)]

    The Negev is the southern region of Judah.  It was hot and dry and inhospitable to life.  But when heavy rains did come, the dry riverbeds would fill to overflowing, giving life and vitality.  The psalmist is praying for flashfloods of blessing to bring renewal and restoration.  As God has restored before, we cry out for Him to do it again.

    But there is another foot on the path to restoration. The foot we step out on when life’s circumstances oppress us and rob us of joy is prayer.  The other foot is persevering obedience. [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. (verses 5-6]

    In life’s adversities, our inclination is to head to the sidelines. We sit back until we feel like rejoining the fray, feel like continuing on the way.  But God’s wisdom is that we continue to sow, albeit in tears.  We press on in the adversity and the brokenness, with the expectation of faith that there will be a harvest of joy.

    When we take ourselves out of the journey because of brokenness, we have a tendency to close in on ourselves.  We wallow in the swamp of despondency, leading to self-pity, depression and eventually, callousness.  Even the things that should prompt joy, roll off the hardened soil of our hearts to no effect. Staying in the fray to some degree helps us keep our eyes off self in service to God and neighbor.  The pipeline of joy is kept open.  The heart remains receptive

    The Path to Restoration

    Sisyphus, the tragic character of Greek mythology, was never able to push the rock over the crest.  His was a life of angst, frustration and futility.  We can fall into the same trap if we don’t have our wits about us.

    In this psalm, our God gives us four realities to keep in the mind in the roller coaster of life between here and eternity.

    1. God has restored you countless times in your life.  Remember those times of laughter and joy and trace them to their headwaters.  Remind yourself of them.  Reflect on them.  Say with the psalmist: “The Lord has done great things for me; I am glad.” Of course, the greatest joy is His reconciling you to Himself in Christ.
    2. God is still with you to restore.  He invites you—even more, He requires you—to cry out to Him in prayer.  Lay your case before Him. Open your heart up to Him.  As He has come to your aid in the past, He will do so again.
    3. Press on in purpose.  We don’t like this, but if God has called us to roll a stone up the mountain only to see it fall back, so that stone we must roll.  All endeavors, all trials carry the purpose of God, usually inscrutable to us.  Even when we feel like throwing in the towel, must continue to sow through the tears.  Like the prophets of old who were told to preach to a people who would not listen, we must trust and obey.
    4. This last reality highlights the biggest difference between us and Sisyphus.  In Greek mythology, Sisyphus’ interminable labor was his punishment in Hades to which he was condemned for all eternity.  But we are not condemned.  Our afflictions are light and momentary. We look forward to the coming day when our tears will be wiped away.  Our sojourning will be over, our laborious journey complete.  Because of Jesus who has gone before us, we will reap the harvest of delight as we enter the full enjoying our God to all eternity.

    “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11)



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