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. (Psalm 126:5–6—NKJV)

My junior age youth group would meet before the evening service for an hour each Sunday. Our program consisted of singing from “Youth Sing” books and a Bible lesson. One of the favorites asked for with regularity was the song “Bringing in the Sheaves.” The admonition from the song was that we are to be soul-winners collecting a harvest of souls as good stewards of the Lord.

One cannot help but go straightway to the thought of winning souls when reading the above text, but I believe the application is much broader for the Christian. The themes that this six-verse psalm parades before us are rich with repentance, obedience, solemnity, seriousness about spiritual work, risk-taking, testimony of the saint, total dependence upon the Lord, and the triumph of hard work rewarded.

The occasion of the writing of this psalm is one of the returns from exile which faithful Israelites experienced. Their fathers had been removed by God from the Land of Promise for hard-hearted disobedience to His commands and self-centered, stubborn, willful rebellion despite His faithful warnings. While in the land of captivity, the believing Israelites cried out to God in repentance. He heard them in their distress and paved the way for the faithful remnant to return to the Land of Promise. It is at their return to the devastated, unfruitful land that the author writes. He has grasped the monumental work to be done, and he faces the agonizing recognition of how few were available to set their hand to the plow so that Israel might once again reclaim the vision of a faithful nation. Because God is faithful, the author penned the beautiful words of Psalm 126.

There are six one-word points to the psalm: turn (verse 1), tongue (verse 2), testimony (verses 2–3), trouble (verse 4), tears (verse 5), and triumph (verse 6). These points all develop the meaning of “bringing his sheaves with him.”

Turn speaks to the idea that the Lord brought back the captivity. The air of repentance is crucial to the harvest. There would be no harvest in the Land of Promise without repentance of the wayward people. God is the one who had permitted their captivity; it is only He who can bring them home again. Believers must ever be quick to repent and plea for mercy before the Faithful One. The taste of freedom from the long captivity was delicious. Tongue expresses the idea that when God grants freedom from bondage in sin, the tongue cannot long remain still. The light heart revels in the covenant loyalty of God. You will notice that there is no room for self once contrition for sin has done its work. Testimony refers to the notoriety given to God as others hear of His goodness in the lives of His saints. Trouble bespeaks the heart-cry for more to be obedient to the Lord in returning. The needs were great, the land was overgrown, drought-plagued, desolate, and the laborers were pitifully few with meager resources, yet with great hearts. Tears encompasses their statement of utter dependence upon God, the seriousness of the need, the grave risk in both action and inaction, the recognition that the enemies were numerous—and yet there is the sublime promise that those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. Triumph is the capstone to the psalm. The one going back and forth in his rows continually, carefully taking each precious seed from his seed bag, purposely placing it in the soil watered with his tears, is assured he will come again from the field one day rejoicing, bringing the fruit of his labor with him.

This harvest certainly can be souls saved through planting seeds of the Gospel. In a broader context it is the story of all Christian endeavor as Paul states, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Are you beginning each new endeavor upon repentant knees? Are you being obedient so that the Lord may give you a harvest? Trust and obey.