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A Song of degrees. “1 When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. 2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. 3 The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. 4 Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south. 5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. 6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126: 1-6).

During their seventy-year captivity in Babylon, the Jews were a pathetic people. As slaves in a foreign land, they were despised and had nothing to call their own. But deep in their hearts, these Jewish exiles cherished a dream – that they would one day be set at liberty and allowed to return to their homeland. How they must prayed for the Lord to show them mercy by ending their captivity!

 

God heard their prayers, and delivered them in an amazing way. He moved the heart of Cyrus, the king of Persia, to issue a proclamation for their liberation (Ezr. 1: 1-4). The king’s unexpected edict – granting them the freedom to return home – was beyond their wildest dream: “When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream” (v 1). The deliverance was so sudden and remarkable that they were euphoric: “Then our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing” (v 2a). Openly and unashamedly, the Jews gave vent to their joy, praising God for the wonders that He had wrought for them.

o “The LORD hath done great things for them” (v 2b)

We are told that God’s deliverance of His people was so amazing that even the heathen were taken aback: “Then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them” (v 2b). The Chaldeans, among whom they had been held as captives, sat up and took notice of this extraordinary deliverance. Even these, who were not God’s people, had to acknowledge the Lord’s sovereign power in the circumstances that led to the Jews’ liberation. They found it amazing that God could so stir “the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezr. 1: 1) to allow the Jewish exiles not only to return to their own land but also to rebuild the temple. Moved by God, the king continued to extend special favour to the exiles – he sent with the returning Jews, the vessels of the temple that had been taken away by the king of Babylon, and commanded men to help them with “silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (Ezr. 1: 4). “They (the heathen) pitied them in exile, and were disposed to acknowledge the hand of God in what was done. Their deliverance, in the circumstances, was such as evidently to have been the work of God. This will agree well with the account of the return of the exiles from Babylon, and with all that had been done for them by Cyrus” (Albert Barnes’ Expository Notes).

Before the captives’ freedom, the heathen had observed the afflictions of God’s people and talked about their sad plight: “And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbour, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this great city? Then they shall answer, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them” (Jer. 22: 8-9). They wondered: “How could so mighty a city be overtaken? How could so great a people as the Jews be made desolate? How could a people so dear to Jehovah be forsaken by Him? How could such a loving and gracious God allow His own dear children to fall into the hands of their enemies?”

But now this extraordinary deliverance had caused the heathen to honour the name of God and “… extorted from those that set up other gods in competition with Him an acknowledgment of His wisdom, power, and providence” (Matthew Henry). It elevated the status of the Jews who had been despised because of their calamities. By God’s grace, His fallen people were made to look great, even in the eyes of the heathen.

It was clear that the heathen were merely spectators of this remarkable event for they had no part in this blessed deliverance meant only for the Lord’s people. Yet they had to concede that the God of the Jews was the Almighty Sovereign God: “The LORD hath done great things for them” (v 2b).

“It is a blessed thing when saints set sinners talking about the loving-kindness of the Lord: … Ah, dear reader, Jehovah has indeed done marvellous things for His chosen, and these ‘great things’ shall be themes for eternal praise among all intelligent creatures” (The Treasury of David).

Conclusion
We thank God for His work of grace upon His people, the Jews. They had endured much pain and anguish during their seventy-year captivity. Now, in response to their fervent pleas, God had delivered them in an amazing way. They, in turn, responded with great joy and euphoria, giving glory to Him before the heathen. Though the surrounding nations had spoken scornfully of them in their adversities, they could now see God’s hand in their deliverance and acknowledge His greatness and mercy upon His people: “The LORD hath done great things for them” (v 2b).

Like the Jews, we have found grace in the sight of God. He has dealt mercifully with us. Can others see God’s kind and gracious hand upon us? Can they say of us, as they did of the liberated Jews, that “The LORD hath done great things for them”? (v 2b). Will they be able to see His greatness and goodness through our lives and give glory to Him as well? May the Lord use us to bring honour to His great and wonderful name. (… to be continued)

- Pastor