These festivals were celebrated throughout much of Israel's history. However, some scholars believe that the practice of singing the Psalms of Ascent during these pilgrimages did not become common practice until the people of Israel had been returned from their exile in Babylon. Psalm 126 certainly seems to reference that return from exile.
"When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream."The first three verses of the Psalm speak of the joy that is shared because of the great deliverance that the Lord has accomplished. The final three verses express a hope that God will not only deliver but also restore. Surely the exiles would have rejoiced to return to their homeland, the land that God himself had given them. However, upon arriving there they would have found a land that had not been lived in or adequately cared for in years. It was their home but it was not what it used to be. Now that God had delivered them, these liberated captives also needed God to renew their land. The renewal of the land even stands for a kind of renewal of the people themselves.
"Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting."So here are these newly liberated captives making the arduous climb up to the city of Jerusalem thanking God for his deliverance and asking for the complete restoration that only God could bring.
We find ourselves making the same climb. We, too, are making our way along the lifelong arduous and demanding journey toward the holy city. It is, as Eugene Peterson calls it, "a long obedience in the same direction." It is not a sprint or a sight seeing tour but an intentional journey toward the one thing that matters. It is a journey that lies between our being liberated and our hope that God still has more work ahead; that God will also renew and restore our land. We make the climb thankful for what God has done and eager to see what God has yet to do.