PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a teacher of His Word, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a husband and father of three.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Bible, as well as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Numbers 32, Isaiah 24, Psalm 137

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 24, and Psalm 137.

This devotional is about Numbers 32.

Have you ever made plans based on something someone else promised they would do? For instance, have you ever signed a purchase agreement to buy a home because you had a contract to sell your home to someone else? Every had that other person that you were counting on back out?

If so, then you know how painful it is to take someone at his word, make plans based on him keeping his word, then have to scramble when that person didn’t want to do what they said they would do.

That’s where Moses was here in Numbers 32 and why he was so mad at the Gadites and Reubenites in this chapter. For Israel to take the Promised Land, they needed their army at full strength. When the Reubenites and Gadites decided that they wanted to stay and occupy the land East of the Jordan (vv. 1-5), it seemed like a breach of trust, a refusal to do what all God’s people had believed God for and had agreed together to do. It looked to Moses like Kadesh Barnea, part 2 (vv. 6-13). Moses went so far as to call them “you brood of sinners” (v. 14) for not wanting to possess the land with the rest of the tribes of Israel.

People often make agreements and then break them without cause. Sometimes we cannot keep an agreement we’ve made because we have an illness or injury that makes it impossible or a financial setback that leaves us without the money we need to do what we said we’d do. In those cases, you haven’t broken your agreement; God allowed circumstances into your life that prevented you from keeping it. Other passages in scripture talk about what to do if you can’t keep an agreement you’ve made, but the basic principle of scripture is that God expects us to do what we’ve said we will do. When we decide to renege on an agreement we’ve made, we’ve acted contrary to the nature of our Father. He is faithful to his promises and always does what he said he would do. As we grow in Christlikeness, we should be more and more trustworthy and faithful to the promises and agreements we make to others.

Are you a man or woman of your word? When you say that you’ll do something, do you do it even if it is costly? Is there something you said you’d do that you’re thinking about backing out of today?

Ultimately the people brokered a deal with Moses that allowed these tribes to have the land they wanted outside the Promised land while still helping the rest of God’s people to inherit the land (vv. 16-22). If Gad and Reuben refused to abide by the new agreement, they would “be sinning against the Lord” (v. 23). So are you and I if we do not keep our word to others.

Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, Psalm 136

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, and Psalm 136.

This devotional is about Psalm 136.

Maybe this isn’t an issue anymore, but people used to complain that contemporary worship songs are too repetitive. I actually agree for the most part with that complaint and we try in our worship service to limit repetition that has no purpose.

Nevertheless, Psalm 136 is kind of repetitive; it contains the refrain, “His love endures forever” in every verse, after every other line of text. Perhaps this was written to be a “call and response” type of song where one group sang a line and another group responded with, “His love endures forever.”

Despite the repetitions, there is plenty of truth to consider in this song. The song begins with three calls to “give thanks to the Lord” (v. 1), “to the God of gods” (v. 2), and “to the Lord of lords.” The rest of the song fills-in the reasons to give thanks to God for his goodness. They are:

  • his creative power (vv. 4-9)
  • his redeeming love for Israel (vv. 10-22)
  • his continuing protection and provision (vv. 23-25).

That first section, verses 4-9, praises God for his creative power. He “made the heavens” (v. 5a), “spread out the earth upon the waters” (v. 6a), made the sun (v. 8a), moon and stars (v. 9a). Clearly, the psalmist believed that God was directly responsible for the design and existence of the material reality around us.

So, if someone denies the literal creation account given in Genesis 1-2, what does that do to a passage like this? If theistic evolution–the idea that God started the process but that evolution did the rest–were true, what would that do to a song like this one?

The answer is that it would rob this song of any real ability to praise the Lord. Those who sang this song would be ringing a hollow tone, praising God for something that he had very little to do with. And this is just one example of the damage that is done to scripture and our faith if we abandon the doctrine of creation. The Bible began with the account of creation because so much of what is revealed about God in his word is tied to creation. Creation shows us God’s power, his wisdom, and his love. It calls us to bow before him in reverent worship and to know that we belong to God and are subject to him because he made us. What you make, you own and what you own you control. We belong to God because he made us. Therefore, he is worthy of our love, praise, obedience, and devotion.

Do you believe in the biblical account of creation? Do you understand how important that belief is to knowing God and following him as his people?

Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, Psalm 135

Read Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, and Psalm 135.

This devotional is about Isaiah 22.

Isaiah 22 is a prophecy against Judah and, more specifically, Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Isaiah refered to this area as “the valley of vision” which is a tough expression to interpret. It is tough because (a) Jerusalem is on a hill surrounded by valleys rather than being a valley or in a valley and (b) the people have no vision in the sense of knowing God’s revelation. As I mentioned, it is a hard expression to interpret; one commentator I consulted thought it might be ironic. Jerusalem was on a hill and should have seen (“vision”) the invasion that was coming but metaphorically it was in a moral and spiritual valley. Since they were in a metaphorical valley, they were unable to see God’s judgment coming for themselves. Therefore, God sent Isaiah with a vision of coming judgment which is described in this chapter.

Anyway, verse 10 directly referenced Jerusalem so we know that is what Isaiah is talking about. And, verse 10 says that they “tore down houses to strengthen the wall” around Jerusalem. They also “built a reservoir between the two walls” according to verse 11a. These both refer to preparations that were made to harden Jerusalem against attack.

Because they were confident in the preparations they had made against being attacked, the people of Jerusalem were having a party. Verse 13 says, “But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! ‘Let us eat and drink,’ you say, ‘for tomorrow we die!’” Instead of repenting (“to weep and to wail,” v. 12) of their sin, they were taking joy and confidence in the human preparations they had made to withstand attacks from the Babylonians.

God’s message to them in verse 11 could be paraphrased as, “Yes, you made some smart moves to prepare for attack,” but, according to verse 11, “you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.” God’s people saw preparing for the attack as a tactical problem that could be solved with smart decisions instead of a spiritual problem that would only be solved with repentance and the grace of God.

We don’t face this kind of military attack as a judgment for our sins because we are not Israel. However, we do tend to look for human solutions rather than to God when we are faced with moral and spiritual problems. This text calls us, then, to look at the problems in our lives and then turn to God for help and favor in withstanding and overcoming those problems.

What problems are you facing in your life? Are you taking them to the Lord, asking for his help or are you looking for a better human solution? God brings problems to us that tear us down so that we will learn to put our faith solely in him.

Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, Psalm 134

Read Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, and Psalm 134.

This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, Psalm 133

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, and Psalm 133.

This devotional is about Psalm 133.

This Psalm praises unity. When God’s people worship him together, serve one another in love, and resolve their problems with each other biblically, that is both pleasing to God and a pleasant environment to be in.

It is also a difficult environment to create and the songwriter acknowledged that. When verse 3 says, “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” These places are unfamiliar to us so let me just tell you briefly that Mt. Hermon is way up North of Israel, far beyond the sea of Galilee while Mt. Zion is in the South part of Israel in Judah. So if the dew of Mt. Hermon fell on Mt. Zion, that would be a miracle. It can’t happen naturally because they are hundreds of miles apart. The author here is saying that when God’s people live together in unity, it is like a miraculous provision, something only God can do.

In verse 2, the songwriter told us more about unity. The “precious oil” described in this section was the anointing oil that set Aaron apart to serve as God’s high priest. It was a blessing from God to serve in that priestly role and the anointing also promised God’s power.

Put these images together and we see that Psalm 133 is saying that unity among God’s people is a blessing from God that requires his power (v. 2) in a nearly miraculous way (v. 3). When God’s people are unified, then, God is glorified because only he has the power to cause people to be unified and it takes his miraculous work for it to happen.

We need to remember this when we have conflicts with one another. Conflicts are usually connected to pride from one or both people involved in the conflict. Only the blessing and power of God can keep us from going at each other’s throats. So, when you have a conflict to resolve, it is time to pray for God to work and glorify himself by ending the controversy and repairing the relationship.

Is there anyone in your life that you need to have a difficult conversation with? Ask God to prepare your own heart and the heart(s) of the other party to bring about this miracle of unity.

Numbers 27, Isaiah 17-18, Psalm 132

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 17-18, Psalm 132.

This devotional is about Numbers 27.

Although his sin prevented him from entering the land, Moses did not mourn his own loss or spend the rest of his life moping about how he deserved better. In fact, his focus was not on himself at all; he was concerned about the future of Israel without a clear leader. We saw this in today’s reading in verses 15-17: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’” Israel had such a hard time living in obedience to God’s word with a clear leader like Moses; how could they possibly follow the Lord without someone who would care for them and watch over them like Moses did? What an incredibly tender heart Moses had for the people who had treated him so poorly. When they sinned, he interceded for them. When they were ready to receive God’s promises without him, he prayed that the Lord would send them a good leader to shepherd them.

God answered Moses’s prayer with Joshua in verse 18. Notice, though, that Joshua would not fulfill 100% of Moses’ responsibilities. Moses led the people, spoke to God directly on behalf of the people, and received God’s communication for the people. Joshua would fill the role of leader, especially in a military sense, but Eleazar would take the role of communicating with God (v. 21).

And this transition of leadership did not wait until Moses died; God wanted to begin answering Moses’ prayer now, so in verse 20 God commanded Moses to begin handing over leadership to Joshua even while Moses was still alive. In obedience to God, Moses publicly designated Joshua as his successor and commissioned him in the sight of all the people (vv. 22-23). Many leaders would be threatened by this, but not Moses. His concern was for the people, not for himself. Truly “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).

The lesson for us is clear. Godly leadership is concerned with providing what the people need to be obedient to God; it is not concerned with receiving as much power, respect, success, or whatever as possible.

This is the difference between humble, godly leadership and the worldly leadership that thinks it is all about me. As you consider how you lead your family, or the ministry at church that you’re involved in, or whatever you find yourself leading, is your concern to find the best way to provide godly leadership—even if it takes the spotlight off you? Or, do we let the strength of our sin nature corrupt how we lead so that we think of ourselves first and our flock last?

Numbers 26, Isaiah 16, Psalm 131

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 16, and Psalm 131.

This devotional is about Isaiah 16:5: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Moab was a nation on the other side (eastern) of the Jordan River from Israel. It was a nation that descended from Lot and his eldest daughter when they committed incest after the destruction of Sodom (see Genesis 19:37). Isaiah 15 &16 contain a prophesy against Moab but within those chapters lie one of the lesser-known prophecies of Christ here in Isaiah 16:5.

This prophecy about Christ began by saying, “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it.” The words “love” and “faithfulness” are parallel ideas referring to the same thing which is God’s covenant loyalty to David.

God made promises to David, called the Davidic covenant. In that covenant, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). This verse in Isaiah 16:5 repeated that promise (“one from the house of David,” v. 5c) because of God’s covenant loyalty. The last two phrases of the verse described the Messianic king God had promised to send: “one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (v. 5d, e).

The fulfillment of this promise is still in the future, even for us. When Jesus establishes his kingdom, Israel and the world will finally have a ruler who judges with justice and quickly does what is right. It will be an incredible contrast to the corruption, incompetence, and self-aggrandizement that is so common in political leaders today. Human society will flourish like it never has before because Jesus, our righteousness and righteous king, will be in charge forever.

Until that day, our job is to live faithfully, like citizens in exile, to the kingdom values Jesus taught us and to encourage others to prepare for the kingdom by submitting in faith to our king Jesus. As we keep the hope of a perfect, righteous, eternal home in our minds, it will help us to make godly choices in our lives and to speak the gospel message to those in the world around us.

Numbers 25, Isaiah 15, Psalm 130

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 15, Psalm 130.

This devotional is about Numbers 25.

The end of the previous chapter, Numbers 25:24 says, “Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.” This gives the impression that Balaam couldn’t find a way to curse Israel so he and Balak went their separate ways. At the beginning of today’s chapter, Numbers 25, we read, “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods” (v. 1). This sounds like a separate event from the preceding chapters but it is not. The place mentioned in verse 1, “Shittim,” is, according to Numbers 33:49 “along the Jordan” which is also where they were when these Balak/Balaam incidents began (see Numbers 22:1). So the location where the events of Numbers 25 happened is the same location where Balak tried to get Balaam to curse Israel.

Furthermore, Revelation 2:14 refers to “…the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” This indicates that Israel sinned sexually and in idolatry here in Numbers 25 because Balaam taught Balak to entice Israel into sin this way. In other words, Balaam himself couldn’t call down a curse on Israel because that would involve asking God to do something that was against His revealed will. But Balaam could bring a curse on Israel if he could get them to sin. Sex was a gateway sin to idolatry (25:2) and this brought a curse on the people of God. Verse 3b says, “And the Lord’s anger burned against them.” The result was the death penalty for those who sinned and death by plague for 24,000 others.

Sin and its consequences, then, severely weakened the nation of Israel. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as a curse, but it was bad nonetheless. The lesson here for us is that if Satan wants to hurt you, hurt our church, and hurt the cause of Christ–and he does–then successfully enticing us to sin is an effective way to do so. Maybe it isn’t as damaging as a direct strike such as Job experienced, but it is an effective way to hurt the Lord’s work. We need to guard our hearts and lives against sin for many reasons. It is displeasing to God, dishonoring to the Lord, damaging to our spiritual life and more. But one result of sin that maybe we don’t think about as much is the damage it can do to the Lord’s church and his cause.

If you’re living in unrepentant sin, the best way to contain the damage is to come forward and repent. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If you’re playing with sin in your mind, going over and over in your head what it would be like, how nobody would ever know, etc. then please consider how much damage your sin can do–to you, your family, our church, and more. Then turn from that sin, refusing to play with it mentally any longer.

Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king….” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important–which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over Saul’s unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. I

n the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred.

Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23).

Trust God, then, when your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 22, Isaiah 11-12, Psalm 127

Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 11-12, Psalm 127.

This devotional is about Numbers 22.

Israel was tantalizingly close to the Promised Land. The forty years of wandering was almost over and verse 1 says, “the Israelites… camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” You know already that Jericho was the first city they defeated when they entered the land. So the events of this chapter and the ones that follow happen just before they received the land God had promised them.

God had blessed his people, enabling them to defeat the Amorites (v. 2) and to become a large nation (v. 3: “so many people”). Out of fear, the Moabites looked for a way to defeat Israel, but given that God was with them, what kind of “defeat” could they engineer? A military defeat was out of the question.

So they decided to try to win a spiritual war and found Balaam (v. 5). They asked him to curse Israel (v. 6) and Balaam asked them to wait overnight while he sought revelation from God. In verse 8 he said, “I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” The word “LORD” is YHWH, the covenant name of God for Israel; but why was Balaam using this name for God?

One reason is possibly that he himself was a worshipper of YHWH. Another answer is that he knew many “gods” and that YHWH was Israel’s God so he waited for revelation from that God. It is hard to know from these chapters, but I think the answer is the latter. Balaam didn’t worship YHWH but he knew who YHWH was so he sought revelation from Israel’s God.

God did speak with Balaam and ordered him not to curse his people (v. 12). Balak sent a second delegation and asked Balaam to reconsider (v. 15). This time God gave permission for Balaam to go with them on the condition that he only speak the Lord’s word (v. 20).

What happened next was strange; God had allowed Balaam to go (v. 20) but in verse 22 we learn, “God was very angry when he went.” Although Moses did not explain further, God’s anger at Balaam may have been anger at his eagerness to find a way to get paid for his prophecies against God’s people. In verse 22b Balaam encountered “the angel of the Lord” which refers to Jesus before he became a man. After the very unusual interaction with his donkey (vv. 23-34) Christ spoke to Balaam himself, directly and charged him again to “speak only what I tell you” (v. 35).

There’s more to this story that we’ll come to tomorrow but here in this chapter we see God’s divine protection of his people. He would not allow his people to be cursed by an unscrupulous prophet.

Have you ever considered that maybe God’s enemies want to bring a curse into your life that only God knows about and that only he can prevent? That may happen more than we can imagine, but unless our Sovereign God allows the curse into your life, God’s enemies are powerless to touch you. Ask God, then, for protection from his enemies and thank God for the protection and peace he gives us.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”