To Set the Captives Free: Psalm 126

Sometimes those most captive don't recognize or acknowledge it.

The Need for Revival (7)

Bring back our captivity, O L
As the streams in the South. Psalm 126.4

A captive people
The captivity of God’s people is a major theme in the Old Testament. It symbolizes both God’s power to deliver His people from the most unfavorable of conditions – as we see in the Exodus; and it also testifies to God’s power to deliver His people into diminished and desperate conditions as a judgment for their sins – which was the reason for the Babylonian exile.

In a certain sense, the most sincere and faithful of the people of Israel understood that, for all their seeking of the Lord, their souls remained captive to powers that only God could overcome: “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name…” (Ps. 142.7)

Being in captivity can do strange things to people’s minds. As we see in the New Testament, people who are living in captivity can become so used to it, so inured to its constraining effects, that they don’t consider themselves to be captive at all. When Jesus proclaimed the freedom that comes from God’s truth, the Jewish leaders responded, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone” (Jn. 8.32). Those folks either had short memories, or they had become so comfortable in their bondage to Rome, that they didn’t consider it captivity at all.

Those who do not consider themselves to be captive to outside circumstances and powers see no need for the liberating truth of the Word of God and revival. In our day, many believers and their churches have become captive to a naturalistic, narcissistic, and materialistic worldview. They are comfortable with their things, their leisure, and their low-demand churches. They would insist that they are not captive to anything, yet they inhabit a growing ambience of self-centeredness, unbelief, immorality, and godlessness, and tell themselves it’s not their problem, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Especially if doing so might infringe on their own comfort.

Such people have no vision for revival, because they don’t see the need for it. Their spiritual lives, and the spiritual impact of their church, are as dry as a desert stream, and they have no expectation that rivers of living water will ever flow through them to flood their community with the mercy and grace of Jesus. They are like the Jews of Jesus’ day: captive, but unwilling to acknowledge it, and comfortable with their religious lives just as they are.

Sow what?
The people singing Psalm 126, as they walked together up to the temple, rejoiced that the dream of freedom they had nurtured during their captivity was at last realized. They had come back from captivity. The temple and city were rebuilt. They were rejoicing with holy gladness at the great things God had done for them (Ezra 6.15-22). Their dream of freedom, revival, renewal, and awakening had at last been fulfilled, and they were filled with holy joy. And even the schemes against them by the surrounding nations had been thwarted.

Their dream had been a long time coming. Most of that time – seventy years in Babylon – was spent in sorrowing for sins and working to fortify and increase the people of God, and to bless their neighbors as best they could (Jer. 29.4-13). The faithful people of Israel – like Daniel and his friends – daily sowed toward the promised harvest they dreamed of – freedom from captivity, revival of the nation, and a world awakened to the power and goodness of God. Though their lives were dry as a wadi in the south, they envisioned the day when waters of mercy and grace would channel through them to the world, as the holy spiritual river that ever refreshes the city of God began flowing in them again (Ps. 46.4, 5).

What did they sow toward such a harvest? Tears of repentance for their sins and unbelief. Remorse for having accommodated to the ways of the surrounding nations, and having left off the Word and Law of God. Seeds of faith to one another and their children, and of a vision for revival; together with the daily steps of obedience that would serve to bring that day closer. Prayers for forgiveness, revival, and awakening, probably using many of the psalms that we have considered in this series (cf. Dan. 9).

The people of Israel acknowledged their captive state, but they did not accept it. They dreamed new dreams, sowed faithful seeds, and encouraged one another to seek the Lord for revival.

We should do the same.

Praying Psalm 126 for revival
In Jesus’ first public sermon, He identified Himself as the One Who had come to set the captives free (Lk. 4.18). We will not know full and flourishing freedom in Jesus until we acknowledge our need to be set free from whatever of this world yet clings to us. As we pray Psalm 126, therefore, let us be specific to sorrow for our sins, and those of the Church, and to repent of those sins and seek a new vision of what God can do.

Then let us sow seeds of that vision to one another, following God’s Word, as revealed in the Psalms and elsewhere, so that we desire to be set free, revived, and renewed in the Lord, and to see the effects of such revival in the awakening of the world to Jesus. Let us dream big dreams of what God can do, based on what God has done in that past and what He has promised in His Word. And let us sow the little everyday seeds of prayer, obedience, and mutual encouragement that will put us on the path of repentance that leads to revival.

And let us encourage one another in this effort. The songs of ascent – like Psalm 126 – were to be sung together, prayed together, and used to encourage new vision and greater faithfulness among those who were seeking a new day in the Lord. Pray this psalm with friends. Here’s a version of it you can sing together:

(Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns!)
When God restored our fortunes all, we were like those who sweetly dream.
Our mouths with joy and laughter filled, made Him our constant song and theme.

Then the astonished nations said, “The Lord has done great things for them!”
Indeed, great things our God has done, Whose Name we praise, Amen, Amen!

Restore our fortunes, Lord our King! Let grace like flowing streams prevail.
All they with tears of joy shall sing who sow while yet they weep and wail.

They who in tears of sorrow sow and cast their seed on every hand,
with joy shall reach their heav’nly home, and bring the harvest of their land.

Sing it with your family. Sing it to yourself throughout the day. Sing it until a desire for revival burns in your soul, a vision for revival commands your hope, and a commitment to working for revival – beginning in prayer – becomes a priority in your daily life.

For reflection
1. What would be some indicators that your faith, and the life of your church, had become captive to a worldview other than that revealed in the Bible?

2. How can we nurture a vision of revival? Why should we do so?

3. What will you begin to do to sow the seeds that lead to a harvest of revival, renewal, and awakening?

Next Steps – Transformation: Sing and pray Psalm 126 along with other psalms we’ve studied, so that you gain a growing sense of the need for revival. Download this and the previous series of studies on the theme, Revived!, and share them with some friends.

T. M. Moore

We are pleased to offer Worship Guides for use in your family or small group. Each guide includes a complete service of worship, and they are free to download and share by clicking here.

This is part 2 in the series,
Revived! All installments in this series may be downloaded for further study by clicking here. For more psalms to sing, order a copy of The Ailbe Psalter (click here).

For a fuller discussion of why we need revival, and how to seek it, order a copy of our book,
Restore Us! by clicking here. If you would like a 28-day, morning and evening challenge to seek the Lord for revival, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I’ll send you a free PDF of our reader, Give Him No Rest, featuring excerpts from writings by Jonathan Edwards on the importance of praying for revival.

We hope you find ReVision to be a helpful resource in your walk with and work for the Lord. If so, please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. We ask the Lord to move and enable many more of our readers to provide for the needs of our ministry. Please seek Him in prayer concerning your part in supporting our work. You can contribute online via PayPal, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore