Is it possible to still be taken captive by the forces of this world, even after finding freedom in Christ? Psalm 126 teaches us something about struggling with our freedom. As I've been suffering in a sea of anxiety, depression, mental illness, and chronic pain, this Psalm especially has become my prayer.
Captive: A noun or adjective meaning imprisoned or confined; a person or animal that has been taken prisoner or confined. Like prison bars and hollow boxes of glass, my mind has been taken captive for far longer than I'd like to admit. At age 14, I developed unhealthy habits that would fester into wounds called core beliefs I would carry for the rest of my life.
Thoughts that have now stamped themselves onto my identity often make it difficult for me to see who God has created me to be. I've been taken captive by the enemy, but it's happened so gradually, I didn't learn to run until the iron bars were set and my hopes began to fade. Psalms 126 highlights a similar feeling of captivity.
As I've been suffering in a sea of anxiety, depression, mental illness, and chronic pain, this Psalm especially has become my prayer.
Who Are the Captives?
According to Matthew Henry's commentary, Psalm 126 was most likely written from Ezra or a Jewish prophet's point of view regarding the return of the Israelites from Babylonian captivity.
While the psalmist sang of a time when God set His people free from their captivity, and they were restored to Jerusalem (Zion), the song also highlights that while some miraculous saving has occurred, there is still much work to be done. Thus, a cry for complete restoration, not partial, is evident.
"When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion (or the Lord restored the fortunes of), we were like men who dreamed (or men restored to health).” (Psalm 126:1, NIV)
Looking closely at this language, ”brought back" indicates past tense — something that has already happened. So, in a sense, these people have had a taste of being brought back from captivity, and as a result, they gained laughter, joy, and rejoicing in the great things the Lord did for them.
"Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126:2-3, NIV)
Right after being brought back from captivity, these people who were rescued not only felt restored to health, but they received a joy that Scripture defines as something that can only come from Him. The sweet reward was a blessing God had already done; past tense.
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Wrestling with the “Now,” Longing for the “Not Yet”
By verse four, however, we learn that complete restoration is still profoundly longed for and imagined despite this partial rescue from captivity. So, as a result, our psalmist says yes, some are still in captivity, but we will continue to declare what will be even if it isn't here now.
"Restore our fortunes (bring back our captives) O Lord, like streams in the Negev.” (Psalm 126:4, NIV)
Present tense, restore, tells us to repair, bring back, keep fighting, believing, and receiving, for we've seen what God can do (verse 1), but we're longing for Him to keep doing it (verse 4).
As a sufferer of mental illness, I know I am not the first to say that it is one of the most challenging battles you will ever face. When Satan distorts your mind, he has access to the heart that guides your soul. And once he's captured and taken captive your heart, you're a slave living in a body that Christ has already set free.
Today, I know intellectually that my physical and mental health is getting better. I can see small moments of improvement, and I believe the Lord is doing work in me. I praise him for every day that I do experience joy and not stuck in pain. I have tasted some freedom and have been brought back from captivity time and time again.
On most days, though, I struggle to see that truth with clear vision. I do not see the good days but the ones Satan illuminates in the darkness. Often, I feel too much in my head and not enough in the present moment. I am taken captive and crippled by my past, present, and future struggles.
How to Look for the Coming Freedom
But you know what? Those brought from captivity in Psalms 126 felt this way, too. They were able to look their captors in the eye and say God has brought back the captives and He will bring back those who are still held captive.
Although some of my physical health problems are showing signs of progress, other parts of me, like my mental health, continue to linger. And that's okay.
Because I am learning to get out of my head one day at a time, I will rejoice, for I know that the Lord will bring back the rest of me from captivity, and I know He can do the same for you. For a while, we may have pain, transgressions, tears, and sorrows now, but His joy will be our reward.
"Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126: 5-6, NIV)
Since we sow (present tense), let us know that the other side of weeping is rejoicing, and I will rejoice from within the sorrow. We will continue to carry what the Lord's already given us, a foretaste here on Earth of what we will get when we get to the eternity of heaven. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow (hope), will return with joy and sheaves (a bundle of grain; a reward; something in exchange for the hard work), and that's a holy promise.
As I continue to wait on the Lord to deliver me fully, I am not resting stagnant, but actively pursuing steps to sow my seed in the right direction. Just as a farmer plants a crop and waits for it to grow, I'm cultivating hope, faith, and joy amid my captivity, knowing that total freedom is on the other side. Even if I never see that this side of heaven, I believe that someday I will, and God has good plans in store for me until that day comes.
I will sow my tears in faith.
I will bury the seed, praying for redemption.
I will declare freedom over my mind and body even when the prison bars rattle around me and try to trap me inside.
I will no longer be a captive, for Jesus Christ has already set the captives free and is redeeming every part of captivity in the heart, mind, and soul of our very being. We are hungry, but we sow our weary seeds in joy.
"It was like a dream come true when you freed us from our bondage and brought us back to Zion! We laughed and laughed and overflowed with gladness. We were left shouting for joy and singing your praise. All the nations saw it and joined in, saying, "The Lord has done great miracles for them!" Yes, he did mighty miracles and we are overjoyed! Now, Lord, do it again! Restore us to our former glory! May streams of your refreshing flow over us until our dry hearts are drenched again. Those who sow their tears as seeds will reap a harvest with joyful shouts of glee. They may weep as they go out carrying their seed to sow, but they will return with joyful laughter and shouting with gladness as they bring back armloads of blessing and a harvest overflowing.” (Psalm 126, TPT)
Photo Credit: © GettyImages/Tutye
Amber Ginter is a young adult writer that currently works as an English teacher in Chillicothe, Ohio, and has a passionate desire to impact the world for Jesus through her love for writing, aesthetics, health/fitness, and ministry. Amber seeks to proclaim her love for Christ and the Gospel through her writing, aesthetic worship arts, and volunteer roles. She is enrolled in the YWW Author Conservatory to become a full-time author and is a featured writer for Crosswalk,