The psalm itself does not contain any information as to when it was written, apart from being composed after a time of great deliverance (v. 1) and yet during a time of captivity (v. 4). It divides into two sections: verses 1 to 3 describe the effects of the restoration; verses 4 to 6 describe the need for ongoing recovery.
Although the psalmist rejoices in what the Lord has done in delivering Israel, he realises that God has to continue giving benefits to his people. Therefore he prays that the Lord would deal with the situation regarding the annual harvests because the land would not have been maintained during the years of trouble. He prays for the rains that the farmers would need in order for there to be a harvest, and these plentiful rainfalls become a picture to him of what God can do for his people in a spiritual sense.
The effects of previous restoration (vv. 1-3)
The author highlights three features of the restoration. First, he mentions that the previous restoration had been the Lord’s work. Then he states that the Lord’s deliverance had been incredible, far beyond their greatest expectations, a reminder that nothing is too hard for the Lord. Further, the consequence was such a noticeable transformation that caused even the surrounding nations to conclude it was given by the Lord.
Desiring more of God’s grace (vv. 4-6)
The first aspect of this desire is the intensity of one’s prayer life. The psalmist himself was in a healthy state of soul, otherwise he would not have identified the problems. Yet he knew it was not enough that he personally was making progress. As long as other Israelites were in captivity, so was he. He knew what God could do, as the illustration from sowing seed in the Negev desert indicates. Therefore he prayed earnestly for further divine blessing.
This leads to the second aspect of this desire, which is busyness in the Lord’s work. The farmer has to sow, and so do Christians. Conversions are not dependent on our preparatory work, but they are unlikely to happen without it. The amount of our work for the Lord usually reveals the degree of ardency in our hearts.
A feature that marks both literal and spiritual sowing is tears. In the spiritual sense, there are many reasons for tears: the smallness of many of our churches, the slight that is done to the Saviour, the failure of humans to live for God’s glory, and the awful destiny of hell are some reasons. But these reasons are outside of us, and we will only have tears if our inside is sympathetic to what is happening outside. We need compassionate hearts, sympathetic hearts, and above all Christlike hearts (the more Christlike we are, the more tears we will have).
The seed is also described as ‘precious’. The seed of the gospel is precious because of what it cost to procure it. It was paid for by the infinite cost of the Saviour’s sacrifice. The price that he paid so that we could be sowers is beyond calculation. It is also precious because we have experienced its saving blessings in our own souls. The most astonishing spectacle in the world today is a Christian who has stopped appreciating the greatness of God’s salvation.
If the dominant feature of the sowing is tears, then the leading feature of the subsequent harvest is great joy. This is always the effect of gospel success, as a reading of the Book of Acts will show.