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A Song of Degrees
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion,
We were like men that dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing:
Then said they among the heathen,
The Lord hath done great things for them.
3 The Lord hath done great things for us;
Whereof we are glad.
4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the south.
5 They that sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
6 He that goeth forth and weepeth,
Bearing precious seed,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Contents and Composition.—In Psalms 126:1-3 the poet recalls the rejoicing which filled the hearts and mouths of the Israelites on their return home from captivity, in the midst of the acknowledgment by Gentiles and Jews, that this deliverance was a wonderful and mighty deed of Jehovah. In Psalms 126:4-6 he adds a prayer for a like restoration to their homes of their companions who still lingered in captivity, together with the declaration, that a full harvest of joy would grow from such seed sown in tears.
It is impossible to discover any closer approximation to the time of composition than the period in general succeeding the exile. [So the commentators generally agree. Hengstenberg: “The special references are as usual only slightly indicated. The sacred Psalmists were deeply impressed with the conviction that they sung for the Church of all ages. The Psalm always finds a new application in those circumstances of the Church in which joyful hopes, awakened by a previous deliverance, are in danger of being frustrated; it was also composed for the purpose of expressing the feelings of the individual believer, in whom sin threatens, after his first love, to become again powerful. It guides us to prepare, out of the lively realization of the hope already received, a sure foundation for prayer and hope in reference to grace yet to be bestowed.”—J. F. M.]
Psalms 126:1-3. It follows from the use of the perfect הִָיינוּ, Psalms 126:1 b and 3b, that the bringing back is not represented as about to happen (Isaaki, Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Luther, Geier, et al.), but as already past (Sept., Jerome, Calvin and most recent commentators). It is doubtful whether שִׁיבָה is a tenable form with the transitive signification: leading back, after the analogy of קִיםָה, Lamentations 3:63 (Aben Ezra), while there also exists the form שּׁוּבָה, Isaiah 30:15 return=conversion, or with the intransitive sense: return =those returning (Delitzsch and most), or whether we are to assume that it is an old mistake of a copyist and read here, as in Psalms 126:4, the familiar phrase שׁוּב שְׁבוּת with 8 codices of Kennicott (the ancient translators, J. D. Mich., De Wette, Olsh., Hupfeld, Böttcher, Hitzig). [Taking the common explanation, Psalms 126:1 would be translated: When Jehovah was leading back the returning ones of Zion, we were like dreamers. It will be noticed that the English translators adopted from the ancient versions the view last given above.—J. F. M.] Psalms 126:1 b does not refer to a situation in which, like dreamers, they had no control over their senses, that, therefore, they are represented as being beside themselves with joy and in an ecstasy (Hengst.), but to one in which they could hardly consider the reality anything but a dream (Geier, et al.). [Alexander combines the two: “Incredulity may be included, but must not be suffered to exclude all other feelings.”—Perowne and most adopt the latter. In Psalms 126:2 a, b, Dr. Moll renders: “Then laughter filled our mouth and rejoicing our tongue,” instead of following the construction in the Heb. text as given correctly in E. V. In this he seems to have been misled by the translation of Delitzsch which he follows pretty closely throughout the Psalm. The freer rendering might be admissible in the plan pursued by D., in which he follows the Hebrew rhythm closely in his German translation; but it is hardly so when it is not necessary to forego the literal rendering.—J. F. M.]
Psalms 126:4 prays for great accessions to the population of the Holy Land and for consequent renewal of prosperity, as the Negeb (dryness), that is, the Land of Judah (Genesis 20:1) and the country generally lying towards the desert of Sinai represents the same thing in its geographical relations by the rivulets which disappear in summer, and in winter are filled with water from the rains.
Psalms 126:5-6 contain a general truth (Matthew 5:4; Galatians 6:7 f.), but, at the same time also, an historical allusion to the tearful return homewards (Jeremiah 30:15), and the rebuilding of the Temple amidst the tears of the people (Ezra 3:12.) It is not a mere exchange of joy for sorrow (Psalms 30:6) but a transformation which depends upon the exercise of patience and a humble working and waiting in hope and faith. The sowing is literally: the drawing, either because the hand draws the seed out of the seed-bag (Clericus, Köster, Hupfeld), or in allusion to the scattering of the seed in long extended furrows (Gesen., Del., Hitzig) Amos 9:13.
[The translation of this word by “precious” in E. V. was a conjecture and has no support.—The infinitive here, with the finite verb, is generally supposed to express continuous action. Hengstenberg translates by simply repeating the finite verb: he goes, he goes. Alexander does the same, but is careful to give the force of the Hebrew future. Delitzsch, whom Dr. Moll follows, renders: he goes back and forward, which is more graphic. But in the conclusion the idea of continuous or even of repeated action is unsuitable, for it expresses the final triumph. And therefore it seems better to give to these expressions the sense which similar constructions often have, of certitude, the fundamental notion being the same, that of emphasis or intensity. See Green, Gr., § 282. Ewald, Gr., § 280 b. The sense will then be: “He surely weeps now as he sows, and he will surely rejoice as he brings in his sheaves.” Or better, “just as surely as he weeps now, so surely shall he rejoice then.” But the text does furnish also in the first member the idea of continuance, so beautifully representing the patience of hope; for the verbs of motion are not the same in both parts. In the former it is הלך: the sower keeps walking along as he works in patience. In the second it is בוא: in the harvest he comes in with his sheaves. Thus viewed, the verse is not only seen to have a greater fulness and beauty of meaning, but the common idea that it is “merely an expansion of the image in Psalms 126:5,” (Perowne) is shown to be a misconception. It is in reality an advance upon it. For it declares success to be the necessary result of patient and hopeful, even though sorrowful toil. And it then becomes the exact Old Testament counterpart of Paul’s words: “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” The following rendering is therefore suggested:
He surely toils along weeping,
Carrying the burden of seed;
He surely comes in with rejoicing,
Carrying his sheaves.—J. F. M.]
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The joyful harvest after tearful sowing: Who assures it? Who receives it? Who awaits it?—We often accompany our working and suffering upon earth with tears, but is their desired fruit given to us? If not, with whom lies the cause?—God’s doings in His Church in their effects upon the world and the Church.
Starke: The spiritual redemption which was effected by Jesus Christ is the Christian’s highest consolation and joy; and the greatest miracle which God ever wrought among men.—God often so deals with His children, that they receive greater blessings than they themselves had hoped for.—It is our duty as Christians to remember before God, in our prayers, those who are in distress and have been wrongly imprisoned.—The tears of true repentance and of sanctified affliction are a precious seed, from which will spring a joyful harvest.—In the kingdom of nature the seed bears after its own kind, but God has a different order for believers in the kingdom of glory. They sow tears and reap joy.—Where nothing is sown, nothing will be harvested.
Luther: The prophet would exhibit a constant truth by the repetition of a little word: they go, they go. For our weeping will not be finished until we are hidden in the tomb, although a short season is given for rest.
Frisch: Know, dear soul, that as long as thou hast to live, and to be a pilgrim in the Babel of this world, it will cost thee many tears in sowing: It costs tears of repentance, as those of David, Peter, and the great sinners. It costs tears of thy ministry as those of David, Jeremiah, Paul, and Christ Himself. It costs tears of supplication, as those of David, whose tears had almost become his meat. It costs tears for the sorrows of others, yes, and of thyself, too. But let none of these things make thee sad. The joy of harvest restores everything to thee.—Rieger: This song contains (1) a joyful declaration of the great deeds of God, as they have been enjoyed by the children of Zion, and have been acknowledged even by strangers; (2) a prayer for the deliverance of those left behind; (3) a word of encouragement to their hearts, to strengthen themselves by patient waiting for the Divine help.—Your mourning shall be turned into joy. But this process of change is that of sowing and reaping.—Richter: Men are often comforted in the midst of, but usually after tears. The true and complete harvest of grace follows only in eternity.—Tears of wickedness and of hypocrisy are not the sowing of grace.—Guenther: We are all sowers. Grant, O Lord, that we may sow Thy seed, even if with many tears, so that the rich harvest of joy may yet be ours.—Diedrich: The more love, the more suffering.—Taube: How great soever the change in the conversion of a sinner is, what is it compared to that which God’s children experience in and by death? Does not that greatest of changes feel like a dream to him that experiences it?—Huyssen: God’s help in the distress of His people: (1) The redemption of the oppressed, and the spirit in which it was effected; (2) the remembrance of it, and the encouragement it gives; (3) its consequences, and the thanks which they demand.—Nitzsch: We will rejoice just in proportion as we suffer.
[Matt. Henry: The harps are never more melodiously tunable than after such a disuse.—The long want of mercies greatly sweetens their return.—There are tears which are themselves the seed that we must sow; tears of sorrow for sin, our own and others; tears of sympathy with the afflicted church; and tears of tenderness in prayer and under the word. These are precious seed, such as the husbandman sows when corn is dear, and he has but little for his family, and therefore weeps to part with it, yet buries it under ground, with the expectation of receiving it again with advantage. Thus doth a good man sow in tears.—They that sow in the tears of godly sorrow, shall reap in the joy of a sealed pardon and a settled peace.—Scott: Let sinners recollect how dreadful their case will be, if they have all their little joy in this mourning world, (Galatians 6:6-10).—J. F. M.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 126". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19