Psalms 126:1. When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion — Brought the captive Israelites out of Babylon into their own land; we were like them that dream — We were so surprised and astonished at the report of such a favour, and especially when the proclamation went forth, to give us liberty to return to our own country, after so long a captivity, we could scarcely believe our own eyes or ears, but were ready to think it to be but a dream, or illusion of our own fancies. “A restoration so complete, so strange and unlooked for, brought about at once, without any endeavours used on the side of Israel, seemed, in all these respects, as a dream; and the parties concerned, when they saw and heard such things, could scarcely believe themselves to be awake.” The Hebrew, כהלמים, here rendered, as them that dream, is, by Dr. Hammond, and many other expositors, translated, them that are recovered to health; a sense which the word will bear, and may be very proper, as signifying that this wonderful change was like unexpected ease after exquisite pain; or the recovery of health after a very long and tedious sickness; or, as life from the dead. It is with great propriety said, that the Lord turned again their captivity, for that Cyrus should dismiss such a number of captives without money and without price, should issue a decree for them to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city and temple, and especially that he should send them home laden with presents, Ezra 1:1-4; this was evidently the work of Jehovah, who only could thus turn the captivity of Zion.
Psalms 126:2. Then was our mouth filled with laughter — We thought ourselves in a new world, and the surprise of it put us into such an ecstasy and transport of joy, that we could scarcely contain ourselves within the bounds of decency in the expressions of it; and our mouth with singing — We gave vent to our joy, by singing hymns and songs of praise to God, and thus gave notice to all about us, what wonders God had wrought for us. Then said they among the heathen — Who had observed our calamity and triumphed in it, Jeremiah 22:8-9; Psalms 137:7. The Lord Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath done great things for them — This truly is Jehovah’s work, who hath magnified his power in the strange deliverance of this nation. Well might they wonder, that a heathen emperor should, of his own mere motion, show so much kindness to a people so hated and despised as the Jews were.
Psalms 126:3. The Lord hath done great things for us — And we should be very ungrateful if we did not thankfully acknowledge it, and praise him for the singular benefits, which excite even the wonder of strangers; for the Lord hath not only restored our liberty, but manifested the greatness of his power in affecting this our deliverance; whereof we are glad — Which justly fills us with joy and triumph.
Psalms 126:4. Turn again our captivity, O Lord — Perfect what thou hast begun, and as thou hast brought us home, bring home also the rest of our brethren, who still remain captives in Babylon, or are dispersed in that country, or in any other parts of the world; as the streams in the south — Which would be as welcome to this desolate country as streams of water to the dry and thirsty grounds. Or, that we may refresh and cultivate thy holy land, as the rivers of the south gladden, fructify, and replenish their dry and thirsty soil. The Hebrew word נגב, negeb, here rendered, the south, signifies, says Dr. Hammond, “a dry and parched soil; and, by a figure, is very well used to signify the south, as the soil of the southern countries is very hot, dry, and burned up with the sun. This particularly is the case in Egypt, where they would never have any crops at all, were it not for the annual overflowing of their rivers; so that the psalmist here prays that he would turn their captivity, as he doth the rivers of the south, or of Egypt, to gladden and replenish the otherwise parched and barren earth.” Bishop Lowth, however, and some others, think the image is taken from the torrents in the deserts to the south of Judea; in Idumea, Arabia Petræa, &c., a mountainous country; which torrents were constantly dried up in the summer, and as constantly returned after the rainy season, and filled again their deserted channels: see Job 6:17-18. Thus the Jews had left their country desolate, but now flowed into it again.
Psalms 126:5-6. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy — This seems to refer to the foregoing prayer; as if he had said, And this thou wilt do in thy good time: thou wilt give them, as thou hast given us, a joyful return after so sad a time of captivity. The argument is taken from the common course of God’s providence toward men of all nations, to whom he affords vicissitudes of sorrow and comfort, and particularly toward husbandmen, who till their land, and sow their seed, not only with toil, and the sweat of their brows, but, it may be, also with care, fear, and sorrow, doubtful about the success of their labours, and, perhaps, wanting the corn they sow to make bread for their families. They commit it, however, to the ground, where for a time it lies dead and buried. “A dark and dreary winter succeeds, and all seems to be lost. But, at the return of spring, universal nature revives, and the once desolate fields are covered with corn, which, when matured by the sun’s heat, the cheerful reapers cut down, and it is brought home with triumphant shouts.” Thus the released Jewish captives had sorrow, and cause of mourning, on account of “the fatigue of travelling from Babylon into Judea; the melancholy prospect of a long depopulated country and ruined city; the toil necessary to be undergone before the former could be again brought into order, and the latter rebuilt; these considerations could not but allay their joy, and even draw many tears from their eyes:” but “they are here comforted with a gracious promise, that God would give a blessing to the labours of their hands, and crown them with success, so that they should once more see Jerusalem in prosperity, and behold in Zion the beauty of holiness.” “Here, O disciple of Jesus, behold an emblem of thy present labour, and thy future reward. Thou sowest, perhaps, in tears; thou dost thy duty amid persecution and affliction, sickness, pain, and sorrow; thou labourest in the church, and no account is made of thy labours; no profit seems likely to arise from them. Nay, thou must thyself drop into the dust of death, and all the storms of that winter must pass over thee, until thy form shall be perished, and thou shalt see corruption. Yet the day is coming when thou shalt reap in joy; and plentiful shall be thy harvest.” — Horne.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 126". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany