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The church, celebrating her incredible return out of captivity, prayeth for, and prophesieth the good success thereof.
A Song of Degrees.
Title. המעלות שׁיר Shiir hammangaloth.] This psalm is generally allowed to have been composed by Ezra, upon the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity. Mr. Mudge conjectures from the 4th verse, that it was written just at the juncture of the restoration, before it was fully completed.
Psalms 126:1. When the Lord, &c.— That is, "When the proclamation came forth to give us liberty to return to our own country, after a long captivity, (see Ezra 1:2-3.) we could scarcely believe it, but were apt to look upon ourselves as only in a dream of so great happiness." What we translate them that dream, is by many expositors rendered, them that are recovered to health: a sense which may be very proper, as signifying that this wonderful change was like the recovery of health after a very tedious sickness.
Psalms 126:2. Then was our mouth, &c.— From that moment was, &c. From that moment said they, &c. i.e. "Never before would we indulge any joy; never before would the heathen, the Babylonians, acknowledge that God had done, &c."
Psalms 126:4-6. Turn again our captivity, O Lord— This prayer seems to be, "We beseech thee to perfect this good work which thou hast begun, and turn our captivity, that we may refresh and cultivate thy holy land, as thou turnest the rivers of the south, the rivers of Egypt, to gladden, fructify, and replenish their dry and thirsty soil." For the understanding of this verse, which, taken by itself, is a little obscure, we should observe, says Dr. Hammond, that the queen of Sheba, or Meroe in Ethiopia, is called, Matthew 12:42 the queen of the South; and that the original word נגב negeb, here rendered the South, signifies 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 burnt 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 God 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. Houbigant renders it in the past tense, thus, Our captivity, O Lord, is restored, as a river into a dry place. It seems to be agreeable to the context to render the verb in the perfect tense; and accordingly he renders the verbs in the next verses, in the same manner, They that had sown in tears, shall reap in joy. He went forth weeping, who sowed his seed: he shall return exulting, bearing his sheaves with him. Instead of precious seed, Mudge reads a cast of seed. The original words, says he, mean no more than the seed corn, which the sower carries with him, which is to be taken out, and with extended arm thrown into the earth. The sense and application of the allusion appears to be this: "As the poor husbandman, who, with a heavy heart, throws his seed into the ground in a time of scarcity, and in an unkind season, expecting little or no crop from it, yet frequently finds his corn springing up plentifully, and far beyond his expectation, and at the time of harvest goes home loaded with sheaves;—so shall this small handful of people, who are come to plant themselves here again, and have laid the foundation of the temple with a great mixture of sadness and tears, (see Ezra 3:12.) then shout for joy, to see so great an increase of their brethren, and this pious work, by their means, brought to perfection." See Nehemiah 4:7-8.
REFLECTIONS.—Great was the joy when, loosed from the Babylonish yoke, the captive Jews returned to Zion; greater will it be, when from their present dispersion they shall turn unto the Lord; but greatest will be the joy of God's faithful Israel, when, by the redemption of Jesus finally and eternally delivered from sin and the grave, they shall meet at the heavenly hill, and all become one fold, under one shepherd. We have,
1. The pleasing surprise which seized them, on hearing liberty proclaimed by Cyrus, the instrument that God employed to execute his purposes. Scarce could they believe the glad tidings true; and, like men awaking from some pleasing dream: hesitated whether it were fancy or reality; but, soon convinced that God had remembered them, and turned their captivity, with songs of exultation they hailed the happy day. Thus when the awakened conscience, that poring over its guilt and misery has been ready to sink into despair, hears the good news of pardon, grace, and glory, richly and eternally bestowed on the vilest of sinners who will believe and obey, scarcely can the heart receive the message, it appears so much too great and good to be true, till, by divine faith assured of the veracity of the promises, the soul triumphs in God our Saviour, and is filled with joy and peace in believing.
2. Their neighbours' admiration, and their own acknowledgments. Then said they among the heathen, the Lord hath done great things for them; they who had before despised them, Psa 137:7 beheld with wonder and conviction God's peculiar care over his people: and when divine grace converts the sinner's heart, the blessed change will often extort conviction even from the enemies of the truth, and force them to acknowledge that it is the finger of God. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad; gladly they echo back the confession of the heathens, and ascribe to their dear Lord, the praise of his wondrous work, the gracious instance of his love, the glorious matter of their joy.
3. The church's prayer. Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south, which may be considered as their prayer for their expected deliverance, or as the request of those who were returned, and desired to have their brethren come up, who remained in Babylon: or as the request of the church of Christ, for deliverance from the antichristian yoke; or of the spiritual believer for himself, desiring deliverance from his indwelling corruptions, which would be more welcome than rivers of water in the parched deserts of Arabia to the fainting traveller.
4. The promise in answer to their prayer. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy, which may be applied, 1. To every true penitent, who, with tears of penitential sorrow, returns unto God, a precious seed which God regards, and upon which he will give his blessing, causing to spring up a plenteous harvest of peace and joy. 2. To every faithful minister who goes forth, bearing the precious seed of the gospel word, and weeps over poor sinners, who continue disobedient, for whose immortal souls he prays and labours, and God gives him to see the travail of his soul in many seals given to his ministry, his joy now, and to be his crown of rejoicing in the day of the appearing of the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 126". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26