Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Psalms 126


Psalms 126:0


Thanksgiving for Return from CaptivityMT IntroA Song of Ascents.A Joyful Return to ZionA Prayer for Deliverance From National MisfortuneA Prayer for DeliveranceSong of Returning Exiles
Psalms 126:1-3Psalms 126:1-3Psalms 126:1-3Psalms 126:1-3Psalms 126:1-2b
Psalms 126:2-3
Psalms 126:4-6Psalms 126:4Psalms 126:4Psalms 126:4-5Psalms 126:4-5
Psalms 126:5-6Psalms 126:5-6
Psalms 126:6Psalms 126:6

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 126:1-3 1When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, We were like those who dream. 2Then our mouth was filled with laughter And our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3The Lord has done great things for us; We are glad.

Psalms 126:1-3 This strophe contrasts the Israelites' feelings about being taken captive into exile with the great joy of returning to Judah and Jerusalem and the temple.

The problem for interpreters is that the Hebrew verbs do not carry a time element, only context can determine past, present, or future! Therefore, this first verse could be

1. an affirmation of a past act

2. a hope for a future act

3. a past act, Psalms 126:1; a prayer for YHWH to do it again, Psalms 126:4

Psalms 126:1 “brought back” This verbal (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal infinitive construct) has a wide semantic field. It is the normal word used for “repentance” (see Special Topic: Repentance in the OT) from the basic meaning “to turn” or “to return.” It is the second connotation that seems to be involved in Psalms 126:1 (JPSOA, based on Psalms 85:1, has “restore,” also see Psalms 14:7; Psalms 53:6).

Since several of the “Psalms of Ascent” reflect the Ezra/Nehemiah period (i.e., Cyrus' decree of 538 B.C.), this Psalm may also reflect that post-exilic period.

Just a theological note, their freedom from captivity/exile must have been preceded by their first turning back to YHWH.

“the captive ones” There is a possible emendation (here and in Psalms 126:4) followed by the JPSOA, “When YHWH restores the fortunes of Zion”).

1. brought back - שׁיבת (BDB 1000 II), MT

2. restore - שׁבות (BDB 986), JPSOA, cf. Psalms 85:1

The term “fortunes” would denote prosperity (TEV footnote). It would be the visible sign of a restored covenant with YHWH and its promised blessings (cf. Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 27-30).

“Zion” See Special Topic: Zion.

“We were like those who dream” This is the first of several descriptive phrases expressing the joy of those who returned.

Psalms 126:1. Psalms 126:1b

Psalms 126:2. Psalms 126:2a

Psalms 126:3. Psalms 126:2b

Psalms 126:4. Psalms 126:2c-d

5. Psalms 126:3

These feelings were the intended outcome of a relationship with YHWH.

The DSS and the LXX see the Hebrew word “dream,” חלם (BDB 321 II) as referring to “be healthy,” “strong” (cf. REB); the root is spelled exactly the same. The Peshitta has “we were like those who rejoice.”

Psalms 126:2c-d “they said among the nations” This phrase reaffirms the central theological assertion that YHWH wanted to use His relationship with Israel as a way to reach the nations (cf. Psalms 46:10). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 126:4-6 4Restore our captivity, O Lord, As the streams in the South. 5Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalms 126:4a This imperative (like the infinitive construct of Psalms 126:1a) is difficult to understand. If Psalms 126:1 asserts the return of the captives, why is Psalms 126:4 a prayer for their return? This is why JPSOA uses the model of Psalms 85:1 to assert that it is referring to the return of prosperity.

Psalms 126:4b This is a geographical metaphor related to water channels in the desert (i.e., Negev) called wadis. These being filled with water was imagery of a great blessing of future agricultural abundance (cf. Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 27-30).

Psalms 126:5-6 The promise of abundant water in Psalms 126:4b is extended to other agricultural idioms. The “tears” (BDB 199) would refer to

1. tears of joy at the restoration of the covenant (i.e., Israel back in the land flowing with milk and honey)

2. the results of Israel's repentance

Psalms 126:6 There are two examples of a grammatical form of intensification in this verse. Twice the infinitive absolute and imperfect verb of one Hebrew root are used.

1. he who goes to and fro - BDB 229, KB 246

2. shall indeed come again - BDB 9, KB 112

Those who plant in faith/repentance will reap in certainty (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-10)!

NASB“bag of seed” NKJV, NRSV“bearing seed” REV, NJB, LXX“carrying the seed” JPSOA“seed-bag”

This word (BDB 604 I) is used in Job 28:18 in the sense of “drawing up” and here possibly in the sense of a bag with draw strings. The verb form means to “drag” or “draw” (cf. Amos 9:13).

The Tyndale OT Commentary Series (vol. 16, p. 476) says the verb refers to a trail (i.e., drawing out) of seed (i.e., one row at a time, not sowing broadly).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is it difficult to know the historical setting of this Psalm?

2. How does Psalms 126:1 seem to contradict Psalms 126:4?

3. What is the theological implication of Psalms 126:2c-d?

4. Define “Negev.”

5. What does the “weeping” of Psalms 126:5 imply?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 126". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.