Psalm 126
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. THE DREAM. It was a delightful one.

1. There are many of quite another kind - dreams full of trouble, terror, and distress. Many such are recorded in Scripture (Genesis 40.; Daniel 2.; Job 7:14; Matthew 27:19).

2. But this was full of joy and rapture. So unexpected, so wonderful, was Israel's redemption from exile. They could hardly realize how blessed they were. For it was a reality, not a dream. More often the daylight destroys our dreams; but this joy remained.

3. And their joy was irrepressible. (Ver. 2.) How sadly little of such joy do we see in the redeemed people of the Lord today! If they had not been redeemed at all, they could scarcely be more sad.

4. Their joy compelled the confession of God's goodness to them on the part of heathen nations'. A glad Church is ever a conquering Church. A realized redemption will be rejoiced in by the redeemed themselves, and recognized by others yet waiting to be redeemed. The world wants still to see a joyful witness-bearing Church. When such Church is seen, then, perhaps, the millennium will have come. But let each consciously redeemed soul bear its testimony here and now, not waiting for others. It is what ought to be.


1. The company of exiles who lead come back were but as a handful, as a tiny rill, the wonder of which was that it did not dry up, there was so little of it. Such rills generally did dry up, as the bare water-courses proved. And the company of those returned from Babylon, they were, oh, so few; the great majority were in exile still, and they themselves were threatened with all manner of opposition (Ezra 4:11-24).

2. Hence there rose up the prayer, "Turn again our captivity," etc.; that is, "Bring back our exiles, O Lord, in such strength and numbers, that it shall be with us as with the slender stream when, by the melting of the mountain snows, its waters are swollen into a full, rapid, mighty torrent, bearing all before it; let there be such an increase for us, thy people." And is not this the very prayer the Church needs today? for the com-puny of God's faithful people, are not they in this desert world but as a handful, a little flock, a tiny rill? Let us each say our "Amen."

III. BUT REALIZED AGAIN BY FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD. (Vers. 5, 6.) It might be amid drenching rains the sower went forth to cast into the ground his handful of seed, but the promises of God to such as he never failed, and in due time the glad harvest was given. So the devout psalmist looked now on himself and his little company of fellow-exiles, no longer as a tiny rill ready to be dried up and perish, but as the sower's handful of seed which amid much toil he sowed; but sustained by the sure confidence that the harvest would make amends for all. And for the Christian worker today, the lonely missionary in China, India, Central Africa, and elsewhere; ah! with what tears these servants of God often go forth! But they bear the precious seed, precious in itself, precious in their own experience of its power; and they, too, are sustained, as all true workers for God must be, by the faith that "doubtless," without any possibility of failure, they shall come again to God who sent them forth, bringing with joy the rich results of their present toil and prayer. Let us pray for such sowers let us be such ourselves. - S.C.

That which was written of and for the returned exiles of Judah lends itself so accurately and beautifully to describe the history of a redeemed soul, that it seems as if that larger and higher history were meant as well as that of Judah. The same words tell of both.

I. THE SOUL WAS ONCE A CAPTIVE. Not alone the people of Zion, but every redeemed soul. It was captive once:

1. To the Law of God. That Law which was holy, just, and good, the Law of God's household, and which for the good of all his children must be maintained; but to that Law the soul was liable, for it had transgressed again and again. Unless, therefore, something was done, the sentence of the Law must he carried out.

2. To sin. The soul was carnal, sold under sin. It yielded itself as a bond slave to serve sin (Romans 6:16). And this lust makes him captive; yet further:

3. To death. Not merely the death of the body, but, what is far worse, the death of the soul.

II. ITS CAPTIVITY WAS BROKEN. From being a captive, he became one of the redeemed of God. Consider:

1. What was done. Sin was forgiven, all the guilt of the past put away. The soul became regenerate, a new heart was given; old things passed away, all things became new; the soul passed from death to life, from the power of Satan unto God.

2. Who did this? It was the Lord's doing. True, as with Judah, there was cooperation on man's part. As Judah, so had we to avail ourselves of what God had done. The soul must repent and believe, and turn from dead works to serve the living God. Unless we do this, God's mercy is in vain for us. But all this does not make it the less true that it was the Lord who turned our captivity; it was his Spirit who prompted all that was done by us; without him it had never been done at all, no part of it.

3. How was it done? Perhaps in no two instances have the same instrumentalities been employed. God has many ways of bringing men to himself. He uses now his providence, now his Word, now his Spirit, and sometimes all of them together. Only the work is done.


1. Surprise. "We were like them that dream" (cf. Luke 24:41). It seemed too good to be true. This a blessed experience, the rapture and delight of the soul when it realizes what God has done for it.

2. Exuberant joy. (Ver. 2, "laughter, singing.") How reasonable this, whether we think of whence we have been saved, from what terrible depths of woe; or whither, to what heights of blessedness; or by what means, the infinite love of God in Christ?

3. Confession on the part of the unsaved world. (Ver. 2.) "Then said they among the heathen," etc. Yes, the world will take note, godless men will see that a great change has come.

IV. BUT A MORE FULL SALVATION IS YET YEARNED FOR. (Ver. 4.) What has been gained is blessedness, but the soul comes soon to see how much more yet is needed. The river of the water of life in him is such a slender stream; he would have it full, flowing, in force and volume like the streams of the south when the mountain snows have melted. Hence the prayer for a second blessing, "Turn again our captivity" (ver. 4). The soul craves a complete salvation, a full deliverance. He would be cleansed from all sin, made pure in heart.

V. AND HE IS ENCOURAGED TO SEEK THIS BY THE CONSTANT EXPERIENCE OF THOSE THAT SOW IN TEARS. The pitiless rain and cold may render the toil of the sower hard, but his reward surely comes. So they who with real earnestness of heart seek the fullness of God's salvation shall surely obtain it. - S.C.

Is that always, altogether, and necessarily, a good thing? "When the edict of Cyrus went forth allowing the captives to return, it was so unexpected, it was so miraculous, that we deemed the accomplishment of ancient prophecy a dream." "To turn again captivity" is to bring back God's redeemed ones. Perowne skillfully presents the points of thought and feeling in this psalm. "The first colony of exiles had returned to Palestine. But, after all, what was that little band of settlers which formed the first caravan? It was but as the trickling of a tiny rill in some desert waste. Hence the prayer bursts from the lips of the psalmist, 'Bring back our captives like mighty streams, which, swollen by the wintry rains, descend to fertilize the parched and desolate wilderness.' Then comes the thought of the many discouragements and oppositions which the first settlers had to encounter; it was a time of sowing in tears. Still, faith could expect a joyful harvest. He who had restored them to the land would assuredly crown his work with blessing."

I. CAPTIVITY IS BEST WHILE WE CHERISH SELF-DEPENDENCE, Because it means that we are under the Divine discipline. So long as we are wrong-minded - and to be self-trusting is to be wrong-minded - the saddest thing that could happen to us is for God to let us alone. That he is smiting us is the all-satisfactory proof that he is intimately concerned for our truest well-being. Until Israel had lost that self-reliance which had wrought such mischief for the nation, it was altogether best in captivity, heavy strain though that was to them. The time our captivity continues is always the Divine measurement of the time necessary for doing the work of our captivity. If true-hearted, we should not desire relief from affliction one moment before God's time has come. Far better W keep the humiliation and affliction than to keep the self-dependence.

II. LIBERTY IS BEST WHEN WE HAVE LEARNED TO DEPEND ON GOD. And that is the lesson to be learned in all captivities and afflictions. Liberty is then best, because the man or the nation knows what to do with it. The victim of the French Revolution, apostrophizing liberty, said, "O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!" Liberty is but captivity of another kind, when man has no principle and rule for his use of it. Restored Israel could have its liberty, because it had learned to lean on God. - R.T.

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.

I. SOME CHANGES SEEM MORE LIKE DREAMS THAN REALITIES. Seem too good or too bad to be true.

1. When they come suddenly. It takes time to adjust ourselves to them as facts and not fictions. And to realize the consequences they bring with them.

2. When they bring or promise more than we ever expected. We sing and laugh as those who have come into an immense fortune. If the change be spiritual, we rejoice like an emancipated slave, and can understand the experience of a Zacchaeus, a Magdalene, or the Philippian jailor.

3. When we are able to trace the change to God. The sense of the presence of God with us always fills us with wonder. "The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad." When strangers see the Divine hand in our history, there is a strengthening of our faith in God. "The heathen said, The Lord hath done great things for them."


1. It is always incomplete. It does not put an end entirely to the past order of things, nor introduce a completely new order. A terrible war to be fought between the old and the new. The return from Babylon at this time was only partial.

2. Every change for the better or the worse exacts new endurances and trials. We have to go forth bearing precious seed and weeping - to sow the seed of a near future, and to pass through the hopes and fears of the anxious husbandman.

3. But all anxious and faithful labor now shall be rewarded with an abundant recompense when God and man shall gather the harvest of the world. (Ver. 6.) "Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted." - S.

Polybius, in describing the joy of the Greeks when unexpectedly rescued from the Macedonians, says, "Most of the men could scarcely believe the news, but imagined themselves in a dream as they listened to what was said, so extraordinary and miraculous it seemed to them."

I. JOY AND GLADNESS MAY BE FITTING RESPONSE TO CIRCUMSTANCES. There is a natural and proper response to every set of conditions in which we are placed. We need never restrain those responses. Religion tones them, but does not arrest or crush them. Joy and gladness were befitting to the restored captives. Laughter is the expression of joy; and "Is any merry, let him sing psalms." Some phases of Christian life are too decorous, too restrained, too cold. True religion only flourishes in a warm atmosphere of feeling. And we should find abundant cause for joy and song, if we did but read our lives aright, and recognize the loving-kindness of the Lord. "The redeemed shall come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads."

II. JOY AND GLADNESS MAY BE EXAGGERATED, AND BECOME A PERIL. There was a degree of extravagance in the joy of these returned exiles. They were over-excited. In their excitement they imagined a future which could never be realized; and were tempted to play with their new-found liberty as with a toy, instead of being solemnized by its obligations, and urged thereby to high and noble endeavor.

1. Times of overjoy make the prosaic work of everyday life very trying and hard. The beginnings of religious life are often a skipping and dancing and singing of the soul, and it is almost overwhelming to discover that it must pass into a persistent, humdrum walking the pilgrim-path of righteousness. We cannot be always in ecstasy and song, either here or in heaven. Israel found the actual life in restored Palestine soon changed excited song for the quiet strain of daily service.

2. Times of over-excitement are followed by times of undue depression. Israel bravely sang on the shores of the Red Sea, and murmured, ere three days were passed, at what redemption involved. Overstrain of religious feeling in times of revivals and missions, is oftentimes a most serious peril to young souls, because it suggests a false idea of Christian life. And, to some dispositions, it is no less than absolute ruin. - R.T.

Then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The estimate which surrounding nations would form of them and of their circumstances was always a matter of interest and importance to Israel. From the first it was understood that the honor of Jehovah was bound up with the prosperity of this people. It is possible to fix our thoughts too entirely on the exclusiveness and the isolation of Israel, and on its mission as the treasury, for the world, of the primary truths of revealed religion. Its second mission was its witness to Jehovah, by its trust in him; devotion to his service; and safety and enrichment through his presence and blessing. Israel was, as it were, locked up in that little central land, away from the nations; but it was so isolated that it might make its testimony, and be a beacon-light for God. We try to see what witness it rendered by one of its moods.

I. ISRAEL'S JOY IN GOD WITNESSED TO THE DIVINE PITY. We are dealing now with the joy of the restored exiles. They were largely the immediate descendants of men who had provoked Jehovah by their iniquity and rebellion, and had for years been enduring his righteous judgments. Looking at, and thinking only of their calamity, other nations might easily come to think of their God as one who never forgives. But, in view of the joy of their restoration, such an idea could not be enter-mined. It is proved now that God pities even while he punishes; and is glad when his pity is free to work its gracious, restoring work.

II. ISRAEL'S JOY IN GOD WITNESSED TO THE DIVINE PERSERVATION. It declared that the "good hand" had been on the nation all through its time of captivity. It bad been in the purifying fires, but the silver had been kept safe through all the testings. And the brightness and joy of a Christian life always makes this witness for God. It says -

"I have been upheld till now;
Who could hold me up but thou?"

III. ISRAEL'S JOY IN GOD WITNESSED TO THE DIVINE PURPOSES. God restored Israel because he had something for Israel yet to do in the world. And Israel's joy seemed to say, "It is plain that God needs me." God's goodness always unveils God's purpose. - R.T.

In renewing prayer for the "turning again of captivity," the psalmist may but put into a figure his desire that God's full work of redemption may be completed, and some form of present limitation or peril may be likened to the old captivity, and even seem to be a sort of relic of it. There is a sense in which we may always be praying, "Turn again our captivity." But the figure may be one giving force to prayer for an immediate and unexpected Divine deliverance, such as the return from captivity had been. "O Jehovah, relieve our misery suddenly, and, as it may well be said, miraculously; as streams in the wilderness, which one moment are dead and dry, and then suddenly become flowing rivers." It may be that in the mind of the psalmist was the fact that only a small portion of the nation had responded to the edict of Cyrus. And his prayer may be that the rest of Israel might be induced to flood the still desolate land. "Restore our captive compatriots, just as water is restored by heavy rains to the water-courses of the parched district south of Palestine, to the delight of the inhabitants" (comp. Isaiah 49:18, where the land, like a bereaved mother, waits for her children, whose return will fill her heart with joy).

I. THE PAST OF GOD'S BLESSING MAY BE JOYFULLY RECOGNIZED. It should be. Israel loved to hear the story of God's ways with the fathers told over and over. We should never tire of going over our early experiences of delivering and redeeming mercy.

II. THE PAST OF GOD'S BLESSING OUGHT NEVER TO SATISFY US. It is past and gone; it is but a memory. "Things won are done." We continue, and we cannot rest without the assurance that God is doing for us what he has done. The restored exiles cannot rest with God's turning their captivity, and restoring a few of their number; they must ask for a renewal of the blessing. "Turn again our captivity." From God's grace in the past we "draw a plea, to ask him still for more." We cannot be satisfied save with renewals of joyful experiences.

III. THE PAST OF GOD'S BLESSING IS THE PLEDGE OF GREATER BLESSING. God never exhausts himself in any good he does. Instead, by a present blessing, he opens the way for, and prepares us to receive, a larger blessing. Giving, he does but make possible his giving still more. - R.T.

Thomson says, "I never saw people sowing in tears exactly, but I have often known them to do it in fear and distress sufficient to draw them from any eye. In seasons of great scarcity, the poor peasants part in sorrow with every measure of precious seed cast into the ground. It is like taking bread out of the mouths of their children, and in such times many bitter tears are actually shed over it" Compare the tears at the laying of the foundation of the second temple (Ezra 3:12), and the joy when it was complete (Ezra 6:16, 22). And keep in mind the strain and anxiety through which the first returned company of exiles had to pass.

I. SAD SOWING-TIMES OF SCARCITY. Such always followed on famine years, when the old corn stores were used up, and the harvest of the year allowed no proportion to be reserved for seed, and, if reserve was made, the quality guaranteed no good coming harvest. Then the spring seed-sowing was an anxious time. It involved a serious loss of what was immediately needed. And experience of past famine made the harvest from this seed-sowing seem unusually uncertain. It is thus in Christian work. "We have toiled all night, and taken nothing," and it is hard to put down the net again. When the Church is cold and dead, even preaching the gospel comes to be sad and heartless work. Yet it must not be given up. Weep we may, but sow we must. We never know Where God's showers of blessing fall.

II. SAD SOWING-TIMES OF INSECURITY. Travelers tell of seeing sowers in the East sowing with one hand, and holding a musket in the other, for the Bedouin will steal the seed-corn, as well as rush in and sweep away the harvest. How anxious the farmer will be until his precious seed is safely in the soil! This may suggest those circumstances which so often hinder the success of our Christian work; things beyond our control which render our work fruitless. Spite of them, we must persist in sowing, if it must be sowing in tears.

III. SOWING-TIMES OF ATMOSPHERIC PERIL. The weather is but seldom just to the farmer's mind, and in some seasons the sowing seems hopeless: what can the seed do but rot in the ground? This may suggest the dispositions both of the Christian workers, and of those among whom they work. These often make a sort of atmosphere, in which the seed-sowing seems hopeless. Nevertheless, we must go on sowing, even if it must be in tears. - R.T.

Consider -

I. WHAT HE WAS FORMERLY. That is told us in the first half of the text.

1. He was one who went forth to sow. He went forth, he was an active worker. In spiritual husbandry this is what is needed. There are many who will talk, some who will pray, but not all these really go to the work. If only the much talk and many prayers could be as they ought to be, and will be if they are sincere, translated into work, active, strenuous work, what a change would come over the Church and the world also! But would we be rejoicing reapers, we must be really workers.

2. The burden of the Lord is upon him. This is the meaning of the word "and weepeth." How perpetually in the prophetic Scriptures we meet with this expression, "the burden." It tells of some message which the Lord had given the prophet to declare concerning some place, some person, some nation. It was a burden to the prophet; he felt its solemn weight and responsibility. And he who shall be a rejoicing reaper in the Lord's harvest-field is one to whom his sacred toil has been the burden of the Lord to him. This burden is made up of a deep sense

(1) of his own insufficiency for the work;

(2) of the urgent need for the work to be done;

(3) of the shortness of time which remains for this work to be done; and

(4) of the heavy responsibility resting upon him to be faithful in the work (2 Corinthians 5:11).

There may or may not be tears upon his face, but there certainly will be in his heart. Often will he weep there. These are the men who do the Lord's work, and win men in throngs for him.

3. He bears precious seed. The seed is the Word of God: that is settled for us by our Lord himself (Luke 8:5, 11; 1 Peter 1:23). And it is as seed, because it has transforming power. The corn of wheat, when sown, lays hold on the elements of the soil around it, and transmutes them into its own substance, changes them into its own image and likeness. So does the Word of God in the heart of man. And it is "precious seed" because of what it is in itself. Who can calculate its value? And because he who sows it has found its value for himself; he has had experimental knowledge of its preciousness. Now, this seed he scatters in the furrows, as he has been bidden of the Lord to do; and he does it in the confident belief that God will bless his work, and the harvest shall follow. Such is he who becomes the rejoicing reaper.

II. WHAT HE NOW IS. We see him coming "again with rejoicing," etc.

1. Coming again. That is, coming back from the field homewards. So shall the faithful servant of God, as he wends his homeward way, be seen, not with downcast, disappointed look, but with rejoicing, because of the good success of his toil. Such men, ere they reach home, find their way lit up with the sunset glow, the eventide light, which the harvest joy brings to them.

2. "With rejoicing." How many are the springs of that joy!-that he has been himself saved; that he has been allowed to engage in the work; that he has been kept faithful and persevering in the work; that he has been made successful in the work; that he is now going home to his Lord to enter into his joy for ever. Oh, joy unspeakable and full of glory!

3. "Bringing his sheaves with him." (Cf Revelation 14:13, "Their works do follow them.") Some of the corn has got home before the reaper, but there is much he brings with him, and yet more that will follow.

III. THE SURE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE TWO. "Doubtless." There is no contingency, no mere "perhaps;" his "labor is not in vain in the Lord." Faithful toil shall not fail of reward. God will see to this; he ever has, he ever will. - S.C.

Though he goeth on his way weeping, bearing forth the seed, he shall come again with joy, bringing the sheaves with him. Our Lord declared the same principle when he said, "He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall save it unto life eternal." You can never secure any kind of harvest of anything, save by giving your seed-corn away. The miser keeps his gold, and he has what he keeps, and no more. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty."

I. GIVING IN ORDER TO GAIN IS THE LAW OF ENTERPRISE. Here we treat it on its purely human and business side. Nothing could be done in trade and commerce if men were not willing to "risk," as we say - to give away what they have. The man with the one talent would not give it away in some business enterprise, and so he had no harvest for his master, when he returned. Human enterprise is closely kin to faith; or, we may say, has in it a strong element of faith; business would be paralyzed if men could not give themselves, and what they have, away to each other in mutual trust. But there is always the inspiration of anticipation. It is always giving in order to get, based upon the natural order of things as established by prolonged experience.

II. GIVING IN ORDER TO GAIN IS THE LAW OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE. Here we treat the law in its higher and Divine relations. And we observe:

1. That it is a law divinely established. It is no accident; it is no resultant of experiences; it is no mere possibility. It is definitely fixed by God, who requires the seed-sowing, and promises the harvest. Because it is the Divine law, the harvest is assured.

2. That it is a law experimentally proved. Not experimentally based. Surrender for Christ's sake always is a seed-sowing that is followed by a harvest. Those who give up all for Christ's sake have a hundredfold more in this life, and in the time to come, life eternal.

3. That it is a law sublimely illustrated in God himself, who gave his Son in view of the harvest of humanity. Give away your seed, even with tears, you will come some day from the harvest-field, carrying your sheaves. - R.T.

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