Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Harvest of Joy after the Sowing of Tears
It is with this Psalm, which the favourite word Zion connects with the preceding Psalm, exactly as with Psalm 85:1-13, which also gives thanks for the restoration of the captive ones of Israel on the one hand, and on the other hand has to complain of the wrath that is still not entirely removed, and prays for a national restoration. There are expositors indeed who also transfer the grateful retrospect with which this Song of degrees (Psalm 126:1-3), like that Korahitic Psalm (Psalm 126:2-4), begins, into the future (among the translators Luther is at least more consistent than the earlier ones); but they do this for reasons which are refuted by Psalm 85:1-13, and which are at once silenced when brought face to face with the requirements of the syntax.
A Song of degrees. When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.When passages like Isaiah 1:9; Genesis 47:25, or others where והיינו is perf. consec., are appealed to in order to prove that היינוּ כּחלמים may signify erimus quasi somniantes, they are instances that are different in point of syntax. Any other rendering than that of the lxx is here impossible, viz.: Ἐν τῷ ἐπιστρέψαι κύριον τὴν αἰχμαλωσίαν Σιὼν ἐγενήθημεν ὡς παρακεκλημένοι (כּנחמים? - Jerome correctly, quasi somniantes). It is, however, just as erroneous when Jerome goes on to render: tunc implebitur risu os nostrum; for it is true the future after אז has a future signification in passages where the context relates to matters of future history, as in Psalm 96:12; Zephaniah 3:9, but it always has the signification of the imperfect after the key-note of the historical past has once been struck, Exodus 15:1; Joshua 8:30; Joshua 10:12; 1 Kings 11:7; 1 Kings 16:21; 2 Kings 15:16; Job 38:21; it is therefore, tunc implebatur. It is the exiles at home again upon the soil of their fatherland who here cast back a glance into the happy time when their destiny suddenly took another turn, by the God of Israel disposing the heart of the conqueror of Babylon to set them at liberty, and to send them to their native land in an honourable manner. שׁיבת is not equivalent to שׁבית, nor is there any necessity to read it thus (Olshausen, Bצttcher, and Hupfeld). שׁיבה (from שׁוּב, like בּיאה, קימה) signifies the return, and then those returning; it is, certainly, an innovation of this very late poet. When Jahve brought home the homeward-bound ones of Zion - the poet means to say - we were as dreamers. Does he mean by this that the long seventy years' term of affliction lay behind us like a vanished dream (Joseph Kimchi), or that the redemption that broke upon us so suddenly seemed to us at first not to be a reality but a beautiful dream? The tenor of the language favours the latter: as those not really passing through such circumstances, but only dreaming. Then - the poet goes on to say - our mouth was filled with laughter (Job 8:21) and our tongue with a shout of joy, inasmuch, namely, as the impression of the good fortune which contrasted so strongly with our trouble hitherto, compelled us to open our mouth wide in order that our joy might break forth in a full stream, and our jubilant mood impelled our tongue to utter shouts of joy, which knew no limit because of the inexhaustible matter of our rejoicing. And how awe-inspiring was Israel's position at that time among the peoples! and what astonishment the marvellous change of Israel's lot produced upon them! Even the heathen confessed that it was Jahve's work, and that He had done great things for them (Joel 2:20., 1 Samuel 12:24) - the glorious predictions of Isaiah, as in Psalm 45:14; Psalm 52:10, and elsewhere, were being fulfilled. The church on its part seals that confession coming from the mouth of the heathen. This it is that made them so joyful, that God had acknowledged them by such a mighty deed.
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.
The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south.But still the work so mightily and graciously begun is not completed. Those who up to the present time have returned, out of whose heart this Psalm is, as it were, composed, are only like a small vanguard in relation to the whole nation. Instead of שׁבותנו the Kerמ here reads שׁביתנוּ, from שׁבית, Numbers 21:29, after the form בכית in Genesis 50:4. As we read elsewhere that Jerusalem yearns after her children, and Jahve solemnly assures her, "thou shalt put them all on as jewels and gird thyself like a bride" (Isaiah 49:18), so here the poet proceeds from the idea that the holy land yearns after an abundant, reanimating influx of population, as the Negeb (i.e., the Judaean south country, Genesis 20:1, and in general the south country lying towards the desert of Sinai) thirsts for the rain-water streams, which disappear in the summer season and regularly return in the winter season. Concerning אפיק, "a water-holding channel," vid., on Psalm 18:16. If we translate converte captivitatem nostram (as Jerome does, following the lxx), we shall not know what to do with the figure, whereas in connection with the rendering reduc captivos nostros it is just as beautifully adapted to the object as to the governing verb. If we have rightly referred negeb not to the land of the Exile but to the Land of Promise, whose appearance at this time is still so unlike the promise, we shall now also understand by those who sow in tears not the exiles, but those who have already returned home, who are again sowing the old soil of their native land, and that with tears, because the ground is so parched that there is little hope of the seed springing up. But this tearful sowing will be followed by a joyful harvest. One is reminded here of the drought and failure of the crops with which the new colony was visited in the time of Haggai, and of the coming blessing promised by the prophet with a view to the work of the building of the Temple being vigorously carried forward. Here, however, the tearful sowing is only an emblem of the new foundation-laying, which really took place not without many tears (Ezra 3:12), amidst sorrowful and depressed circumstances; but in its general sense the language of the Psalm coincides with the language of the Preacher on the Mount, Matthew 5:4 : Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. The subject to Psalm 126:6 is the husbandman, and without a figure, every member of the ecclesia pressa. The gerundial construction in Psalm 126:6 (as in 2 Samuel 3:16; Jeremiah 50:4, cf. the more Indo-Germanic style of expression in 2 Samuel 15:30) depicts the continual passing along, here the going to and fro of the sorrowfully pensive man; and Psalm 126:6 the undoubted coming and sure appearing of him who is highly blessed beyond expectation. The former bears משׁך הזּרע, the seed-draught, i.e., the handful of seed taken from the rest for casting out (for משׁך הזּרע in Amos 9:13 signifies to cast forth the seed along the furrows); the latter his sheaves, the produce (תּבוּאה), such as puts him to the blush, of his, as it appeared to him, forlorn sowing. As by the sowing we are to understand everything that each individual contributes towards the building up of the kingdom of God, so by the sheaves, the wholesome fruit which, by God bestowing His blessing upon it beyond our prayer and comprehension, springs up from it.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.