Psalm 126:1
When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) When the Lord . . .—Literally, In turning by Jehovah the turning of Zion. The phrase is not precisely the same as that in Psalm 126:4, which is usual, and offers no difficulty. Here the form of the noun “turning” presents some difficulty; but, after the analogy of a few other words, it can bear the concrete meaning “returned:” when Jehovah brought back the returned of Zion.

Like them that dream.—The LXX. and Vulg. have “as if consoled.” The Hebrew word primarily means “to be fat,” or “fleshy,” and in Isaiah 38:16 is rendered “recover”—a meaning that would give a good sense here, and which is adopted by the Chaldean paraphrases: “We were like unto such men who have recovered.” On the other hand, the usual rendering suggests that the news of the restoration appeared too good to be true. “Surely you are dreaming” is a common saying. An illustration has been aptly produced in Livy’s description of the feelings of the Greeks when they heard at the Isthmian games (B.C. 196), after the defeat of the Macedonians by T. Flaminius, the proclamation of the herald that they should, by the free gift of the Roman people, retain their liberty. “The joy was too great for men to take it all in. None could well believe that he had heard aright, and they looked on one another in wonder, like the empty show of a dream” (Livy, xxxiii. 32).

Psalm 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.126:1-3 It is good to observe how God's deliverances of the church are for us, that we may rejoice in them. And how ought redemption from the wrath to come, from the power of sin and of Satan, to be valued! The sinner convinced of his guilt and danger, when by looking to a crucified Saviour he receives peace to his conscience, and power to break off his sins, often can scarcely believe that the prospect which opens to him is a reality.When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion - Margin, as in Hebrew, "returned the returning of Zion." The Hebrew word which is rendered in the text captivity means properly return; and then, those returning. The ancient versions render it captivity. The reference clearly is to those who were returning to Zion, and the psalmist fixes his eye on them as returning, and immediately says that it was the Lord who had thus restored them. The whole was to be traced to God.

We were like them that dream - The Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint render this, "we were comforted." The meaning is, "It seemed like a dream; we could hardly realize that it was so; it was so marvelous, so good, so full of joy, that we could scarcely believe it was real." This state of mind is not uncommon, when, in sudden and overpowering joy, we ask whether it can be real; whether it is not all a dream. We fear that it is; we apprehend that it will all vanish away like a dream.

PSALM 126

Ps 126:1-6. To praise for God's favor to His people is added a prayer for its continued manifestation.

1-3. When the Lord, &c.—The joy of those returned from Babylon was ecstatic, and elicited the admiration even of the heathen, as illustrating God's great power and goodness.

turned again the captivity—that is, restored from it (Job 39:12; Ps 14:7; Pr 12:14). Hengstenberg translates: "When the Lord turned Himself to the turning of Zion" (see Margin), God returns to His people when they return to Him (De 30:2, 3).

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

2 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.

3 The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.

5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 126:1

"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream" Being in trouble the gracious pilgrims remember: for their comfort times of national woe which were succeeded by remarkable deliverances. Then sorrow was gone like a dream, and the joy which followed was so great that it seemed too good to be true, and they feared that it must be the vision of an idle brain. So sudden and so overwhelming was their joy that they felt like men out of themselves, ecstatic, or in a trance. The captivity had been great, and great was the deliverance; for the great God himself had wrought it: it seemed too good to be actually true: each man said to himself, -

"Is this a dream? O if it be a dream,

Let me sleep on, and do not wake me yet."

It was not the freedom of an individual which the Lord in mercy had wrought, but of all Zion, of the whole nation; and this was reason enough for overflowing gladness. We need not instance the histories which illustrate this verse in connection with literal Israel; but it is well to remember how often it has been true to ourselves. Let us look to the prison-houses from which we have been set free. Ah, me, what captives we have been! At our first conversion what a turning again of captivity we experienced. Never shall that hour be forgotten. Joy! Joy! Joy! Since then, from multiplied troubles, from depression of spirit, from miserable backsliding, from grievous doubt, we have been emancipated, and we are not able to describe the bliss which followed each emancipation.

"When God reveal'd his gracious name

And changed our mournful state,

Our rapture seem'd a pleasing dream.

continued...THE ARGUMENT

This Psalm was composed by Ezra, or some other man of God, at the return of Israel from Babylon.

The church, celebrating and praising God for her return out of the Babylonian captivity, Psalm 126:1-3, prayeth him to perfect his work, and foretelleth the good success thereof, Psalm 126:4-6.

Turned again the captivity of Zion, i.e. brought the captive Israelites out of Babylon into their own land.

We were like them that dream; we were so surprised and astonished with the report of such a favour, that we could not believe our own eyes and ears, but thought it to be but a dream or delusion of our own fancies; as is usual in matters of great joy, as Genesis 45:26 Luke 24:11 Acts 12:9.

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion,.... Or returned the Jews from their captivity in Babylon; who are called Zion, from the city of David, built on Mount Zion, which was in Judea, and adjoined to Jerusalem, the metropolis of the kingdom; and because they were the godly who were concerned for Zion in a spiritual sense, or the church of God, and the interest of religion, whose spirits the Lord stirred up to come out of Babylon, upon the proclamation by Cyrus, when those that were more worldly and carnal stayed behind; as also because the chief mercy in returning the captives was the rebuilding the temple on Mount Zion, and the restoration of religious worship; which gave the religious captives in Babylon great concern, Psalm 137:1. This deliverance of the captives, though it was by Cyrus as an instrument, yet it was the Lord's work; which he employed him in, and stirred him up to do, and therefore is ascribed to him. And though this is expressed in the past tense, yet it may be put for the future; and be considered as a prophecy of it, and which the following word seems to confirm; and especially the prayer, Psalm 126:4; for the return of the captivity seems to require it should: and may not only literally respect the return of the captives in Babylon, but the conversion of the Jews in the latter day, and their deliverance from their present captivity; which is expressed sometimes by the Lord's bringing again Zion, and returning the captivity of the Jews, and their being turned to the Lord, Isaiah 52:8; and may be applied to spiritual and eternal redemption by Christ, of which the deliverance from Babylon was a type; and is sometimes expressed in the same language, Psalm 14:7; and the people redeemed are often signified by Zion, and are by nature captives to sin, Satan, and the law; from whence they are redeemed by Christ, whose work alone it is, Isaiah 1:27;

we were like them that dream; or "shall be" (p); that is, as persons that know not whether they are asleep or awake; and whether what they see and enjoy is in reality or only a vision, as Peter's deliverance from prison was to him, Acts 12:9; When the proclamation by Cyrus was first heard of by the Jews, and they had their liberty upon it, they could hardly tell whether it was a real thing or a vision, and could scarcely believe it for joy; it seemed too good news to be true, as the news of Joseph's being alive was to Jacob, Genesis 45:26; and so the appearance of Christ, his resurrection, and redemption by him, were to the disciples, Luke 24:11. The Targum is,

"we were like the sick that are recovered;''

which sense the word has in Job 39:4; and will be the case of the Jews, when they are converted; who will be recovered out of the sick state and condition in which they now are, and have all their diseases healed, and sins forgiven; yea, their conversion will be as life from the dead, a resurrection of them from their graves, Romans 11:15. The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, render it, "as those that are comforted"; and the Syriac version, "as those that rejoice"; each of the seasons mentioned being times of comfort and joy: Joseph Kimchi interprets it of the passing away and forgetfulness of affliction and trouble at the time of redemption, like a dream that flies away upon awaking.

(p) "erimus", Musculus, Gejerus, Schmidt; so the Targum, Syr. Arab.

<> When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that {a} dream.

(a) Their deliverance was incredible and therefore took away all excuse for ingratitude.

1. turned again the captivity of Zion] No doubt the restoration from exile in Babylon is meant, whether the literal meaning of the phrase is to bring back the captivity, or to turn the fortunes, i.e. restore the prosperity, of Zion. See note on Psalm 53:6; and cp. Psalm 14:7; Psalm 85:1; Hosea 6:11; Amos 9:14. The substantive here however differs in form from that used elsewhere, and if the variation is intentional and not merely a scribe’s error, the meaning may be, When Jehovah brought back those that returned to Zion (R.V. marg.).

we were like them that dream] We could hardly believe that the deliverance was a reality, and not an illusion which would vanish like a dream. Cp. Isaiah 29:8; Luke 24:41; Acts 12:9.

Polybius and Livy use similar language to describe the joy and astonishment of the Greeks when, after the conquest of Macedonia by T. Quinctius Flamininus in b.c. 196, the freedom of Greece was proclaimed at the Isthmian games. “None could believe that he had really heard aright; men looked at one another in astonishment as if it was the empty illusion of a dream; distrusting the testimony of his own ears, each began to question his neighbour.” Livy xxxiii. 32; cp. Pol. xviii. 29. 7.

1–3. Israel’s rejoicing at the incredible marvel of restoration to its own land.Verse 1. - When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion; literally, when the Lord turned again the returning of Zion; i.e. "brought back those who returned from the Captivity." We were like them that dream. We could scarce credit our senses; we seemed to be in a happy "dream" (comp. Acts 12:9). After the fact of the divine succour has been expressed, in Psalm 124:6 follows the thanksgiving for it, and in Psalm 124:7 the joyful shout of the rescued one. In Psalm 124:6 the enemies are conceived of as beasts of prey on account of their bloodthirstiness, just as the worldly empires are in the Book of Daniel; in Psalm 124:7 as "fowlers" on account of their cunning. According to the punctuation it is not to be rendered: Our soul is like a bird that is escaped, in which case it would have been accented בפשׁנו כצפור, but: our soul (subject with Rebia magnum) is as a bird (כּצפור as in Hosea 11:11; Proverbs 23:32; Job 14:2, instead of the syntactically more usual כּצּפור) escaped out of the snare of him who lays snares (יוקשׁ, elsewhere יקושׁ, יקוּשׁ, a fowler, Psalm 91:3). נשׁבר (with ā beside Rebia) is 3rd:praet.: the snare was burst, and we - we became free. In Psalm 124:8 (cf. Psalm 121:2; Psalm 134:3) the universal, and here pertinent thought, viz., the help of Israel is in the name of Jahve, the Creator of the world, i.e., in Him who is manifest as such and is continually verifying Himself, forms the epiphonematic close. Whether the power of the world seeks to make the church of Jahve like to itself or to annihilate it, it is not a disavowal of its God, but a faithful confession, stedfast even to death, that leads to its deliverance.
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