God, Our Joy and Our Hope
1 [b]A song of ascents.
When the Lord brought home the captives to Zion,
we seemed to be dreaming.[c]
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter
and our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”[d]
3 The Lord has indeed done great deeds for us,
and we are overflowing with joy.[e]
4 [f]Once again restore our fortunes,[g] O Lord,
as you did for the streams in the Negeb.
5 Those who sow in tears[h]
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go forth weeping,
carrying the seeds to be sown,[i]
will return with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
- Psalm 126:1 The Jewish community takes pains to be reestablished. But joy fills the people’s hearts. They still resound with the gladness and hope of the caravans returning from the Exile, and every pilgrimage unfolds like a new Exodus (vv. 1-3; see Isa 48:21), a return from the Exile. It is also faith in an even more wondrous future, the gathering together of all by the side of the Messiah. Such happiness is prepared for in the suffering of the present just as the harvest grows out of the grain sown into the earth where it dies (see Jn 12:24; Rom 8:8-25; 1 Cor 15:35-49).
In praying this psalm, we can also be mindful of the wondrous spiritual salvation of sinners worked by Christ in accord with the will of the Father. This salvation constitutes a spiritual Exodus from the sinful world to the divine dwelling of the earthly Church and then of the heavenly Church, a transferral from satanic tyranny to the gentle yoke of Christ and then of the heavenly Father, a conversion from infidelity to fidelity toward Christ and his Father. Such are the wonders that God has worked radically for all in causing Christ to pass from the grave to heaven, from death to glorious life (see Eph 4:8), and that he works effectively for every believer who shares in this mystery through faith (see Jn 5:24).
- Psalm 126:1 The edict of the Persian King Cyrus the Great in 538 B.C. that permitted the exiles to return home was totally unexpected despite the oracles issued by Isaiah and Jeremiah. The long period of the captivity had caused many to give up hope. Hence, the joy of their deliverance was indescribable. The Gentiles, too, were impressed by this event; for many nations in the ancient Near East had vanished owing to conquest and exile, and the conventional wisdom was that little Israel would suffer the same fate. When this proved not to be the case, the People of God acknowledged that it was the Lord who had done great things for them.
- Psalm 126:1 The restoration of the captives to Zion took place in 538 B.C., in fulfillment of the prophetic word (see Isa 14:1f; 44:24—45:25; 48:20f; Jer 29:14; 30:3; 33:7, 10f; Am 9:14). However, when the actual moment came, it felt like a mirage. When the Lord . . . dreaming: another translation is: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, / we were like men restored to health.”
- Psalm 126:2 So great was the act of restoration and the joy of the people that the nations heard about it too (see Ps 98:2; Isa 52:10; Ezek 36:36) and praised the Lord (see note on Ps 46:10).
- Psalm 126:3 The psalmist affirms that the Lord has done great things for the people, and they are filled with joy. We Christians can use this verse in our own right to declare the manifold blessings bestowed on us in Christ, especially his Resurrection, which turned the disciples’ sorrow into joy and brought salvation to the world that had previously been in bondage to the devil.
- Psalm 126:4 The reality of life in Canaan soon tempered the joy of the repatriates, for they had to eke out an existence in the land that had remained untended for years. So the people cry out to God for a continuation of the restoration: restoration of their well-being in the land (fortunes; see Ps 14:7). And they are assured of God’s continued fidelity to his promise.
- Psalm 126:4 The repatriates, disappointed by the limited fulfillment of the prophetic word, turn to the Lord. They beg him to grant them a complete restoration and give them a brighter future even if to do so he has to perform a miracle like creating streams in the Negeb. Restore our fortunes: another possible translation is: “Bring back our people from captivity.” No matter what the text, the prayer is one for a better future. Streams in the Negeb: the wadis of southern Palestine, almost always dry, are suddenly filled by the winter rains and fertilize the earth (see 2 Ki 3:20; Isa 41:18), representing proverbially the sudden coming of God’s blessing.
- Psalm 126:5 God will be true to his promise, but the people must also do their part—they must sow the seed in order to have a harvest. God will turn the people’s tears into songs of joy by blessing them in their various endeavors and rewarding their laborious toil.
- Psalm 126:6 The psalm concludes on the expectation of another miracle to take place; the people will return with shouts of joy because of the plentiful harvest. The time of exile was like a sowing of tears; it was a time of penance. The time of the harvest has not yet come. But as certainly as in nature the harvest follows upon seeding, so certain is it that a time of joy will follow for God’s people. Thus, the psalm attests to the certainty of the Lord’s promise. Seeds to be sown: “Previously the seed had not sprouted, and the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, had borne no fruit. From this day forward I intend to bless you” (Hag 2:19).