Psalms 126

PSALM CXXVI

The joy of the Israelites on their return from captivity, and

the effect their deliverance had upon the heathen, 1-3.

The prayer which they had offered up, 4.

The inference they draw from the whole, 5, 6.

NOTES ON PSALM CXXVI

This Psalm is not of David, has no title in the Hebrew or any of

the Versions, and certainly belongs to the close of the captivity.

It might have been composed by Haggai and Zechariah, as the Syriac

supposes; or by Ezra, according to others. It is beautiful, and

highly descriptive of the circumstances which it represents.

Verse 1. When the Lord turned again the captivity] When Cyrus

published his decree in favour of the Jews, giving them liberty to

return to their own land, and rebuild their city and temple.

We were like them that dream.] The news was so unexpected that

we doubted for a time the truth of it. We believed it was too good

news to be true, and thought ourselves in a dream or illusion.

When the Romans had vanquished Philip, king of Macedon, they

restored liberty to the Grecian cities by proclamation. It was

done at the time of the Isthmian games, and by the crier, who went

into the circus to proclaim them; none but the Roman general T.

Quintius knowing what was to be done. Multitudes from all Greece

were there assembled; and the tidings produced nearly the same

effect upon them, according to Livy, that the publication of the

decree of Cyrus did on the Jews, according to what is here related

by the psalmist. I shall give the substance of this account from

the Roman historian. When the Romans had sat down to behold the

games, the herald with his trumpet went into the arena, according

to custom, to proclaim the several games. Silence being obtained,

he solemnly pronounced the following words:-

SENATUS ROMANUS ET T. QUINCIUS IMPERATOR, PHILIPPO REGE

MACEDONIBUSQUE DEVICTIS; LIBEROS, IMMUNES, SUIS LEGIBUS ESSE JUBET

CORINTHIOS, PHOCENSES, LOCRENSESQUE OMNES, ET INSULAM EUBOEAM, ET

MAGNETAS, THESSALOS, PERRHAEBOS, ACHAEOS, PHTHIOTAS.

"The Roman Senate, and T. Quintius the general, having

vanquished king Philip and the Macedonians, do ordain that the

Corinthians, Phocensians, all the Locrensians, the island of

Euboea, the Magnesians, Thessalians, Perrhaebians, Acheans, and

Phthiotians, shall be free, be delivered from all taxes, and live

according to their own laws."

The effect that this produced on the astonished Grecians who

were present, is related by this able historian in a very natural

and affecting manner; and some parts of it nearly in the words of

the psalmist.

Audita voce praeconis, majus gaudium fuit, quam quod universum

homines caperent. Vix satis se credere se quisque audisse: alii

alios intueri mirabundi velut somnii vanam speciem: guod ad

guemque pertineret, suarum aurium fidei minimum credentes,

proximos interrogabant. Revocatur praeco, cum unusquisque non

audire, sed videre libertatis suae nuncium averit, iterum

pronunciaret eadem. Tum ab certo jam gaudio tantus cum clamore

plausus est ortus, totiesque repetitus, ut facile appareret, nihil

omnium bonorum multitudini gratius quam LIBERTATEM esse.

T. LIV. Hist., lib. xxiii., c. 32.

This proclamation of the herald being heard, there was such joy,

that the people in general could not comprehend it. Scarcely could

any person believe what he had heard. They gazed on each other,

wondering as if it had been some illusion, similar to a dream; and

although all were interested in what was spoken, none could trust

his own ears, but inquired each from him who stood next to him

what it was that was proclaimed. The herald was again called, as

each expressed the strongest desire not only to hear, but see the

messenger of his own liberty: the herald, therefore, repeated the

proclamation. When by this repetition the glad tidings were

confirmed, there arose such a shout, accompanied with repeated

clapping of hands, as plainly showed that of all good things none

is so dear to the multitude as LIBERTY.

O that God may raise up some other deliverer to save these same

cities with their inhabitants, from a worse yoke than ever was

imposed upon them by the king of Macedon; and from a servitude

which has now lasted three hundred years longer than the captivity

of the Israelites in the empire of Babylon!

Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453; and since that

time till the present, (October, 1822,) three hundred and

sixty-nine years have elapsed. Why do the Christian powers of

Europe stand by, and see the ark of their God in captivity; the

holy name by which they are called despised and execrated; the

vilest indignities offered to those who are called Christians, by

barbarians the most cruel, ferocious, and abominable that ever

disgraced the name of man? Great God, vindicate the cause of the

distressed Greeks as summarily, as effectually, as permanently,

as thou once didst that of thy oppressed people the Jews! Let the

crescent never more fill its horns with a victory, nor with

the spoils of any who are called by the sacred name of JESUS: but

let it wane back into total darkness; and know no change for the

better, till illuminated by the orient splendour of the Sun of

righteousness! Amen! Amen!

How signally has this prayer been thus far answered! Three great

Christian powers, the British, the French, and the Russian, have

taken up the cause of the oppressed Greeks. The Turkish fleet has

been attacked in the Bay of Navarino by the combined fleets of the

above powers in October, 1827, under the command of the British

Admiral, Sir Edward Codrington, and totally annihilated. After

which, the Mohammedan troops were driven out of Greece and the

Morea; so that the whole of Greece is cleared of its oppressors,

and is now under its own government, protected by the above

powers.-March, 1829.

Verse 2. Then was our mouth filled with laughter] The same

effect as was produced on the poor liberated Grecians mentioned

above.

Then said they among the heathen] The liberty now granted was

brought about in so extraordinary a way, that the very heathens

saw that the hand of the great Jehovah must have been in it.

Verse 3. The Lord hath done great things for us] We acknowledge

the hand of our God. Deus nobis haec otia fecit, "God alone has

given us this enlargement."

We are glad.] This is a mere burst of ecstatic joy. O how happy

are we!

Verse 4. Turn again our captivity] This is either a recital of

the prayer they had used before their deliverance; or it is a

prayer for those who still remained in the provinces beyond the

Euphrates. The Jewish captives did not all return at once; they

came back at different times, and under different leaders, Ezra,

Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, &c.

As the streams in the south.] Probably the Nile is meant. It is

now pretty well known that the Nile has its origin in the kingdom

of Damot; and runs from south to north through different

countries, till, passing through Egypt, it empties itself into the

Mediterranean Sea. It is possible, however, that they might have

had in view some rapid rivers that either rose in the south, or

had a southern direction; and they desired that their return might

be as rapid and as abundant as the waters of those rivers. But we

know that the Nile proceeds from the south, divides itself into

several streams as it passes through Egypt, and falls by seven

mouths into the Mediterranean.

Verse 5. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.] This is

either a maxim which they gather from their own history, or it is

a fact which they are now witnessing. We see the benefit of

humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God; we have now a

sweet return for our bitter tears. Or, We have sown in tears; now

we reap in joy. We are restored after a long and afflicting

captivity to our own country, to peace, and to happiness.

Verse 6. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed]

The metaphor seems to be this: A poor farmer has had a very bad

harvest: a very scanty portion of grain and food has been gathered

from the earth. The seed time is now come, and is very

unpromising. Out of the famine a little seed has been saved to be

sown, in hopes of another crop; but the badness of the present

season almost precludes the entertainment of hope. But he must

sow, or else despair and perish. He carries his all, his precious

seed, with him in his seed basket; and with a sorrowful heart

commits it to the furrow, watering it in effect with his tears,

and earnestly imploring the blessing of God upon it. God hears;

the season becomes mild; he beholds successively the blade, the

ear, and the full corn in the ear. The appointed weeks of

harvest come, and the grain is very productive. He fills his arms,

his carriages, with the sheaves and shocks; and returns to his

large expecting family in triumph, praising God for the wonders he

has wrought. So shall it be with this handful of returning

Israelites. They also are to be sown-scattered all over the land;

the blessing of God shall be upon them, and their faith and

numbers shall be abundantly increased. The return here referred

to, Isaiah describes in very natural language: "And they shall

bring all your brethren for an offering to the Lord out of all

nations, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, upon mules,

and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the

Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean

vessel into the house of the Lord," Isa 66:20.

ANALYSIS OF THE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIXTH PSALM

The parts of this Psalm are three:-

I. An expression of joy for their strange deliverance from

captivity.

II. A prayer for the return of the remaining part.

III. A moral collected by the psalmist from it.

1. The psalmist celebrates their return, and amplifies it three

ways:-

1. From the cause, Jehovah. Cyrus gave a commission for it; but

it was the Lord who disposed his heart so to do: "When the Lord

turned," &c.

2. From the manner of it. It was strange and wonderful; they

could scarcely believe it.

3. From the joy at it, inward and external. 1. Their "mouths

were filled with laughter." 2. Their "tongue with singing." A

thankful tongue expressed the feelings of a thankful heart.

That God did this for them he proves by two evidences:-

1. The heathen: "Then said they among the heathen." They saw

that they were permitted to return by virtue of a royal edict;

that the very king who gave the commission was named by a prophet;

that they had rich gifts given them, the vessels of gold and

silver restored, &c. Who could do all these things but GOD?

2. The Jews. It is true, said the Jews, what you acknowledge. 1.

"The Lord hath done great things for us." Beyond our merit, beyond

our hope. 2. "Whereof we are glad," for we are freed from a

galling yoke.

II. But there were some Jews left behind, for whom they pray.

1. "Turn their captivity also." Put it in their hearts to join

their brethren. Several, no doubt, stayed behind, because they had

married strange wives, &c.

2. "Turn it as the streams in the south." Or, as some read it,

streams of water on a parched land. Judea has been lying waste;

we need many hands to cultivate it. When all join together in this

work the land will become fruitful, like the parched ground when

powerful rivulets are sent through it in all directions.

III. The benefit of this will be great; for although it may cost

us much hard labour and distress in the beginning, yet the maxim

will hold good-"They who sow in tears shall reap in joy." Which

the psalmist amplifies in the next verse.

1. "He that goeth forth and weepeth." The poor husbandman, for

the reasons given above and in the notes, bearing precious

seed-seed bought with a high price, which augments his grief,

being so poor.

2. "He shall doubtless come again"-in harvest with joy, having a

plentiful crop; for every grain sown at least one full-fed ear of

corn, with at the lowest thirty-fold. Some maxims are to be

gathered from the whole: Penitential sorrow shall be followed by

the joy of pardoning mercy; he that bears the cross shall wear the

crown; and, trials and difficulties shall be followed by peace and

prosperity.

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