New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 126:1

A Song of Ascents-
Or 'degrees'. Hezekiah’s response to being granted another 15 years of life was to edit and produce the Songs of Degrees, so named after the degrees of the sundial. Four of the 15 Psalms were by David, one by Solomon; and the other 10 it seems Hezekiah wrote himself but left anonymous. These ten Psalms would reflect the ten degrees by which the sun-dial went backwards. The point to note is that Hezekiah taught others in an anonymous way in response to the grace he had received. True preaching reflects a certain artless selflessness. These songs of ascents were presumably also intended to be sung by the exiles as they returned to Zion, and then every time they went up to Jerusalem to keep a feast. But there is no evidence this happened. For they didn't return in the kind of faith implied in these Psalms. The plural "ascents" would then be an intensive plural referring to the one great ascent, to Zion. Much of the language of these Psalms is typical of David's language when under persecution by Saul. But the Psalm was reapplied to Hezekiah, and then to the exiles on their return from Babylon, and then by extension to all God's people on their journey zionwards.

When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream-

LXX "We became as comforted ones". The allusion is to the prophecies of later Isaiah, especially Is. 40, announcing "comfort" to "My people", the returning exiles. But they for the most part refused that comfort. So we are reading here of prophetic hope, which didn't come fully true at the time, although those prophecies were reapplied to the "comfort" announced by John the Baptist in the work of the Lord Jesus. We note it was Yahweh who "turned back" (Heb.) the exiles; the term refers to both repentance and literally returning to the land. But most of the exiles refused to make use of the potential repentance given them.

The songs of ascents, part of the restoration Psalms, are relevant to any ‘ascent’ or ‘going up’ to the Lord’s house. They are full of reference to God’s eternal purpose with Jerusalem and the temple. It seems to me that they may have been re-written under inspiration with reference to God’s people returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. “The Lord brought back those that returned to Zion” (Ps. 126:1 RVmg.) is obviously relevant to the exiles returning. They are described as going forth into captivity weeping but bearing previous seed, and now returning home with the sheaves (Ps. 126:6). This could be a reference to their children whom they had taken with them 70 years previously returning; or it could also imply that there had been a spiritual growth and fruition during the captivity. At least, this was what God had intended.

Psa 126:2

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, Yahweh has done great things for them-
The past tenses here shouldn't be read as meaning that this Psalm was the reflection of the returned exiles. For the relatively few who did return did so in fear, unbelief and uncertainty, to be greeted by famine and troubles. Rather is this the Psalmist believing by faith that 'the future is now', seeing ahead with the eye of faith to how things would be at the restoration, and rejoicing in it. The intention of the restoration was so that the Gentile nations would recognize Yahweh's great work for His people, with the result that they too turned to Him. This didn't happen at the restoration. Yahweh did do great things for His people, but they refused to respond. The same phrase is found in Is. 1:2, where Yahweh "nourished" or 'did great things' for His people "and they rebelled against Me". So these things will finally come true in the last day, when Yahweh again will do "great things" for the land at the return of the Lord Jesus (s.w. Joel 2:21).

Psa 126:3

Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad-
As noted on :2, this is the 'prophetic perfect' tense, speaking from God's perspective, of the future as if it has already happened. Such was the Psalmist's faith that he and his community were full of joy even at the prospect of this great but yet future salvation.

Psa 126:4

Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev-
The idea is that the streams appeared suddenly in the dry riverbeds, or that they would run in one direction in the sand of the Negev and just as easily in the opposite direction a short time later. This was the speed with which the Psalmist is praying for the path of Judah into exile to be reversed, with them returning along the same tracks they took into exile. This sudden reversal of fortunes was given in the decree of Cyrus. But the majority of God's people didn't want to go in the paths opened up for them.

Psa 126:5

Those who sow in tears will reap in joy-
This 'sowing' was the 'going out' from Judah and Jerusalem in captivity of :6. That tragic exile was in fact a sowing, potentially anyway, which would rise up in a harvest of joy at the restoration. This was the prophetic intention. But the reality was that the majority of the exiles didn't want to return, neither did the seed of the prophetic word achieve the intended harvest. For they were stony, bad ground and unresponsive to the word of prophetic hope. The potential application in Hezekiah's time was recorded in 1 Kings 19:29, where joyful reaping was to be a sign to the people. This would only happen if Judah sowed in righteousness; and then they would reap mercy (Hos. 10:12 s.w.). This didn't come true at the restoration.

Psa 126:6

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy carrying his sheaves-
“Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of” children (Ps. 127:5) is surely to be connected with Ps. 126:6, where the sower [the preacher] returns with joy, “bringing his sheaves [converts] with him”. In the first context, the sheaves refer to the reborn children of Zion.

It seems that God intended the 70 years in Babylon to be the time when the Jews would come to a fullness of repentance whereby they would be able to return, rebuild the temple, and usher in a Messianic Kingdom. Ps. 126:1,6 speak of how the Lord would bring back the returnees to Zion (RVmg.), and thereby he who went forth into captivity weeping, bearing the precious seed of the next generation as little children, would in that sense return to Zion with joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Jer. 24 speaks as if the “good figs” were to be those who went to Babylon and through that experience there became “good figs”. Micah speaks of the same process. Zion was to be plowed and Jerusalem become heaps, which happened in the Babylonian invasion. But then afterwards- 70 years afterwards- the temple was to be rebuilt, “the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains” (Mic. 3:12; 4:1). “In that day… will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather that has been driven out… and I will make her that was cast off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth even for ever… the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem”. A Messianic Kingdom could then have come. This whole situation would be brought to pass because the daughter of Zion was to “go forth out of the city” of Jerusalem “and come even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered [RV rescued]: there shall the Lord redeem thee” (Mic. 4:10). How was the travailing daughter of Zion to be delivered / rescued in Babylon after having been taken captive there from Jerusalem by the Babylonians? Surely in that there, God intended a spiritual revival of the people, there they would hear Ezekiel’s appeal to repent, which if responded  to would enable them to build the temple which he had described (Ez. 43:10,11) and thus usher in a Messianic Kingdom.   

But the reality was that the exiles didn't repent, and most remained in Babylon rather than returning to Zion. The idea of the restored Kingdom therefore became reapplied to the return of the Lord Jesus to earth (Acts 1:6).