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Psalm 126


Thanksgiving for Return from Captivity
MT Intro
A Song of Ascents.
A Joyful Return to Zion A Prayer for Deliverance From National Misfortune A Prayer for Deliverance Song of Returning Exiles
126:1-3 126:1-3 126:1-3 126:1-3 126:1-2b
126:4-6 126:4 126:4 126:4-5 126:4-5
  126:5-6 126:5-6    
      126:6 126:6

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.



 1When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion,
 We were like those who dream.
 2Then our mouth was filled with laughter
 And our tongue with joyful shouting;
 Then they said among the nations,
 "The Lord has done great things for them."
 3The Lord has done great things for us;
 We are glad.

126:1-3 This strophe contrasts the Israelites' feelings about being taken captive into exile with the great joy of returning to Judah and Jerusalem and the temple.

The problem for interpreters is that the Hebrew verbs do not carry a time element, only context can determine past, present, or future! Therefore, this first verse could be

1. an affirmation of a past act

2. a hope for a future act

3. a past act, Ps. 126:1; a prayer for YHWH to do it again, Ps. 126:4


126:1 "brought back" This verbal (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal infinitive construct) has a wide semantic field. It is the normal word used for "repentance" (see Special Topic: Repentance in the OT) from the basic meaning "to turn" or "to return." It is the second connotation that seems to be involved in Ps. 126:1 (JPSOA, based on Ps. 85:1, has "restore," also see Ps. 14:7; 53:6).

Since several of the "Psalms of Ascent" reflect the Ezra/Nehemiah period (i.e., Cyrus' decree of 538 b.c.), this Psalm may also reflect that post-exilic period.

Just a theological note, their freedom from captivity/exile must have been preceded by their first turning back to YHWH.

▣ "the captive ones" There is a possible emendation (here and in Ps. 126:4) followed by the JPSOA, "When YHWH restores the fortunes of Zion").

1. brought back - שׁיבת (BDB 1000 II), MT

2. restore - שׁבות (BDB 986), JPSOA, cf. Ps. 85:1


The term "fortunes" would denote prosperity (TEV footnote). It would be the visible sign of a restored covenant with YHWH and its promised blessings (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30).

▣ "Zion" See Special Topic: Zion.

▣ "We were like those who dream" This is the first of several descriptive phrases expressing the joy of those who returned.

1. Ps. 126:1b

2. Ps. 126:2a

3. Ps. 126:2b

4. Ps. 126:2c-d

5. Ps. 126:3

These feelings were the intended outcome of a relationship with YHWH.

The DSS and the LXX see the Hebrew word "dream," חלם (BDB 321 II) as referring to "be healthy," "strong" (cf. REB); the root is spelled exactly the same. The Peshitta has "we were like those who rejoice."

126:2c-d "they said among the nations" This phrase reaffirms the central theological assertion that YHWH wanted to use His relationship with Israel as a way to reach the nations (cf. Ps. 46:10). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

 4Restore our captivity, O Lord,
 As the streams in the South.
 5Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
 6He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed,
 Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

126:4a This imperative (like the infinitive construct of Ps. 126:1a) is difficult to understand. If Ps. 126:1 asserts the return of the captives, why is Ps. 126:4 a prayer for their return? This is why JPSOA uses the model of Ps. 85:1 to assert that it is referring to the return of prosperity.

 126:4b This is a geographical metaphor related to water channels in the desert (i.e., Negev) called wadis. These being filled with water was imagery of a great blessing of future agricultural abundance (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30).

126:5-6 The promise of abundant water in Ps. 126:4b is extended to other agricultural idioms. The "tears" (BDB 199) would refer to

1.  tears of joy at the restoration of the covenant (i.e., Israel back in the land flowing with milk and honey)

2. the results of Israel's repentance


126:6 There are two examples of a grammatical form of intensification in this verse. Twice the infinitive absolute and imperfect verb of one Hebrew root are used.

1. he who goes to and fro - BDB 229, KB 246

2. shall indeed come again - BDB 9, KB 112

Those who plant in faith/repentance will reap in certainty (cf. Deut. 30:1-10)!

NASB"bag of seed"
NKJV, NRSV"bearing seed"
LXX"carrying the seed"

This word (BDB 604 I) is used in Job 28:18 in the sense of "drawing up" and here possibly in the sense of a bag with draw strings. The verb form means to "drag" or "draw" (cf. Amos 9:13).

The Tyndale OT Commentary Series (vol. 16, p. 476) says the verb refers to a trail (i.e., drawing out) of seed (i.e., one row at a time, not sowing broadly).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is it difficult to know the historical setting of this Psalm?

2. How does Ps. 126:1 seem to contradict Ps. 126:4?

3. What is the theological implication of Ps. 126:2c-d?

4. Define "Negev."

5. What does the "weeping" of Ps. 126:5 imply?

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