Psalm 126#sn Psalm 126. Recalling the joy of past deliverance, God’s covenant community asks for a fresh display of God’s power and confidently anticipate their sorrow being transformed into joy.
A song of ascents.#sn The precise significance of this title, which appears in Pss 120-134, is unclear. Perhaps worshipers recited these psalms when they ascended the road to Jerusalem to celebrate annual religious festivals. For a discussion of their background see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 219-21.
1 When the Lord restored the well-being of Zion,#tn Heb “turns with a turning [toward] his people.” The Hebrew noun שִׁיבַת (shivat) occurs only here in the OT. For this reason many prefer to emend the form to the more common שְׁבִית (shevit) or שְׁבוּת (shÿvut), both of which are used as a cognate accusative of שׁוּב (shuv; see Ps 14:7). However an Aramaic cognate of שְׁבִית appears in an eighth century b.c. Old Aramaic inscription with the verb שׁוּב. This cognate noun appears to mean “return” (see J. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Treaties of Sefire [BibOr], 119-20) or “restoration” (see DNWSI 2:1125). Therefore it appears that שְׁבִית should be retained and understood as a cognate accusative of שׁוּב. In addition to Fitzmyer (119-20) see L. C. Allen, who offers the literal translation, “turn with a turning toward” (Psalms 101-150 [WBC], 170). Allen takes שְׁבִית as construct and understands “Zion” as an objective genitive.
we thought we were dreaming.#tn Heb “we were like dreamers.” This could mean the speakers were so overcome with ecstatic joy (see v. 3b) that they were like those who fantasize about pleasurable experiences in their sleep (see Isa 29:7-8). Since dreams are more commonly associated in the OT with prophetic visions, the community may be comparing their experience of God’s renewed favor to a prophet’s receiving divine visions. Just as a prophetic dream sweeps the individual into a different dimension and sometimes brings one face-to-face with God himself (see Gen 28:11-15; 1 Kgs 3:5-15), so the community was aware of God’s presence in a special way in the day of Zion’s restoration. Though the MT as it stands makes good sense, some choose to understand a homonymic root here meaning “to be healthy; to be strong” (see BDB 321 s.v. I חָלַם) and translate, “we were like those restored to health.” This reading appears to have the support of several ancient translations as well as 11QPsa. See L. C. Allen (Psalms 101-150 [WBC], 170-71) for a discussion of the viewpoints.
2 At that time we laughed loudly
and shouted for joy.#tn Heb “then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with a shout.”
At that time the nations said,#tn Heb “they said among the nations.”
“The Lord has accomplished great things for these people.”
3 The Lord did indeed accomplish great things for us.
We were happy.
4 O Lord, restore our well-being,
just as the streams in the arid south are replenished.#tn Heb “like the streams in the Negev.”sn The streams in the arid south. Y. Aharoni writes of the streams in the Negev: “These usually dry wadis collect water on rainy days from vast areas. The situation is also aggravated by floods from the desert mountains and southern Judah. For a day or two or, more frequently, for only a few hours they turn into dangerous torrents” (Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, 26). God’s people were experiencing a “dry season” after a time of past blessing; they pray here for a “flash flood” of his renewed blessing. This does not imply that they are requesting only a brief display of God’s blessing. Rather the point of comparison is the suddenness with which the wadis swell during a rain, as well as the depth and power of these raging waters. The community desires a sudden display of divine favor in which God overwhelms them with blessings.
5 Those who shed tears as they plant
will shout for joy when they reap the harvest.#sn O. Borowski says regarding this passage: “The dependence on rain for watering plants, the uncertainty of the quantity and timing of the rains, and the possibility of crop failure due to pests and diseases appear to have kept the farmer in a gloomy mood during sowing” (Agriculture in Iron Age Israel, 54). Perhaps the people were experiencing a literal drought, the effects of which cause them to lament their plight as they plant their seed in hopes that the rain would come. However, most take the language as metaphorical. Like a farmer sowing his seed, the covenant community was enduring hardship as they waited for a new outpouring of divine blessing. Yet they are confident that a time of restoration will come and relieve their anxiety, just as the harvest brings relief and joy to the farmer.
6 The one who weeps as he walks along, carrying his bag#tn The noun occurs only here and in Job 28:18 in the OT. See HALOT 646 s.v. I מֶשֶׁךְ which gives “leather pouch” as the meaning. of seed,
will certainly come in with a shout of joy, carrying his sheaves of grain.#tn The Hebrew noun אֲלֻמָּה (’alummah, “sheaf”) occurs only here and in Gen 37:7 in the OT.sn Verse 6 expands the image of v. 5. See the note on the word “harvest” there.