Psalm 126 Translation and comment

A song of ascents or degrees

When Yahweh returns Zion’s captives

(This is our dream:)

Then our mouths will be moved to laughter

And our tongues to songs of triumph.

Then among the gentiles someone will say:

“Yahweh has worked marvels for them!”

Yes, Yahweh will work marvels for us

And we will make merry.

Return our captives Yahweh

like rivers return to the Negev!

Sow with tears, they say, but reap with songs.

On the way out they went with weeping

Bearing the bag of seed

On the way back they come with singing

Bringing in the sheaves.

This is very much my own interpretation of the psalm, which has gaps in its structure and many verbs in the Hebrew imperfect, which may refer to past, present or future action. Some decisions are therefore necessary. I have imagined most of the psalm as the content of a dream. I have taken the phrase “we became like dreamers” to be an instruction on how to read the psalm, “this is our dream.”

Many translations emend the text of the first verse so that it says, “restores the fortunes of Zion”; I have stuck with the text which refers to the return of captives. Obviously the Babylonian captivity lies behind the psalm which I judge to have been written at the very beginning of the return, which was smaller in numbers than some hoped, and uncertain of success. The psalmist responds with a dream which is also a prayer.

The sober, but positive ending of his composition is moving and beautiful.

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