1. When Jehovah brought back the captivity 1 of Zion, we were like those that dream. 2. Now shall our mouth be filled2 with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing: now shall they say3 among the heathen, Jehovah hath done great things for them. 3. Jehovah hath done great things for us, whereof we have been made glad.
1. When Jehovah brought back the captivity of Zion, etc. It is unnatural and forced to suppose, with some expositors, that this is a prediction of what was to come. For my part I have no doubt that the Psalm was composed upon the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonish captivity; and for this reason I have translated the verb bwsb, beshub, in the past tense. Now, whoever was the author of it,4 whether one of the Levites or one of the Prophets, he affirms that the manner of their deliverance was too wonderful to be attributed to fortune, in order to lead the faithful to the conclusion that the prophecy of Jeremiah, which had assigned seventy years as the term of the captivity, was truly fulfilled. (Jeremiah 25:12, and Jeremiah 29:10.) By the verb dream, which expresses the astonishing character of the event, he teaches us that there is no room left for ingratitude. As often as God works by ordinary means, men, through the malignity of their natures, usually exercise their ingenuity in devising various causes of the deliverance wrought, in order to darken the grace of God. But the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonish captivity, having been a miracle of such splendor as was sufficient to swallow up and confound all the thoughts of men, it compels us. to own that it was a signal work of God. This is the reason why the Prophet compares this deliverance to a dream. "So far," he materially says, "is any mind from comprehending this unparalleled benefit of God, that the bare thinking upon it transports us with amazement, as if it were a dream, and not an event which had already taken place. What impiety, then, will it be, not to acknowledge the author of it." Moreover, he does not mean that the faithful were so dull of understanding as not to perceive that they were delivered by the hand of God, but only that, judging according to carnal sense and reason, they were struck with astonishment; and he was apprehensive lest, in reasoning with themselves about that redemption, as about an ordinary thing, they should make less account of the power of God than it became them to do. The noun tbys, shibath, translated captivity, might be rendered bringing back, as some do, which would give greater elegance to the expression of the Psalmist, as in that case tbys would be a noun of the same verb which is used in the beginning of the verse.5 As, however, this makes little difference in regard to the sense, it is enough to have noticed it to my readers in passing.
2. Now shall our mouth be filled with laughter. The adverb of time, za, az, is commonly translated then; but as the verbs are in the future tense, I have thought that it might not be improper to translate tires -- grow shall our mouth be filled, and now shall they say. If, however, we admit what some Hebrew Doctors affirm, that the force of this particle is to change the future tense into the past, the adverb then will be the appropriate word. The design of the Prophet is not at all obscure. He would have the people so to rejoice on account of their return, as not to bury in forgetfulness the grace of God. He therefore describes no ordinary rejoicing, but such as so fills their minds as to constrain them to break forth into extravagance of gesture and of voice. At the same time he intimates that there was good ground for this joy, in which it became the children of God to indulge, on account of their return to their own land. As there was at that period nothing more wretched than for them to live in captivity, in which they were in a manner dispossessed of the inheritance God had promised them; so there was nothing which ought to have been more desirable to them than to be restored. Their restoration to their own country having been therefore a proof of their renewed adoption by God, it is not surprising to find the Prophet asserting that their mouth was filled with laughter, and their tongue with exultation. With a similar joy does it become us at the present day to exult when God gathers together his Church and it is an undoubted evidence that we are steel-hearted, if her miserable dispersion does not produce in our minds grief and lamentation. The Prophet proceeds farther, declaring that this miracle was seen even by the blind; for in that age of the world, as is well known, the heathen were wandering in darkness like blind men, no knowledge of God having shone upon them; and yet God's power and operation were so conspicuous in that event, that they burst forth into the open acknowledgment that God had done great things for his people. So much the more shame-fill then was the indifference of the Jews to be accounted, if they did not freely and loudly celebrate God's grace, which had acquired so much renown among the unbelieving. The form of speech employed is also to be marked, which forcibly expresses the idea intended to be conveyed, that the mighty power of God in this deliverance was known by the Gentiles. In the following verse the Prophet repeats in his own person, and in that of the Church, the words uttered by the heathen in the last member of the preceding verse. Let us at least, as if he had said, put forth a confession corresponding to that which God has extorted from the unbelieving Gentiles. When he adds that they were glad, there is an implied antithesis between this fresh joy and the long continued sorrow with which they were afflicted in their captivity. he expressly declares that joy was restored to them, to enable them the better to estimate the dismal condition from which they had been extricated.