4. O Jehovah! bring back our captivity,1 as rivers in the south.2 5. They who sow in tears shall reap in joy. 6. Going forth, he shall go and weep, carrying the price of the seed: coming, he shall return with rejoicing, carrying his sheaves with him.
4. O Jehovah! bring back our captivity. The second part of the Psalm, as I have said, contains a prayer that God would gather together the residue of the captives. The Holy Spirit endited this form of prayer for the Jews who were already come home to their own country, that they might not forget their poor brethren who were still in exile. All the Jews, no doubt, had a door opened to them, and perfect liberty granted them, to come out of the land of their captivity, but the number of those who partook of this benefit was small when compared with the vast multitude of the people. Some were kept from returning by fear, and others by sloth and want of courage, on seeing such perils at hand as they apprehended they had not power to overcome, choosing rather to lie torpid in their own filthiness, than to undertake the hardship of the journey. It is probable also that many of them preferred their present ease and comfort to eternal salvation. What the Prophet Isaiah had foretold was no doubt fulfilled, (Isaiah 10:22,). That although the people were in number as the sand of the sea, yet only a remnant of them should be saved. Since, then, many openly refused the benefit when it was offered them, and as there were not; wanting many difficulties and impediments to be encountered by those who availed themselves of this liberty granted them by the good pleasure of the king,3 so that it was only a few of sounder judgment and of a more intrepid heart, who dared to move a foot -- and even they with reluctance, -- it is no wonder that the Prophet requires the Church still to make supplication to God for the bringing back of the captivity. Along with this, the state of those who had already returned is also to be noted; for their land being in the possession of strangers, who were all their inveterate and sworn enemies, they were no less captives in their own country than among the Babylonians. It was therefore necessary, on a twofold account, that the Church should earnestly beseech God to gather together such as were dispersed; first, that he would give courage to the timid, awaken the torpid, cause the besotted to forget their pleasures, and stretch forth his hand to be a guide to all; and, secondly, that he would settle the body of the people who had returned in liberty and ease.
As to the similitude which follows, many think the sense to be, that the bringing back of their captivity prayed for would be as grateful to them as if water should flow through a desert.4 We know how grievous and painful a thing it is to travel in a hot country through and sands. The south, is taken for the wilderness, because the region on the south of Judea was waste and almost uninhabitable. Yet it seems to me more just to say, that the grace of God is here magnified, and still more enlarged by the Prophet's comparing it to a miracle. "Although it is a difficult matter," he substantially says, "for the dispersed remnant to be again united into one body, yet God, if he please, can do this, just as he can cause rivers of water to flow through a parched desert." He, at the same time, alludes to the road intervening between Judea and Babylon, as appears from the situation of the two countries. Thus the words will not require any supplement, the meaning being simply this, that the bringing back of their captivity would be as if a river should run through a barren and and country. And, certainly, to open up a way for the people who, so to speak, were swallowed up in a deep gulf, was as if a course had been opened up for irrigating waters to flow through a desert.
5. They who sow in tears shall reap in joy. This sentence, in my opinion, ought not less to be extended to the future than understood of the past. The carrying away of the Jews into Babylon was to them as a seed-time;5 God having, by the prophecy of Jeremiah, encouraged them to hope for the harvest. Still, it was not without very great heaviness and anguish of heart that they were dragged into such long continued captivity. It was, as if in the time of dearth the poor husbandman, who already experiences the gnawings of hunger, were compelled to abridge himself of his ordinary food in order to provide for the coming year; and although this is a hard and distressing case, he is yet moved to sow from the hope of the harvest. The Jews then, when led into captivity, were, doubtless, no less sorrowful than he who, in the time of scarcity, casts the precious seed into the ground; but afterwards a joyful harvest followed, when they were delivered; for the Lord restored to them gladness, like that which is experienced in a most abundant increase.6 I, however, also conceive that the Prophet exhorts the faithful to patience in reference to the future. The restoration of the Church was not yet completed, and even, for the two reasons which I have a little before specified, that period was evidently the time of sowing. Although the edict of the king frankly invited the Jews to return, yet only a few of many returned, gradually and fearfully, in small companies. Moreover, those who did so were unkindly and harshly welcomed by their neighbors, and to so much trouble were they subjected that their former bondage appeared equally tolerable. Whence we gather, that they had still to suffer -- the full time of harvest, not having yet arrived; and, therefore, the Prophet, not without cause, exhorts them strenuously to labor, and to persevere in the midst of continual difficulties without fainting, until they found themselves placed in more favorable circumstances. With respect to the words, some translate. Ksm, meshech, a price; and others, a basket or seed vessel.7 For the latter translation there is no foundation. Those who translate price quote in support of their version that passage in the book of Job:28:18 "The price of wisdom is above rubies." But as the verb Ksm, mashach, from which this noun is derived, signifies to extend or to draw out, it may perhaps, both here and in that other place, be more fitly taken in its proper signification. In the text quoted from Job it is profound wisdom, and not intellectual acuteness, which is commended, and thus the extending of wisdom, that is to say, a continual course of wisdom, is, from its being deeply grounded, better than pearls. In like manner, in the passage before us, the drawing out of the seed is applied to the husbandmen themselves, implying, that they extend and prolong their life when they sow. If, however, the word price is preferred, the sense will be, that when corn is scarce, seed is committed to the ground with tears, because it is precious and costly. This doctrine extends still farther. Our life is, in other parts of Scripture, compared to the seed-time, and as it will often happen that we must sow in tears, it becomes us, lest sorrow should weaken or slacken our diligence, to raise our minds to the hope of the harvest. Besides, let us remember that all the Jews who were carried captives into Babylon did not sow; for as really among them, who had hardened themselves against God and the Prophets, had despised all threatenings, so they lost all hope of returning. Those in whom such despair brooded were consumed in their miseries; but those who were sustained by the promise of God, cherished in their hearts the hope of harvest, although in a time, of extreme scarcity they cast their seed into the ground, as it were, at venture. In order then that joy may succeed our present sorrow, let us learn to apply our minds to the contemplation of the issue which God promises. Thus we shall experience that all true believers have a common interest in this prophecy, That God not only will wipe away tears from their eyes, but that he will also diffuse inconceivable joy through their hearts.
"Jehovah hath restored us from our captivity,
As he restoreth the torrents in the dry country."
French and Skinner in like manner read "in a thirsty land."