It is more than likely that this Psalm hath a reference to some great event in the Church's history: and hence it hath been generally supposed to refer to the return of the people from Babylon. But this is mere conjecture. Certain it is, that it salts the Church's deliverance upon every occasion, and the deliverance of every believer. And every poor sinner, redeemed by Christ, may well take up the same language.
A Song of Degrees.
If this Psalm was written with a view to record the wonderful and gracious dealings of the Lord with his people, in delivering them from the Babylonish captivity, certain it is, that that event was as sudden and unexpected as a dream. For when Cyrus (as we read in the book of Ezra) gave commandment for the Jews to return to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the temple, it might well excite the astonishment of all that heard it. Nothing but the over-ruling power of God could have prompted him to such an act; and nothing but God's over-ruling power could have brought them out. See Ezra 1:1-6. But passing over this event, great and astonishing as it is in itself, as a proof of God's kind providence over his people; I would call the Reader to a yet more marvellous instance of God's sovereignty in the kingdom of his grace, and desire him to ponder with me the wonders of God's love, in turning the captivity of sinners by the proclamation of mercy in the person and offices of the Lord Jesus Christ. Cyrus was mentioned by name, between two and three hundred years before he was born, and declared to be God's anointed for opening the two-leaved gates, upon which occasion God would loose the loins of kings. And in the night that Belshazzar was slain, was this memorable prophecy fulfilled. See Isaiah 45:1-3, compared with Daniel 5:6-30. But what was all this in comparison to the salvation of Jesus? He was set up from everlasting. And our whole nature was in worse than Babylonish bondage, when God sent his Son to deliver us from darkness, and to bring us into his marvellous light; to bring us out of the prison house, and make us free. And when any, and every poor sinner is thus brought out, so great, so unexpected, so unlooked for, and so, marvellous doth the whole seem to him, that it appears too great, and too good to be real, so that it seems but as a dream, or a vision of the night.
But as soon as the awakened, liberated sinner is made sensible of the reality, how will praises burst forth from his joyful heart! The carnal world who look on, know not what to make of it, what to think, or what to say: but they are compelled to confess that God is in it. And the people of God are ever ready to ascribe all to sovereign grace. Psalms 115:1; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7.
This forms a very suitable prayer, after the experience of such unlooked for mercies. The streams in the south most probably refer to those subterraneous waters that empty themselves, and are seen no more. Babylon no more retains her captives. The spiritual Babylon hath a period also, when it shall be known no more. Revelation 18:2; Rev_18:20-21.
These are sweet and general truths, which are not limited to the history of this event of the Church, but may be applied to the Church of God in all ages. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted, Matthew 5:4. And most unquestionably that grace which induceth sorrow for sin, will bring forth joy in the view of Christ's righteousness. Jeremiah 31:9; 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.
READER! in the perusal of this Psalm, I would beg of you, as I desire to examine myself, to look and see whether we really bear a part in the triumphs here recorded. The effects of this deliverance are very strikingly defined; the joy of the soul was such, that from its greatness it seemed but as a dream. Such is the real joy when Christ converts, and brings the sinner from the captivity of sin and Satan. Convinced of sin, and converted by the Holy Ghost to the belief of salvation by Jesus; no sooner is the soul made sensible of the mighty redemption, but light, and life, and joy, and peace, appear in the heart through the power of the Holy Ghost. Reader! what saith your experience to these grand concerns? Are you still in bondage and prison-frames to the thousand evils of a fallen Babylonish state; to sin, to divers lusts, and pleasures; to the alarms of conscience, the fear of death, and judgment to come? Or hath one like the Son of man made you free, and brought you out? Oh! to grace, what mercies do the redeemed owe! And what will they eternally owe when grace is consummated in glory! Though now, if needs be, they sow in tears, and are in heaviness through manifold temptations, yet are they looking forward to the certainty of reaping in joy. These light afflictions, which are but of a moment, are working out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Psalms 126". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30