When the Lord Restored the Fortunes of Zion, We Were Like Those Who Dreamed (Psalm 126)

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Psalm 126 is a powerful passage that belongs to the collection of Psalms known as the "Songs of Ascents," traditionally sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for religious festivals. This specific psalm reflects a communal memory of past deliverance and a prayer for future restoration, carrying a deep theological message of hope, restoration, and divine intervention.

The psalm begins with the community recalling the joy experienced when the Lord restored Zion's fortunes, which is often interpreted as the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian exile. The phrase "we were like those who dream" conveys a sense of disbelief and overwhelming joy at their restoration, emphasizing the miraculous nature of their deliverance. Key Hebrew terms here include בְּשׁוּב ("when restored," "when brought back" [b'shuv]), שִׁיבַת ("restoration" [shivat]), and כְּחֹלְמִֽים ("like those who dream" [k'cholmim]), each highlighting the extraordinary reversal of fortunes experienced by the community. 

The usage of בְּשׁוּב and שִׁיבַת is very delicate because both come from the same root form שׁוּב ("return" [shuv]). This structure serves to emphasize different aspects of the divine act of restoration. While בְּשׁוּב is used in a verbal construct form that implies action, שִׁיבַת is used here as a noun that refers to the result or outcome of the action initiated by God. By using both terms from the same root in close proximity, the verse poetically emphasizes both the divine action of restoration and its glorious outcome. The use of these forms of שׁוּב suggests not just a physical return but a restoration of the people's spiritual and communal well-being.

The latter part of the psalm shifts to a plea for further restoration, using agricultural metaphors of sowing and reaping to illustrate the principle of hopeful labor leading to joyful harvest. The terms הַזֹּרְעִים ("those who sow" [hazore'im]) and בְּדִמְעָה ("with tears" [b'dim'ah]) in verses 5 and 6 underline the message that those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. This metaphor speaks to the enduring faith and labor in the face of adversity, with the assurance that efforts rooted in faith will ultimately lead to joy and abundance.

The message of Psalm 126 resonates with themes of redemption, hope, and the faithful love of God, offering comfort and encouragement to those who await God's restoration in their own lives. It reminds the faithful of the joy that comes from trusting in God's promises and the transformative power of divine intervention.


Word Meaning
שִׁיר song
הַ definite article
מַעֲלָה ascent, step, stair
בְּ in
שׁוב return; do again
יְהוָה Lord
אֵת accusative
שֵׂיבָה grey hair, old age
צִיּוֹן Zion
היה to be, become

Biblical text

126:1שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת בְּשׁ֣וּב יְ֭הוָה אֶת־שִׁיבַ֣ת צִיּ֑וֹן הָ֝יִ֗ינוּ כְּחֹלְמִֽים׃2אָ֤ז יִמָּלֵ֪א שְׂח֡וֹק פִּינוּ֮ וּלְשׁוֹנֵ֪נוּ רִ֫נָּ֥ה אָ֭ז יֹאמְר֣וּ בַגּוֹיִ֑ם הִגְדִּ֥יל יְ֝הוָ֗ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִם־אֵֽלֶּה׃3הִגְדִּ֣יל יְ֭הוָה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִמָּ֗נוּ הָיִ֥ינוּ שְׂמֵחִֽים׃4שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה אֶת־שבותנו כַּאֲפִיקִ֥ים בַּנֶּֽגֶב׃5הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ׃6הָ֘ל֤וֹךְ יֵלֵ֨ךְ ׀ וּבָכֹה֮ נֹשֵׂ֪א מֶֽשֶׁךְ־הַ֫זָּ֥רַע בֹּֽ֬א־יָב֥וֹא בְרִנָּ֑ה נֹ֝שֵׂ֗א אֲלֻמֹּתָֽיו׃