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1 When Yahweh restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
3  Then they said among the nations, *
"Yahweh has done great things for them."
4  Yahweh has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
5  Restore our fortunes, Yahweh, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.
6  Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.
7  Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
This is the Psalm that will be read aloud in unison or sung by a cantor on the fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will follow a reading from Isaiah, where Yahweh spoke through him, saying “he wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” This pair will precede the selection from Philippians, where Paul wrote: “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” All readings will accompany the Gospel selection from John, where is written: “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.”
You will notice how I have adjusted the verse numbers to match the verses separated by David. The NRSV agrees with this numbering; but the Episcopal Church has found verse two to be too long for their purposes and changed it into a non-existent verse. The corrected verse numbers are in bold type, within brackets. The commentaries to follow will address that numbering order. Additionally, in four places the NRSV (et al) have taken the proper name of “Yahweh” and replaced it with a generic “Lord.” There are so many “Lords” these days, it is hard to keep up with who the LGBTQ leaders of the Episcopal Church are calling their “god” this week. I have restored the name “Yahweh” in bold type. If that offends anyone, then I doubt you will continue beyond this point.
In verse one and the true verse four, one will find the NRSV translation saying “restored the fortunes” and restore our fortunes.” Because that is so misleading – making listeners or readers think Yahweh cares how much “fortune” a soul has – as commonly measured in material worth – the association with named places (“Zion” and “Negev”) makes this song seem to be about Jews being able to once again lay claim to property. Because that is so wrong, I will comment on literal translations of this text, that are mine, based on the Hebrew-to-English tool I use. [BibleHub Interlinear]
Verse one translates literally to state in English: “a song , of ascents when returned Yahweh the captivity of dryness ; we became like those who dream .” In David’s view of the land he ruled, there had never been a loss of fortune, unless one wants to look at the grand scope of history, where Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt, leaving all the lands he had possessed behind (amid a famine, when property values take a huge tumble). Thus, this verse is singing about the dryness [the meaning behind the name “Zion”] that is a lack of spiritual waters that Egypt had brought. To be “like those who dream” can allude to Joseph – a dreamer of wisdom – who made the move to Egypt inviting. Still, “Zion” is the name applied to the place inhabited by the Jebusites, whose underground tunnels reflected the grave, where death brings on the dreams of sleep. Thus, verse one is singing about reincarnation, which is then a reflection upon a soul’s resurrection to everlasting life.
The return of the Israelites, led by Joshua and the Ark of the Covenant, meant life was given back to the land of Canaan. This revitalization is then said in verse two to say, “at that time was filled with laughter our tongue with singing at that time they said among the people ; grown up Yahweh has made with these .” To translate “ḇag·gō·w·yim” [transliterated form of “goy”] “among the nations” is skipping forward in history, to when King Solomon has prostituted his godlike status “among the nations,” so Solomon was seen as “great.” None of that had happened when David wrote this song. The only nations around knew nothing of “Yahweh,” and none of those saw the land of the Israelites (led by David) as significant. Thus, David is singing about those divinely married souls led by Joshua into the Promised Land as possessing “mouth and tongue” of Yahweh, which impressed many local “peoples” to say, “Those who left five hundred years ago have come back matured in religion. They were elevated in stature because of Yahweh having married their souls.
Verse three then is David singing, “they grew up Yahweh has made with us , we are glad .” Here is the second use of “hiḡ·dîl” [transliterated from “gadal”], which Strong’s says means “to grow up, become great.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says this word can be found implying “advance, boast, bring up, exceed, excellent, become, do, give,” To place focus of “great things” is then following an incorrect desire to make this song of praise be about all the “fortunes” that comes from claiming to believe in one God. The point being made by David is this “growth” is a spiritual “advance.” It is what takes the normal soul in the flesh and makes it “exceed” and produce “excellent” production. It is a “birth” that has been “given,” thus received, where true Israelites had become what “Yahweh has made with us.” This is a song of praise because David then added, “we are glad.” The presence of Yahweh has brought their soul happiness.
In verse four is a return to a translation that says “restore our fortunes,” when that is not the main focus intended. In verse one is written “šî·ḇaṯ” [transliterated form of “shibah”], which means “captivity” (with some lean to “restoration”). Here, in verse for is the same Hebrew word repeated – “šə·ḇū·ṯê·nū” [transliterated form of “shabuth”] – which means “captivity” or “captives.” In the repetition of this word, the first is placed in brackets, with the second surrounded by parentheses, as: “[šə·ḇū·ṯê·nū] (šə·ḇū·ṯê·nū)”. The placement of brackets implies no need to translate this word, while the parentheses implies an aside that is more of a thought or whisper, than a word of text.
The literal translation of verse four is as such: “return Yahweh this [captivity] (captives) ; as the channels in the parched rolling hills .” Here, the brackets and the parentheses indicate the unseen presence of a soul within a soul, with both being “captives” in a body of flesh. This repetition then speaks of the divine marriage between a soul and Yahweh’s Spirit (the one we now call Jesus). Thus, the verse loudly sings, “return Yahweh this,” which reflects back on the gladness of divine possession stated in verse three. That perceived in verse three as singing about the spiritual growth that Yahweh makes of us is then silently said to be a desired “captivity,” where the soul is held “captive” of that which no longer sins. Thus, the “rivers in the Negev” are unseen, under the “dry, parched” surface [with those words being the meaning behind “negeb”], which forms a series of “rolling hills” that are barren wilderness [the meaning of “Negev”]. It means inner peace withstands all external difficulties, when Yahweh has “returned” a soul to Him.
Verse five then sings literally in English: “those who plant seeds in tears (of weeping) , in joyful shouts will be the reaper .” From seeing the landscape of the Negev at the end of verse four, to see the dismal outlook of anything ever being fruitful and productive becomes the outlook of a hard and resistant world. The pressures of life bring tears (of weeping) that offer prayers to Yahweh as the “seeds planted.” There is nothing about this psalm that seeks “fortune” or some form of material favor from Yahweh. One prays for one’s own soul to be able to produce good fruit for Yahweh. As good fruit, oneself becomes nourishment – manna from heaven – that can sustain others. Thus, when one is found the answer to one’s prayers, it is time to rejoice and give all thanks to Yahweh.
Verse six then literally sings in English: “continually he goes forth and weeping carrying acquisition sowing to come and come rejoicing ; carrying his sheaves .” Here, again but unstated, is “weeping” while planting seeds. This is a “continual” act that must be done in the physical world. The seasons change and that which has “grown up” will be used and returned to a state of need. This then sings about the necessity of ministry, where one’s children and one’s children’s children all become the seeds of the good fruit that must “continuously be put forth” into the world. The world grows tears and those tears need to be answered as prayers returned by Yahweh. Yahweh’s lineage is Spiritual, not physical bloodlines or honored families that amass great wealth in the name of a Lord. The laborers must “come and come,” all must “come rejoicing” in His name. Thus, David sang that the continued Spirit reborn in true Israelites would mean Yahweh always “carrying the sheaves” of spiritual food to His people.
As a Psalm of David to be sung on the fifth Sunday in Lent, when the season of testing is still in one’s own personal wilderness, the lesson must be seen to grow up and mature in Christ – the Anointment of Yahweh’s Spirit upon one’s soul. One needs to see there is no such thing as freedom, like the modern world loves to use to make souls become more addicted to the material realm. If there were true freedom, then one’s soul could leap away from this miserable world and be done with all Satan’s tests. The message of David is to be “returned to captivity,” which is oneness with Yahweh [not some magical Lord]. One need to mature by knowing one’s soul is joined with Yahweh’s Spirit. This inner gladness is how one laughs are the tests of the devil. One is proved ready to sow the seeds of love that plants the thought of divine marriage, where souls can only escape the captivity of the physical realm by becoming good fruit in barren surroundings. David is teaching our souls to rejoice at the test of Lent and be prepared to sow the seeds of Yahweh’s love in ministry, after the test of Lent has been passed.