Psalm 126

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Psalm 126
"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion"
Song of Ascents
Parma Psalter 188a.l.jpg
Psalm 126 in the Parma Psalter
Other name
  • Psalm 125
  • "In convertendo Dominus"
Textby David
LanguageHebrew (original)

Psalm 126 is the 126th psalm of the Book of Psalms, generally known in English by its first verse, in the King James Version, "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream", and in Hebrew by its opening words, "Shir HaMaalot" (שיר המעלות בשוב ה’, a Song of Ascents). It is one of the fifteen Songs of Ascent in the Book of Psalms, the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and a book of the Christian Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and in its Latin translation in the Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 125 in a slightly different numbering system. In Latin, it is known as In convertendo Dominus.[1]

This six-verse psalm is a regular part of Jewish, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant liturgies. It is well known in Judaism as the preliminary psalm recited before the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and as such is sung to a wide variety of melodies. It has also inspired hymns based on it, and has been set to music often, such as Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jules Van Nuffel who set the psalm in Latin.

Parts of this psalm have been singled out, for example They that sow in tears shall reap in joy is included in Ein deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

Background and themes[edit]

St. Francis and St. Monica on a stained glass window at Little St Mary's Church, Cambridge, England. Monique's phylactery contains verse 5 of Psalm 126 in Latin, for Monique long prayed for the conversion to Christianity of her son Augustine.

Psalm 126 expresses the themes of redemption and joy and gratitude to God. According to Matthew Henry, it was likely written upon the return of the Israelites from Babylonian captivity. In Henry's view, the psalm was written either by Ezra, who led the nation at that time, or by one of the Jewish prophets.[2] Jewish scholarship pairs this psalm with Psalm 137, with Psalm 137 commemorating the beginning of the Babylonian exile, and Psalm 126 describing the end of that exile.[3] The grammatical structure of the psalm, however, suggests that it is talking both about a past redemption (from Babylonian captivity, in verse 1) and a future redemption (the permanent return of the exiles at the end of days, in verse 4).[4] Alternately, modern Jewish commentators suggest that the second half of the psalm refers to the redemption of the land of Israel itself from agricultural drought.[5]

The Talmud (Ta'anit 23a) mentions this psalm in the context of the famous story of Honi ha-M'agel, who slept for seventy years. Before he fell asleep, Honi saw an old man planting a carob tree that would not bear fruit for seventy years. The Talmud begins,

Rabbi Yohanan said: This righteous man [Honi HaMa'agel] was troubled throughout the whole of his life about the meaning of the verse from Psalms 126, "A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we will be like dreamers." He wondered: Is it possible for one man to live long enough to dream continuously for seventy years? [As it is written, "For the Lord said: When Babylon's seventy years are over, I will take note of and I will fulfill you to my promise of favor -- to bring you back to this place" (Jeremiah 29:10).][6]

Honi then ate a meal and fell asleep for seventy years. When he awoke, he saw the man's grandson gathering the fruits of the carob tree. Honi returned to the study hall and heard scholars discussing laws that he himself had explicated. But they did not believe that he was still alive, and did not show him honor.[6]


Hebrew Bible version[edit]

Following is the Hebrew text of Psalm 126:

Verse Hebrew
1 שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּֽ֫עֲל֥וֹת בְּשׁ֣וּב יְ֖הֹוָה אֶת־שִׁיבַ֣ת צִיּ֑וֹן הָ֜יִ֗ינוּ כְּחֹֽלְמִֽים
2 אָ֚ז יִמָּלֵ֪א שְׂחֹ֡ק פִּינוּ֘ וּלְשׁוֹנֵ֪נוּ רִ֫נָּ֥ה אָ֖ז יֹֽאמְר֣וּ בַגּוֹיִ֑ם הִגְדִּ֥יל יְ֜הֹוָ֗ה לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִם־אֵֽלֶּה
3 הִגְדִּ֣יל יְ֖הֹוָה לַֽעֲשׂ֣וֹת עִמָּ֑נוּ הָ֜יִ֗ינוּ שְׂמֵחִֽים
4 שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֖הֹוָה אֶת־שְׁבִיתֵ֑נוּ (כתיב שְׁבִותֵ֑נוּ)כַּֽאֲפִיקִ֥ים בַּנֶּֽגֶב
5 הַזֹּֽרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ
6 הָ֘ל֚וֹךְ יֵלֵ֨ךְ | וּבָכֹה֘ נֹשֵׂ֪א מֶֽשֶׁךְ־הַ֫זָּ֥רַע בֹּֽא־יָבֹ֥א בְרִנָּ֑ה נֹ֜שֵׂ֗א אֲלֻמֹּתָֽיו

King James Version[edit]

  1. When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
  2. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.
  3. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
  4. Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.
  5. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
  6. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Other translations[edit]

The New International Version and the Revised Standard Version refer to "the south" in verse 4 as "the Negev".



Psalm 126 is customarily recited before the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and Jewish holidays.[7] Some say it on other days when Tachanun is not said.[8] While on ordinary weekdays, Psalm 137 is traditionally recited before the Birkat Hamazon, that psalm's theme of the Destruction of the Temple is considered inappropriate for joyous occasions and holidays. For this reason, Psalm 126 is said before the Birkat Hamazon on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, as well as at other celebratory meals such as those at a Jewish wedding, brit milah, and pidyon haben.[9]

At these times, Psalm 126 is customarily sung in full. The psalm lends itself to a wide variety of melodies due to its simple, repeating structure,[10] and as such has many musical versions popularized by synagogue groups, youth organizations, summer camps, and others. A version composed by Cantor Pinchas Minkowsky and recorded by Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt is the most widely known.[11] Melodies have been borrowed from other liturgical poems, such as El Adon.[12] German-speaking Jews have a tradition of adapting the liturgical melodies of each holiday's synagogue services to the singing of Psalm 126 at the table.[13] Whereas fifteen psalms begin with the Masoretic superscription "Shir Hama'alot" (Song of Ascents), Psalm 126 is eponymously called "Shir Hama'alot" due to its prevalent use.[14]

Psalm 126 is one of the 15 Songs of Ascents recited after the Shabbat afternoon prayer in the period between Sukkot and Shabbat HaGadol (the Shabbat prior to Passover).[15]

Verse 4 is part of Selichot.[7]

Catholic Church[edit]

According to the rule of St. Benedict of 530, this Psalm was assigned to the Office of none from Tuesday until Saturday, and following Psalm 127 and Psalm 128.[16]

Currently, in the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 126 is recited or sung at vespers on Wednesday of the third week,[17] In the liturgy of the Mass, it is read on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time of the year B6, the second Sunday of Advent and 5th Sunday of Lent that year.[17]


This psalm is occasionally recited by Protestant Pentecostal Christians during fasting times to attract the blessing of God.[citation needed]

Secular usage[edit]

In keeping with its theme of redemption, Psalm 126 was proposed by Religious Zionists to be the national anthem of the State of Israel.[18] It, along with at least eleven other proposals, was ultimately passed over in favor of "Hatikvah", which was ratified as the official national anthem in 2004.[19]

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin recited Psalm 126 on the White House lawn when he signed the second of the Camp David Accords with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on March 26, 1979.[20]

Musical settings[edit]

Title page of the manuscript of Rameau's In convertendo (1751 version)

The complete psalm was set in Latin as a motet for a cappella choir by composers including George de La Hèle,[21] Lorenzo Perosi, Jean-Noël Marchand [22], Dmitri Bortnyansky (1777) and Patrick Douglas.[23][24] Jean-Philippe Rameau composed In convertendo Dominus c. 1710 for choir and orchestra. Jules Van Nuffel wrote a setting for mixed choir and organ as his Op. 32 in 1926. Giovanni Bernardino Nanino set alternate verses for a cappella choir.[25]

German settings were made by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Hermann Schein and Heinrich Hartmann. Verses 5 and 6 were set by Johannes Brahms within the first movement of Ein deutsches Requiem, for choir and orchestra. Friedrich Kiel set the verses 5 and 6 as No. 5 of his Six Motets, Op. 82, published in 1883.

Verses of the psalm have been set in English by composers including William Byrd and Charles Villiers Stanford.[25]

In 1998, Philip Glass composed a setting in which the chorus sings worldless syllables and a narrator recites the text in English.[26]

The psalm is also sung to secular melodies such as "Waltzing Matilda", "The Longest Time","It's a Small World", Beethoven's Ninth, and college football songs, among many others.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parallel Latin/English Psalter / Psalmus 125 (126) Archived 2017-05-07 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Psalms 126". Bible Study Tools. 2018. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  3. ^ Samet, Rav Elchanan (2018). "Shiur #38: "When The Lord Brought Back The Return Of Zion" Psalm 126 (Part III)". Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  4. ^ Harman, Alan M. (1984). "The Setting and Interpretation of Psalm 126" (PDF). Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  5. ^ Samet, Rav Elchanan (2018). "Shiur #36: "When The Lord Brought Back The Return Of Zion" Psalm 126". Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Psalm 126" (PDF). Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  7. ^ a b Brauner, Reuven (2013). "Shimush Pesukim: Comprehensive Index to Liturgical and Ceremonial Uses of Biblical Verses and Passages" (PDF) (2nd ed.). p. 49.
  8. ^ Nulman, Macy (1996). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer: The Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rites. Jason Aronson. p. 304. ISBN 1461631246.
  9. ^ Scherman 2003, p. 183.
  10. ^ Magonet, Jonathan (1994). A Rabbi reads the Psalms (2nd ed.). SCM-Canterbury Press Limited. p. 120. ISBN 9780334013648.
  11. ^ "Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Some Notes". Chazzanut Online. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  12. ^ "Learn to sing Shir HaMaalot (Psalm 126) – Jewish Grace After Meals". Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv – The Transliterated Siddur. 2018. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  13. ^ Cohn-Zentner, Naomi (July 2014). "Shir HaMaalot – The Umbilical Cord Between Liturgical and Domestic Soundspheres in Ashkenazi Culture". Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jewish Music Research Centre. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  14. ^ Steinbach, Alexander Alan (1964). Through Storms We Grow: And Other Sermons, Lectures, and Essays. Bloch Publishing Company. p. 159.
  15. ^ Scherman 2003, p. 530.
  16. ^ traduction de Prosper Guéranger, Règle de saint Benoît,(Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, réimpression 2007) p46.
  17. ^ a b The main cycle of liturgical prayers takes place over four weeks.
  18. ^ Gottesman, Ariella (31 May 2011). "Hatikvah: The Impossible Dream". Israel National News. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  19. ^ Ben Zion, Ilan (16 April 2013). "How an unwieldy romantic poem and a Romanian folk song combined to produce 'Hatikva'". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  20. ^ Samuel, Edith (1982). Your Jewish Lexicon. Union of American Hebrew Congregations. p. 154.
  21. ^ Lavern J. Wagner, "La Hèle [Hele], George de", in Oxford Music Online, accessed 1 January 2015, (subscription required)
  22. ^ David Fuller and Bruce Gustafson, "Marchand (i)", in Oxford Music Online, accessed 1 January 2015, (subscription required)
  23. ^ Gordon Munro, "Patrick Douglas: In convertendo", in Musica Scotica, accessed 5 October 2018.
  24. ^ Neil McDermott, "We Were Glad - In Memoriam Dr Stuart Campbell by The University of Glasgow Chapel Choir", in Bandcamp, accessed 5 October 2018.
  25. ^ a b Psalm 126: Free scores at the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
  26. ^ Neil Levin, "The Book of Psalms and Its Musical Interpretations," booklet notes to "Psalms of Joy and Sorrow," Naxos CD 8.55945
  27. ^ "Psalm 126: Shir Hama'alot". Zemirot Database. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  28. ^ Lieberman, Senator Joe (2011). The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath. Simon & Schuster. p. 147. ISBN 9781451606171.


External links[edit]