While the people of Israel were captives in Babylon their harps were hung upon the willow-trees, for then God called to weeping and mourning, then he mourned unto them and they lamented; but now that their captivity is turned they resume their harps; Providence pipes to them, and they dance. Thus must we accommodate ourselves to all the dispensations of Providence and be suitably affected with them. And the harps are never more melodiously tunable than after such a melancholy disuse. The long want of mercies greatly sweetens their return. Here is, 1. The deliverance God has wrought for them: He turned again the captivity of Zion. It is possible that Zion may be in captivity for the punishment of her degeneracy, but her captivity shall be turned again when the end is answered and the work designed by it is effected. Cyrus, for reasons of state, proclaimed liberty to God’s captives, and yet it was the Lord’s doing, according to his word many years before. God sent them into captivity, not as dross is put into the fire to be consumed, but as gold to be refined. Observe, The release of Israel is called the turning again of the captivity of Zion, the holy hill, where God’s tabernacle and dwelling-place were; for the restoring of their sacred interests, and the reviving of the public exercise of their religion, were the most valuable advantages of their return out of captivity. 2. The pleasing surprise that this was to them. They were amazed at it; it came so suddenly that at first they were in confusion, not knowing what to make of it, nor what it was tending to: “We thought ourselves like men that dream; we thought it too good news to be true, and began to question whether we were well awake or no, and whether it was not still” (as sometimes it had been to the prophets) “only a representation of it in vision,” as St. Peter for a while thought his deliverance was, Acts 12:9. Sometimes the people of God are thus prevented with the blessings of his goodness before they are aware. We were like those that are recovered to health (so Dr. Hammond reads it); “such a comfortable happy change it was to us, as life from the dead or sudden ease from exquisite pain; we thought ourselves in a new world.” And the surprise of it put them into such an ecstasy and transport of joy that they could scarcely contain themselves within the bounds of decency in the expressions of it: Our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with singing. Thus they gave vent to their joy, gave glory to their God, and gave notice to all about them what wonders God had wrought for them. Those that were laughed at now laugh and a new song is put into their mouths. It was a laughter of joy in God, not scorn of their enemies. 3. The notice which their neighbours took of it: They said among the heathen, Jehovah, the God of Israel, has done great things for that people, such as our gods cannot do for us. The heathen had observed their calamity and had triumphed in it, Jer. 22:8, 9; Ps. 137:7. Now they could not but observe their deliverance and admire that. It put a reputation upon those that had been scorned and despised, and made them look considerable; besides, it turned greatly to the honour of God, and extorted from those that set up other gods in competition with him an acknowledgment of his wisdom, power, and providence. 4. The acknowledgments which they themselves made of it, Ps. 126:3. The heathen were but spectators, and spoke of it only as matter of news; they had no part nor lot in the matter; but the people of God spoke of it as sharers in it, (1.) With application: “He has done great things for us, things that we are interested in and have advantage by.” Thus it is comfortable speaking of the redemption Christ has wrought out as wrought out for us. Who loved me, and gave himself for me. (2.) With affection: “Whereof we are glad. The heathen are amazed at it, and some of them angry, but we are glad.” While Israel went a whoring from their God joy was forbidden them (Hos. 9:1); but now that the iniquity of Jacob was purged by the captivity, and their sin taken away, now God makes them to rejoice. It is the repenting reforming people that are, and shall be, the rejoicing people. Observe here, [1.] God’s appearances for his people are to be looked upon as great things. [2.] God is to be eyed as the author of all the great things done for the church. [3.] It is good to observe how the church’s deliverances are for us, that we may rejoice in them.
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