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11 December 2011

Advent: Dreaming of Freedom

Whanne the Lord turnede the caitifte of Sion; we weren maad as coumfortid. Thanne oure mouth was fillid with ioye; and oure tunge with ful out ioiyng. Thanne thei schulen seie among hethene men; The Lord magnefiede to do with hem. The Lord magnefiede to do with vs; we ben maad glad. Lord, turne thou oure caitifte; as a stronde in the south. Thei that sowen in teeris; schulen repe in ful out ioiyng. Thei goynge yeden, and wepten; sendynge her seedis. But thei comynge schulen come with ful out ioiyng; berynge her handfullis.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.  May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
The first paragraph shows Psalm 126 in the Wycliffe Bible, the second paragraph is the same Psalm in the NRSV. In comparing the two, what struck me was the word caitifte, which (as I have learned) is the Middle English word for captivity; however, the first sentence in the NRSV talks about fortunes restored rather than captivity reversed. 

Of course, the difference in meaning is rather subtle and doesn't have a lot of bearing for the interpretation of the psalm, a powerful lament that expects God to restore the People of God suddenly, in an instant.  It's just that, having grown up with the German version of the text, I am biased. "Wenn der HERR die Gefangenen Zions erlösen wird, so werden wir sein wie die Träumenden".

This is what Isaac Watts did with the psalm:
When God restored our captive state,
Joy was our song, and grace our theme;
The grace beyond our hopes so great
That joy appeared a painted dream.
The scoffer owns thy hand, and pays
Unwilling honors to thy name;
While we with pleasure shout thy praise,
With cheerful notes thy love proclaim.
When we review our dismal fears,
'Twas hard to think they'd vanish so;
With God we left our flowing tears,
He makes our joys like rivers flow.
The man that in his furrowed field
His scattered seed with sadness leaves,
Will shout to see the harvest yield
A welcome load of joyful sheaves.

Psalm 126

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