Main explanation(s) from Swedenborg's works:
The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 376
Other references by Swedenborg to this story:
By Rev. William Woofenden
"Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams of the south." Psalm 126:4
Additional readings: Ezekiel 47:1-12, Revelation 22:1-17, Psalms 121, 124, 125, 126
This week, as usual, our nation will observe November 11 as Armistice Day. It is good to keep in remembrance the close of conflicts and the blessedness of peace and to renew our belief in the final triumph of right.
The world has entered upon a new age. No rational person can doubt it, and in the years to come this will be seen ever more clearly. All peoples look forward to a time in which oppression and poverty will be overcome. For more than a century social forces have been at work to bring about a better world, and these social forces have been contending against mighty adverse forces: individual selfishness, the love of the world and its riches, and the love of dominion. These evil forces destroy the souls of men and bring forth the pernicious theories of the super-race and the super-state, which are the supreme manifestations of selfish and worldly loves.
We should remember also that these loves are not peculiar to the nations with which those theories are especially associated. It is such selfishness that captivates and enslaves men. We can rejoice that those powers which sought - and humanly speaking very nearly with success - to subject the human race to a cruel and wicked tyranny which would have proved calamitous alike to the tyrants and to their victims were defeated. Because of the victory, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, national freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of the individual have been preserved.
The Psalm from which our text is taken refers to Israel's captivities. Long before the children of Israel had been slaves to Pharaoh and longed for release and freedom. The Psalm brings up the picture of the Nile River flowing into the Mediterranean Sea through many streams, enriching the land and making it productive. Without the Nile, rightly called by the ancients the River of Egypt, lower Egypt would be a desert. About September thirtieth the Nile is at its height; streams and canals are full and the thirsty land is drinking in its life, and soon the parched and desert lands blossom as the rose.
The psalmist says, "Turn again our captivity, O Lord." In the letter this Scripture refers to a physical bondage. Spiritually it tells of captivity to sin. Throughout the Word the wilderness and desert are used as symbols of states of life which are barren and in which no spiritual things can survive. We read, "Make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:3). This does not mean that we are to build roads in the desert. It means that we are to bring into a life that has been made desolate the living things of God. It means that into a life made barren of good through selfishness we should bring the truth and goodness which will make life happy and abundant.
No evil or selfish person is really happy or beautiful. Though for him life may not be hard in the sense that he lacks an abundance of material things, yet it is in fact a hard life. In such a life nothing really rejoices. The man is in captivity to self. His mind is in darkness and the gentle, loving, and kindly qualities of the heart are held captive.
We read, "There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" (Psalm 46:4). Just as the streams of the Nile make glad the people who dwell along its course, so the water of truth from the Word turns the desert of life into beauty and joy. "It shall come to pass that everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live" (Ezekiel 47:9) And the reason is given, "because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary." "Because they issued out of the sanctuary!" (Ezekiel 47:12). That is why they bring life: they are the living truths that issue out of the Word of God.
There are seasons of the soul. The Word brings forth meat for the changing seasons of the spirit. It makes childhood happy and blessed, it gives vision to the youth, strength and victory to the mature, and peace to the aged. Some are in doubt as to whether the world will ever get any better. There will always be wars, they say; men and women will always be selfish. But the Lord through His Word can enlighten the minds of men and break their captivity to self and the world. In the light of the Word one can see the Lord's operation in history; he can see that the Lord reigns over all and that, in His Divine Providence, He is leading the world forward as fast as it will let Him. If we dwell by the banks of this stream we shall not fear for ourselves or for our children, nor shall we be discouraged. It is selfishness that leads to wars and the last Great War has brought about much questioning of the self-centered, self-derived principles in which men have placed their confidence—their confidence in their ability to direct and govern their personal lives and their moral and political life.
During the last war great parts of the world were laid waste and these must be rebuilt on better lines. Yet there would be no cities laid waste if there were no waste places in the human heart. In the realm of thought and conduct a rebuilding on a vast scale is likewise called for, and we have an opportunity such as was never given before to rebuild on better and. saner lines. For there are principles now revealed upon which a new and true human society can be built. But it cannot be built without the Lord. God created man that man might know Him, learn His laws, and living according to them be blessed with happiness and peace. His laws cannot be changed because they are the laws of infinite wisdom and love. To live in violation of them can bring nothing but disaster.
The experience through which the world has passed should lead us to put deeper trust in the Lord and make us more ready to learn of Him and to do His will. It is only in this way that there can be any advancement in individual or in national life. Increased inventions and improved machinery solve some external problems but they do not make better men. Love to the Lord and to the neighbor must supplant the love of self and the world. If Christianity means anything it means the power of the Lord in the human heart to remove evil and to impart new motives. The Israelites had lived in the delta of the Nile and yearly witnessed the transformation made by the "streams of the south," as the returning sun melted the snows, filled the streams, and made the land of Egypt fruitful. So we may, if we will, be witnesses to the power of the spirit of truth from the Word flowing into the mind and heart to free the soul from captivity and make it fruitful.
The prophet writes, "O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments, then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:18). What the Lord has in store for the world when it turns to Him surpasses the human imagination. The Lord's Word now opened to the understanding is in the world. It is the river of life. It can bring forth the abundant harvest of everything delightful and beautiful. It can heal all our diseases. It is like those streams of the south that turn desolation into beauty and. plenty. "Turn again our captivity, O Lord." Free us from wrong thinking, from desires that lay waste our lives.
"I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people and to his saints: but let them not turn again unto folly. Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams of the south" (Psalm 85:8).