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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Psalms 137



Verse 4


‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

Psalms 137:4

I. The condition of the exiles in their new abode was attended with much less of hardship than the mention of captivity suggests.—It is an entire mistake to think of them as in a state of slavery, like their fathers in Egypt. They were transported beyond the Euphrates, not to be made slaves of, but that they might help to replenish the central parts of the Babylonish empire with an industrious population. They were subjected to no civil disabilities; and in fact, great numbers of them rose rapidly to wealth and political eminence. Hence they soon got rooted in the new soil—so deeply rooted that only a small remnant could ever after be persuaded to return to the place of their fathers’ sepulchres. In a worldly point of view, the exiles were better off in Babylon than they could hope to be, for many a day, at Jerusalem. These facts will afford assistance in appreciating the true design of the 137th Psalm, which is a voice out of the midst of the Captivity. The recent commentators seem with one consent to regard it as a reminiscence of the Captivity, on the part of the remnant who returned.

II. The air of pensive melancholy which imparts such a charm to this ode, may seem hardly consistent with what has been said regarding the advantageous condition of the exiles.—But it is to be remembered that their very prosperity was pregnant with danger to their highest interests, and might well, therefore, be suggestive of alarm to a man like the Psalmist—a man who set Jerusalem above his chief joy. The ordinances God had appointed for the Old Testament Church, and which were such a copious source of blessing whilst that dispensation lasted, were unalterably bound to the land of promise; they could only be celebrated in the city which the Lord had chosen to place His name there. While the Captivity lasted they ceased. Hence the tears of tender regret with which the Psalmist remembered Zion; hence his determination to regard the place of his present abode as ‘foreign ground’ to him, and to reserve for the Temple the Temple Songs. The design of the psalm is to guard the people against allowing their affections to settle in the place of their sojourn; with this view, the Psalmist labours to strengthen within their hearts the affectionate remembrance of Jerusalem, the hope and desire to return in God’s good time, and the assured expectation that the haters and oppressors of Zion shall be overthrown.


(1) ‘The exiles in Babylon could not sing because they were in heaviness. God’s hand was heavy upon them. He had a controversy with them for their sins. Songs cannot be drawn forth from the soul on which the load of God’s displeasure, real or imagined, is still lying, or which is still powerless to apprehend the grace and the life for sinners, which is in Christ Jesus. And again, there is a land yet more strange and foreign to the Lord’s song, even than the land of unforgiven guilt, and that is the land of unforsaken sin.’

(2) ‘Are you in a strange land? Have you been carried away into captivity by your sins? I do not wonder that of late the Lord’s song has died down within your soul, and that His praise is unaccustomed. You cannot forget the past. But ask God to restore it to you, and you to it, that again the old gladness may be yours.’


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 137:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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