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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Bible Commentary

Psalms 137

Verses 1-9

Psalms 137:1-9 is a psalm of captivity written many years after David's time, written by one of those who were captive in Babylon.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For they that carried us away captive required us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. But how shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall be he, that rewards thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones ( Psalms 137:1-9 ).

So the psalm reflecting the Babylonian captivity where the Babylonians required them to, "Sing some of your songs." Now singing is a very important part of Jewish life. One thing I like about the Israelis even today is their music. It has such life to it. And they have big music festivals over there all the time. We always try to purchase the records from these music festivals, even though I don't understand Hebrew; I enjoy listening to the music. There's such life to it. Quite often our bus drivers and guides will get together in the evening and they'll have a time of singing. And it's always exciting, these evenings of song. Their songs are exciting songs. There's just a lot of action, a lot of rhythm, a lot of exuberance in their song. You know, they, "Hava nagila, Hava nagila," you know, and they really get into it. You can feel it, and these guys just really love to sing. It's a beautiful experience.

But as in Ecclesiastes, there's a time to sing. And there are times when you don't feel like singing. And while they were captives in Babylon and they were thinking of the desolation of Jerusalem, it was hard to sing of the joys of the land, of the blessings, of the prosperity, of the goodness of God. And so while in Babylon, the songs were silent. "We hung our harps on the willow trees. We just sat down by the river and wept when we would think of Jerusalem." Their last memories of Jerusalem was the smoldering smoke ascending from a city that had been devastated. Looking back they could see Solomon's once glorious temple flattened. And as they saw the desolation, and it was implanted in their minds, now remembering it, hard to sing.

Now the psalmist, first of all, takes off against the Edomites. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. They were sort of perennial enemies of the Jews. Many battles against them and they would often join with anybody who would attack Israel. They would attack, too. Anytime Israel would be attacked by any of the aggressors from the north, they'd always attack from the south. And when the Babylonians were attacking, they came from Edom and they were encouraging the Babylonians in the destruction of Jerusalem. "Raze it, raze it to its foundation. Wipe it out!" "And God, you reward them. Take care of them for that." And then, because God's Word had predicted the fall of Babylon, the psalmist, because of all of the injuries suffered by the people at the hands of the Babylonians, the psalmist with glee actually looked forward to the destruction of Babylon, the enemy of God.

Now in the New Testament, we are taught to love our enemies. These expressions of the psalmist really are not expressions of God in the sense that God never delights in judgment. God never delights in bringing His judgment upon a people or upon a nation. And yet, we so often want to see the judgment of God fall upon the head of the wicked. We can hardly wait for the day of God's judgment. But God is not anxious to judge at all. God would much rather show mercy, for His mercy endureth forever. And God delights in mercy.

You remember when God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn that city, the Assyrian capital, of the impending doom, the judgment of God that was coming. Jonah didn't want to go. Why? He was afraid if he went, they might repent and God wouldn't judge them. He wanted to see God's judgment on Assyria. He wanted to see Nineveh wiped out. And so to help ensure God's judgment against them, he tried to take off for England so he could escape the call of God. And later on, when under pressure and duress, he went to Nineveh and they did repent in sackcloth and ashes before the Lord, and God's mercy was extended to them, he got angry with God. Went out and sat under a tree and said, "Okay, God, just wipe me out." And God said, "What's the matter? Is it right for you to be so angry?" "You bet you are. I knew that You were merciful. I knew. I was afraid this was going to happen. They were going to repent and then You weren't going to wipe them out." And he was angry because God's judgment didn't fall. But God isn't anxious to judge.

I think that we oftentimes have a false concept in our mind concerning God, that He is just sort of standing over us with a club, waiting to bash us for the first wrong move. Not so. God is desiring to show His mercy unto you and He's just looking for an excuse. He's just looking for you to give Him an excuse to say, "Well, that's al right. I forgive you." Just looking for you to say, "Oh God, I'm sorry." For His mercy endureth forever.

So the psalmist expresses, actually, a glee in the destruction that is to come upon Babylon, but it is not really the expression of God's heart when the judgment will fall. I'm sure that God always weeps over judgment. We find Jesus looking over the city of Jerusalem and weeping. Why? Because of the judgment that was going to come upon the city. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if you'd only known the things that belong to your peace at least in this thy day. And now they are hid from your eyes, and your little children are going to dashed in the streets" ( Luke 19:42 , Luke 19:44 ). And He's weeping as He speaks of the judgment that is going to. It's not a gleeful thing, "All right, you know, we'll get even with you. You reject Me, you crucify Me. We'll take care of you, you know. We'll put you up on a Roman giblet and see how you like it." Not at all. It's weeping. Weeping because their actions necessitate the judgment of God. But weeping over the judgment. And I'm certain that whenever God is forced to judge that there's always a great sorrow in the heart of God. "

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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Psalms 137". "Smith's Bible Commentary". 2014.