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The writer related that he and his fellow exiles mourned over Zion’s destruction as they thought about it in distant Babylon. The rivers of Babylon were the Euphrates and its canals. Even though their situation was pleasant, the exiles wept as they longingly remembered Zion.
1. Sorrow in exile 137:1-4
The psalmist mourned the plight of the exiled Israelites. He expressed strong love for Zion and strong hatred for Israel’s enemies. This is an imprecatory psalm. [Note: See the appendix in VanGemeren, pp. 830-32, on imprecations in the psalms, and Day, "The Imprecatory . . .," pp. 173-76.]
"This psalm is better known, probably because it is one of the few psalms which contain a certain and explicit historical reference. It invites narrative specificity. It clearly comes out of the exiled community in Babylon after the destruction of 587 B.C.E., the community reflected in the pathos of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It reflects the need of those who have been forcibly removed by the Babylonian imperial policies of relocation and yet who cling to their memory and hope for homecoming with an unshakable passion." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 74.]
"Perhaps this psalm will be understood and valued among us only if we experience some concrete brutalization." [Note: Ibid., p. 77.]
"This psalm needs no title to announce that its provenance was the Babylonian exile. Every line of it is alive with pain, whose intensity grows with each strophe to the appalling climax." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 459.]
The exiles could not bring themselves to sing about Zion even when their Babylonian neighbors urged them to sing songs about their native land. Normally this would have brought back pleasant memories, but the memories broke the Israelites’ hearts. Their songs were about the Lord. The exiles could not sing at all, so they hung their harps on the poplar trees
2. Love for Jerusalem 137:5-6
The poet promised to remember Jerusalem forever. He called down imprecations on himself if he ever were to forget the city that had been the scene of so much joyful worship in the past. The hand and tongue stand for all action and speech (by synecdoche). One reason the Israelites loved Jerusalem so much, was that it was the site of their annual festivals-that were mainly joyous occasions of praise and fellowship (cf. Lamentations 1-2).
The psalmist had previously said that he would remember Jerusalem. Now he called God to remember Jerusalem’s destroyers. The Edomites had encouraged the Babylonians as they besieged and devastated the city (cf. Ezekiel 25:12; Joel 3:19).
3. Hatred for enemies 137:7-9
He also prayed that the Babylonians would experience destruction similar to the one they had inflicted on the Israelites (cf. Isaiah 13:16). Evidently during the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian soldiers mercilessly killed young Jewish children. Psalms 137:8 a should read, "O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction" (NIV). God had promised to curse those who cursed Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:3). From the viewpoint of the victors over Babylon, the Persians, the fall of Babylon would be a blessing.
"It is an act of profound faith to entrust one’s most precious hatreds to God, knowing they will be taken seriously." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 77.]
Believers who experience God’s discipline for their sins may feel great sorrow. Sometimes discipline cuts us off from the blessings of corporate worship and the joy it brings. It is always appropriate to ask God to remain faithful to His promises.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 137". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13