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Bible Commentaries

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Psalms 137

Verses 1-9

Psalms 137:0

Authorship and Date of Writing Psalms 137:0 is considered a post-exilic psalm, as are many of the psalms written in the fourth and fifth books of Psalms. Its author is unknown. It was probably composed during or soon after the Babylonian Captivity.

Structure - We can imagine a group of exiled Jews finding the time to come and sit down beside the riverbank under the willow trees, perhaps on the Sabbath day (Psalms 1:1-2). It would have been a beautiful and tranquil place of rest and meditation. They had brought their harps to play their traditional songs. But such rest and worship reminded them of their homeland. With emotions high they hung their harps up on the branches of the willow trees in order to keep them from being damaged on the ground, either from being trampled or from moisture and damp soil (Psalms 1:2). They had been required to amuse and entertain their captor with their songs from a far away land (Psalms 1:3), but their hearts were still in Jerusalem (Psalms 1:4). They resolve with a vow to never forget their beloved city, and to cling to a hope that they will one day return (Psalms 1:5-6). They cry out to God to remember what their enemies had done and vindicate them (1:7-9).

Psalms 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

Psalms 137:1 Comments - The ancient city of Babylon was situated on a flat plain where there was little rain fall. Therefore, the life of the people depended upon the intricate system of rivers and man-made canals that provided water for agriculture and other uses.

Psalms 137:2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

Psalms 137:2 Comments - A riverbank decorated with willow trees would have been a restful place to relax. We see in Acts 16:13 where a group of devout women met by the river on the Sabbath to pray.

Acts 16:13, “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.”

Willow trees were abundant enough around the Euphrates River for the prophet Isaiah to call it “the brook (or river) of willows” (Isaiah 15:7).

Isaiah 15:7, “Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows.”

Psalms 137:3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

Psalms 137:5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

Psalms 137:5 Comments - The right hand was used to play skillfully upon the harp.

Psalms 137:6 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.

Psalms 137:6 Comments - The tongue was used to sing joyfully unto the Lord.

Psalms 137:7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

Psalms 137:7 Comments - All of the major prophets prophesied against Edom because of how they had treated the Jews (Isaiah 63:1-6, Jeremiah 49:7-22, Lamentations 4:0;21-22, Ezekiel 25:8-17; Ezekiel 35:1-15, Obadiah 1:1-21).

Psalms 137:9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Psalms 137:8-9 Comments - The Scriptures describe such horrible judgment upon the children of Israel (2 Kings 8:12, Hosea 11:5-6, Nahum 3:10).

2 Kings 8:12, “And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.”

Hosea 11:5-6, “He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.”

Nahum 3:10, “Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity: her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: and they cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men were bound in chains.”

The Jews are asking God to vindicate them with the same judgment that Babylon judged them. In other words, they were asking for an “eye for an eye.” Such vindication was justified by them because it was in the Mosaic Law (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21).

Exodus 21:24, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,”

Leviticus 24:20, “Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”

Deuteronomy 19:21, “And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

As in Psalms 137:8-9, Isaiah also prophesied of judgment upon Babylon:

Isaiah 13:1-6, “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see....Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.”

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Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Psalms 137". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. 2013.