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Bible Commentaries

Trapp's Complete Commentary

Psalms 137

Verse 1

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

Ver. 1. By the rivers of Babylon ] Tigris and Euphrates; for the land of Shinar (where Babel was founded, and afterwards Babylon built) was, as most geographers think, a part of the garden of Eden, fruitful beyond credulity; but to the poor captives all this was no comfort, when they remembered the desolations of their country, and the loss of their former liberty. The bird of paradise, they say, once taken and enraged, groaneth incessantly, till she die.

There we sat down, yea, we wept ] "He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him," saith Jeremiah of the mourner, Lamentations 3:28 , who is much in meditation; so were these, bewailing bitterly their sin and misery, with their heart sounding as a harp, Isaiah 16:1 , where, if one string be touched, all the rest sound.

When we remembered Zion ] The former solemnities, the present desolations.

Verse 2

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

Ver. 2. We hanged our harps ] Harps we had, and knew how to handle them (the Jews were famous artists, noted for their skill, specially in poetry, music, and mathematics), but we had little mind to it as now the case stood with us; our country lying desolate, ourselves could not be but disconsolate. Barbiton hic paries habebit (Horat. lib. 3, Od. 26).

Verse 3

Psa 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.

Ver. 3. For there … they required of us a song] sc. In disdain and derision of our religion; q.d. Will ye sing no more holy songs in honour of your God? hath he utterly cast away all care of your welfare, and you the like of his service? Have you never a black sanctus to sing us? or cannot you sing care away? &c.; where are your wonted ditties, the words of a song? Ehodum, bellos nobis illos vestrae Sionis modulos cantillate (Beza).

And they that wasted us ] Cumulatorcs nostri, vel concumulatores nostri, vel homines eiulatuum nostrorum, they that made us howl singing, as Isaiah 52:5 . Or, In suspensionibus nostris, after that we had hanged up our harps, as Psalms 137:2 , το ακαιρον πανταχου λυπηρον (Isocr.).

Sing us one of the songs of Zion ] Wherewith ye were wont to praise God. So Belshazzar abused the bowls of the sanctuary. So the bloody persecutors at Orleans, as they murdercd the Protestants, required them to sing, Judge and revenge my cause, O Lord; and have mercy on us, Lord, &c.

Verse 4

Psa 137:4 How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?

Ver. 4. Shall we sing the Lord’s song? &c.] No; for that were to profane holy things; and as Nazianzen speaketh, κωμωδιαν τα μυστηρια . And besides, they had as much mind to be merry then, and thus, as Samson had to play before the Philistines. Music in mourning is not more unseasonable than unsavoury. When our Edward III had the king of Scots and the French king both prisoners together here in England, he held royal jousts, and feasted them sumptuously. After supper, perceiving the French king to be sad and pensive, he desired him to be merry as others were. To whom the French king answered, as here, How shall we sing in a strange land? Quid nobis cum fabulis, cum risu, saith Bernard, in hoc exilio, in hoc ergastulo in hac valle lachrymarum? Let us cast away carnal mirth, and groan earnestly to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:2 .

Verse 5

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

Ver. 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem ] As I might seem to do, should I herein gratify these idolaters; or otherwise obey them, rather than God. The Jews at this day, when they build a house, they are, say the Rabbis, to leave one part of it unfinished and lying rude, in remembrance that Jerusalem and the temple are at present desolate. At least, they use to leave about a yard square of the house unplastered, on which they write, in great letters, this of the psalmist, "If I forget Jerusalem," &c., or else these words, Zecher leehorban, that is, The memory of the desolation (Leo Modena of the Rites of the Jews).

Let my right hand forget ] Fiat abalienata atque emortua, Let it be paralytical and useless, unfit to touch the harp.

Verse 6

Psa 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.

Ver. 6. If I do not remember thee ] Hi gemitus Sanctorum sunt gemitus Spiritus sancti, these are the very sighs unutterable, that precede joys unspeakable and full of glory. Either our beds are soft or our hearts hard, that can rest when the Church is at unrest, that fed not our brethren’s hard cords through our soft beds.

If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy ] Heb. if I cause it not to ascend above the head of my joy. Christ in his ordinances must be our chiefest comfort, overtopping all other; and devouring all discontents whatsoever.

Verse 7

Psa 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.

Ver. 7. Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom ] Those unbrotherly bitter enemies. The Jews call Romists Edomites.

Rase it, rase it ] Discooperite, discooperite.

Diruite, ex imis subvertite fundamentis


Darius, hearing that Sardis was sacked and burnt by the Athenians, commanded one of his servants to say to him thrice always at supper, Sir, remember the Athenians to punish them, Dεποτα μεμνεο Aθηναιων (Herod.).

Verse 8

Psa 137:8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy [shall he be], that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Ver. 8. That art to be destroyed ] Spoliatrix, saith the Syriac, Isaiah 33:1 .

Happy shall he be ] i.e. Well rewarded with wealth and good wishes.

Verse 9

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

Ver. 9. That taketh and dasheth thy little ones ] So at the destruction of Troy (Horat. l. iv. Obadiah 1:6 ).

Sed palam captis gravis (heu nefas, heu)

Nescios fari pueros, Achivis

Ureret flammis, etiam latentes

Matris in alvo.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 137". Trapp's Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.