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The penman of this Psalm is uncertain; the occasion of it was unquestionably the consideration of the Babylonish captivity; and it seems to have been composed either during the time of that captivity, or presently after their deliverance out of it.
The sad complaint of the Jews in captivity, Psalms 137:1-3. Of the scoffing of their enemies, yet their constancy to remember Jerusalem, Psalms 137:4-6. Judgments imprecated upon Edom and Babylon, Psalms 137:7-9.
Rivers of Babylon; either,
1. Of the city of Babylon, and then the river is Euphrates, here called rivers for its greatness, and by a common enallage of the plural for the singular, as Tigris also is, Nahum 2:6, yea, and Jordan, Psalms 74:15. Or,
2. Of the territory of Babylon, in which there were many rivers, as Euphrates, which also was divided into several streams or rivulets; and Tigris and others. Here they were either by the appointment of their lords for the making or repairing of the works beside the river; or by choice, retiring themselves thither from the noise and observation of their enemies, as they had opportunity, that they might disburden their oppressed minds before the Lord.
We sat down; the usual posture of mourners, Ezra 9:4, &c.; Job 2:13; Isaiah 47:1,Isaiah 47:5.
When we remembered Zion; either,
1. Our former enjoyments in Zion, which greatly aggravated their present misery, Lamentations 1:7. Or,
2. Zion’s present desolations and pollutions.
These are, not without great probability, supposed to be the words of some holy Levites, who had been accustomed to music, both vocal and instrumental, in the service of the temple. Harps are here put by a synecdoche for all instruments of music. It is further to be observed, that although the harp was used by the Grecians in mourning, yet it was used by the Hebrews in rejoicing, as is manifest from Genesis 31:27; 2 Chronicles 20:27,2 Chronicles 20:28; Psalms 43:4, &c. This passage is to be understood either,
1. Figuratively, signifying only that they abandoned all signs and means of comfort; or rather,
2. Properly, as the following songs are, which the Babylonians required them to sing to their harps. And these harps they might either,
1. Bring from Jerusalem, which they might desire to do to preserve those sacred utensils, and their enemies might either permit or command them to do for their own delight: or,
2. Procure in Babylon, that they might sometimes solace themselves with the practice of some of the temple music, which they desired and intended to do; but when they came to the trial, they were not able to do it, and therefore laid them by. Upon the willows; which commonly grow upon the banks of rivers, as they did by Euphrates in such plenty, that from thence it is called the brook of willows, Isaiah 15:7.
Such songs as you used to sing in the temple at Zion; which they required either out of curiosity, or to delight their ears, or rather by way of scoffing and insultation over them, and their temple and religion.
The Lord’s song; those songs which were appointed by God, and to be sung only to his honour and in his service. In a strange land; when we are banished from our own temple and land, and amongst those who are strangers and enemies to God and to his worship. So we should prostitute and profane God’s ordinances. And this answer they either expressed to their enemies, or kept in their own breasts when they refused to comply with their desire.
If I forget thee; if I do not retain a deep and sorrowful sense of thy ruin and misery, or if I indulge myself in mirth and jollity, as if I had forgotten thee.
Right hand; the chief instrument of playing upon musical instruments and of other actions.
Forget her cunning, i.e. lose its skill of playing. In the Hebrew it is only forget, without expressing what, to intimate the extent and generality of this wish; Let it forget or be disenabled not only for playing, but for every action in which it was formerly used.
Remember thee with affection and sympathy, so as to damp my joys.
Cleave to the roof of my mouth; be made uncapable of singing, or speaking, or moving, as it is in some diseases. Compare Job 29:10; Psalms 22:15. If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy; if I do not value and desire Jerusalem’s prosperity more than all other delights, and consequently if Jerusalem’s misery doth not so deeply affect me as to hinder my delight in all other things.
Remember, O Lord, so as to punish them,
the children of Edom, our constant and inveterate enemies, who had no regard either to consanguinity or humanity.
In the day; in the time of its calamity or destruction, which is oft called a day, as Job 18:20; Psalms 37:13; Ezekiel 30:9; Hosea 1:11; Obadiah 1:12.
Who said to the Babylonians, whom they assisted and provoked against Jerusalem; of which see Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 25:12; Obadiah 1:11-14.
Daughter of Babylon; by which he understands the city and empire of Babylon, and the people thereof.
Who art to be destroyed; who art by God’s righteous and irrevocable sentence devoted to certain destruction.
Happy shall he be; as being God’s instrument to vindicate his honour, and execute his just judgments, and fulfil his counsel and word; which Cyrus was to his own great glory and advantage, as appears both from sacred and profane history.
That rewardeth thee as thou hast served us; that shall use thee with equal cruelty.
As thou didst use our little ones. So this was but a just retaliation foretold here, as also Isaiah 13:6.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 137". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13