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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Psalms 137

 

 

Verse 1

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

Psalms 137:1-9.-Israel's sad state in Babylon; her inability to sing Zion's songs in a strange land: her indelible remembrance of Jerusalem (Psalms 137:1-6); Edom's doom for her spite against Jerusalem in her calamity; Babylon's doom in kind (Psalms 137:7-9.) As Psalms 135:1-21; Psalms 136:1-26, gave hope of Israel's deliverance, so this psalm, the third of the trilogy, is of judgment upon Israel's enemies. The two are combined by the contemporary Zechariah. The second siege of Babylon, under Darius Hystaspes, fulfilled the prophecy, laid low its walls, and broke its hundred gates. It never recovered. In the same year, the sixth of Darius, the temple's building was completed (Ezra 6:16).

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down - the rivers Euphrates, Tigris, Chaboras, Euloeus (or Ulai, Daniel 8:2), and their offshoot canals. The exile colony, we know from Ezekiel, resided near the Chaboras, or Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1). The Jews generally had their places of prayer by the riverside (Acts 16:13), probably for the sake of the water for ablution before their prayers. They who are pensive and sad love the side of streams, as being by their murmuring sound congenial to melancholy. Babylonia was one net of canal-works, and would therefore abound in "willows" (cf. Psalms 137:2). The Jews saw in Babylonia's river-streams an image of their floods of tears (Lamentations 2:18; Lamentations 3:48).

Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion - as the seat of the temple of Yahweh, the spiritual capital of the Holy Land.


Verse 2

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof - in the midst of the land of Babylon. We no longer could use our harps, which are the accompaniment of joyous song (Genesis 31:27; 2 Samuel 6:5). For we were away from Zion, where God reveals His presence, and therefore away from all joy (Job 30:31; Isaiah 24:8; Revelation 18:22).


Verse 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.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song - literally, 'words of a song'-a joyous song (Hebrew, Shir). However well-meaning might be the request, it sounded to the Jews like bitter irony to ask them to associate joyful singing with exile from the Zion of their natural and spiritual affections. Their conquerors desired them to reconcile themselves to their lot, to dismiss Zion from their memory, and to feel at home in Babylon. So the King of Assyria tried to make the thought of deportation not so distasteful (Isaiah 36:17).

And they that wasted us required of us mirth, (saying,) Sing us one of the songs of Zion - `one of the joyous, songs' wont to be sung at the great feasts "of Zion." "They that wasted us." The Chaldaic Targum translates, 'our depredators' [ towlaaleeynuw (Hebrew #8437), from shaalal (Hebrew #7997), to spoil, the Hebrew letter taw (t) being substituted for the Hebrew letter shin (sh) in the Chaldaic idiom, which the Hebrews acquired in exile. Otherwise, from taalal (Hebrew #8524), to make in heaps (cf. Psalms 79:1). So Buxtorf. But Gesenius takes it from yaalal (Hebrew #3213), to wail; those who make us to wail]. This active sense is favoured by the parallel, "they that carried us away captive," rather than as Hengstenberg, the passive, 'And (they required) of us, the plundered ones, mirth.' The words "they that carried us away captive," and "they that wasted us," imply that they were asking what their own wrongful treatment of the Jews rendered it impossible for the latter to give.


Verse 4

How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? To do so would be virtually to renounce Zion, our native city and spiritual home. How can we sang the joyful song of the Lord in the land of the stranger, where we ought rather to weep?


Verse 5

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget (her cunning) - let my right hand no longer perform its function of playing the harp (cf. Psalms 76:5, close; Job 31:22). A fit retribution-that my right hand should be deprived altogether of power to play, if, forgetting thee, Jerusalem, it should play thy joyful songs while I am in exile from thee.


Verse 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.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth - a fit retribution ... that it; should be struck speechless, as having abused speech to sing joyous strains in forgetfulness of Zion (Ezek. ; Job 29:10 ).

If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy - literally, 'if I make, not Jerusalem to ascend above the head of my joy' (cf. Isaiah 2:2).


Verse 7

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

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem. So the Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Vulgate - i:e., 'Remember the malice of the children of Edom in the day when Jerusalem was being overthrown.' So "the day" is used for the day of destruction (Psalms 37:13; Job 18:20; Obadiah 1:11-12). Hengstenberg translates, 'Remember, O Lord, to (i:e., against) the children of Edom the day of Jerusalem.' I prefer the English version for the antithesis. The "remember" here corresponds to the "remember," Psalms 137:6. As I remember Jerusalem, so, Lord, do thou remember Edom. I remember Zion with love; do thou remember Edom in anger (Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 35:5; Lamentations 4:21-22; Jeremiah 49:7-22).

Who said, Rase it, rase it (even) to the foundation thereof - literally, 'Lay it bare, lay it bare,' (Habakkuk 3:13, margin). Pull down all the buildings, to the foundation. What aggravated their hatred was that Edom was nearly connected with Israel. The Lord hath remembered Edom to its utter extinction, so that now not a trace of it is left. 'The Psalmist only prays for that which the Lord had often declared was to be done, and which was grounded on His eternal retributive righteousness' (Hengstenberg). Compare Jeremiah 50:15; Jeremiah 50:29. So as to the mystical Babylon (Revelation 18:6).


Verse 8

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed - literally, 'who art destroyed.;' i:e., who art surely doomed to destruction (cf. the same idiom, Psalms 18:3). Orosius said, 'It seemed almost incredible to mortals that Babylon could have been built by human toil, or, that it could be destroyed by human valour.' Yet so it came to pass, because God had said it. "Daughter of Babylon" (cf. 2 Kings 19:21). Cities are often represented as virgins.

Happy (shall he be) that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us - literally, 'that shall repay to thee thy deed which thou didst to us' (cf. Jeremiah 48:10).


Verse 9

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

Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones - (Isaiah 13:16; Kin. 8:12.) Prideaux, 'Connection' B. 3:, says, 'The Babylonians, to make their provisions last the longer, agreed to cut off all unnecessary mouths: drawing all the women and children together, they strangled them.'

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 137:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/psalms-137.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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