1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. 6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!” 8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us— 9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137 – Hanging up the harps
(Verses 1-4) God’s people are captives in Babylon. They long to worship God, as before, in the temple on Mount Zion, Jerusalem. Jerusalem lies wrecked and desolate, except for a few ‘nobodies’ who are left behind by the Babylonians.
As they remember all this in the river plains of Babylon, beside the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, they weep. Ridiculed and tormented there in captivity, they hang their harps on the tall poplar trees, out of the sight and touch of their tormentors. They had hoped to continue praising God with their harps in Babylon, but to do so would lead to ridicule of and mocking God by those who jeer at the downcast captives. They jokingly urge them to ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion’. They will not do that on demand, in that hostile and ‘foreign land’, just to quench the cruel Babylonian sense of humour. They say, ‘How can we?’ and will not do it. If we widen that principle today, many who love Christ feel unable to sing some popular worldly songs which offend Biblical holiness. We should sing praise to God wholeheartedly, of course, when we can.
(Verses 5-6) Sometimes we do not realise just how much we value something until it has gone. In Babylon, God’s people feel like that. They long for the worship of God, typified and helped by His temple on Zion. If you are a real Christian, does this challenge you? By ‘real Christian’ I mean that you believe Jesus has borne you sins and their punishment on the cross and have turned from your sin and self to ask Him into your life as your Lord and Saviour. Is that is true of you? If so, each Lord’s day (Sunday) you should plan to go to a church or fellowship which believes and teaches the Bible and, each week, to its Bible study and prayer meeting. If you let any of that slip, you will know you have missed something vital that-honours God. It is the same to miss your daily walk with God through reading the Bible and praying each day. ‘Seven days without reading the Bible and praying makes one weak.’ (Not ‘week’!) Missing that time of spiritual blessing by forgetting Jerusalem is so real to the captive psalmist that he feels he would rather be without his right hand and its skills, and without his tongue and his ability to speak. That is how vital being in ongoing communion with God and other believers is to him. How about you?
(Verses 7-9) He now shows righteous anger for how the Babylonians and the Edomites cruelly mistreated God’s people.
Since the days of conflict between Jacob, who was also called ‘Israel’ and fathered the Israelite nation, and his brother Esau, the father of the Edomites, there has always been conflict between Edom and Israel. Edom supported Babylon’s razing Jerusalem to the ground. They both were happy to dash young children ‘against the rocks’. The psalmist warns his cruel foes that they will be conquered and cruelly overrun, too. They were. God predicted it. (Obadiah 1:8-21, Jeremiah 49:7-12).