A devotional of Psalm 137
This is a most visceral of psalms. It evokes deep anguish at its beginning, meager hope in its midst, and disgust by its end.
1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
Have you ever sat down and wept? Sometimes you have to shut all other processes out, including the capacity to even stand, before you commit everything you have and are to grief. The weeping depicted here is a deep bewailing, a bitter lament, and a sore bemoaning.
Rivers – nahar – means light, shining, beams, cheer, and the sheen and sparkle as of a running stream (Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew & English Lexicon and Strong’s). Rivers symbolize flow and prosperity. So if rivers symbolize levity and joy, why are the subjects weeping? The Israelites are in exile in the resplendent territory called Babylon. Babel means confusion by mixing.
Deep in the hearts of the Israelites lay an undying patriotism. Yet their sin had caused them to be plucked out of their beloved nation and thrust into Babylon. The Israelites who are to be consecrated to God have repeatedly and deliberately shunned their identity as the Chosen Ones, therefore, after much warning, God has reluctantly given them what they have coming.
“The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it,” Pr. 10:22. The Israelites were dissatisfied with Lord’s blessings, and they pined for those of the world. They neglected to consider that the latter are paid for with the currency of sorrow. If we disobey God, we will pay with sorrow one way or another. As a result, you may find yourself in a physical state that is gorgeous, prosperous, filled with laughter and cheer and sparkle, yet spent with grief and weeping. This inner state drives us back in memory to appreciate what we had before we lost our focus. Here the memory of Zion causes disdain for this glorious place in which they find themselves.
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
The willow tree – arab – means to intermix, to meddle, to mingle. It means to traffic in, to exchange, to barter or to mortgage. A musician hangs up their instrument when they are done singing. We’ve noted the importance of singing and the repeated call in the psalms to do so. Indeed, the very word psalm means “a song.” These were frequently accompanied by instruments such as the harp or the lyre. These musicians were out of a song. Yet he hanging up of the instrument speaks to a hope of taking it down strumming it again someday. If you are in a dark place at this time beloved, don’t lose your song. If you must, hang up your lyre for a spell but hang it up with hope.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Bible commentator Maclaren notes, “So, like tipsy revellers, they called out ‘Sing!’ The request drove the iron deeper into sad hearts, for it came from those who had made the misery. They had led away the captives, and now they bid them make sport.”
This was likely a tormenting gesture. Even if it had come from the captors trying to cheer their captives up, it was a miserable flop. The captors may have seen the plight of the Israelites as a step up from their former existence, with all the decadence and pleasure of Babylon at their disposal. But the glitz was lost on the Chosen Ones. It brought them no pleasure. No treasure or worldly joy compares to, nor is worth the unceasing delight of being in God’s favor.
No treasure or worldly joy compares to, nor is worth the unceasing delight of being in God’s favorHannah TK
Believer, if you find yourself mixed up and intertwined with sin, flee, my friend. Return to your Zion – tsiyun – a parched place. It may seem like a parched place to the world which seeks to lure you to their “prosperity.” Your sin has exiled you. Your Father wants to free you. Remember you are chosen. Remember you are set apart. Extricate yourself from your alliances. Go home prodigal one. Run home to Jesus’ waiting, loving arms. Babylon, with all her splendor, has nothing for you.
Babylon, with all her splendor, has nothing for you, believer.Hannah TK
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it means “teaching of peace.” Built within that title is the foundation of our Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Thoughts of him are our greatest thought. Worship of him is our greatest skill, our loftiest. May he be our sweetest song. May he be above our highest joy.
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!”
This verse plays out like a street fight where a sibling sides with the bad guy instead of defending his member. The relationship of the Israelites and the Edomites began with the twins Jacob and Esau. Jacob was renamed Israel and the Edomites were the descendants of Esau. Edomites not only didn’t defend the Israelites against the Babylonians but heckled them on their way to exile.
8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us!
9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!
Babylon was brutal in her treatment of conquered parties. They mercilessly pillaged, ravaged, and murdered.
“Today the fortresses of ancient Edom are a desolate waste, and the site of ancient Babylon is a ruin. God cannot be mocked.” Boice