Psalm 137

Along the rivers in Babylon, * there we sat; * loudly we wept, * when we remembered you,
Along the shade trees in her midst * we hung up our harps.
    For there our captors demanded of us * words of song,
    and our mockers songs of gladness: * "Sing for us a song of Zion!"
    Oh how could we sing Yahweh's song * upon alien soil?
        Should I forget you, Jerusalem, * let my right hand wither!
        Let my tongue stick to my palate, * should I remember you not,
        if I do not raise you, Jerusalem, * upon my head in celebration!
    Remember Yahweh, O sons of Edom, * for the day of Jerusalem,
    when you said, "Strip her, strip her, * to the foundation!"
O Daughter Babylon, you devastator, * blest he who repays you * the evil you have done to us!
Blest he who seizes and dashes * your infants against the rock!

A psalm of David, for Jeremias.

137:0 This is Psalm 137 in the whole book, the 37th of the third fifty. Since the previous two Psalms were invitations to praise God, and that is difficult in the present misery, especially because of insulting and blaspheming people, here an objection to that invitation is raised, namely, that here in Babylon where we are held captive the instruments of praising God are in away hung up, especially with the blasphemers. Now is more a time and situation of lamenting, as it once was a time of captivity for the Jews in the historical Babylon. So the title of the Psalm is appropriate: a psalm of David, for Jeremiah. The idea is that David wrote this Psalm according to Jeremiah because, just as Jeremiah lamented the captivity of the Jews in four acrostic lamentations, so here he says that one should not sing, but lament the spiritual captivity of the true people of God in a spiritual Babylon.

The Psalm has two major parts: (1) The first expresses the affliction and misery of the saints in this life of captivity. (2) The second curses the persecutors who are cleaving to confusion because of love of the world: "Remember". In the first part he expresses (1) the saints misery and sadness in the present life that is full of confusion, and (2), in spite of that, their constant recollection of the heavenly city: "If I forget you". In the first he expresses (1) their tears and misery, (2) the reason for it, the insulting behavior of the wicked: "For they that led us". In the first there is expressed (1) the misery and affliction, (2) the cessation of consolation and joy: "On the willows". The first has four points: (1) the place of misery and affliction, (2) the state of the afflicted: "there we sat", (3) the manner of affliction: "and wept", (4) the time or cause when they were most afflicted: "when we remembered".

1. Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept: when we remembered Sion:
Along the rivers in Babylon, there we sat; loudly we wept, when we remembered you, Zion!

135: The idea is: You urged us to praise, and we recognize that we ought to do so, but alas we are along the rivers of Babylon. Literally, in the historical Babylon there were rivers, and by these rivers the Jews were held captive.

There we sat - There situation was one of humiliation, indicated by their sitting - and we wept. This is the manner of affliction and misery, to the extent of weeping, when we remembered Zion, that is, at the time the remember the city from which they were expelled.

Note that Babylon stands (1) sometimes for the Gentile world -Ps 87:4 I shall inscribe Egypt and Babylon etc., a collection of all evils -Rev 18:2 Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons. (2) sometimes for confusion because of sin -Micah 4:10 You shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued. (3)or this world, where the good are mixed with the evil, as is the case in the present text -Is 21:4 My beloved Babylon has become a miracle for me (Vul). This Babylon has the rivers, or all the temporal goods, which the saints must pass over like a river -Zeph 3:10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, my scattered ones, shall bring my offering. There are three more meanings worse than the preceding: (4) or concupiscence of the flesh (5) or concupicence of the eyes, (6) or pride of life, which flow from the font of original sin -Habakkuk 3:8 Was your wrath against the rivers, Yahweh? Certainly! Therefore there is the warning -Is 47:2 Strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers. Some are under the water; they see and are very glad -Ex 15:10 They sank like lead in the mighty waters. Others are are above the water; these are the perfect -Dan 12:6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was upstream (Vul: "over the water"). Others are still next to the water, who begin and make progress -Ez 3:15 And I sat there among them by the river Chebar. But all must weep when they remember the heavenly city, Jerusalem -Qoheleth 3:4 There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh.

2. On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments.
Along the shade trees in her midst we hung up our harps.

135: After talking about misery and lamentation, here he talks about the cessation of joy and gladness, and he speaks metaphorically, saying: We wept sitting by the rivers, and we hung up our harps, so that we could no longer be glad or sing, in the midst of it, that is, of Babylon, and that on the willows. Note the exaggeration of sorrow, when the usual source of consolation in sorrow is hung up -Job 30:31 My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those who weep. -Is 24:28 The mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled

Note that the evil and repropate are called willows (1) because of their bitterness -Jer 2:19 Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake Yahweh your God. (2) because they have no fruit -Rom 6:21 What fruit did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? (3) because they have much bad sap -Job 40:21-22 Under the lotus plants it lies, that is, Behemoth, in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh. The lotus trees cover it for shade; the willows of the wadi surround it. (4) because of their green leaves, that is words, even though they have no fruit -Gen 27:22 The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. These willows are in the midst of Babylon when they love the world with the greatest love and spurn spiritual things. The harps are to be hung up there because there is to be hung up any preaching about spiritual joy -Mat 7:6 Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.

3. For there they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs.
For there our captors demanded of us words of song,

135: After expressing the misery and its extremity in Babylon, here he gives the cause of both the weeping and of hanging up the harps, namely the ironic question by carnal and dirty men. And, lest the saints seem totally put to shame, he gives their sharp answer. So we have (1) the derisory request from the saints by the stupid men, (2) their prudent answer: "How shall we sing". In the first there is (1) the ironic request of a song from the afflicted, (2) a specification of what kind of song, for greater mockery: "And they that carried". In the first there is (1) the condition of those asking, (2) what they ask for: "words". The idea is: We wept, we hung our harps, and no wonder, for there, in Babylon, our captors demanded of us, in mockery, words of songs, as if captives should be rejoicing and singing, and not crying. Similarly the demons want their captives not to care about their captivity and slavery -John 8:34 Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. This was typified in Genesis 34, where Shechem son of Hamor, after raping Dinah, tried to win her heart. But the Lord does not call for a song, rather -Is 22:12 In that day the Lord Yahweh of armies called to weeping and mourning, to baldness and putting on sackcloth. -Jer 25:10 I will banish from them the sound of mirth and the sound of gladness. -James 4:9 Lament and mourn and weep.

And they that carried us away, said: Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion.
and our mockers songs of gladness: "Sing for us a song of Zion!"

135: Here he specifies what kind of song they were asking for: And they thatcarried us away from our land asked, Sing us a song of Zion, which literally applies to Jerusalem. But demons take us from our land, which is the Church, through sin -Baruch 4:26 They were taken away like a flock carried off by the enemy. -1 Mac 2:9 Her glorious vessels, that is, the prelates themselves, have been carried into exile. After that they are mocked by the demons -Jer 20:7 I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. And he makes them sing spiritual songs so that they may believe that they are good and holy -Amos 6:5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music. And then he mocks them all the more -Lam 1:7 The foe looked on mocking over her downfall (Vul: sabbaths).

4. How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?
Oh how could we sing Yahweh's song upon alien soil?

135: Here is their sharp answer to the mocking question. The idea is: They say that in Babylon we should sing a song of Zion. And we answer: How can we sing a song of the Lord while we are in an alien land? The implied answer is: We cannot and we should not -Sir 22:6 Like a song in time of mourning is inopportune talk. Now it is time for us to mourn -Ez 26:13 I will silence the music of your songs and make you wail and shout. -Is 59:11 We all growl like bears; like doves we moan mournfully, because you placed us outside our homeland, in an alien land -Baruch 3:10 Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies, that you are growing old in a foreign country, that you are defiled with the dead. How can I sing to you, who are mocking me? -Prov 25:20 Like vinegar on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.
Should I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

135: After the misery and affliction of the saints in Babylon, here is the recollection of the heavenly Zion and joy over it, since that is the consolation of the saints while they are on the way. There is a double self-curse: (1) if he forgets Jerusalem, (2) if he is not happy and joyful about it: "if I make not". The first curse has two consequences: (1) the loss of eternal life, (2) the loss of the power of speach: "Let my tongue". The idea is: We cannot sing in an alien land, but O Jerusalem, that is, the material Jerusalem with regard to the historical captives, or the spiritual Jerusalem with regard to those held captive in a spiritual Babylon-- if I forget you, let my right hand, that is, eternal life, be forgotten, (1) so that I have no participation in it nor am I there like a lamb -Mat 25:33 He will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. (2) so that I am not embraced by it like the soul in Canticles 2:6 O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! A man must take the greatest care to remember good things when he is in misery. -Sir 11:25 In the day of prosperity, adversity is forgotten, and in the day of adversity, prosperity is not remembered (Vul: in adversity remember prosperity). -Ambrose: One must often recall what the world forces you to forget. Otherwise one quickly incurs the following curse -Job 24:20 Let mercy forget him. -Jer 51:50 You survivors of the sword, go, do not linger! Remember Yahweh in a distant land, and let Jerusalem come into your mind.

6. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee:
Let my tongue stick to my palate, should I remember you not,

135: Here is the self-curse calling for a loss of the power of speech because of loss of memory. The idea is: Not only let my right hand be forgotten in the future, but also your mercy in the present. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, making me totally dumb, if I do not remember you. First, a man is made dumb because of sin -Micah 7:16 They shall lay their hands on their mouths. -The Gloss: He becomes dumb because he does not remember God. -Gregory: It is necessary for the tongue to be silent where conscience is sick, and that because of a foreigner, as has been said -Ez 3:26 I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be speechless and unable to reprove them; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore Isaiah was not dumb, because (26:8) your name and your renown are the soul's desire. And Jeremiah said -Lam 3:20 My soul continually thinks of it. -Hos 14:17 Their recollection shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

If I make not Jerusalem the beginning of my joy.
if I do not raise you, Jerusalem, upon my head in celebration!

135:1.2.2 Here he curses himself if he lacks that spiritual joy which is most important. The idea is: Let me lose eternal life and speech if I do not remember Jerusalem, and also if I do not have joy over you, Jerusalem, as the beginning of my joy. That is, if I do not find joy principally and primarily in you, may the aforesaid evils befall me. So that heavenly Jerusalem is to be sought before all else -Mat 6:3 But strive first for the kingdom of God. It is to be preferred to our [other] joys -Tob 13:14 Happy are those who love you, and happy are those who rejoice in your prosperity. -Is 66:10 Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her. Bad priests do not care about this spiritual joy, but are happier with the goods of Babylon -2Mac 4:14 The priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Despising the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hurried to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena. -Prov 2:14 who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil.

7. Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem:
Remember Yahweh, O sons of Edom, for the day of Jerusalem,

135:2.1.1 After showing the misery of the saints in this life, although they had some consolation, here he attacks the evil, (1) first by cursing them that they may be punished by their own evil, (2) secondly by insulting them: "Daughter of Babylon". The first has (1) a prayer that they may be punished for the malice they vented upon the good, (2) a specification of that malice: "who say raze it". The idea is: While we are in Babylon we cannot sing, although we have some consolation. Now we ask, O Lord, you to punish the children of Edom for the day of Jerusalem, destroyed by them with the help of the Babylonians. That is the literal statement, because the Idumeans helped the Babylonians.

Or: on the day of Jerusalem, when you restore it. That literally happened when they were severely punished for the sin they committed against the brothers. They are descendants of Esau, who was otherwise known as Edom -Lam 4:21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom, you that live in the land of Uz; but to you also the cup shall pass; you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare. -Jer 49:10 I have stripped Esau, have laid his hiding places bare. -Obadiah 1:10 For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. So the saints, conforming themselves to divine justice, call for the the punishment of the impious -Rev 6:10 They cried out with a loud voice, "Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" He will take revenge and publicize the evil they did to punish them -Rev 16:19 God remembered great Babylon and gave her the wine-cup of the fury of his wrath.

Who say: Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
when you said, "Strip her, strip her, to the foundation!"

135:2.1.2 Here he specifies their malice, which was was the mob's mutual exhortation to level Jerusalem. There are two points: (1) the mutual exhortation, (2) the vehemence of the destruction: "raze it". The idea is: Raze it, leveling and emptying it of inhabitants, raze it, even to its foundations, so that not even the foundations are left. -Obadiah 1:11 On the day that you stood aside, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you too were like one of them. Likewise evil people exhort one another to destroy the Church to its foundation, that is, right to its faith. For, as a building is constructed over a foundation, so good works are built on faith. -Rev 21:19 The first foundation was jasper, which is green in color. Our persecutors will not be satisfied with destroying our works unless they get at the foundation and destroy that. -Jer 2:16 The people of Memphis and Tahpanhes have grazed on the crown of your head. -Sir 13:6 He will cajole you, to destroy your good works, then without regret he will impovrish you, corrupting the foundations of faith.

8. O daughter of Babylon, miserable:
O Daughter Babylon, you devastator,

135:2.2.1 After the enemies were cursed, here they are mocked. He (1) declares the future misery of Babylon, (2) blesses the one who punishes it: "blessed is he who repays", (3) gives the cause of such misery and of the happiness of those who attack Babylon: "Blessed is he who takes". The idea is: I asked the Lord to remember the sons of Edom and all our adversaries. And I say, Daughter of Babylon, that is, Babylon, since "daughter" is often superfluous, you are miserable, materially and spiritually, because of sin, which truly brings misery -Prov 14:34 Sin is a reproach to any people. All sinners are very appropriately called "daughters", because they are born of the devil and carnal concupiscence -Ez 16:3 Your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. -John 8:44 You are from your father the devil.

blessed shall he be who shall repay thee thy payment which thou hast paid us.
blest he who repays you the evil you have done to us!

135:2.2.2 The idea is: You are miserable, but he, that is, anyone, who repays you what you have done to us is blessed. Who is that? God and our Lord himself, who repays both those physical and spiritual enemies. On the physical enemies -Jer 51:20 You were my mace, a weapon of war. With you I crushed nations, struck kingdoms down. On the spiritual enemies -Is 27:8 By expulsion, by exile you struggled against them; with his fierce blast he removed them in the day of the east wind. -Luke 6:38 The measure you give will be the measure you get back. -Rev 18:7 As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief. - 1 Maccabees 2:68 Pay back the Gentiles in full.

9. Blessed be he that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock.
Blest he who seizes and dashes your infants against the rock!

135:2.2.3 Here is the reason for such great misery and of the happiness of those who attach Babylon. The idea is: I said that you are miserable, Babylon, and blessed is he who repays you. That is true, because he who takes your little ones captive, so that they cannot escape, and dashes them on the rock is blessed, that is, if he is there. The Psalmist seems to be addressing others or Babylon itself, saying that he will be blessed by the Babylonians for taking their children and killing them before outsiders come in and kill them. -Hosee 13:16 They shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces.

Also blessed is he who takes the children of Babylon, that is, this world, before they collapse in sin, and throws them agains the rock, which is Christ, converting and joining them to him. - James 5:20 You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Blessed also is the man who, in this world, does not follow the little ones, that is the first movements toward sin but, before they have a chance to grow, throws them against the rock that is Christ -1 Cor 10:4 The rock was Christ. -Sir 18:30 Go not after your lusts, but keep your desires in check, throwing them against the Rock and thinking of his Passion. - 1 Peter 4:1 Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention.

Note that there are little ones (1) in malice -1 Cor 14:20 Be infants in malice. (2) in wisdom -Hebrews 5:13 Everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. (3) in fragility -Lam 1:5 Her children have gone away, captives before the foe. (4) in imperfection -Lam 4:4 The children beg for food, but no one gives them anything. (5) in low esteem -Obadiah 1:2 I will surely make you least among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. (6) in humility -Mat 18:3 Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (7) in love of temporal things -Job 5:2 Envy kills the child (Vul). (8) in natural origin, as in this verse. The first movements towards sin are called "little ones" and must be smashed against Christ, so that with the mind's eye purified, one may see God, when he is present, who is blessed forever.