1. The Dilemma of the Babylonian Captives (vv.1-4)
  2. The Psalmist’s Response (vv.5,6)
  3. Imprecation Against Enemies Near and Distant (vv.7-9)
Israel’s Challenge (vv.1-4)

VERSE 1 By the rivers of Babylon (l[; [prep.] tArh]n: [n.m.p.cstr., nahar, river] lb,B' [pr.n.]),

There we sat down and wept (~v' [adv.] Wnb.v;y" [, yashabh, dwell, sit] WnykiB'-~G: [conj., also; "and" +, bakhar, weep]),

When we remembered Zion (Wnrek.z"B [prep.w/Qal.infin.cstr., zakhar, remember] `!AYci-ta [dir.obj. + pr.n.]).

VERSE 2 Upon the willows in the midst of it (~ybir'[]-l[; [prep. + n.f.p., arabhim, willow] Hk'AtB. [prep.w/n.m.s.w/3.f.s.sf., tawekh, midst])

We hung our harps (WnyliT' [, talah, hang] `WnyteArNOKi [n.m.p.w/1.c.p.sf., kinor, harp, lyre]).

VERSE 3 For there our captors demanded of us songs (yKi [conj.] ~v' [adv.] WnWlaev. [, sha-al, ask] WnybeAv [, shabah, to take captive] ryvi-yreb.DI [n.m.p.cstr., dabhar, speech, + n.m.s., shir, song]),

And our tormentors mirth, saying (Wnylel'Atw> [conj.w/n.m.p.w/1.c.p.sf, tolal, tormentor; hapax] hx' [n.f.s., shimexhah, mirth]),

"Sing us one of the songs of Zion (Wryvi [Qal.imper., shir, sing] Wnl' [prep.w/1.c.p.sf., "us"] ryVimi [prep.w/n.m.s., shir, song] `!Ayci [pr.n.])."

VERSE 4 How can we sing the LORD'S song (%yae [interrog.adv.] ryvin" [Qal.impf.1.c.p., shir, sing] hw"hy>-ryvi-ta, [dir.obj. + n.m.s., shir, song, + pr.n.])

In a foreign land (l[; [prep.] tm;d>a; [n.f.s.cstr., adamah, ground, land] `rk'nE [n.m.s., nekhar, foreign, alien])?


  1. A Levitical musician who experienced the Babylonian captivity wrote this anonymous song.
  2. Psalm 137 consists of three strophes: vv.1-4, 5-6, and 7-9.
  3. The third clearly divides into two units: v.7 and vv.8,9.
  4. In the first strophe the psalmist represents the captives who have recently arrived in Babylon ("we" and "our").
  5. In the central strophe (vv.5,6) there is the "I" speech, declaring his personal resolve not to deny his spiritual heritage as embodied in the doctrine of Zion.
  6. In the final strophe (vv.7-9), dealing with retribution upon two of Israel’s notable enemies, he addresses, in the first instance, Yahweh, and in the second, the "daughter of Babylon".
  7. Whether this man survived the 70-year exile and returned in 535BC, we have no way of knowing.
  8. The opening verses are suggestive of the immediate post-exilic period as the exiles are sitting along the water’s edge and weeping with their harps hanging from the branches of the tree-lined banks.
  9. The time frame must have been soon after the final group of exiles arrived in Babylon.
  10. It is hard to imagine that this situation prevailed throughout the 70-year captivity.
  11. It would appear that the Jews had just arrived and were settled in makeshift camps in the out-of-doors.
  12. In the course of time the Babylonian Jews settled in communities within the city of Babylon.
  13. During the course of Ezekiel’s ministry the Jews were still resistant to the truth.
  14. This is obvious from a reading of Ezekiel, chapters 4 through 24.
  15. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) came under the fifth cycle of discipline, and the surviving population was marched some 500 miles east to Babylon.
  16. Babylon was the ancient capital of the Babylonian Empire founded by Nebuchadnezzar.
  17. This modified Song of Zion is mingled with anguish and devotion.
  18. "The rivers of Babylon", the lower Euphrates-Tigris basin, included a system of interlacing canals (cf. Ezek.1:1; Dan.8:2).
  19. The scene has the vividness of a first-hand experience.
  20. The Babylonian landscape contrasted sharply with the hills and valleys of Judah.
  21. The Hebrew adverb "there" is important: there in a strange land the captives were held against their will by the current power of the world (note the two times that the adverb "there" is used in vv.1b and 3a, and the corresponding expression "foreign land" in v.4b).
  22. And gam (‘also’) is purposely chosen instead of the waw consecutive (and): with the sitting down in the solitude of the river banks, weeping came on, triggered by the scenery as compared to their familiar and beloved homeland.
  23. "There" draws attention to a strange (and hostile) place that produced profound grief in the captives.
  24. God put them "there" because they had behaved so corruptly in the land of promise.
  25. Now they were reaping the emotional anguish of losing their independence and homeland.
  26. Exhausted physically and emotionally, they "sat down and wept" when they "remembered Zion" in this strange land.
  27. Negative volition and accompanying STA activity can lead to separation from associations that are taken for granted and abused.
  28. The early exiles had no heart for the songs that celebrated their homeland.
  29. The poet remembers how his people hung their harps upon the willows that thrived along the banks of the rivers of Babylon.
  30. The time to take delight in music and mirth were past, as the wounds associated with their DD were raw.
  31. Theirs was a time to mourn, not a time for mirthful celebration of any kind.
  32. As for harps and the demand for songs, there is a relief from Sennacherib’s palace at Ninevah, in the neighboring land of Assyria, which portrays three prisoners of war playing lyres as an armed soldier marches them along.
  33. To make matters worse, their "captors demanded songs" extolling the virtues of their ruined capital.
  34. Their "tormentors" made sport of the early captives, asking them to engage in that, which brought them no joy, but only served to heighten their misery.
  35. They reluctantly took down their harps and sang songs that were for joyous celebrations.
  36. This was like rubbing salt into the wounds.
  37. God can make the circumstances so bad that even the things that would normally bring joy into a person's life only serve to intensify the soulish misery.
  38. Imagine having to sing a song extolling the virtues of Zion in the presence of an enemy that has just reduced the Temple and city to ruins, not to mention the humiliation of the Davidic monarch!
  39. Their DD continued over the course of the 70 years.
  40. The early years were the worst.
  41. Soulish anguish is sometimes the most miserable aspect of God’s wrath.
  42. Verse 4 presents the challenge that faced the volition of the beleaguered Jews.
  43. The question he presents on behalf of his people is designed to make people think.
  44. To "sing the LORD’s song" exposed the captives to further reproach.
  45. The doctrinal songs made high claims for the ruined and abandoned city of Jerusalem.
  46. In captivity the Jews were still required to worship the One who put them there.
  47. But sing they must, even in the face of pagan scoffing.
  48. Did they sing the songs of Zion while in captivity?
  49. The answer is, "Yes".
  50. Even under circumstances of duress the captive population were to carry on with their spiritual heritage.
  51. In the face of adversity believers should bear witness to the truth by word and deed.
  52. Stripped of the externals of their prescribed form of worship, the believing community could still serve and worship God.
  53. Over the course of the 70 years the captives who were positive had to make the best of a difficult situation.
  54. Psalms were sung in their worship services.
  55. This is implicit in vv.5,6.
  56. "How shall we sing the LORD’s song" might well have been the prelude to a bitter and defeatist attitude, thus repudiating the hope of Israel.
  57. Instead, as vv.5,6 imply, there developed an intense loyalty to God and His word in spite of the unfavorable circumstances.
  58. The Songs of Zion were sung in a hostile and foreign land.
  59. Initially the Jews performed these songs under duress, but as time passed, they sung these psalms as an expression of their passion for the truth.
  60. Towards the end of the captivity the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians.
  61. The Babylonian pride was abased and God’s people were granted the right to return to their abandoned and ruined homeland.
The Psalmist’s Resolve (vv.5,6)

VERSE 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem (%xeK'v.a,-~ai [adv. + Qal.impf.1.c.s.w/2.f.s.sf., shakhach, forget] ~l'iv'Wry> [pr.n.]),

May my right hand forget her skill (`ynIymiy> [n.f.s.w/1.c.s.sf., yamin, right hand] xK;v.Ti [Qal.impf.3.f.s., shakhach, forget]).

VERSE 6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth (ynIAvl.-qB;d>Ti [Qal.impf.3.f.s., dabhaq, cling, + n.m.s.w/1.c.s.sf., lashon, tongue] yKixil. [prep.w/n.m.s.w/1.c.s.sf., chakh, palate])

If I do not remember you (al{-~ai [adv. + neg.] ykireK.z>a, [Qal.impf.1.c.s.w/2.f.s.sf., zakhar, remember]),

If I do not exalt Jerusalem (al{-~ai [adv. + neg.] hl,[]a [Hiphil.impf.1.c.s., alah, exalt] ~l;iv'Wry>-ta [dir.obj. + pr.n.])

Above my chief joy (l[;,; [prep.] varo [n.m.s., rosh, head, chief] `ytix' [n.f.s.w/1.c.s.sf., shimechah, joy, gladness]).


  1. The psalmist was one of those who determined not to abandon the hope of Israel.
  2. He, for one, did not let the adversity of captivity to undermine his faith.
  3. The psalmist assumes his role as the voice for the captives in an expression of heightened emotion.
  4. He pledges his utter commitment to Jerusalem.
  5. In a smug and unfriendly place he resolved to sing the virtues of Zion reflected throughout the book of Psalms.
  6. His strong positive volition takes the form of a vow, invoking upon him the penalty of a physical handicap.
  7. May he never play the harp (v.5) or sing again (v.6), should he forget!
  8. His expression of loyalty to his beloved city is the measure of his loyalty to Yahweh, who is the guarantor of her illustrious future.
  9. His renewed faith and hope and joy came to him through much pain.
  10. To the end of his life he performed with all the skill that God had bestowed upon him the words of the songs that spoke of Jerusalem, the triumphant.
  11. Her present ruined condition brought on by the power and glory that was Babylon’s, could not shake his inner confidence.
Prophetic Imprecation (vv.7-9)

VERSE 7 Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom (rkoz> [Qal.imper., zakhar, remember] hw"hy> [pr.n.] [prep.w/n.m.p., bin, son] ~Ada/ [pr.n.])

The day of Jerusalem (tae [dir.obj.] ~Ay [n.m.s., yom, day] ~l'iv'Wry> [pr.n.]),

Who said, "Raze it, raze it (~yrIm.aoh' [, amar, say] Wr[' [Piel.imper., arah, be bare; lay bare; "raze"] Wr[' [Qal.imper., arah]),

To its very foundation (d[; [prep.] dAsy>h; [, yesodh, foundation] `HB' [prep.w/3.f.s.sf., "very"])."

VERSE 8 O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one (lb,B'-tB; [n.f.s., bath, daughter + pr.n.] hd'WdV.h; [, shadhadh, to deal violently with; ruin]),

How blessed will be the one who repays you (yrev.a; [interj.] %l'-~L,v;y>v, [prep. w/Piel.impf.3.m.s.w/prep.w/2.f.s.sf., shalam, to complete, finish, make compensation; "repay"])

With the recompense with which you have repaid us (%leWmG>-ta [dir.obj. + n.m.s.w/2.f.s.sf., bemul, dealing, recompense] T.l.m;G"v, [prep.w/, gamal, deal fully with, recompense] `Wnl' [prep.w/1.c.p.sf., "us"]).


VERSE 9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones (yrev.a; [interj.] zxeaYOv, [Qal.impf.3.m.s., achaz, grasp] #PenIw> [conj.w/, naphats, shatter, smash] %yIl;l'[o-ta, [dir.obj. + n.m.p.w/2.f.s.sf., olel, child; cf. 2Kgs.8:12; Jer.6:11; Nah.3:10])

Against the rock (`[l;S'h;-la, [prep. +, sela, rock]).


  1. The divine Judge, Yahweh, is being presented in v.7 with evidence against Edom.
  2. The words "Remember…against" have a juridical/legal background.
  3. The plaintiff is the psalmist speaking on behalf of his people, Israel.
  4. The Edomites were the racial descendants of Jacob’s unbelieving brother, Esau.
  5. Throughout OT times they were extremely antagonistic to Israel.
  6. They refused to grant Moses passage through their territory at the time of the Conquest (Num.20:14ff.).
  7. The chiefs of Edom had an opportunity to bring blessing upon the nation, but due to their anti-Semitism, they brought cursing upon their people.
  8. They opposed King Saul (1Sam.14:47), they fought against David (1Kgs.11:14-17), they opposed Solomon (1Kgs.11:14-25) and Jehoshaphat (2Chr.20:22), and they rebelled against Jehoram (2Chr.21:8).
  9. From the 13th to the 6th centuries they settled in Mt. Seir, a mountainous region south of the Dead Sea.
  10. Their capital was Sela (Petra).
  11. Petra can only be reached by way of a narrow canyon whose cliffs tower some 200 feet high.
  12. During the 5th century BC, the Nabataeans dislodged the Edomites from their territory.
  13. They relocated to Idumea in southern Palestine.
  14. Herod the Great was an Edomite.
  15. At the time of the fall of Jerusalem, as indicated by the words "the day of Jerusalem", Edom rejoiced in Judah’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.
  16. With the utmost hatred they called for the total destruction of Jerusalem (v.7c,d).
  17. Their hatred, the product of centuries of negative volition, was expressed in glee over the destruction of the Southern Kingdom.
  18. The inspired psalmist asks God to remember the sin of Edom.
  19. Edom’s celebration was but a manifestation of their long-standing hatred of the Jewish people and the hope of Israel.
  20. God does not forget unrepented acts, and He is bound to bring retributive justice into the lives of individuals and societies.
  21. How shamelessly the Edomites behaved when their brother nation was devastated under the Babylonian fury is also noted in Ezek.25:12-14 (cp. Amos.1:11,12).
  22. The Edomites were malignant, rapacious, and inhumane towards their brother-race.
  23. Obadiah warned the Edomites not to act with hostility towards God’s people in the day of their calamity (Obad.1:10-14).
  24. Obadaih’s prophesy is dated around the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC.
  25. At the time of the invasion and fall of the Southern Kingdom, the Edomites rejoiced over the harm being done to their blood brothers: they refused to come to the aid of Jewish refugees, they blocked the roads so that Jews could be captured, and they actively participated in the sacking of the city (Obad.1:11-13).
  26. According to v.7, the Edomites vigorously encouraged the Babylonians to raze the city of Jerusalem to its foundation.
  27. Are the present-day Palestinians descendants of Edom?
  28. If so, then the final historical judgment upon Edom awaits the Tribulation.
  29. There is a prophetic Edom which it seems, based on the language, must be code for the U.S. (see Isa.34:5-15; compare this to the prophesies dealing with prophetic Babylon in Jer.50 and 51).
  30. From the false brethren the prayer of imprecation turns to Babylon.
  31. The author in this instance addresses Babylon directly, rather than God.
  32. The standard approach to the interpretation of vv.8,9 is to apply it to ancient Babylon.
  33. The psalmist declares that "the daughter of Babylon" will suffer "the recompense (pay-back) with which you have repaid us" (v.8c).
  34. However, no such calamity comparable to the one that fell upon the Southern Kingdom in 586BC ever came upon the inhabitants of Babylon.
  35. When the city of Babylon fell to the Persian conquest, there was no wholesale destruction of life and property as in the case of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
  36. Babylon as a city gradually declined in importance through the Persian and Greek eras.
  37. A small community of Jews continued to live there until the city was finally abandoned.
  38. The city fell into disrepair and ruins over the centuries.
  39. We look in vain for anything that resembles the sudden calamity that fell upon Jerusalem in 586BC.
  40. Verses 8,9 refer to another Babylon in a different place and time.
  41. The same language found in v.8 is reproduced in the severe pronouncements against the Babylon of Jeremiah 50 and 51.
  42. The truth that prophetic Babylon is to suffer for hostile actions against Israel (and others) is seen throughout the prophesies of Jeremiah 50 and 51 (Jer.50:15; 51:24,35,36,49; cp. Rev.18:6).
  43. It is true that the Babylonians were in no mood for restraint at the fall of Jerusalem (2Kgs.25:7).
  44. Small children were taken by their feet and dashed "against the rock" (cp. Hos.13:16 deals with the Assyrian atrocities), which was a common enough sequel to heathen victory.
  45. For a modern example we have the account of S.S. Stubaf. Haller of the method used in WWII at Bromberg: viz., "to take the Jewish children by their feet and to break their heads by striking against the wall…" (A Spy for God).
  46. The Babylonians and the Assyrians showed no restraint upon the general population (cf. Lam.5:11-13).
  47. "O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one" is a reference to America at the time of her sudden thermonuclear annihilation.
  48. Her payback is based on a foreign policy that has supported ruthless regimes throughout this century.
  49. Political suffering (what governments impose upon their own people) has been made possible by American financial aid (loans and other subsidies to communist regimes).
  50. Around the world there is much suffering because we have facilitated the ambitions of the ruthless (cp. Rev.18:24).
  51. The Modern State of Israel suffers violence because the U.S. pressures Israel to make peace with her enemies who terrorize a population that lives every day under the shadow of terrorism and aggression.
  52. Her enemies have no regard for the young as they indiscriminately place bombs in public places.
  53. With one hand we support Israel, and with the other we support her enemies.
  54. This tends to keep everyone off balance.
  55. There is a God who will not be mocked and who will bring all her foes to justice.
  56. The twice repeated "How blessed" (vv.8b and 9a) is a beatitude directed towards Israel’s Champion.
  57. "The one" refers to the God of Israel who never allows those who oppress His people to go unpunished.
  58. In America’s overthrow the children will suffer violent destruction along with the general population (cp. Isa.13:16 which deals prophetically with the U.S.).
  59. That verse, along with v.9, deals with the very same things.
  60. Think of all the children that have suffered and died as a result of America foreign policy, which is directed by the international elite of the New World Order.
  61. The New American, published by the John Birch Society, has faithfully brought this to the attention of an indifferent and brainwashed public.
  62. The documentation is available for those who want to know the unpleasant truth.
  63. America’s impending judgment awaits the Tribulation.
  64. The severity of it is based not solely upon Israel’s modern-day mistreatment, but is inclusive of all our crimes against humanity in the 20th century.
  65. It also encompasses our domestic evil, as detailed in the Doctrine of the U.S. in Prophecy and the exegesis of Scripture dealing with the same.
  66. The principle of divine retribution set forth in v.8 agrees with Jer.51:56: "For the LORD is a God of recompense, He will fully repay".
  67. That verse seems, in fact, to be the basis for Ps.137:8, for it can hardly be coincidence that three of Jeremiah’s words are related to the three verbs of v.8.
  68. The only way for an individual or a society to avoid the full retribution of God is to repent.
  69. Even our nation has before it a way out, but we will not take it (Jer.51:9).
  70. The ancient Babylonians enjoyed a reprieve due to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar turned to the Lord.
  71. Edom represents hardened and unrepentant anti-Semitism, and was therefore judged accordingly.
  72. Ancient Babylon’s fury against the Jews was not based on hard-core anti-Semitism.
  73. America has historically been pro-Jewish, but has supported nations that are hard-core in their hatred of Israel.
  74. God takes all these factors into consideration in His retributive justice.
  75. The best course is to steer clear of actions and attitudes which set people up for divine payback, or to confess and repent so that God can forgive and bless offenders.
May 3, 1998
© Copyright 1998, Maranatha Church, Inc.