Psalms 137:1-2. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
Babylon was full of canals and rivers; the captive Israelites sought out lonely places where they might be away front their oppressors, and might in the company of their countrymen pour out the sad stream of their griefs and sorrows. “The rivers of Babylon” seemed congenial to them, and they mingled their tears with the flowing waters. They “sat down” as if they felt they were to be there a long while, and were not soon to go back to their own land; and they “wept “ — not simply because of their banishment and their woes, but also because of the mournful condition of their beloved Zion, which had been ravaged by the Chaldeans, ploughed as a field, and given over to desolation. Some of these poor captives had been singers in the courts of the Lord’s house which had been burnt with fire, and others had brought their “harps” with them into their captivity; but they could not find any music in their hearts, and therefore they fetched no melodious, notes out of their harp-strings. They did not break their harps, however, for they might want them someday, so they hung them up on the weeping willows which abounded by the water-courses. Then came one of the sharpest trials they had ever had, — a piece of bitter cruelty on the part of their oppressors, who had no compassion upon the poor prisoners whom they had taken from their own land.
Psalms 137:3. 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.
As no cups except those that were taken out of God’s holy house would do for Belshazzar when he wanted to make himself drank, so no music would suit these heathen captors of Israel but the songs of God’s house: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” These poor people were crestfallen and utterly broken down, yet their enemies cried,” Make mirthful music for us, sing us one of your sacred songs.” They only wanted to laugh at it, or, at the very best, to listen to it simply as a piece of music that they might criticize, so they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” But the captives could not and would not sing for any such purpose. Zion’s songs were not meant to be sung for mere amusement, nor were her chants intended to be made the theme of mockery and ridicule by the ungodly.
Psalms 137:4-5. How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
“No,” they said, “if we were to make mirth for the Babylonians, we should be doing serious damage to Zion, we should be traitors to Jerusalem;” so the harpers said, “Sooner than we will play a tune to make mirth for you, let our right hands become paralysed.”
Psalms 137:6. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;-
They said it each one for himself; they would sooner be dumb than sing these sacred songs for the amusement of the ungodly revellers who had gathered round about them. Instead of a song, they offered a prayer which must have sounded terribly in the ears of those who mocked them; it was a fierce prayer, — a prayer made under a very different dispensation from that under which we live, — a prayer by a patriot who had seen his wife murdered, and his children dashed to pieces, and he prays thus: —
Psalms 137:6-7. If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raise it, raise it, even to the foundation thereof.
These Edomites, who ought to have been like brothers to the Jews, were their most ferocious enemies, and they stirred up the Chaldeans to be more terribly cruel than they otherwise would have been.
Psalms 137:8-9. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed: happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
For these people had gone all over the world, wherever they could, murdering and mutilating. Tens of thousands of little children had they brutally killed, multitudes of women had they ravished, a vast number of cities had they destroyed. They were the scourges of all nations; and, therefore, moved to righteous indignation, the Jews felt that anybody who should overthrow that city of Babylon, and put to death its inhabitants, would be doing good service to the rest of mankind. And, mark you, all this came to pass in due time. When Cyrus turned aside the waters of the river which had been Babylon’s great protection, and left the river-bed quite dry, he marched his troops right into the centre of the city; and when the Babylonians, to defend themselves and a part of the city, were driven to great straits, we are told by historians that they themselves destroyed their own wives and children, calling them useless mouths, that they might be able to defend themselves a little longer from the sword of Cyrus, so that, literally, it came to pass that the man who had destroyed his own children thought himself happy to be rid of them that he might maintain the fight. How dreadful is God when he deals with nations that have been cruel and ferocious! Go ye to Babylon this day, and see what ruinous heaps he hath made, what desolation he hath wrought in that land.