corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 137

 

 

Verses 1-9

Psalms 137:1-9

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept.

The tears of memory and the cry for vengeance

I. The tears of memory (Psalms 137:1-6).

1. Their sorrow had reference to the loss of the highest blessing--Zion, where their nation met their God to worship Him, etc.

2. Their sorrow was deliberate and all-absorbing. Now these tears of memory--

II. A cry for vengeance (Psalms 137:7-9). (Homilist.)

The patriot’s psalm

This psalm celebrates the splendid constancy of the Jews amid the oppressions of the Babylonian captivity, and is the production of some son of Korah or Asaph. The knowledge and love of music was widespread among the Sews; and it was most natural that the Babylonians, who were great musicians themselves, should ask their captives to sing them a song of Judaea. Whether they did it in scorn and mockery, or from genuine interest, the thought of singing of home was none the less painful to the exiles. The whole of the later books of the Old Testament are full of this consuming fire of Israelitish patriotism, a patriotism which burns in every nation under heaven, and in no nation more strongly than our own. Where it is trampled on, it breaks the oppressor like a potter’s vessel; where it is respected, it binds nations together in the strongest of bonds. So deep, so strong is the divine passion for fatherland in every human breast. Yet, loyal as you are, and lovers of old Caledonia, with heart and hand ever open to a “brither Scot,” you are free-born subjects of another country, owning another sovereign, like Andrew Melville, and fellow-citizens with the saints. Henceforth heaven is our home, our true and only home, and hero we are strangers and pilgrims. Many of the younger Jews had been born in captivity, but none the less did they love far-off Jerusalem, for their fathers talked of nothing else. The very fact that they had never seen it made them dream about it the more. So we often in imagination cross the Jordan and the wilderness, and enter one of the many mansions. We read and read again Revelation 21:22.; the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the “Paradise,” and call curses on ourselves if we ever forget what we read there. The Jews sat down by the rivers of Babylon with a set purpose to weep. They deliberately intended to weep, and they had a never-failing specific for bringing tears to their eyes. It was deep, silent, solemnized, and deliberate weeping, reserved for a time when the Babylonians were not by. Nor do we intrude with our weeping into your feasts and dancing, nor hang our heads like bulrushes over the wine-cup; but never for one moment do we forget Jerusalem. Materially, the Jews lost little or nothing by having to migrate to Babylon. They were not slaves as they had been in Egypt, but prosperous colonists, and some of them were so well to do, so contented, that they let Zion and Jerusalem slip from their minds. Yet there was ever a remnant (or elect) whom no material prosperity could ever satisfy, who said, better a cottage in a vineyard in Jerusalem than a palace here. Asaph did not sell his harp nor tear its strings to pieces; he only hanged it on a willow-tree against the time he knew was coming. Then he struck it to some purpose, as we know in this far-off island of the sea. Not till her golden gates have closed and all her glorious children have gone in, will Jerusalem awake to her own full joy, and then will be heard the voice of mirth, and gladness, and feasting, the sound as of many waters, and the harpers harping with their harps. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

Injurious retrospection

The psalm opens with words of which the melancholy sweetness blinds us from seeing the evil tendencies which lie hid in them. “By the rivers of Babylon,” etc. Are the words so sweet? Is there not suppressed bitterness in them? What right had these exiles to sit down and weep, when it was God who had brought them to Babylon? What right had they to fold their hands and hang up their harps when God had told them by His prophet Jeremiah to build houses, and seek the peace of the city to which they were led captive (Jeremiah 29:5-7)? God sends trouble to make men look forward, not backward. Living back in an irrevocable past is worse than mere waste of time. So it proved with the captives by the waters of Babylon. They thought upon the wrongs, but not upon the wrongful dealings of Zion. Zedekiah’s broken oath to the king of Babylon (Ezekiel 17:16), and their own intrigues with the enemies of Nebuchadnezzar were forgotten; the destruction of Jerusalem and the joys of their neighbours on the day of destruction were remembered too well. (W. E. Barnes, D. D.)


Verses 1-9

Psalms 137:1-9

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept.

The tears of memory and the cry for vengeance

I. The tears of memory (Psalms 137:1-6).

1. Their sorrow had reference to the loss of the highest blessing--Zion, where their nation met their God to worship Him, etc.

2. Their sorrow was deliberate and all-absorbing. Now these tears of memory--

II. A cry for vengeance (Psalms 137:7-9). (Homilist.)

The patriot’s psalm

This psalm celebrates the splendid constancy of the Jews amid the oppressions of the Babylonian captivity, and is the production of some son of Korah or Asaph. The knowledge and love of music was widespread among the Sews; and it was most natural that the Babylonians, who were great musicians themselves, should ask their captives to sing them a song of Judaea. Whether they did it in scorn and mockery, or from genuine interest, the thought of singing of home was none the less painful to the exiles. The whole of the later books of the Old Testament are full of this consuming fire of Israelitish patriotism, a patriotism which burns in every nation under heaven, and in no nation more strongly than our own. Where it is trampled on, it breaks the oppressor like a potter’s vessel; where it is respected, it binds nations together in the strongest of bonds. So deep, so strong is the divine passion for fatherland in every human breast. Yet, loyal as you are, and lovers of old Caledonia, with heart and hand ever open to a “brither Scot,” you are free-born subjects of another country, owning another sovereign, like Andrew Melville, and fellow-citizens with the saints. Henceforth heaven is our home, our true and only home, and hero we are strangers and pilgrims. Many of the younger Jews had been born in captivity, but none the less did they love far-off Jerusalem, for their fathers talked of nothing else. The very fact that they had never seen it made them dream about it the more. So we often in imagination cross the Jordan and the wilderness, and enter one of the many mansions. We read and read again Revelation 21:22.; the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the “Paradise,” and call curses on ourselves if we ever forget what we read there. The Jews sat down by the rivers of Babylon with a set purpose to weep. They deliberately intended to weep, and they had a never-failing specific for bringing tears to their eyes. It was deep, silent, solemnized, and deliberate weeping, reserved for a time when the Babylonians were not by. Nor do we intrude with our weeping into your feasts and dancing, nor hang our heads like bulrushes over the wine-cup; but never for one moment do we forget Jerusalem. Materially, the Jews lost little or nothing by having to migrate to Babylon. They were not slaves as they had been in Egypt, but prosperous colonists, and some of them were so well to do, so contented, that they let Zion and Jerusalem slip from their minds. Yet there was ever a remnant (or elect) whom no material prosperity could ever satisfy, who said, better a cottage in a vineyard in Jerusalem than a palace here. Asaph did not sell his harp nor tear its strings to pieces; he only hanged it on a willow-tree against the time he knew was coming. Then he struck it to some purpose, as we know in this far-off island of the sea. Not till her golden gates have closed and all her glorious children have gone in, will Jerusalem awake to her own full joy, and then will be heard the voice of mirth, and gladness, and feasting, the sound as of many waters, and the harpers harping with their harps. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

Injurious retrospection

The psalm opens with words of which the melancholy sweetness blinds us from seeing the evil tendencies which lie hid in them. “By the rivers of Babylon,” etc. Are the words so sweet? Is there not suppressed bitterness in them? What right had these exiles to sit down and weep, when it was God who had brought them to Babylon? What right had they to fold their hands and hang up their harps when God had told them by His prophet Jeremiah to build houses, and seek the peace of the city to which they were led captive (Jeremiah 29:5-7)? God sends trouble to make men look forward, not backward. Living back in an irrevocable past is worse than mere waste of time. So it proved with the captives by the waters of Babylon. They thought upon the wrongs, but not upon the wrongful dealings of Zion. Zedekiah’s broken oath to the king of Babylon (Ezekiel 17:16), and their own intrigues with the enemies of Nebuchadnezzar were forgotten; the destruction of Jerusalem and the joys of their neighbours on the day of destruction were remembered too well. (W. E. Barnes, D. D.)


Verse 2

Psalms 137:2

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

Harps on the willows

I. Every man has a harp. The harp was the well-known instrument for the accompaniment of song. Its music was sweet and delightful. When calamity fell upon the nation their harps were silenced, etc. And thus it is with all our lives. We have the elements of joy in them, the powers of song and gladness, and there is no man who has not the capacity and the occasion for delightful mirth.

1. Think of the constitution of our nature, wherein a place is secured for joy. The body is attuned to pleasure. How exquisitely has God harmonized the sound and the sense!

2. What a harp man possesses in physical nature if he would only let its music be heard. Every sight and sound, every scene and action, all things fair and good, and bright and godly, are but fingers of Nature’s skilful hand, which will touch the strings of the harp of our being, and wake their perfect tones of rapture.

3. Man has the harp for pleasant accompaniment of happy song in the region of the immaterial and the intellectual. The joy of learning--when it is indeed learning worthy of the name; the discovery of the unknown; the pursuit of the law which underlies obscure phenomena; the search for causes; the enumeration of effects--these and others afford keen and lasting delight.

4. The pleasure which belongs to the still higher sphere which we are privileged to enter.

II. But sometimes the harp has to be hung upon the willows.

1. It is thus when disease invades our bodies or sorrow smites the soul. Songs are not suitable to funerals, and harpings in the house of mourning are out of place and impertinent.

2. There are some silences still more profound that fall upon the music of our life. The father whose eldest son forswears his father’s faith, and throws away his father’s virtues, and wins only a name that will be a dishonour among men--such a father has little heart for harpings, and is, indeed, in a silent land of bitter exile.

3. And then how useless is the harp when we ourselves are in the hours of spiritual distress. God is absent, and we know no gladness till He shows His face again. They sang a hymn when the Master was among them, even though when they rose from the supper it was to pass to Gethsemane, and Pilate’s bar, and Calvary. But their hearts had no desire for singing in the suspense and numb agony of the hour when the Christ lay dead. And so it is with the Christian still.

III. But though there is no heart or place for song, and the harp must be laid aside, it needs not to be cast away. They had been foolish and wicked men of Israel if they had flung their harps beneath the running river, and thus deprived themselves altogether of the means of melody when the days of joy came back again (Ezra 3:9-13). So, cast not away your harp. The weather will clear and the soul will awake to gladness when the sunshine comes. And the sickness will depart, and the strengthened frame shall recover its wonted sense of health and vigour. Yea, and there shall be some hours of gladness even for the wailing weary heart that sickens over the sinfulness of child and friend. It was a sad home when the prodigal was far away. But one day the father saw the returning son, ragged, worn, and disgraced, and that night there was music and dancing in the long silent homestead. And thou, too, depressed and cast-down Christian, throw not away thy harp. There shall be peace, and joy, and fulness of blessing yet for thee. God shall show Himself, and Christ will yet return. (Lt. D. Bevan, LL. B.)


Verse 3

Psalms 137:3

Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

The phases of psalmody

The noblest employment of which the nature of man is capable is the worship of his Maker. One of the elements of the worship is the rendition of praise, and in the songs of Zion we are amply provided with material for this purpose.

I. The song of the pardoned penitent. This song can be sung by him who no longer looks to his own righteousness for salvation, but whose desire is to be found in Christ as the righteousness of God.

II. The song of the adoring creature. This song is sung not for any special gift received, but in contemplation of the great acts of God--His past acts in the Church and in the world--for the laws of nature--for all those marvellous exhibitions of power and wisdom that are before our eyes.

III. The song of the recipient of mercy. This is well brought out in Psalms 103:1-22. The mercies that are renewed to us daily are not to be taken as a matter of course. Count up your daily mercies and sing.

IV. The song of the Heaven-round pilgrim, “Thy statutes have been my songs,” etc. God’s people should not go on their way as if to be a Christian were the most gloomy thing hi the world. They are commanded to “rejoice.” Let us attain to the apostolic stand and come “to Zion with songs.”

V. The song of the sorrower. “He giveth songs in the night.” Where sufferings abound, consolations abound. God never lays one hand on us but He lays the other hand under us. Paul and Silas sang in prison in the night.

VI. The song of the sanctuary. The service of song in public worship was very prominent under the old dispensation. Music should be edifying; not a sensuous enjoyment, but a part--a noble part--of the worship of God.

VII. The song of Zion which is to be sung by the glorified above. That song is to be the utterance--the ceaseless utterings--of their gratitude and praise for all the eternal love wherewith they were loved, for the grace by which they were redeemed, kept there, sanctified there, brought there--“Salvation to God and to the Lamb.” Are you in training for that choir which is in heaven--for exchanging the songs which we sung in a strange land for the songs of the New Jerusalem and all her beauty? (J. C. Miller, D. D.)

Babylonian captivity

1. Certainly there are many men and women to whom this psalm will be full of a touching significance if they look back on the time when they first found themselves alone in London. A young man, after being brought up with loving care in the country, is sent with a book of the Lord’s songs packed by his mother in his trunk to serve his time at some business in our modern Babylon. Will he not be ready to shed tears on his first Sundays spent in town when he thinks of friends at home singing one of the songs of Zion, in which he can no longer join, deterred perhaps by the ridicule or want of sympathy of strangers? And the very desire of others that he should “keep up his spirits” and be a “jolly fellow”--such jarring requests will only increase his heaviness. What should such a young man do? Let him, before his better feelings grow cold, resolve rather to forget the cunning of his hand if he be an artisan, or the cunning of his business faculty if he be in a merchant’s or lawyer’s office; let him resolve to forget these or never to acquire them at all rather than to forget the love of his home and the worship of his mother’s God--in one word, Jerusalem.

2. When travelling abroad did Englishmen remember Jerusalem, and prefer her above their chief joy, they would realize the presence of One who could dispel the loneliness of a strange land, and deliver them from the many temptations of friendlessness.

3. Again, there are many generous souls whose best impulses are imprisoned by circumstances over which they have no control. Bound men have got into square holes, and find no scope for the best energies of their nature. Children long to help their parents; but they are far from home, or their desire is in captivity, by reason of poverty, ill-health, or anything else. Parents cannot do all they desire for their children. Let these, and all who find themselves in adverse circumstances, think of Israel weeping on the banks of the Euphrates--let them think of how she waited patiently on the Lord in poverty, in humiliation, in a strange land, full of sin and scoffing; and of how He delivered her from Babylon in His own good time, as of old He delivered the same Israel out of bondage in Egypt. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)


Verse 4

Psalms 137:4

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

The Lord’s song in a strange land

The temple music had a reputation even among the heathen peoples of Central Asia; and it seemed natural that the sacred words and music, which had for ages set forth the worship of the one true God, should furnish a more refined amusement for the cultivated pagans who had trodden down the sanctuary and had enslaved God’s people. But the heart of captive Israel beat true to what was due to the honour of God, and to the memories of their ancient worship. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Nay, this request of the heathen oppressor that the captives should sing the Lord’s song for his aesthetic gratification nerves the psalmist to a sterner mood. He cannot forget how, in those dark hours, a race of kinsmen by blood had cheered on the heathen foe in his work of destruction. Already he sees the approaching capture of the city by Darius Hystaspis. Her young children are dashed against the stones by the Persian invader. But, meanwhile, if the psalmist is asked to prostitute his gift by singing the old temple songs merely to amuse the heathen, there are many reasons which make compliance impossible. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

I. The Lord’s song.

1. It meant for Israel all that was precious to the soul; but for the Babylonians it meant merely entertainment, merely a newly incited curiosity, merely a new sensation in the world of art. There was nothing common to Israel and Babylon in their way of looking at it.

2. Any ancient hymn of king or prophet which had passed into the service of the sanctuary bore that name. There is one prayer with which no other prayer may compare, and which alone in Christendom bears the name of the Lord’s Prayer. But there is, at least on earth, no one psalm or hymn which bears the name of “the Lord’s song.” Whatever may be the case with the new song of the everlasting future, the religious hymnology of earth is, and always has been, almost infinitely varied in its expression; and yet at bottom it is one--one in its motive, one in its spirit and its effort, one in its surrounding moral atmosphere.

3. What is it but the ascent of the soul towards the infinite and the eternal, the upward bounding of the understanding, the expansion of the affections, the effort of faith, and hope, and love, to utter themselves somehow in praise? Although the words, the languages, the rhythms, the melodies, should be most dissimilar, this--this, the true song of the Lord; springing out of the very heart of the people of revelation, and embodying its creed in poems of the most different ages and characters--this it was which could not be uttered for the mere gratification of pagan Babylon--could not, at least, without profanity.

4. If it had only been the old poetry of the Hebrews--only their ancient music--they might, perhaps, have consented to render it before a Babylonian audience. But, for the Jews, language was a much more sacred tiring, speaking generally, than, I fear, it is to us. The Jews did not conceive of language as a something which might be stripped off thought, like bark from the surface of a tree. For them, thought and language always went together.

5. It sounded through the corridors of the soul before it took shape in language, and resounded beneath the vaults of the temple; and this--this sense of its reality, made it impossible for a good Jew to prostitute it for the benefit of a pagan audience who might think of it as a new sensation in art.

6. Poetry, music, painting, architecture, all have their place in the sanctuary of God. And what has once been given to Him is His--His irrevocably--His for ever. Poetry or music which has been dedicated to Him, and which has lifted souls up to Him for many a generation, cannot be divested of its purpose, and made the amusement of the unbelieving, without wounding Him to whom it was given by the faith and love of the gifted dead.

II. In a strange land.

1. This was apparent, first of all, in the difference of the language. Although the Baby-Ionian tongue had affinities with the Hebrew, it was practically for the Jews a foreign language. We know how it affects us, when we first go abroad, to hear another than our mother tongue being talked all around us. It produces, at least at first, a sense of isolation; and this must have been deepened in the ease of the Jews by the fact that they certainly did not go to Babylon for their own satisfaction. In time, no doubt, the captive Jews learned much of the language of their conquerors, and, in fact, brought it back with them to Palestine; but at first it was a barrier between them; and this would, of itself, have made them unwilling to sing the Lord’s song in their own ancient Hebrew to strangers who could not follow it. The language of religion is, and must be, unintelligible to those who do not share the faith and the feelings which prompt it. “The natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” And the sense that this is the case often makes a Christian, when in general society, retire into himself, lest he should break his Master’s precept against giving that which is holy unto the dogs, and casting the pearls of heaven before swine. If the soul is to sing the Lord’s song with the lips as well as with the heart, it must be among those who can speak its own language.

2. Babylon was the land of material wealth; it was the great world-city of the ago. It had its attractions, no doubt, but it was not the place in which to sing “the Lord’s song.” That song proclaimed in its very earliest notes--witness the one psalm of Moses, “Domine, refugium”--it proclaimed the insignificance of this human life at the best--the poverty, the perishableness of all that belongs to time. The soul of man is, after all, finite; and when the soul is filled with this world there is no room for the next. We could not ourselves well sing the “Gloria in excelsis” in the Stock Exchange or in a West End club; and the Jews felt that Babylon was not the place for singing the song of the Lord which had been the joy and the glory of their ancient sanctuary.

3. Babylon was a land in which life was overshadowed by a vast idolatry. Now, how could the old psalms of Israel, instinct with the memories of David’s life and of Solomon’s glory, and of the solemnities of the now destroyed temple, be sung in such an atmosphere as this? If sacred associations were to have any value--if sacred words were to mean anything, could they be prostituted to the amusement of a race which was devoted to a hideous and cruel superstition? No. Captive Israel might sing the songs of the captivity, such as was this very psalm itself. It might sing these in secret assemblies of the faithful; but to render the old temple hymns before a heathen crowd of idolaters--this, this was impossible. Is not the Christian soul often carried captive, nowadays, into the Babylon of unbelief or of half belief? Is not the place in our thoughts which is due to God often tenanted by abstractions, which are just as senseless as the idols of Babylon--creations, it is true, of our thoughts, instead of being creations of our fingers? “Nature,” “force,” “law,” and what not--generalizations of our own minds as we look out upon the universe around us--these are, too often, placed upon the throne of the one infinite, eternal, self-existing Being.

4. There hung over all the magnificence of Babylon a dense atmosphere of sin, which made it impossible for the servant of God to sing his song--to do more than complain: “How long, O Lord? How long?” And the regenerate soul may be carried captive, some of us must know, too well, into this Babylon of deadly sin. It may be carried captive; it may at once make its escape and return. Happy are they with whom it fares thus. But, supposing that the soul is detained in Babylon--supposing that habits of evil are formed, and that the enfeebled will is held down by bolts and bars which it cannot break--then how is it “to sing the Lord’s song”? How is it to mount upon the wings of desire and hope to the throne of the All-Holy, whose laws it the while sets steadily at defiance? How can we sing the praises of our Maker, if we have not reason to be thankful to Him for the gift of an undying existence?--or the praises of our Redeemer, if our hearts do not tell us that we have been washed with His blood, and have not defiled our garments?--or of our Sanctifier, if we know that we have grieved Him, and that He has taken Himself from us? Better far--I had almost allowed myself to say--better far sing the songs of Babylon itself, than burn out the last surviving tenderness of the conscience by a service which cannot be but as odious to God as it is degrading to ourselves.

5. We may well, indeed, feel, all of us, that this life is an exile from our true home, and that, while we live it, we cannot, at our best, sing aright the song of the redeemed. The new song of the four awful creatures, and of the four and twenty elders before the throne of the Lamb--the new song which go man could learn bug the hundred and forty and four thousand which were redeemed from the earth--the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, which is sung for ever and ever by them that have gotten the victory over the beast, and that stand on the sea of glass having the harps of God--what is all this but a description of the psalmody of the blessed, with the volume and with the perfections of which nothing that is heard on earth can compare? (Canon Liddon.)

The difficulty of singing the Lord’s song in a strange land

1. I cannot doubt that we have felt it at times despondingly. I cannot sing the Lord’s song. Difficult as I find it to pray--difficult to confess sin, difficult to ask for grace, it is still more difficult, I find, to praise; to perform that highest, that most unselfish of all offices of devotion, which is the telling forth, in the hearing of others, in the presence (we believe) of the communion of saints, dead as well as living, what God is, in act and in counsel, in power, wisdom, and love, in creation, redemption, and grace, in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Spirit the Lord and Giver of life.

2. But there is a land, could we but reach it, where praise is, as it were, indigenous. In heaven praise bursts forth spontaneously from all the blessed--it is their voice--they cannot speak but in praise. But how shall we sing it? May not heaven be a strange land to us, though it is the native land of the Lord’s song? The Lord’s song will sound for ever in heaven; but shall we be there to sing it? It takes a lifetime to make heaven our own land. O how many things go to this! Heaven means--we have no other definition of it--where God is. Then, if heaven is to be our land, it must be by our knowing God--God in Christ. We must know Him in His holiness as the God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. We must know Him in His love. We must know Him in His power as the Resurrection and the Life, able to re-create in His own image those who have most utterly lost and sullied it. Then we shall be no strangers in the land that is very far off, because it is the land where we shall see the King in His beauty, and praise Him for ever with joyful lips. (Dean Vaughan.)

The Lord’s song in a strange land

Babylon stands for the kingdom of this world; Jerusalem for the kingdom of God, which is above. We are sitting by the waters of Babylon while on this earth, where nothing continueth in one stay, we watch all things eddying and drifting by us, slowly or quickly carried away down the stream of time. Of course we can but too easily learn to acquiesce in our exile, content with Babylon, and forgetting Jerusalem; and then this psalm has nothing to say to us but to condemn us for not being able to make its words our own. And often in some shape does the question flash into his mind, “How shall I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?” Many, indeed, of the songs of Zion are sung by us with but little effort. Those that tell God of our past sins, and present weaknesses, and that cry sadly but hopefully for pardon and help through Christ, readily, I say, do they come forth from every heart that knows its own history. But the Lord’s song in its highest sense, the song which sings unto the Lord only of the Lord Himself, and forgetting man loses itself in giving glory and praise unto Christ, does a melody of this kind never seem as much out of place in our heaviness as it once seemed by the waters of Babylon? When a man is down of heart about himself, or those whom he cares for, when things have been going amiss with him in mind, body, or estate, through the week just past, and he is anxious indeed as to what another week will bring forth, then here on Sunday morning it may seem somewhat inopportune and out of place for him to have to say to others even as they say to him, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord,” etc. Not a few of us here now have, I doubt not, some secret care or sorrow pressing sore upon us, and yet we ought to have been singing, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” etc. And does it not, I say, cost us a struggle in this our heaviness to put our hearts into such words of joy? Does not this earth sometimes seem a strange land, indeed, in which to sing the Lord’s songs? And yet these songs of the Lord are really among the strongest helps and aids to our comfort. The more I am feeling some evil of this land of my captivity, the more thankfully let me, while I may, make my escape from it by fixing my heart upon my Saviour. (John Gray, M. A.)

Sin takes all the music out of our hearts

Music suggests perfect harmony of character. To have a musical instrument that will adequately express musical thought in sound and harmony requires very care-fully-selected woods as to acoustic properties for its construction. John Albert, who has been called “the Stradivarius of America,” died the other day at the age of ninety years. His great success in making violins, that won him fame through the world, was as much due to the care with which he selected the woods from which they were made as to his skill as a workman. So much depended on the proper woods that Albert sought them sometimes at the risk of his life. Once he lay for weeks between life and death, the victim of an accident while he was on the hunt for a certain wood in an almost impassable forest. Ole Bull, the great violinist, pronounced him one of the great violin makers of the world because he possessed the greatest knowledge of the acoustic properties of woods of any man living at that time. Surely if a violin maker must pay such great heed to the character of the wood out of which he constructs a violin, in order that he may make it a perfect interpreter of musical thought to human ears, we should not wonder at the care of God in seeking to so purify and cleanse our hearts that they shall be resonant, and responsive to the slightest touch of the Holy Spirit, and thus be able to interpret the melodies of heaven. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)


Verse 5-6

Psalms 137:5-6

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

Recollection and preference of the Church of Christ

I. The object of recollection and preference by the Christian. The Church of Jesus Christ--the universal Church, consisting of all, throughout the world, who believe and obey the Gospel.

1. The Church of Jesus Christ is the dwelling-place of God.

2. It is the light of the world.

3. It is the depository of ordinances and truths requisite for the weal of the human race.

4. It is the sanctuary of salvation.

5. It is a type of the Church in heaven.

II. The emphasis with which the Christian expresses his recollection of, and preference for, the Church of Jesus Christ.

1. Because of its wonderful revelations.

2. Because of its sacred exercises.

3. Because of its ennobling associations.

4. Because of its momentous interests--truth, righteousness, joy. (P. J. Wright.)

Religious public-spiritedness

I. What it is. It is love to the Church of Christ, regulated by knowledge, and prompting to zealous and steady activity in advancing the Church’s interests. It is in the kingdom of God on earth what patriotism is in the body politic. It directs and rules him; he lives for the Church; he consecrates to her welfare all that he is, and all that he has.

II. How it is to be exemplified.

1. By self-denial for the sake of the Church. This includes a disposition to forego everything, however innocent and lawful in itself, which we cannot enjoy without doing less than we ought to do for the interests of religion.

2. By identifying ourselves with the interests of the Church.

3. By promoting the purity of the Church. Not only is the Church of Christ a holy community, but holiness is the very thing which distinguishes it from the world.

4. By strenuously maintaining the integrity of the Church. It is not a mutilated, vitiated Christianity that is to convert the nations. It is when the Church goes forth in all the might of her Divine simplicity and integrity that she will take the world captive to Christ.

5. By labouring for the extension of the Church.

III. What are the considerations which should stimulate, the operation of a religious public spirit?

1. Consider what is due to God. Is obedience due to Him? Well, cherish and exemplify public-spiritedness in religion, for God requires it of every one of you. Is gratitude due to God? due to Him more especially as the God of the Church? Cherish and exemplify public-spiritedness in religion: there is no “sacrifice of praise” more pleasing to the Lord.

2. Consider what is due to Jesus Christ.

3. Consider what is due to the Church.

4. Consider what is due to a perishing world. Will you not pity it, pray for it, do all you can to reclaim it? (D. Young, D. D.)

Patriotism

I. Some of its characteristic features.

1. A spirit of enterprise in behalf of religion. The Jew professed his religion in Babylon; he did not merge his Judaism in Babylonianism. He stood out in Babylon a Jew. Why not stand out a Christian? “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,” says one. You are not to blow the trumpet; but there is another thing you are not to do--you are not to hide the light; you are not to place it under a bed, or under a bushel, or hide it in a cupboard.

2. A lively sympathy with the state of the Church.

3. Zeal for the Church’s purity. This must be tempered with prudence and steeped in charity.

4. Prayer and effort for the Church’s prosperity.

II. Some of its leading principles. They are to be found in the Bible.

1. The love of God. This love has prompted the noblest exertions. Shall I take you over the traces where this public spirit has displayed itself? shall I take you to the spots where apostles suffered, where martyrs bled, where confessors were burnt,? Shall I take you to Smithfield and its fires, or the Grass Market in Edinburgh and its martyrs’ fires? What prompted men to such a nobility? It was this mighty principle--the love of God, the love of Christ.

2. A consideration of the connection subsisting between a Christian and Christ and His Church. No Christian lives to himself. The Christian is no isolated man; he is no solitary soldier. He feels himself one of a brotherhood; one of a great fellowship.

3. In proportion as we feel not only for our own things, but for the things of others, and especially for the things of grace, and Christ Jesus, just in that proportion do we most promote our own honour and our own happiness. God, in constructing the human heart, putting it together--putting his labours together, and lacing them together, has so adjusted the chemistry of the heart, the mechanism of the heart, that, if you do good to anybody--either to the body or soul of a man, especially the latter--if you do good, a feeling of pleasure will weave all around the pulsation of your heart; for it is your law, your constitution. God has made you all, so that you cannot do good and not promote your own happiness and your own honour. (J. Beaumont, M. D.)

How to preserve and increase patriotism

By keeping in remembrance the virtues and principles of the noble and patriotic men who laid the foundations of this republic. While the memory of the immortal Washington and his co-patriots is green, and the principles of his “Farewell Address” are cherished by us, we are safe.

2. By honouring with suitable memorial services those who have sacrificed ease and fortune and life itself at their country’s call, in behalf of liberty, principle, the right.

3. By the enactment of wise and equitable laws, and a faithful and impartial execution of them. Never was the necessity of this greater or more imperative than now.

4. By elevating patriotism into a Christian virtue. Patriotism without piety; patriotism divorced from Christianity and the institutions of religion; the State, civil society, politics, given over to infidelity, to ungodliness, to the tyranny of human passions and selfish seeking, cannot be long maintained. And here is our greatest danger to-day. (Homiletic Review.)

Religious attachments

Do cultivate religious attachments. Do not let all things be equally common: do let us have a little enthusiasm about some men, and some places, and some books, and some scenes. Oh, it is not living to live with a person to whom all places are alike,--who does not know what he is eating, whether it is the very best or the worst. There is no comfort in living with such an individual, on whom the best of your things are wasted. There is no comfort in living with an individual to whom all systems, and all churches, and all rituals are alike. Do have your preferences,--not that you may antagonize the preferences of other people, and make yourself unpleasant to those who may differ from you; but do get to love some particular seat in the church--some particular corner. A man cannot go slick down to hell, surely, if he loves one little bit of the sanctuary better than he loves any place else on the earth. Oh, we can surely get hold of him there: we can surely touch him through that one little preference. It is a very poor hold to have upon him, but it is better than nothing. Do you mourn your distance from Zion, and are you unable to sing when you are in far-off Babylon? There is hope for you. One day the Jew that hung his harp upon the willow shall take it down. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verses 7-9

Psalms 137:7-9

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem.

Imprecation against the enemies of the Church

1. False brethren are the chief instruments of persecution of the true members of the Church whensoever they find occasion.

2. Whosoever do delight in the Church’s calamity, and do endeavour the Church’s ruin by word or deed; by their stirring up of others to afflict them; or by any oppression which may tend to the Church’s prejudice, when the Lord is visiting her, their sin shall not be forgotten of God in the day when the Lord judgeth His people, but shall be severely punished.

3. No less will suffice the adversaries of the Church than the utter ruin and razing of it to the ground.

4. The estate of the Church at the worst is better than the estate of Babylon, or any estate of her adversaries, how prosperous soever at the best; for albeit the Church be in captivity and oppressed, yet she shall not be destroyed, but it is not so with her adversaries.

5. Faith is neither blinded by the prosperity of the wicked, nor by the adversity of the Church, but doth see through the prospect of the Lord’s Word, both her approaching delivery of the Church and the ruin of her enemies.

6. As the enemies of God’s Church have measured out unto the Lord’s people, so it shall be measured back again and more, for a reward unto her adversaries.

7. There is a happiness, wherein blessedness doth not consist, which neither is a part or branch of blessedness, nor a proper mark of blessedness, but only signifieth some happiness in the consequence of a man’s work, tending to the glory of God and good of His Church; and such is the happiness of the Modes and Persians here spoken of, who, whatsoever were their corrupt intentions in their war, did work, albeit not as religious servants, yet as God’s instruments, a good work of justice upon the oppressors of God’s people, and a good work of delivery of the Lord’s people.

8. Albeit it be a sinful thing to satisfy our carnal affection in the misery of any man; yet it is lawful in God’s cause to wish that God be glorified, albeit in the confusion of His enemies; and here great need is to have the heart well guarded with the fear of God, for wherewise to allow the dashing of little ones against the stones might make a man guilty of savage cruelty. (D. Dickson.)
.

Psalms 138:1-8

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 137:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-137.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology