Psalms 137


The desolate and afflicted state of the captives in Babylon,

1, 2.

How they were insulted by their enemies, 3, 4.

Their attachment to their country, 5, 6.

Judgments denounced against their enemies, 7-9.


The Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and Arabic, say,

ridiculously enough, a Psalm of David for Jeremiah. Anachronisms

with those who wrote the titles to the Psalms were matters of no

importance. Jeremiah never was at Babylon; and therefore could

have no part in a Psalm that was sung on the banks of its rivers

by the Israelitish captives. Neither the Hebrew nor Chaldee has

any title; the Syriac attributes it to David. Some think it was

sung when they returned from Babylon; others, while they were

there. It is a matter of little importance. It was evidently

composed during or at the close of the captivity.

Verse 1. By the rivers of Babylon] These might have been the

Tigris and Euphrates, or their branches, or streams that

flowed into them. In their captivity and dispersion, it was

customary for the Jews to hold their religious meetings on the

banks of rivers. Mention is made of this Ac 16:13, where we find

the Jews of Philippi resorting to a river side, where prayer was

wont to be made. And sometimes they built their synagogues here,

when they were expelled from the cities.

Verse 2. We hanged our harps upon the willows] The arabim

or willows were very plentiful in Babylon. The great quantity of

them that were on the banks of the Euphrates caused Isaiah,

Isa 15:7, to call it

the brook or river of willows. This is a most affecting picture.

Perhaps resting themselves after toil, and wishing to spend their

time religiously, they took their harps, and were about to sing

one of the songs of Zion; but, reflecting on their own country,

they became so filled with distress, that they unstrung their

harps with one consent, and hung them on the willow bushes, and

gave a general loose to their grief. Some of the Babylonians, who

probably attended such meetings for the sake of the music, being

present at the time here specified, desired them to sing one of

Zion's songs: this is affectingly told.

Verse 3. They that carried us away captive required of us a

song] This was as unreasonable as it was insulting. How could

they who had reduced us to slavery, and dragged us in chains from

our own beautiful land and privileges, expect us to sing a sacred

ode to please them, who were enemies both to us and to our God?

And how could those who wasted us expect mirth from people in

captivity, deprived of all their possessions, and in the most

abject state of poverty and oppression?

Verse 4. How shall we sing the Lord's song] eich!

nashir; O, we sing! Who does not hear the deep sigh in the

strongly guttural sound of the original eich! wrung, as it

were, from the bottom of the heart? Can WE, in this state of

slavery,-WE, exiles, from our country,-WE, stripped of all

our property,-WE, reduced to contempt by our strong enemy,-WE,

deprived of our religious privileges,-WE, insulted by our

oppressors,-WE, in the land of heathens,-WE sing, or be

mirthful in these circumstances? No: God does not expect it; man

should not wish it; and it is base in our enemies to require it.

Verse 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem] Such conduct would be,

in effect, a renunciation of our land a tacit acknowledgment that

we were reconciled to our bondage; a concession that we were

pleased with our captivity, and could profane holy ordinances by

using them as means of sport or pastime to the heathen. No:

Jerusalem! we remember thee and thy Divine ordinances: and

especially thy King and our God, whose indignation we must bear,

because we have sinned against him.

Let my right hand forget] Let me forget the use of my right

hand. Let me forget that which is dearest and most profitable to

me; and let me lose my skill in the management of my harp, if I

ever prostitute it to please the ungodly multitude or the enemies

of my Creator!

Verse 6. Let my tongue cleave] Let me lose my voice, and all its

powers of melody; my tongue, and all its faculty of speech;

my ear, and its discernment of sounds; if I do not prefer my

country, my people, and the ordinances of my God, beyond all

these, and whatever may constitute the chiefest joy I can possess

in aught else beside. This is truly patriotic, truly noble and

dignified. Such sentiments can only be found in the hearts and

mouths of those slaves whom the grace of God has made free.

Verse 7. Remember-the children of Edom] It appears from

Jer 12:6; 25:14; La 4:21, 22; Eze 25:12; Ob 1:11-14;

that the Idumeans joined the army of Nebuchadnezzar against their

brethren the Jews; and that they were main instruments in rasing

the walls of Jerusalem even to the ground.

Verse 8. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed] Or, O

thou daughter of Babylon the destroyer, or, who art to be ruined.

In being reduced under the empire of the Persians, Babylon was

already greatly humbled and brought low from what it was in the

days of Nebuchadnezzar; but it was afterwards so totally ruined

that not a vestige of it remains. After its capture by Cyrus, A.M.

3468, it could never be considered a capital city; but it appeared

to follow the fortunes of its various conquerors till it was, as a

city, finally destroyed.

Rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.] This was Cyrus, who was

chosen of God to do this work, and is therefore called happy, as

being God's agent in its destruction. Greater desolations were

afterwards brought upon it by Darius Hystaspes, who took this city

after it had revolted, and slaughtered the inhabitants, men and

women, in a barbarous manner. Herod. lib. iii.

Verse 9. Happy-that taketh and dasheth thy little ones] That is,

So oppressive hast thou been to all under thy domination, as to

become universally hated and detested; so that those who may have

the last hand in thy destruction, and the total extermination of

thy inhabitants, shall be reputed happy-shall be celebrated and

extolled as those who have rid the world of a curse so grievous.

These prophetic declarations contain no excitement to any person

or persons to commit acts of cruelty and barbarity; but are simply

declarative of what would take place in the order of the

retributive providence and justice of God, and the general opinion

that should in consequence be expressed on the subject; therefore

praying for the destruction of our enemies is totally out of the

question. It should not be omitted that the Chaldee considers this

Psalm a dialogue, which it thus divides:-The three first verses

are supposed to have been spoken by the psalmist, By the rivers,

&c. The Levites answer from the porch of the temple, in Ps 137:4,

How shall we sing, &c. The voice of the Holy Spirit responds in

Ps 137:5, 6,

If I forget thee, &c. Michael, the prince of Jerusalem, answers

in Ps 137:7,

Remember, O Lord, &c. Gabriel, the prince of Zion, then

addresses the destroyer of the Babylonish nation, in Ps 137:8, 9,

Happy shall be he that rewardeth thee, &c. To slay all when a city

was sacked, both male and female, old and young, was a common

practice in ancient times. Homer describes this in words almost

similar to those of the psalmist:-





Il. lib. xxii., ver. 62.

My heroes slain, my bridal bed o'erturned;

My daughters ravished, and my city burned:

My bleeding infants dashed against the floor;

These I have yet to see; perhaps yet more.


These excesses were common in all barbarous nations, and are only

prophetically declared here. He shall be reputed happy,

prosperous, and highly commendable, who shall destroy Babylon.


When this Psalm was composed, the Jews were in captivity in

Babylon, far from their own country, the temple, and the public

exercises of religion; and the scoff and scorn of their enemies;

and they contrast what they were with what they are. This Psalm

has two parts:-

I. The complaint of Israel. Because of the insults of the

Babylonians, they deplore their sad condition, long for the

temple, and their return to Jerusalem, Ps 137:1-7.

II. An imprecation or prayer for vengeance, on their

persecutors, Ps 137:7-9.

I. Their complaint arises from their captivity, and it is


1. From the place, Babylon: "By the rivers of Babylon." A place

far from their country; who were aliens from the covenant made by

God with Abraham, scorners of their religion, had laid waste their

city and forced them to base and servile labour.

2. From the continuance of their captivity and misery: "There we

sat down," &c. Took up the seats allotted to us, and that for

seventy years.

3. From the effects it produced: "Yea, we wept," &c.

4. From the cause which drew these tears. The remembrance of

what they had enjoyed, (now lost,) the services of religion: "We

wept when we remembered Zion," &c.

5. From the intenseness of their grief, which was so great that

they could not even tune their harps: "We hung our harps," &c.

That which increased their grief was the joy their enemies

manifested at it.

1. THERE, in a strange land, the place of our captivity.

2. "THEY that carried us away captive."

3. "They required of us a song." They quired of us mirth,


4. O thou Jew or captive, come now, "sing us one of the songs of


To this sarcasm the captive Jews return a double answer.

"How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" You are

aliens, and this is a strange land; we cannot sing God's service

there, which is destined to his honour, to you, or in this place

without offending our God.

They reply by a protestation of their hope and constancy in

religion, and accurse themselves if they do not continue in it.

1. "If I forget thee," &c. Forget the worship and feasts I kept


2. "If I do not remember thee," &c. If I do not prefer and make

mention of Jerusalem, then "let my tongue cleave," &c. Let me no

more have the use of that excellent organ of God's glory. It would

be unworthy of my religion, and a dishonour to my God to sing the

songs of Zion thus circumstanced, and to scoffers and aliens.

II. This seems to be the sense of the first part of the Psalm.

The second part has reference to the imprecations poured out

against Edom and Babylon, both persecutors of God's people. The

Babylonians carried them away captive, and the Edomites persecuted

their brethren with the sword, Am 1:12.

1. Against Edom.

(1) "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom,'' &c. How they

carried themselves towards thy people on that day when thy anger

smote against them, and the Babylonians carried us away.

(2) Remember how they added to our affliction, saying, "Rase

it," &c.

2. Against Babylon. To her he turns his speech by an apostrophe;

but at the same time foretells her ruin: "O daughter of Babylon,"

&c. Thou seemest to thyself to be most happy; but thy ruin

approaches. Shortly after, the Medes, led by Cyrus destroyed them.

(1) "Happy shall he be that rewardeth," &c. [See the notes.]

(2) "Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones,"

&c. [See the notes.]

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