Key Word Commentary
Sad times for God's people in exile
Analysis of Psalm: : The Jews bewail their captivity. (1-4) Their affection for Jerusalem. (5-9)
Key verse: "How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?"
Key Word: verse 1, "wept"
Key Thought: This psalm reflects the sad times of God's people in exile, where they were cut off from their city and their temple, and so, some thought, from their God.
SOURCE: Content taken from Key Word Commentary: Thoughts on Every Chapter of the Bible ; Mark Water; Copyright © 2003. Amg Pubs. All rights reserved.
The Psalmist's Lament
Ps 137:1. This psalm begins in a different land. Babylon was one of the great empires in the ancient world, occupying the large land mass of modern-day Iraq. It was there that God's people had been taken into exile and captivity. The rivers of Babylon refer to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the many canals associated with them that helped make Babylon a great kingdom. There in captivity, they remembered Zion, Jerusalem, the place where the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. They bitterly wept, mourning the loss of the city of God. Ps 137:2. In deep despair, they hung their harps on the trees beside the rivers, having no use for these instruments of joy. There could be no joyful singing in Babylon, not in this depressed state of ignominious defeat. In this low condition, they refused to make any joyful music.
SOURCE: Content taken from Holman Old Testament Commentary Series (20 Volume Set); Holman Reference Editorial Staff (Author); Copyright © 2009. Holman Reference. All rights reserved.
Understanding the Bible Commentary
We must not misunderstand this passionate attachment to Jerusalem as a mere reflection of cultural identity or nostalgia. In the context of the Songs of Zion (esp. Pss. 46; 48; 87) Jerusalem had been where Israel met with God.
SOURCE: Content taken from UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE COMMENTARY SERIES (36 Volumes); W. Ward Gasque, Robert L Hubbard Jr., Robert K Johnston (General Editors); Copyright © 2000. Baker Books. All rights reserved.
God's Justice Bible
Ps 137:9 White-Hot Anger The anger and agony of this psalm come because of what has been lost—a home, a place, a future in God’s kingdom. No doubt these exiles, on their way to Babylon as captives, have seen their own children die. Theirs is a white-hot protest, filled with determination never to forget those things they have lost. It is a psalm of determination to cling to the memory of Jerusalem and to believe in its future. Those coexist with an equally fierce desire to see justice—an eye for an eye (Lev 24:19–20)—done to their tormentors.
SOURCE: Content taken from GOD'S JUSTICE BIBLE: The flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil notes by Tim Stafford; Copyright © 2016. Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Life Recovery Bible
No commentary for this psalm.
SOURCE: Content taken from THE LIFE RECOVERY BIBLE notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE
No commentary for this psalm.
SOURCE: Content taken from LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES, Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
NIV Application Commentary
Babylon has many faces
Psalm 137 invites us to think seriously about God, the world, and our place in it. As Erich Zenger has opined, “the shrill tones of the psalms of enmity can serve to shock Christianity out of the well-regulated slumber of its structural amnesia about God.” Psalm 137 reminds us of the reality of oppressive power that exists in the world, even today. “Babylon” now has many faces and goes by many names. Its presence in our world is legion, and we have come to accept it as reality—as the norm.
A “shrill” psalm such as Psalm 137 seems oddly out of place for many of us because we have been lulled into a certain slumber that has made us accustomed to oppression in this world. But for those who live under oppression today, for those who this very day sit by the banks of a river and weep because they have hung up any thought of singing again, this psalm is far from shrill. This psalm reminds us that we should be less concerned about how this psalm fits neatly into “our world” and more concerned about those for whom this psalm describes their world.
SOURCE: Content taken from NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY: OLD TESTAMENT All rights reserved.
Catholic Bible Study
The Song of the Exiles
by Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study)
The Responsorial Psalm repeats the covenant people’s lament as they were displaced from their homeland and taken away into exile. Amid their suffering, they remembered God’s promise of a future restoration to their Promised Land and the promise of a Davidic king to shepherd God’s people in an eternal covenant (2 Sam 7:16-17, 29; 23:5; Ez 34:23-24).
A lament of the Judean exiles
This psalm is a lament of the Judean exiles recalling the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Yahweh’s holy Temple. The Babylonians’ conquest resulted in the forced deportation of the Davidic Kingdom of Judah’s citizens on the tenth day of the fourth month (June-July) in 587/6 BC. “Zion” is the mountain upon which the Israelites built the Jerusalem Temple of Yahweh (also identified as “Moriah” in 2 Chron 3:1). However, the word “Zion” also came to be identified with the faithful of the Old Covenant Church (Is 28:16; also see the document: “Zion and the Presence of God.”
The national hymns
During the covenant people’s resettlement in Babylon, their captors urged them to share their national hymns. They refused because most of the songs were part of liturgical worship sung in the Temple that was the “House of Yahweh,” many of which were composed by the great King David. They will not sing Yahweh’s joyous hymns, but in their lament, they promise not to forget either their hymns of praise, or Yahweh, or their homeland where they worshiped the God of Israel in beauty and truth.
Psalm as a Lenten prayer
Make this psalm your Lenten prayer. Recite it as you repent your sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation after your restoration to fellowship with God, and as you worship the Lord and sing songs of praise with the community of the faithful of Jesus Christ in the New Covenant liturgy of worship.
SOURCE: Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission.
PIANO: Francesca Larosa
Psalm 137 – Let My Tongue Be Silenced
Official LIVE video with the vocal line included to help you sing along! (Perfect for cantors to prepare for Sunday mass)
Commentary & Music
Psalm 137 Music and Reflection. Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you! Commentary at 0:16. Music at 2:42. Johan van Parys explains how Lent is like a mini-Babylonian exile for each of us. Julia Elizabeth and Chris Stroh follow with a haunting organ piece.