Daily Family Worship

Psalm 137: A Lament in Babylon

by | Jul 5, 2024

psalm 137

We do not wonder as to why this Psalm has always been a special favorite with Bible readers. Its exquisitely touching picture of an exile’s grief; and the graphic sketch which it presents of those exiles at the river’s stream, where the willows waved their branches in melancholy cadence to the moaning wind, and where the unstrung harps hung loosely on the boughs – each and every scene awakens some of the keenest emotions of our nature! These poor mourning ones did not even have the sad privilege to “sit alone and weep,” for their mocking conquerors stood by and desired them to sing one of the beautiful songs of Zion, their homeland. This very Psalm was evidently written during the captivity; and it was most probably set to music and sung on their solemn fast-days, when the poor captives could give free vent to their emotions of sorrow and bitterness.

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” That is the question that the captive Israelites put to themselves when their captors demanded a song from them. And it is a question which must come home very often to a child of God in this strange land, in which he is only a sojourner and a pilgrim. It may, indeed, come in the language of rebuke – as when God said to His prophet, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Alas! It is to be feared that many persons who should be walking as strangers and pilgrims upon earth have often, for a season, found their rest in it; perhaps they have even taken pleasure and mingled in scenes and occupations which are unbecoming of a Christian profession. Very possibly, even in that “strange land” of guilty Sodom, the Lord’s songs ascended from underneath Lot’s roof; and might not an angel from heaven, as the notes fell upon his ear, have said to that man of God, “How can you sing the Lord’s song in such a strange land of pollution and guilt? Come out from among them and be separate!”

But even more expressive is the language of this Psalm in the earnest longing of the soul for that land which is yet afar off. How it looks out from the scene of its exile – like Daniel in his chamber at Babylon, with his window open toward Jerusalem – amidst all the drawbacks, hindrances, and perils of the scene around him; and yet it still exclaims, with its eye and heart and affections being set on things above, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee!” The child of God prefers Jerusalem, the holy city of God, above his chief joy.

Perhaps the same feeling has occurred to others, but it is almost to be wished that the latter verses of this Psalm had been disjoined from the sweet and touching verses with which it opens. And yet we know that such a feeling is wrong, for it is no more than what the Lord Himself had foretold and declared would be the final desolation of proud Babylon itself. Undoubtedly, the words are stern; but they are not the utterances of mere ferocious revenge. Rather, they proclaim God’s judgments – not with the impassiveness which, indeed, best befits the executors of such terrible sentences; but still less with the malignant gratification of personal vengeance which has often been attributed to them. Perhaps if some of the modern critics had been under the same sorrowful yoke which the Psalmist suffered under, they would have understood a little better how a righteous man could rejoice that Babylon would fall and its inhabitants would be slain. Perhaps it would do us good to remember that the King of Peace must first be the King of Righteousness, and that destruction of evil is the complement of the preservation of that which is good. And yet, with all that being said, we cannot help longing more intensely for that period when the nations of the earth shall learn war no more; and when every harp and every voice – even those of the martyred ones beneath the Lord’s altar – shall sing His beautiful songs in that pleasant land, where no sighing is heard and no tears are shed!

Lord Jehovah, we praise You as the One Who is King of Righteousness as well as King of peace, for You will not fail to execute Your just judgment upon all those who hate You and oppress and persecute Your people. Amen.

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