Scripture reading – Psalm 137


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I cannot say with certainty when Psalm 137 was composed; however, it was before the Jews’ years in captivity ended. Our Scripture reading schedule has inserted Psalm 137 amid our study of the Book of Ezra; however, I believe it was composed during Daniel and Ezekiel’s lifetimes.


Psalm 137


The Captives’ Memories (Psalm 137:1)

The Jews arrived in Babylon haunted by the memories of Jerusalem’s siege and the destruction of that city and its Temple by fire. The author of Psalm 137 wrote, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion” (137:1).

The children of Israel had taken for granted the LORD’s grace and mercies. They continued in their sins until there was no remedy but judgment. The LORD sent many prophets to warn Israel and Judah that if they continued in their sins, He would deliver them to their enemies. Yet, they refused to heed the prophets’ warnings and continued in their sins. 

The Captives’ Sorrows (Psalm 137:2-4)

Reflecting on the mercies of the LORD they took for granted, the Jews “remembered Zion” and “hanged [their]harps upon the willows” in their grief (Psalm 137:2). Yet, their oppressors who carried them from Jerusalem to Babylon demanded that they sing and entertain them with “one of the songs of Zion” (Psalm 137:3).

We are not told how the Babylonians knew “the songs” and music of Israel, but perhaps the request was genuine. Indeed, it might have been the words and music of the Psalms that were requested. Overcome with grief, the Jews answered their captors, “4How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4)

The Captives’ Sorrows

The Captives’ Yearnings (Psalm 137:5-6)

Reflecting on the destruction of their homes, the Jewish captives set their hearts never to forget their beloved Jerusalem. Though it had become a heap of rubble, they determined not to forget. Indeed, the psalmist wrote, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm 137:5). (The “cunning” here was probably the skill of playing the harp while holding the instrument with the left hand.)

Sadly, we identify our nature in the author’s words. I am reminded of how easy it is not to value the LORD’s blessings until they are lost. Time and space do not permit me to give more than a cursory effort in this study; however, I urge you to take a moment and meditate on what we too easily take for granted: Life, health, physical strength, family, friends, spiritual blessings, material blessings, and most importantly…salvation.

The psalmist continued, “If I do not remember thee, Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:6). In essence, Lord, permit me not to speak if my memories and longing for Jerusalem are not my greatest joy!


The Captives’ Resentment (Psalm 137:7-9)

Our study concludes with the psalmist praying and longing for the LORD to remember the enemies who rejoiced in Jerusalem’s demise as a city and people. Particularly noted were “the children of Edom… Who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof” (Psalm 137:7).

Understanding the prophecies that Babylon would be destroyed, the psalmist expressed a longing that the LORD would take vengeance on that city and justice would be served: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; Happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee As thou hast served us. 9Happy shall he be, that taketh And dasheth thy little ones against the stones” (Psalm 137:8-9).


Closing thoughts –

Are you taking the LORD’s blessings for granted? Many reading this devotion have multiple copies of the Scriptures, but do you take the time to read and meditate on them? The words of an old gospel song penned by Joseph Oatman, a 19th-century preacher, should resonate in our hearts after we read Psalm 137.

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

Count your blessings, and share all that the LORD has done with others.

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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