Israelites in Captivity
1 By the rivers in Babylon we sat and cried
when we remembered Jerusalem.
2 On the poplar trees nearby
we hung our harps.
3 Those who captured us asked us to sing;
our enemies wanted happy songs.
They said, “Sing us a song about Jerusalem!”
4 But we cannot sing songs about the Lord
while we are in this foreign country!
5 Jerusalem, if I forget you,
let my right hand lose its skill.
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not think about Jerusalem
as my greatest joy.
7 Lord, remember what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
They said, “Tear it down!
Tear it down to its foundations!”
8 People of Babylon, you will be destroyed.
The people who pay you back for what you did to us will be happy.
9 They will grab your babies
and throw them against the rocks.
When you get to this Psalm, you need to grip the idea that there is a revolving link. There is something that makes you swirl back to verse 1. It’s a link that brings us from the end to the beginning. A certain revolution that seems circular. When we get to the end of this psalm, we are shunted back to the beginning. There is a certain connection that takes us into a spiritual connection, and then demands we reconnect and do it all over again.
I suppose that we hate the idea. We start, and then insist on a conclusion, we like to be tidy, and somehow we think completeness makes us spiritual. But in 137, we discover we are a loop, in this sense. We read it over and over, but honest believers, but we can’t grip onto a true discipleship.
VV. 1-2 establishes certain things. There is a kind of nostalgia here. A powerful sadness is acknowledged. Desperation is the theme of this moment. Memories can be good, and yet be savagely painful. The viciousness of all of this makes us act in strange ways. We hang our harps up on the trees. We don’t want anything to do with life in captivity. There is a bitterness in this new world of slavery.
V. 3, there will be an awful antagonism, and those who order us about have no idea. Pain is afflicted by ‘their’ falseness. Undoubtedly, this isn’t intentional, and they seem so sincere, but savagely brutal. Perhaps might does make right, in seems so in this case.
V. 4 bring us issues of a self-recognition. What Babylon asks from us, is simply not possible. It is not within us to sing in captivity.
V. 5, is a reasonable declaration. There is an intense connection between a man’s religion and all that he is. What marks us at the start, identifies us at the end. You could say, “we are who we have always been.”
V. 6 is a very certain concept. It has to deal with, of “what could be.” The reader has to keep the orientation right. So much seems “airborne.” Completely in flux. But that’s ok.
V.7, has a residual awareness of a deep wounding that happened in the past. The ugliness and pain will continue to be acknowledged. Whether the past will keep being understood is completely up to us.
V. 8 is actually an understanding of a certain action against what is so evil. Nothing escapes, or can even be rationalized. We take the things that come to us, and there is a certain awareness of a “right & wrong” that simply can’t be diminished or reduced. It is now “locked in.”
V. 9 carries something quite tragic and immensely sad. I won’t push this too much. The pain of such happenings carries an ugly and vicious sadness. There is far too much grief here. The slaughter of innocents, is brutal and difficult. Perhaps the inclusion of this, has come as a result of all that has happened out of the terrible pain of seeing this happen to themselves. Grief has many funny ways as it is absorbed, but that will never make it easy.
And now we cycle back to verse 1. We are brought through all of this. We start over, and then over again. None of us, will ever get complete answers. But I guess that this is ok.
- Something Way Beyond Worship: Psalm 59 (psalmslife.com)
- Rivers of Babylon (Tears of Mourning) (seashoremary.wordpress.com)
- The People of Judah Live in a Strange Land (brakeman1.wordpress.com)