God’s People in Exile
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! 7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!” 8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! 9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!
One commentator wrote about Psalm 137, “Most psalms are cherished by Christians. This one is not.” ((Craig Broyles, Psalms, 479.)) Another writer notes that although Psalm 137 is “one of the most beautiful poems of the Psalter, yet it ends with a monstrous imprecation.”1
It is certainly true that this psalm is one of the most beautiful, picturesque, carefully crafted poems in all of Scripture. But it is also true that it is one of the most disturbing psalms. Surely of all the Psalms in the collection, this is one that has no relevance, no direct application for Christians today, right? It is interesting that Isaac Watts paraphrased almost every one of the 150 psalms and interpreted them in the light of the New Testament, applying them to the NT church, but he didn’t go anywhere near Psalm 137! How could this horribly depressing psalm be relevant for us today?
On the contrary, I would like to begin a series today to help us see that this psalm has profound relevance for contemporary Christians.
I’d like to do two things with this psalm. First, I’d like to look at the psalm. We’ll talk about the historical context of this psalm, how it fits in the broad context of Scripture, what the author of this psalm did through the psalm, and how it connects with our present context.
But then, after looking at Psalm 137, I hope that you will recognize the necessity of doing a second thing with this Psalm. After we look at Psalm 137, we will take some time to look through Psalm 137 and allow this God-inspired poem to do for us what God intended it to do for its original audience and what he intends for it to do for us today.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.
- Samuel Terrien, The Psalms, 865. [↩]