Psalm 137 was written shortly after the nation of Judah had “become victims of plunder” to all its enemies (2 Kings 21:14). The Babylonians had been used as Jehovah’s battle axe and weapon of war; they had broken the nation of Judah into pieces (Jeremiah 51:20). Jerusalem’s calamity was so great that everyone who heard of it had both ears tingle (2 Kings 21:12). Jerusalem had been wiped out and turned upside down like a dish, just as Jehovah’s prophets had predicted (2 Kings 21:13).
When the vanquished survivors of Jerusalem’s downfall arrived in Babylon as slaves it clearly was a time to weep and mourn. So, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (vv. 1-6).
Because of the fresh and deep wounds of devastation, grief, and loss, the psalm ends with these words: “Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, ‘Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!’ O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock!” (vv. 7-9).
Four important, sobering lessons can be gleaned from this psalm written by the rivers of Babylon:
- There is a time to weep and mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4); when that time comes, do so.
- Insincere worship is foolish and fraudulent; it ought to be avoided.
- The wages of sin are always unpleasant; they are never enjoyed by those who receive them.
- The heart crushed by grief and loss may desire God’s righteous judgment with unrighteous motives; wise and loving ears listen with this in mind.