Song of Grief of the Captive Jews.
The unknown poet here records the deep grief and mourning of the Jews during the Babylonian captivity and includes a prayer for the destruction of their enemies, since their enmity was a challenge to the God of Israel. V. 1. By the rivers of Babylon, along the banks of which many of the Jews had settled for the period of the captivity, there we sat down, their deep grief having driven them away into the solitude of the country, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion, for the anxiety of the believing Jews did not concern the loss of their temporal goods so much as that of the Sanctuary, the visible sign of the true worship. V. 2. We hanged our harps, otherwise used to accompany joyous and festal songs, upon the willows in the midst thereof, to indicate that all their joyful hymns were hushed. The silent and pensive sitting among the weeping willows by the side of the gently flowing streams agrees well with the feeling of homesickness which filled the hearts of the captives. V. 3. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song, either out of curiosity or in derision; and they wasted us, those who had inflicted pain upon them, their oppressors, required of us mirth, an expression of happiness, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. The enemies did not realize how tactless they were, and did not care whether the compliance of the Jews with their request would agree with their depressed feelings or not. They had heard of the wonderful hymns of the Jews and insisted upon being entertained by them. But the resentment and the bitterness of the captives kept them from complying with the request addressed to them. V. 4. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? Their sacred songs were, in their minds, inseparably connected with the worship of the Temple, the Sanctuary in Jerusalem, and it seemed to them a desecration to strike up their psalms for the entertainment of their captors; it was opposed to their religious and moral feelings. After this descriptive part of the psalm the poet launches forth in a lyric strain expressive of the feelings which filled the hearts of the captive Jews. V. 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, the Sanctuary with the worship of Jehovah, let my right hand forget her cunning, the power of motion in general, and especially her skill with the harp. V. 6. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, in an agony of thirst and suffering; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy, literally, "if I do not place Jerusalem above the summit of my joy," that is, if he, and all believing Jews with him, did not consider the Sanctuary of Jehovah the source of his greatest delight in life. It is an expression of homesick longing which properly pictures the deep remorse and grief of the captives. The poet now, in holy anger, turns to call God's wrath down upon the enemies of Israel, who were, at the same time, the enemies of Jehovah. V. 7. Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, who had been particularly active in the destruction of Jerusalem, Amos 1, 11; Joel 4, 19, for which reason they had been threatened with divine vengeance, Jer. 49, 7. 8, in the day of Jerusalem, at the time of its downfall; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof, not permitting one stone to remain upon the other, for such were their vindictive feelings. But Babylon was also included in the poet's execration. V. 8. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed, literally, "that art destroyed," for in the prophetic mind her destruction was already begun, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Cp. Is. 47, 6. V. 9. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones, so that no new generation, rising from the ruins, would restore her shattered world power, Is. 14, 21.22. It is not personal vindictiveness that is speaking here, but the prophet of the Lord, in the name of the Lord; for the divine justice upon the blaspheming enemies must be carried out. Naturally, this psalm finds its application in the Christian Church of all times, for it is equivalent to a prayer that God would deliver us from every evil work and preserve us unto His heavenly kingdom.