Psalm 137 Commentary
This psalm was written by believers who survived Babylon’s cruel attack on Jerusalem in 587 BC.
“Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did,” cried the psalmist. Not for good works but for the evil works committed against Israel. Of course, the LORD remembers what men do, good or evil.
The LORD remembered Israel’s evil, hence Israel’s current low position. Edom should have her own punishment; Babylon, too. Rather than contradicting the New Testament’s position on forgiveness and revenge, the last section of psalm 137 is looking at God’s justice system in general. No one escapes it.
This can be interesting. The tools used to punish Israel, Babylon and Edom, will also have their own day in court. For being a good whip in God’s hands for Israel’s back? No. For being evil themselves? Yes. It’s a question of evil punishing evil.
The Holiness of the Creator God rejects evil wherever it is found in His creation. The psalmist is expressing God’s anger at evil.
If the holiness within the saint cannot replicate God’s anger at evil, you want to ask if it exists at all. It should therefore be expected for the saint to experience rage and discomfort because of evil in the world.
Equally normal should be a longing for Jerusalem, a place of God’s dwelling. There wasn’t much to admire about Jerusalem under the ungodly reigns of most of David’s sons. Yet Jerusalem represented an ideal place of rest in God’s presence.
Indeed, “how can we sing a song to the LORD in a foreign land?” These are moments when words fail; your mind shuts down involuntarily. What are we doing here? What has brought us to this point? The believing survivors probably had sleepless nights pondering these questions in the light of God’s eternal love and care.
Ungodliness was about ‘them’ and not ‘we’. Punishment was about ‘we’ and not just ‘them’. Believers can only pray for relief when the LORD swings His axe in anger against ungodliness. Does it mean righteousness, albeit by very few in Jerusalem, couldn’t help?
The New Testament saint knows exactly how the righteousness of one man named Jesus saves everyone, not just Jerusalem. And the saved know they can always sing songs of Zion even in a foreign land because they are saved. They miss nothing because Jerusalem has come to them because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Like Paul and Silas, they can sing songs of Zion even while in chains because the only element that can cause genuine fear is the absence of God. They don’t have that problem.
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