Tom Lowe

Lot Flees Sodom


Psalm 137 (KJV)




 Title: Jerusalem, Babylon, and Edom


Psalm 137 (NKJ)

1By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

2We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

3For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

4How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?

5If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

6If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

7Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

8O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

9Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.






This psalm tells a tale of three cities – or rather, it is the tale of two cities and the neighboring hostile country of Edom. It is a tale of Jerusalem and Babylon – with Edom thrown in because of its special venomous hatred of Israel.

Babylon was and will be one of Satan’s world capitals. It was there that idolatry was invented and institutionalized by Satan to enslave mankind and divert worship to himself. It was there, in Babylon, that the secret mysteries took form. It was from Babylon that all false religion spread over the face of the world. Babylon was its source. And It was to Babylon that God ultimately banished the Jews for their idolatry and persistent rebellion against His rule, so that there, in the capitol of idolatry, they might be cured of idolatry.

Jerusalem was and will be God’s world capitol. It was there that He was pleased to place His name, there He had the temple built, there He took up residence on earth. It was there that the tribes were to come to worship at the feasts. It was from Jerusalem that they were to be ruled. It was there that, in David, He set up a dynasty from which the Messiah would come. It was from Jerusalem that men were to learn about the true and living God. It was called “the city of the great king.”

It was to Jerusalem, that the Lord Jesus came, riding on an ass, to fulfill an ancient prophesy and to present Himself formally as the long awaited, but now rejected, King. It was at Jerusalem that He was crucified and buried. It was at Jerusalem that He rose in triumph from the tomb. It was at Jerusalem that the church was born, and it was at Jerusalem that the gospel first began to be spread to the nations of the world.

It will be to Jerusalem that the Antichrist will come. It is there he will inaugurate a new world religion, set up his image, and desecrate the rebuilt temple. It will be from Rome that he will exert his political power and from Babylon his economic power; but it will be from Jerusalem that he will enforce his religious power.

It will be to Jerusalem, rescued, cleansed, enlarged, and rebuilt, that Jesus will finally come to inaugurate a new kingdom on earth.

And what about Edom? Edom was Israel’s hereditary foe, right from the start. Jacob and Esau, their descendants were twins; Israel and Edom, their descendants were foes. All through Israel’s occupancy of the land there was aimless warfare between Edom and Israel. Throughout its occupation of the land, Israel not only had to face the hostility of world superpowers, but also faced running guerilla warfare with her immediate and perennially hostile neighbors – Edom and Ammon and Moab – the three countries of old which comprise Jordan today. Of them, Edom was the most bitter.

We do not know when this psalm was written. The internal evidence indicates it was written by a Hebrew who had been carried away into captivity by the Assyrians and who, along with others, had ended up in Babylon.




  1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

[137:1-2] The Jews had been uprooted and deported and were far from their ancestral home. The sins of the nation had overtaken them. The judgment of God had fallen. They were exiles in a foreign land. Their hearts were broken. They were filled with nostalgia for their lamented homeland.




These were great rivers. On the east was the Tigris, a river first mentioned in connection with the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:4 it is called Hiddekel, the Acadian name for the Tigris. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was built along this river. Then there was the Euphrates, another river connected with the Garden of Eden. This great river flowed through the center of Babylon.

“Zion” was the poetic and prophetic name for Jerusalem.



  1. We hanged our harps [used here for all musical instruments] upon the willows in the midst thereof.

With symbolic gestures they took their harps and hung them on the weeping willows. They were through forever, it seemed, with laughter and song, with music and humor.



  1. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion {2].

[137:3-4] The pagans around them saw those harps hanging on the trees. Ignoring the tears of these peculiar Hebrews, who could not enter into the spirit of things in Babylon - Babylon with its pleasures and treasures, with its glittering opportunities and Imperial future - they demand that the captives sing. The poet remembered that.  


Verse 3 is an instance of adding insult to injury. The Israelites were in great distress over the fall of their city and temple. They experienced the end of life as they had known it. They were powerless in a foreign land, and then the people there started asking to hear some of their native music, which heightened their despair. So, they hung up their harps and opted for silence (137:2).


The Babylonian victors made an unusual request of their captives; they said, “sing us one of your happy songs.” This demand may have originated from the famous splendor of Hebrew psalmody. Across the desert the news had come of the sweetness of the temple song ministry. But in any case, the treatment by those captors had made compliance with their demand impossible.  The bitterness of exile was increased by the scorn of the Babylonians with their taunting demand for “one of the songs of Zion.” The issue was not just one of simulating humor in the midst of sorrow, but of amusing their Pagan neighbors with the Lord's song.


If you have read the Prophet Jeremiah you may already know that he encouraged the Israelites to make the most of a bad situation - to settle down in Babylon, increase in number, and pray for the people there. He told them their stay would be limited and that God would then return them to their Homeland (Jer. 29:4-14).  



  1. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?


This is the response of the Jews who were taken from their homes and made to live in a strange land; they were not happy, and they did not want to sing for their captors. To be separated from Zion was to be separated from God; and to lose God was to lose everything. When we have loved the sense of God's presence, having been led captive by our sins, we too are sure to lose our joy, and peace, and blessedness. Surely, they could have sung one of David's penitent or prophetic songs. But no, they sat and sulked and wallowed in the miseries they had brought on themselves.



  1. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning {3].
  2. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth {4]; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

[137:5-9] At this point the psalmist seems to have stopped reminiscing about the days of his exile. He is back in the Promised Land and alive once more to the blessing of being associated with the place where God had put his name.


“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” Never again would he permit himself to forget Jerusalem. Henceforth everything he did, everything he said, would be governed by thoughts of Jerusalem. He would rather never be able to do a day's work again, never to be able to utter a single word again, than forget Jerusalem and all that Jerusalem stood for in the spiritual life of God's people.


“If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” Never again would this poet allow life’s pleasures to blot out the memory of Jerusalem. No matter what his chief joy - wife and children, fame and fortune, success in business, sports or politics, distinction in the Arts and Sciences, no matter what his chief joy, Jerusalem would come first God would come first.


What a challenge for us, only the challenge for us lies in the New Jerusalem. God would have us set our affections on things above, where Christ sets at the right hand of God.    


Versus 4-6 attest to the people's great love for Jerusalem. They were far away from home, but they weren't about to forget what it had meant to them. Memories of Jerusalem - the setting of the temple, worship, feasts, celebrations, and more - had become their greatest source of joy. They even called down curses on themselves if they dared to forget their home city.



  1. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it {1], even to the foundation thereof.


The Edomites had encouraged the Assyrians, when their armies surrounded Jerusalem. They did not actively help them, as they later did when the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, but they gave them verbal encouragement to take, sack, and demolish Jerusalem; and they took malicious pleasure in the destruction of Jerusalem. This unknown poet now called on God to remember Edom’s spite.


The Arab nations today are Edom’s heirs. They are quite willing to encourage the Soviets as long as Russia will do their work for them in ridding the Middle East of the state of Israel. As has been said, God does not forget such hatred toward his chosen People. He has pledged Himself to curse those that curse His people. The psalmist, therefore, was not mouthing venomous spite of his own, he was simply allying himself with the declared Word of God.


Finally, in versus 7-9, the Israelites wish the worst possible retribution upon the people who had been responsible for the terrible treatment of Jerusalem. The Edomites had been longstanding enemies of Israel and Judah, and they had taken cruel pleasure in seeing the Babylonians, who were worse than the Edomites, invade and conquer Jerusalem. The Israelites wished that the same end would come to Edom - an end that is, in fact, later prophesied (Isa. 63 :1-6).



  1. O daughter of Babylon {5], who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
  2. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.


The psalmist had been in Babylon and knew what the Babylonians were like. They were as cruel in war as the Assyrians, whose place upon the world stage they were soon to take. Like many another world superpower they waged ruthless war and committed horrible atrocities against their enemies.


It is clear from verse 8 that the destruction of Babylon is eminent, for there he says, “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed.” Prophetic vision dissolves the distance imposed by time.


At this point the poet becomes a prophet. He was undoubtedly familiar with the whole range of Isaiah’s prophecies against Babylon (Isaiah 13:14, 46-48). He knew that Isaiah had foretold this fate for the babies of Babylon: “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes . . .” (Isaiah 13:16). The desire for infants to be dashed against rocks may well have been a general cry for God's justice rather than a specific, literal request.


With his poetry married to his prophecy, the singer sees the future Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. He has no hope that the Babylonians will be kinder to ravished Jerusalem than they have been in their other wars.


Special notes and Scripture

[1} Raise it, raise it is literally, “Lay it bare,” tear it down all the way to the foundations.

[2} “Songs of Zion” (the Lord’s songs). These are the songs they demanded of them either out of curiosity, or to delight their ears, or perhaps it was their way of scoffing and insulting the Hebrew nation, temple and religion. These are the songs which were selected by God and were to be sung only to His honor and in His service.

[3} “Forget her cunning” means to lose the skill necessary to playing a musical instrument.

[4} “Cleave to the roof of my mouth” here means to be made incapable of singing, or speaking or moving, which happens in some diseases

[5} By “Daughter of Babylon” the writer means the city and Empire of Babylon and the people who call them home.

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