Psalms 133-139 Rated M: By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept

From Psalms 133-139

19 Psalms Fragment

Today’s psalm is about living with the pain of the past. Have you ever got really angry at another and wished vengeance on them. Today’s psalm explores how the people of Judah felt after they were exiled and mocked by the Babylonians. We turn to Jesus to see how he deals with rejection.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.


Ps 133.1-3; Book Five; David; When Brothers Dwell in Unity

Ps 134.1-3; Book Five; Unknown; Come, Bless the LORD

Ps 135.1-21; Book Five; Unknown; Your Name, O LORD, Endures Forever

Ps 136.1-26; Book Five; Unknown; His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

Ps 137.1-9; Book Five; Unknown; How Shall We Sing the LORD’s Song?

Ps 138.1-8; Book Five; David; Give Thanks to the LORD

Ps 139.1-24; Book Five; David; Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart

Passage and Comments

19 waters of babylon

The psalm was written after the people of Judah had been conquered and taken away to Babylon in exile. They had seen horrible things done to their people. They have nothing good to say about their captors. The people who destroyed their temple and killed their people.

137 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!” (Ps 137:1–3)

They sat down and wept. They are not in Jerusalem anymore.

The LORD punished them for abandoning him for other gods.

Now they cry out and lament what has happened. Victorious, their captors mock them. They laugh at them and want them to sing.  Normally song are used for celebration and joy. Their world has turned upside down. Ashes are in their mouths. Their hearts are weighed down.

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!  (Ps 137:4–6)

Grief sometimes takes the joy away from us. We find it hard to praise and give thanks.

In a foreign land. Surrounded by the foreign people who conquered them. They do not want to forget Jerusalem. Where they had come from. They cannot sing as their captors require of them for their enjoyment. They cannot sing.

They call down judgment on their mocking captors.

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! (Ps 137:7–9)

In graphic terms they vent their anger and grief at their conquerors.

Speaking directly to their captors they bless those who will be used to bring them to judgment.

The ending leaves me thinking this psalm was sung in front of their captors. A twist in the ending. An expression of how they feel about them.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Suffering gives rise to inner distress, on account of a sense of injustice, frustration, loss or anger.

The same can be said of a number of people in the Old Testament. Esau experienced loss when he was tricked out of his birthright (Gen 27:34). So did Ruth when she lost her husband (Ruth 1:20–21). Loss is not uncommon in the OT (Pr 5:11–14 ; La 1:12).

Many suffered bereavement in the OT. David suffered through the death of his son (2 Sa 18:33). Abraham lost Sarah. He wept for her (Gen 23:1–2). Joseph lost his father (Gen 50:1–3). The people of Israel wept when Moses died (Dt 34:8).

Some suffer because they have no children (Gen 30:1; 1 Sam 1:4–8). Others because they are parted from their loved ones (1 Sam 20:41; 2 Ki 2:12; Song 5:6–8).

The psalmist and his people experienced suffering and loss. The psalm connects us to the story of Israel and their emotions after being punished and sent into exile.

They way they dealt with their suffering at least in this psalm was less than desirable. I can imagine them singing this lament and particularly the ending to people they hated.

Story of Jesus

The LORD’s chosen people Israel had rejected him. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, Jesus knew the punishment that would be inflicted upon them for this rejected. He did not gloat or rejoice. He grieved.

41 And when he drew near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Lk 19:41–44)

The psalmist looked forward to the day when Babylon would be repaid for what they had done to Judah. Jesus by way of comparison grieves over what will happen to him.

How will you respond to the punishment of those who do not know the LORD’s visitation?

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.