Psalm 137:2

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 2. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. The drooping branches appeared to weep as we did, and so we gave to them our instruments of music; the willows could as well make melody as we, for we had no mind for minstrelsy. In the midst of the willows, or in the midst of the rivers, or in the midst of Babylon, it matters little which, they hung their harps aloft -- those harps which once in Zion's halls the soul of music shed. Better to hang them up than to dash them down: better to hang them on willows than profane them to the service of idols. Sad indeed is the child of sorrow when he grows weary of his harp, from which in better days he had been able to draw sweet solaces. Music hath charms to give unquiet spirits rest; but when the heart is sorely sad it only mocks the grief which flies to it. Men put away their instruments of mirth when a heavy cloud darkens their souls.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 2. -- "Our harps." Many singers were carried captives: Ezra 2:41 . These would of course carry thier instruments with them, and be insulted, as here. Their songs were sacred, and unfit to be sung before idolaters. --From "Anonymous Notes" in James Merrick's Annotations, 1768.

Verse 2. -- "Willows." All the flat, whereon Babylon stodd, being by reason of so many rivers and canals running through it made in many places marsh, expecially near the said rivers and canals, this caused it to abound much in willows, and therefore it is called in Scripture the "Valley of Willows"; for so the words in 15:7 , which we translate "the brook of the willows," ought to be rendered. --Humphrey Prideaux (1648 - 1724), in "The Old and New Testament Connected,", etc.

Verse 2. -- "Willows." The Weeping Willow of Babylon will grow to be a large tree; its branches being long, slender, and pendulous, makes it proper to be planted upon the banks of rivers, ponds, and over springs; the leaves, also, are long and narrow; and when any mist or dew falls, a drop of water is seen hanging at their extremities, which, together with with their hanging branches, cause a most lugubrious appearance. Lovers' garlands are said to have been made of a species of this willow, the brancehs of which are very slender and pliable; and the the plant itself has always been sought after for ornamental plantations, either to mix with others of the like growth in the largest quaters, of to be planted out singly over springs, or in large opens, for the peculiar variety occasioned by its mournful look. --John Evelyn (1620 - 1706) in "Silva; or, A Discourse of Trees."

Verse 2. -- "Willows." It is a curious fact, that during the Commonwealth of England, when Crowmwell, like a wise politician, allowed them to settle in London and to have synagogues, the Jews cam hither in sufficient numbers to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles in booths, among the Willows on the borders of the Thames. The disturbance of their comfort from the innumerable spectators, chiefly London apprentices, called for some protection from the local magistrates. Not that any insult was offered to their persons, but a natural curiosity, excited by so new and extraordinary a spectacle, induced many to press too closely round their camp, and perhaps intrude upon their privacy. --Maria Callcott (1788 - 1842), in "A Scripture Herbal," 1842.

Verse 2. -- "Willows." There is a pretty story told about the way in which the Weeping Willow was introduced into England.* Many years ago, the well-known poet, Alexander Pope, who resided at Twickenham, received a basket of figs as a present from Turkey. The basket was made ofthe supple branches of the Weeping Willow, the very same species under which the captive Jews sat when they wept by the waters of Babylon. "We hanged our harps upon the willows." The poet valued highly the small slender twigs as assoicated with so much that was interesting, and untwisted the basket, and planted one of the branches on the ground. It had some tidy buds upon it, and he hoped he might be able to rear it, as none of theis species of willow was know in England. Happily the willow is very quick to take root and grow. The little branch soon became a tree, and drooped gracefully over the river, in the same matter that its race had done over the waters of Babylon. From that one branch all the Weeping Willows in England are descended. -- Mary and Elizabeth Kirby, in "Chapters on Trees," 1873.

* The two preceding extracts would seem to prove that this story is not true; at least Evelyn's willow is evidently the weeping willow, and would seem to have long been known.

Verse 2. -- "In the midst thereof." This is most naturally understood of the city of Babylon; which was nearly as large as Middlesex, and had parks and gardens inside it. -- William Kay.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 2.

  1. Harps -- or capacities for praise.
  2. Harps on willows, or song suspended.
  3. Harps retuned, or joys to come.

Verse 2.

  1. A confession of joy being turned into sorrow: "we hanged," etc. The moaning of their harps upon weeping willows better harmonized with their feelings than any tunes which they had been accustomed to play.
  2. A holm of sorrow being turned into joy. They took their harps with them into captivity, and hung them up for future use. --G. J.

Verse 2. We hanged our harps, etc.

  1. In remembrance of lost joys. Their harps were associated with a glorious past. They could not afford to forget that past. They kept up the good old custom. There are always means of remembrance at hand.
  2. In manifestation of present sorrow. They could not play on account of,
    1. Their sinfulness.
    2. Their circumstances.
    3. Their home.
  3. In anticipation of future blessing. They did not dash their harps to pieces. Term of exile limited. Return expressly foretold. We shall want our harps in the good times coming. Sinners play their harps now, but must soon lay them aside for ever. --W. J.
Read Psalm 137:2