Psalm 137:3

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 3. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song. It was ill to be a singer at all when it was demanded that this talent should go into bondage to an oppressor's will. Better be dumb than be forced to please an enemy with forced song. What cruelty to make a people sigh, and then require them to sing! Shall men be carried away from home and all that is dear to them, and yet chant merrily for the pleasure of their unfeeling captors? This is studied torture: the iron enters into the soul. It is indeed "woe to the conquered" when they are forced to sing to increase the triumph of their conquerors. Cruelty herein reached a refinement seldom thought of. We do not wonder that the captives sat them down to weep when thus insulted. "And they that wasted us required of us mirth." The captives must not only sing but smile, and add merriment to their music. Blind Samson in former days must be brought forth to make sport for Philistines, and now the Babylonians prove themselves to be loaves of the same leaven. Plundered, wounded, fettered, carried into captivity and poverty, yet must the people laugh as if it were all a play, and they must sport as if they felt no sorrow. This was worm wood and gall to the true lovers of God and his chosen land. "Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion." Nothing would serve their turn but a holy hymn, and a tune sacred to the worship of Jehovah. Nothing will content the Babylonian mockers but one of israel's Psalms when in her happiest days she sang unto the Lord whose mercy endureth for ever: this would make rare fun for their persecutors, who would deride their worship and ridicule their faith in Jehovah. In this demand there was an insult to their God as well as a mockery of themselves, and this made it the more intensely cruel. Nothing could have been more malicious, nothing more productive of grief. These wanton persecutors had followed the captives into their retirement, and had remarked upon their sorrowful appearance, and "there" and then they bade the mourners make mirth for them. Could they not let the sufferers alone? Were the exiles to have no rest? The daughter of Babylon seemed determined to fill up her cup of iniquity, by torturing the Lord's people. Those who had been the most active agents of Israel's undoing must needs follow up their ferocities by mockeries. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." Worse than the Egyptians, they asked not labour which their victims could have rendered, but they demanded mirth which they could not give, and holy songs which they dared not profane to such a purpose, sufferings of the weary and oppressed exiles by their mirth and their indecency. We are sorry to say that the resemblance still holds betwixt the Jews in a state of captivity and the Christians in the state of their pilgrimage. We have also to sustain the mockery of the profane and the unthinking. Ridicule and disdain are often the fate of sincere piety in this world. Fashion and frivolity and false philosophy have made a formidable combination against us; and the same truth, the same honesty, the same integrity of principle, which in any other cause would be esteemed as manly and respectable, is despised and laughed at when attached to the cause of the gospel and its sublime interests. --Thomas Chalmers.

Verse 3-4. St. John Chrysostom observes the improvement such tribulation effected in the Jews, who previously derided, nay, even put to death, some of the prophets; but now that they were captives in a foreign land, they would not attempt to expose their sacred hymns to the ridicule of the Gentiles. --Robert Bellarmine.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 3. --"They that carried us away captive required of us a song;" or rather, as it should be rendered, "the words of a song." They see no inconsistancy in a religion which freely mixes with the world. In their ignorance they only require "the words of a song;" its heavenly strain they have never caught. "They that wasted us" required of us mirth." Remember, it is this worldly element which wasteth, or lays on heaps, whether so far as our own hearts of the church of God is concerned. But, true to his spiritual instincts, the child of God replies, "How shall we sing Jehovah's song in the land of a stranger?" and then, so far from being utterly cast down or overcome, rises with fresh outburst or resolution and intenseness of new vigour, to utter the vows of verses 5 and 6. For, after having passed through such a spiritual conflict, we come forth, not wearied, but refreshed; not weaker, but stronger. It is one of the seeming contradictions of the gospel, that the cure of weariness, and the relief of heavy-ladenness, lies in this --to take the cross upon ourselves. After the night long conflict of Israel, "as he passed over Peniel, the sun rose upon him," and that though "he halted upon his thigh." --Alfred Edersheim.

Verse 3. -- "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." No music will serve the epicures in the prophet but temple music: Amos 6:5 , "They invent to themselves instruments of music like David." As choice and excellent as David was in the service of the temple, so would they be in their private feasts. Belshazzar's draughts are not half so sweet in other vessels as in the utensils of the temple: Daniel 5:2 , "He commanded to bring forth the golden and silver vessels that were taken out of the house of God." So the Babylonian humour is pleased with nothing so much as with one of the songs of Zion; not an ordinary song, but "Sing us one of your songs of Zion." No jest relisheth with a profane spirit so well as when Scripture is abused, and anmde to lackey to their sportive jollity. Vain man thinketh he can never put hunour upon his pleasures, and scorn enough upon God and holy things. --Thomas Manton.

Verse 3. -- "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." The insulting nature of the demand will become the more conspicuous, if we consider, that the usual subjects of these songs were the omnipotence of Jehovah, and his love towards his chosen people. --William Keatinge Clay, 1839.

Verse 3. The Babylonians asked them in derision for one of the songs of Zion. They loaded with ridicule their pure and venerable religion, and aggravated the sufferings of the weary and oppressed exiles by their mirth and their indecency. We are sorry to say that the resemblence still holds betwixt the Jews in a state of captivity and the Christians in the state of their pilgrimage. We have also to sustain the mockery of the profane and the unthinking. Ridicule and disdain are often the fate of sincere piety in this world. Fashion and frivolity and false philosophy have made a formidable combination against us; and the same truth, the same honesty, the same integrity of principle, which in any other cause would be exteemed as manly and respectable, is despised and laughed at when attached to the cause of the gospel and its sublime interests. --Thomas Chalmers.

Verse 3, 4. --St. John Chrysostom observes the improvement such tribulation effected in the Jews, who previously derided, nay, even put to death, some of the prophets; but now that they were captives in a foreign land, they would not attempt to expose their sacred hymns to the ridicule of the Gentiles. --Robert Bellarmine.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 3. (last clause). Taken away from the text this is a very pleasant and praiseworthy request. Why do we wish for such a song?

  1. It is sure to be pure.
  2. It will certainly be elevating.
  3. It will probably be glad some.
  4. It will comfort and enliven us.
  5. It will help to express our gratitude.

Verse 3-4.

  1. The cruel demand.
    1. A song when we are captives.
    2. A song to please our adversaries.
    3. A holy song for unholy purposes.
  2. The motive for it. Sometimes mere ridicule; at others, mistaken kindness seeking by sharpness to arouse us from despondency; often mere levity.
  3. The answer to it, "How can?" etc.

Verse 3-4.

  1. When God calls for joy we ought not to sorrow. The songs of Zion should be sung in Zion.
  2. When God calls for sorrow we ought not to rejoice. "How shall we sing?" etc. See Isaiah 5:12 . --G. R.

Verse 3-4.

  1. The unreasonable request: "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." This was --

    1. A striking testimony to the joyful character of Jehovah's worship. Even the heathen had heard of "the songs of Zion."

b) A severe trial of the fidelity of captive Israel. It might have been to their present advantage to have complied with the request.

c) A cruel taunt of the sad and desponding condition of the captives.

  1. The indignant refusal. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" There is no singing this song by true Israelites --

    1. When the heart is out of tune, as it must necessarily be when in "a strange land."

b) In uncongenial society -- amongst unsympathetic strangers.

  1. For unsanctified purposes -- to make mirth for the heathen. Many so called sacred concerts pain devout Christians as much as the demand to sing the Lord's song did the devout Israelites. The Lord's song must be sung only "to the Lord." --W. H. J. P.

Verse 3-4. The burlesque of holy things.

  1. The servants of God are in an unsympathetic world.
  2. The demand to be amused and entertained. Temple songs to pass an idle hour! Such the popular demand today. Men would have us burlesque religion to tickle them.
  3. The justly indignant reply of all true men, "How shall we?" Christian workers have more serious if less popular business on hand. --W. B. H.