Verse 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. To sing Zion's songs for the pleasure of Zion's foes, would be to forget the Holy City Each Jew declares for himself that he will not do this; for the pronoun alters from "we" to "I." Individually the captives pledge themselves to fidelity to Jerusalem, and each one asserts that he had sooner forget the art which drew music from his harp strings than use it for Babel's delectation. Better far that the right hand should forget its usual handicraft, and lose all its dexterity, than that it should fetch music for rebels out of the Lord's instruments, or accompany with sweet skill a holy Psalm desecrated into a common song for fools to laugh at. Not one of them will thus dishonour Jehovah to glorify Belus and gratify his vetaries. Solemnly they imprecate vengeance upon themselves should they so false, so faithless prove.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem. Calvary, Mount of Olives, Siloam, how fragrant are ye with the Name that is above every name! "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!" Can I forget where he walked so often, where he spake such gracious words, where he died? Can I forget that his feet shall stand on that "Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem, on the east?" Can I forget that there stood the Upper Room, and there fell the showers of Pentecost? --Andrew A. Bonar.
Verse 5. Let my right hand forget her cunning. There is a striking and appropriate point in this, which has been overlooked. It is, that, as it is customary for people in the East to swear by their professions, so one who has no profession -- who is poor and destitute, and has nothing of recognized value in the world -- swears by his right hand, which is his sole stake in society, and by the "cunning" of which he earns his daily bread. Hence the common Arabic proverb (given by Burckhardt) reflecting on the change of demeanour produced by improved circumstances: -- "He was wont to swear `by the cutting off of his right hand!' He now swears `by the giving of money to the poor.'" The words, "her cunning", are supplied by the translators, in whose time cunning (from the Saxon "cannan", Dutch konnen, "to know") meant "skill"; and a cunning man was what we should now call a skilful man. In the present case the skill indicated is doubtless that of playing on the harp, in which particular sense it occurs so late as Prior: --
"When Pedro does the lute command,
She guides the cunning artist's hand."
Modern translators substitute "skill"; but perhaps a term still more general would be better -- such as, "May my right hand lose its power." --John Kitto, in "The Pictorial Bible."
Verse 5. Let my right hand forget. Something must be supplied from the context ... the playing on the stringed instrument, Psalms 137:2 , whether the right hand should be applied to the purpose or not, was the point in question. Then, the punishment also perfectly accords with the misdeed, as in Job 31:22 : If I, misapplying my right hand to the playing of joyful strains on my instrument, forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand, as a punishment, forget the noble art; and then also Psalms 137:6 fits admirably to what goes before: May my misemployed hand lose its capacity to play, and my tongue, misemployed in singing cheerful songs, its capacity to sing. --E. W. Hengstenberg.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 5. The person who remembers; the thing remembered; the solemn imprecation.
Verse 5. No harp but for Jesus.
- The harp consecrated. At conversion.
"One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard, One faithful harp shall praise thee."
- The harp silent:
"Thy songs were made for the brave and free, They shall never sound in slavery."
- The harp restrung above:
"And I heard the voice of harpers Harping with their harps." --W. B. H.
- To rejoice with the world is to forget the church.
- To love the church we must prefer her above everything.
- To serve the church we must be prepared to suffer anything.