|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
137:1-4 Their enemies had carried the Jews captive from their own land. To complete their woes, they insulted over them; they required of them mirth and a song. This was very barbarous; also profane, for no songs would serve but the songs of Zion. Scoffers are not to be compiled with. They do not say, How shall we sing, when we are so much in sorrow? but, It is the Lord's song, therefore we dare not sing it among idolaters.
Verse 2. - We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. The superfluous "harps" were "hung" up upon the trees that grew by the watercourses. These are called "willows," or, according to some, "poplars," but were probably of a different species from any of the trees that grew in Palestine. The chief Babylonian tree was the palm, which grew in the greatest luxuriance along the courses of all the streams (Herod., 1:193; Atom Man., 24:3; Zosim., 3. pp. 173-179). Tamarisks, poplars, and acacias were also common, but true "willows" hardly appear to have ever been a product of the country. The 'arabah of our author was probably either a poplar or a tamarisk.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. These were musical instruments, used in the temple service by the Levites, who seem to be the persons here speaking; who took care of them, and preserved them from the plunder of the enemy; and carried them with them to Babylon, in hope of returning with them to use them as before, or to solace themselves and others in captivity; though now they had no heart to make use of them, their sorrow was so great, and therefore hung them upon the willows as useless things: these willows grew upon the banks of the rivers where they were, as such trees usually do; hence called willows of the brook (x), and willows by water courses, Leviticus 23:40; and particularly upon the banks of the river Euphrates, which ran through the midst of Babylon, with which the phrase here agrees; and therefore Babylon itself is thought to be called "the brook", or "valley, of the willows", Isaiah 15:7. And, according to Ovid (y), not only reeds and poplars, but willows, grew on the banks of the Euphrates. Now the state of these people was an emblem of the case of the backsliding children of God; who, through the prevalence of corruption, the force of temptation, and the snares of the world, are brought into a kind of captivity to the law of sin and death, though not willingly; nor is it pleasing to them when sensible of it, Romans 7:23; who, though they are called out of the world, and are not of it; yet sometimes are so overcome with it, and immersed in the things of it, that they are as it were in Babylon. An emblem of this world, of the confusion in it, as its name signifies; of the fading glories of it, and the wickedness and idolatry it abounds with: and here they sit by the rivers of carnal pleasures in it for a while, till brought to themselves; and then they weep over their sins, and lament them; especially when they remember what opportunities they have formerly had in Zion, and what a low condition she is now in through the conduct of themselves and others: these make use of their harps when Zion is in good and prosperous circumstances, Revelation 14:1; but when there are corruptions in doctrine, neglect or abuse of ordinances, animosities and divisions prevail, declensions in the life and power of religion, and the lives of professors disagreeable; then they hang their harps on willows, and drop their notes.
(x) "Amnicolae salices", Ovid. Metamorph. l. 10. Fab. 2. v. 96. "Fluminibus salices", Virgil. Georgic. l. 2. v. 110. (y) "Venit ad Euphratem----Populus et cannae riparum summa tegebant, spemque dabant salices----". Ovid. Fasti, l. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. upon the willows—which may have grown there then, if not now; as the palm, which was once common, is now rare in Palestine.
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