Psalm 137:2
We hanged our harps on the willows in the middle thereof.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) Willows.—It is perhaps not necessary to attempt to identify the trees mentioned in this verse, since the touching picture may only be a poetical way of expressing the silence during the exile of all the religious and festal songs. The ‘ereb’ is certainly not the willow, a tree not found in Babylonia, but the poplar (Populus Euphraticus).

Psalm 137:2. We hanged our harps upon the willows, in the midst thereof. — These are, not without great probability, supposed to be the words of some holy Levites, who had been accustomed to music, both vocal and instrumental, in the service of the temple. Harps are here put, by a synecdoche, for all instruments of music. It is further to be observed, that although the harp was used by the Greeks in mourning, yet it was used by the Hebrews in rejoicing, as is manifest from Genesis 31:27; 2 Chronicles 20:27-28; Psalm 43:4. This passage is to be understood, either, 1st, Figuratively, signifying only, that they abandoned all signs and means of comfort; or rather, 2d, Properly, as the songs are which the Babylonians required them to sing to their harps, Psalm 137:3. Upon the willows — Which commonly grow upon the banks of rivers, as they did on the banks of the Euphrates, in such an abundance that from thence it is called the brook, or torrent, or river, (as נחלmay be properly rendered,) of willows, Isaiah 15:7. Thus “the sincere penitent, like these captives, hath bidden adieu to mirth; his soul refuseth to be comforted with the comforts of Babylon; nor can he sing any more till pardon and restoration shall have enabled him to sing in the temple a song of praise and thanksgiving.”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.We hanged our harps upon the willows - The harps once used to accompany the songs of praise and the service of God in the temple; the harps with which they had sought to beguile their weary hours, and to console their sad spirits in their captivity. The word rendered "willows" - ערבים ‛ărâbiym - used only in the plural, denotes the willow or osier, so called from its white, silvery leaves. Gesenius, Lexicon. Compare Isaiah 15:7. It is probable that the weeping willow - the willow with long pendulous branches - is here referred to. Trees in desert lands spring up along the courses of the streams, and appear, in the wide desolation, as long and waving lines of green wherever the rivers wind along. The course of a stream can thus be marked by the prolonged line of meandering green in the desert as far as the eye can reach. It has been objected to the statement here that the willow is not now found in the neighborhood of ancient Babylon, but that the palm is the only tree which grows there. I saw, however, in 1852, in James' Park in London, a willow-tree with a label on it, stating that it was taken from the site of ancient Babylon; and there seems no reason to doubt the correctness of the account. The willow may be less abundant there now than it was in former times, as is true of the palm. tree in Palestine, but there is no reason to doubt that it grew there. All that the psalm, however, would necessarily demand in a fair interpretation would be that there should have been even a single clump of these trees planted there, under which a little band of exiles may have seated themselves when they gave utterance to the plaintive language of this psalm.

In the midst thereof - In the midst of Babylon; showing that this referred to the city proper. They could not sing, such was their grief, though they had their harps with them; and they hung them up, therefore, on the branches of the trees around them; or, poetically, they were as dumb as if they had hung up their harps there.

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. These are, not without great probability, supposed to be the words of some holy Levites, who had been accustomed to music, both vocal and instrumental, in the service of the temple. Harps are here put by a synecdoche for all instruments of music. It is further to be observed, that although the harp was used by the Grecians in mourning, yet it was used by the Hebrews in rejoicing, as is manifest from Genesis 31:27 2 Chronicles 20:27,28 Psa 43:4, &c. This passage is to be understood either,

1. Figuratively, signifying only that they abandoned all signs and means of comfort; or rather,

2. Properly, as the following songs are, which the Babylonians required them to sing to their harps. And these harps they might either,

1. Bring from Jerusalem, which they might desire to do to preserve those sacred utensils, and their enemies might either permit or command them to do for their own delight: or,

2. Procure in Babylon, that they might sometimes solace themselves with the practice of some of the temple music, which they desired and intended to do; but when they came to the trial, they were not able to do it, and therefore laid them by. Upon the willows; which commonly grow upon the banks of rivers, as they did by Euphrates in such plenty, that from thence it is called the brook of willows, Isaiah 15:7. 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.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst {b} thereof.

(b) That is, of that country.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. Upon the willows in the midst thereof,

We hung out harps.

the willows] Cp. Isaiah 44:4. The tree meant, however, was probably not the weeping willow, but the populus Euphratica.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. Up to this point it is God the absolute in general, the Creator of all things, to the celebration of whose praise they are summoned; and from this point onwards the God of the history of salvation. In Psalm 136:13 גּזר (instead of בּקע, Psalm 78:13; Exodus 14:21; Nehemiah 9:11) of the dividing of the Red Sea is peculiar; גּזרים (Genesis 15:17, side by side with בּתרים) are the pieces or parts of a thing that is cut up into pieces. נער is a favourite word taken from Exodus 14:27. With reference to the name of the Egyptian ruler Pharaoh (Herodotus also, ii. 111, calls the Pharaoh of the Exodus the son of Sesostris-Rameses Miumun, not Μενόφθας, as he is properly called, but absolutely Φερῶν), vid., on Psalm 73:22. After the God to whom the praise is to be ascribed has been introduced with ל by always fresh attributes, the ל before the names of Sihon and of Og is perplexing. The words are taken over, as are the six lines of Psalm 136:17-22 in the main, from Psalm 135:10-12, with only a slight alteration in the expression. In Psalm 136:23 the continued influence of the construction הודוּ ל is at an end. The connection by means of שׁ (cf. Psalm 135:8, Psalm 135:10) therefore has reference to the preceding "for His goodness endureth for ever." The language here has the stamp of the latest period. It is true זכר with Lamed of the object is used even in the earliest Hebrew, but שׁפל is only authenticated by Ecclesiastes 10:6, and פּרק, to break loose equals to rescue (the customary Aramaic word for redemption), by Lamentations 5:8, just as in the closing verse, which recurs to the beginning, "God of heaven" is a name for God belonging to the latest literature, Nehemiah 1:4; Nehemiah 2:4. In Psalm 136:23 the praise changes suddenly to that which has been experienced very recently. The attribute in Psalm 136:25 (cf. Psalm 147:9; Psalm 145:15) leads one to look back to a time in which famine befell them together with slavery.
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