Psalm 137:3
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
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(3) A song.—See margin. The expression is generally regarded as pleonastic, but may be explained as in Psalm 105:27, where see Note. Perhaps “some lyric thing” would express the original. No doubt it is a Levite who is requested to sing.

They that wasted us.—A peculiar Hebrew word which the LXX. and Vulg. take as synonymous with the verb in the first clause. The modern explanation, “they that make us howl,” is far preferable. Those whose oppression had raised the wild Oriental scream of lamentation, now asked for mirth.

Songs of Zion—or, as in the next verse, songs of Jehovah, were of course the liturgical hymns. Nothing is more characteristic than this of the Hebrew feeling. The captors asked for a national song, as the Philistines asked for sport from Samson, to amuse them. The Hebrew can think only of one kind of song, that to which the genius of the race was dedicated.

Psalm 137:3. There they that carried us away — Our new masters, who had made us their slaves, and carried us captives out of our own land; required of us a song — דברי שׁיר, the words of a song: in the LXX., λογους ωδων, words of songs. They required us to entertain them with our music and singing. And they that wasted us — Hebrew, ותוללינו, contumulatores nostri, they that laid us on heaps, namely, that laid Jerusalem and the temple in ruins, required of us mirth, שׁמחה, joy, or gladness; saying, Sing us of the songs (so it is in the Hebrew) of Zion — Sing us some of those songs which were wont to be sung in the temple on occasions of public joy. This they required, probably partly out of curiosity, and partly by way of scoffing and insult over them and their temple and worship, not without “a tacit reflection on their God, who could not protect his favoured people against their enemies. Thus the faithful have been, and thus they will be insulted over in the day of their calamity.”

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.For there they that carried us away captive - The Babylonians.

Required of us a song - Asked of us a song. The word does not express the idea of compulsion or force. Margin, as in Hebrew, words of a song. Perhaps the idea is that they did not merely ask music, but they wished to hear the words - the songs themselves - in which they were accustomed to praise God. This may have been a taunt, and the request may have been in derision; or it may have been seriously, and with no desire to reproach them, or to add to their sorrows. We are not to impute bad motives to others where there is no evidence that there are any, and where the supposition of good motives will answer just as well; and the expression here may have been a kind and natural wish to hear the songs of these foreigners - songs of which they might have heard much by report; perhaps songs which they had overheard them singing when they were in a less desponding state of mind, and when they sought to comfort themselves by these ancient national melodies. As the only reason assigned for not complying with this request was that they could not "sing the Lord's song in a strange land" Psalm 137:3, we are rather led to infer that there was no bad motive - no disposition to taunt and ridicule them by the request that was made.

And they that wasted us - Margin, laid us on heaps. The Hebrew word means a tormentor; properly, one who extorts lamentation from others, or who causes them to howl - to wit, under oppression or wrong. The Septuagint and Latin Vulgate render it, "They who led us away." The general idea is, those under whom they were then suffering; or, who had caused these trials to come upon them.

Required of us mirth - literally, "Our tormentors, joy." The Hebrew word means joy; and the sense is, that they asked them to give the usual indications of joy and happiness - to wit, a song. The language means, "Cheer up; be happy; give us one of the beautiful songs which you were accustomed to sing in your own land." It may, indeed, have been in derision; but there is no proof that it was.

Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion - The songs - the sacred hymns - which you were accustomed to sing in worship in your own land.

3, 4. Whether the request was in curiosity or derision, the answer intimates that a compliance was incongruous with their mournful feelings (Pr 25:20). Such songs as you used to sing in the temple at Zion; which they required either out of curiosity, or to delight their ears, or rather by way of scoffing and insultation over them, and their temple and religion.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song,.... Or, "words of a song" (z). To repeat the words of one of the songs of Zion, as it is afterwards expressed: this the Babylonians did, as the Targum; who were they that carried the Jews into captivity; and this is given as a reason why they hung their harps on willows, and were so sorrowful, because such a request as this was made;

and they that wasted us required of us mirth: the Chaldeans, who plundered them of their substance, and reduced their city and temple to heaps of rubbish, as the word (a) used signifies; or who heaped reproaches upon them, as Jarchi: these insisted not only on having the words of a song repeated to them, but that they should be set to some tune and sung in a manner expressing mirth, or would provoke unto it: or "our lamentations", according to Kimchi; that is, the authors of them (b), so barbarous were they;

saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion; which used to be sung in Zion in the temple, called the songs of the temple, Amos 8:3; this demand they made either out of curiosity, that they might know something of the temple songs and music they had heard of; or rather as jeering at and insulting the poor Jews in their miserable and melancholy circumstances; as if they had said, now sing your songs if you can: or in order to make themselves sport and diversion with them, as the Philistines with Samson. The spiritual songs of Zion are the songs of electing, redeeming, calling, pardoning, and justifying grace; which natural men neither understand, nor can learn, but scoff at and despise.

(z) "verba cantici", Pagninus, Montanus, Musculus, Piscator, Gejerus, Michaelis; "verba earminis", Cocceius. (a) "qui veluti in acervos nos redegerunt", Tigurine version, Grotius. (b) Vid. Stockium, p. 447.

For there they that carried us away captive {c} required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

(c) The Babylonians speak thus in mocking us, as though by our silence we should signify that we hoped no more in God.

3. For there &c.] The reason why their harps were silent. It might have been expected that they would soothe their sorrow with plaintive music; but the heartless demand of their captors made it impossible.

asked of us songs] Lit. words of song.

they that wasted us] The exact meaning is doubtful. The A.V. marg. ‘Heb. laid us on heaps’ rests on an impossible derivation, and the R.V. marg. our tormentors on an improbable one. Perhaps with the change of a single letter shôlelçnu, ‘our spoilers,’should be read instead of the obscure tôlâlçnu.

Coverdale’s rendering in the P.B.V., and melody in our heaviness, comes from Luther, ‘und in unserm Heulen ein fröhlich Gesang.’

one of the songs of Zion] Or, some of the songs. As these songs are called in the next verse Jehovah’s songs, it is clear that it is not secular songs that are meant, but the sacred hymns of the Temple worship (2 Chronicles 29:27). To sing these for the amusement of their conquerors would have been the grossest profanation of all that they held most dear; an act comparable to Belshazzar’s use of the consecrated vessels at his feast (Daniel 5:2). Cp. Matthew 7:6.

Verse 3. - For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; literally, words of song. The oppressors break into the retired gathering of their captives, and "require of them a song" - demand roughly and rudely to be entertained with the foreign music, which is perhaps sweeter than their own, or at any rate more of a novelty. And they that wasted us required us mirth. Not only was "a song" wanted but a joyous song - one that would wake feelings of mirth and gladness in those who heard it. Saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion; literally, sing us frown a song of Zion. The captives had, no doubt, spoken of the joyous strains which they had been wont to pour forth in their own city upon festive occasions. Their conquerors demand a specimen, but are repulsed with the words of the next verse. Psalm 137:3Beginning with perfects, the Psalm has the appearance of being a Psalm not belonging to the Exile, but written in memory of the Exile. The bank of a river, like the seashore, is a favourite place of sojourn of those whom deep grief drives forth from the bustle of men into solitude. The boundary line of the river gives to solitude a safe back; the monotonous splashing of the waves keeps up the dull, melancholy alternation of thoughts and feelings; and at the same time the sight of the cool, fresh water exercises a soothing influence upon the consuming fever within the heart. The rivers of Babylon are here those of the Babylonian empire: not merely the Euphrates with its canals, and the Tigris, but also the Chaboras (Chebar) and Eulaeos ('Ulai), on whose lonesome banks Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3) and Daniel (ch. Daniel 8:2) beheld divine visions. The שׁם is important: there, in a strange land, as captives under the dominion of the power of the world. And גּם is purposely chosen instead of ו: with the sitting down in the solitude of the river's banks weeping immediately came on; when the natural scenery around contrasted so strongly with that of their native land, the remembrance of Zion only forced itself upon them all the more powerfully, and the pain at the isolation from their home would have all the freer course where no hostilely observant eyes were present to suppress it. The willow (צפצפה) and viburnum, those trees which are associated with flowing water in hot low-lying districts, are indigenous in the richly watered lowlands of Babylonia. ערב (ערבה), if one and the same with Arab. grb, is not the willow, least of all the weeping-willow, which is called ṣafsâf mustahı̂ in Arabic, "the bending-down willow," but the viburnum with dentate leaves, described by Wetzstein on Isaiah 44:4. The Talmud even distinguishes between tsaph-tsapha and ‛araba, but without our being able to obtain any sure botanic picture from it. The ערבה, whose branches belong to the constituents of the lulab of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40), is understood of the crack-willow [Salix fragilis], and even in the passage before us is surely not distinguished with such botanical precision but that the gharab and willow together with the weeping-willow (Salix Babylonica) might be comprehended under the word ערבה. On these trees of the country abounding in streams the exiles hung their citherns. The time to take delight in music was past, for μουσικὰ ἐν πένθει ἄκαιρος διήγησις, Sir. 22:6. Joyous songs, as the word שׁיר designates them, were ill suited to their situation.

In order to understand the כּי in Psalm 137:3, Psalm 137:3 and Psalm 137:4 must be taken together. They hung up their citherns; for though their lords called upon them to sing in order that they might divert themselves with their national songs, they did not feel themselves in the mind for singing songs as they once resounded at the divine services of their native land. The lxx, Targum, and Syriac take תּוללינוּ as a synonym of שׁובינוּ, synonymous with שׁוללינוּ, and so, in fact, that it signifies not, like שׁולל, the spoiled and captive one, but the spoiler and he who takes other prisoners. But there is no Aramaic תּלל equals שׁלל. It might more readily be referred back to a Poel תּולל ( equals התל), to disappoint, deride (Hitzig); but the usage of the language does not favour this, and a stronger meaning for the word would be welcome. Either תּולל equals תּהולל, like מהולל, Psalm 102:9, signifies the raving one, i.e., a bloodthirsty man or a tyrant, or from ילל, ejulare, one who causes the cry of woe or a tormentor, - a signification which commends itself in view of the words תּושׁב and תּלמיד, which are likewise formed with the preformative ת. According to the sense the word ranks itself with an Hiph. הוליל, like תּועלת, תּוכחה, with הועיל and הוכיח, in a mainly abstract signification (Dietrich, Abhandlungen, S. 160f.). The דּברי beside שׁיר is used as in Psalm 35:20; Psalm 65:4; Psalm 105:27; Psalm 145:5, viz., partitively, dividing up the genitival notion of the species: words of songs as being parts or fragments of the national treasury of song, similar to משּׁיר a little further on, on which Rosenmller correctly says: sacrum aliquod carmen ex veteribus illis suis Sionicis. With the expression "song of Zion" alternates in Psalm 137:4 "song of Jahve," which, as in 2 Chronicles 29:27, cf. 1 Chronicles 25:7, denotes sacred or liturgical songs, that is to say, songs belonging to Psalm poesy (including the Cantica).

Before Psalm 137:4 we have to imagine that they answered the request of the Babylonians at that time in the language that follows, or thought thus within themselves when they withdrew themselves from them. The meaning of the interrogatory exclamation is not that the singing of sacred songs in a foreign land (חוצה לארץ) is contrary to the law, for the Psalms continued to be sung even during the Exile, and were also enriched by new ones. But the shir had an end during the Exile, in so far as that it was obliged to retire from publicity into the quiet of the family worship and of the houses of prayer, in order that that which is holy might not be profaned; and since it was not, as at home, accompanied by the trumpets of the priests and the music of the Levites, it became more recitative than singing properly so called, and therefore could not afford any idea of the singing of their native land in connection with the worship of God on Zion. From the striking contrast between the present and the former times the people of the Exile had in fact to come to the knowledge of their sins, in order that they might get back by the way of penitence and earnest longing to that which they had lost Penitence and home-sickness were at that time inseparable; for all those in whom the remembrance of Zion was lost gave themselves over to heathenism and were excluded from the redemption. The poet, translated into the situation of the exiles, and arming himself against the temptation to apostasy and the danger of denying God, therefore says: If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, ימיני תּשׁכּח. תּשׁכּח has been taken as an address to Jahve: obliviscaris dexterae meae (e.g., Wolfgang Dachstein in his song "An Wasserflssen Babylon"), but it is far from natural that Jerusalem and Jahve should be addressed in one clause. Others take ימיני as the subject and תּשׁכּח transitively: obliviscatur dextera mea, scil. artem psallendi (Aben-Ezra, Kimchi, Pagninus, Grotius, Hengstenberg, and others); but this ellipsis is arbitrary, and the interpolation of מנּי after ימיני (von Ortenberg, following Olshausen) produces an inelegant cadence. Others again assign a passive sense to תשׁכח: oblivioni detur (lxx, Italic, Vulgate, and Luther), or a half-passive sense, in oblivione sit (Jerome); but the thought: let my right hand be forgotten, is awkward and tame. Obliviscatur me (Syriac, Saadia, and the Psalterium Romanum) comes nearer to the true meaning. תּשׁכּח is to be taken reflexively: obliviscatur sui ipsius, let it forget itself, or its service (Amyraldus, Schultens, Ewald, and Hitzig), which is equivalent to let it refuse or fail, become lame, become benumbed, much the same as we say of the arms of legs that they "go to sleep," and just as the Arabic nasiya signifies both to forget and to become lame (cf. Gesenius, Thesaurus, p. 921b). La Harpe correctly renders: O Jerusalem! si je t'oublie jamais, que ma main oublie aussi le mouvement! Thus there is a correspondence between Psalm 137:5 and Psalm 137:6 : My tongue shall cleave to my palate if I do not remember thee, if I do not raise Jerusalem above the sum of my joy. אזכּרכי has the affixed Chirek, with which these later Psalms are so fond of adorning themselves. ראשׁ is apparently used as in Psalm 119:160 : supra summam (the totality) laetitiae meae, as Coccejus explains, h.e. supra omnem laetitiam meam. But why not then more simply על כּל, above the totality? ראשׁ here signifies not κεφάλαιον, but κεφαλή: if I do not place Jerusalem upon the summit of my joy, i.e., my highest joy; therefore, if I do not cause Jerusalem to be my very highest joy. His spiritual joy over the city of God is to soar above all earthly joys.

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