Psalm 137:5
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
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(5) Her cunningi.e., the skill of playing on the harp. If at such a moment the poet can so far forget the miserable bondage of Jerusalem as to strike the strings in joy, may his hand for ever lose the skill to touch them.

Psalm 137:5-6. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem — If I do not retain a deep and sorrowful sense of thy desolations, though never so far removed from thee; or if I indulge myself in mirth and jollity, as if I had forgotten thee; let my right hand — The hand chiefly used in playing on musical instruments, and in all other actions; forget her cunning — That is, lose its skill of playing. In the Hebrew it is only, Let my right hand forget, without expressing what, to intimate the extent and generality of this wish; let it forget, or be disabled for every action, in which it was formerly used. If I do not remember thee — With affection and sympathy, so as to damp my joys; let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth — Become incapable of singing, speaking, or moving; if I prefer not Jerusalem, &c. — If I do not value and desire Jerusalem’s prosperity more than all other delights, and consequently, if Jerusalem’s misery do not so deeply affect me as to hinder my delighting in any other thing. Hebrew, אם לא אלעה, literally, If I advance not Jerusalem in the beginning, or at the head, (as על ראשׁproperly signifies,) of my joy; that is, “if I again sing any such festive song till that joyful day shall come, when I shall see Jerusalem and her holy solemnities restored.” “The whole nation,” says Dr. Horne, “may be supposed, in these words, to declare as one man, that neither the afflictions nor the allurements of Babylon should efface from their minds the remembrance of Jerusalem, or prevent their looking forward to her future glorious restoration. If any temptation should induce them to employ their tongues and their hands in the service of Babel rather than that of Sion, they wish to lose the use of the former, and the skill of the latter.” Thus, “the thoughts and affections of true penitents, both in prosperity and adversity, are fixed upon their heavenly country and city: they had rather be deprived of their powers and faculties than of the will to use them aright; and the hope of glory hereafter to be revealed in the church is the flower and crown of their joy.” 137:5-9 What we love, we love to think of. Those that rejoice in God, for his sake make Jerusalem their joy. They stedfastly resolved to keep up this affection. When suffering, we should recollect with godly sorrow our forfeited mercies, and our sins by which we lost them. If temporal advantages ever render a profession, the worst calamity has befallen him. Far be it from us to avenge ourselves; we will leave it to Him who has said, Vengeance is mine. Those that are glad at calamities, especially at the calamities of Jerusalem, shall not go unpunished. We cannot pray for promised success to the church of God without looking to, though we do not utter a prayer for, the ruin of her enemies. But let us call to mind to whose grace and finished salvation alone it is, that we have any hopes of being brought home to the heavenly Jerusalem.If I forget thee, O Jerusalem - The meaning here is, that to sing in such circumstances would seem to imply that they had forgotten Jerusalem; that they were unmindful of its sorrows, and cared not that it was desolate. The remembrance of its calamities pressed hard upon them, and they could not do anything which would seem to imply that they had become unmindful of the sufferings that had come upon their nation. One will not make merry when a wife or child lies dying - or on the day of the funeral - or over the grave of a mother. A joyous and brilliant party, accompanied with music, feasting, dancing, when a friend has been just laid in the grave, when the calamities of war are abroad, when the pestilence is raging in a city, we feel to be untimely, unseemly, and incongruous. So these captives said it would be if they should make merry while their temple was in ruins; while their city was desolate; while their people were captives in a foreign land.

Let my right hand forget her cunning - Let my right hand forget its skill in music - all its skill. If I should now play on the harp - as indicative of joy - let the hand which would be employed in sweeping over its strings become paralyzed and powerless. Let the punishment come where it would seem to be deserved - on the hand which could play at such a time. So Cranmer held the hand which had been employed in signing a recantation of his faith in the fire, until it was burned off, and dropped in the flames.

5, 6. For joyful songs would imply forgetfulness of their desolated homes and fallen Church. The solemn imprecations on the hand and tongue, if thus forgetful, relate to the cunning or skill in playing, and the power of singing. If I forget thee; if I do not retain a deep and sorrowful sense of thy ruin and misery, or if I indulge myself in mirth and jollity, as if I had forgotten thee.

Right hand; the chief instrument of playing upon musical instruments and of other actions.

Forget her cunning, i.e. lose its skill of playing. In the Hebrew it is only forget, without expressing what, to intimate the extent and generality of this wish; Let it forget or be disenabled not only for playing, but for every action in which it was formerly used. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,.... This was said by one or everyone of the Levites; or singers, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi; or by the congregation of Israel, as Jarchi; by one of them, in the name of the rest; or by the composer of the psalm. The Targum is,

"the voice of the Spirit of God answered and said, "if I forget", &c.''

that is, to weep over the calamities of Jerusalem; which might be thought, if the songs of Zion were sung; or to pray for the restoration of her prosperity and peace; as the church of Christ may be said to be forgotten, when men forget to mourn over its breaches, and show no concern for the reparation of them; or at the death of principal persons, which they lay not to heart; or at the great decay of religion in those that survive; or at the sins of professors, and their disregard to the word and ordinances: also when they forget to pray for her happiness in general; for the good of her members in particular; and especially for her ministers, that they may have assistance and success; and for a blessing on the word and ordinances, and for the conversion of sinners; and when they forget the worship of the Lord in it, and forsake the assembling of themselves together;

let my right hand forget her cunning; her skill in music, particularly in playing on the harp; see 1 Samuel 16:16; the harp was held in the left hand, and struck with the right; and that more softly or hardly, as the note required, in which was the skill or cunning of using it. Or let this befall me, should I so far forget Jerusalem as to strike the harp to one of the songs of Zion in a strange land: or let it forget any of its works; let it be disabled from working at all; let it be dry and withered, which, Aben Ezra says, is the sense of the word according to some; and Schultens (d), from the use of it in Arabic, renders it, let it be "disjointed", or the nerve loosened; see Job 31:22. Or the sense is, let everything that is as dear as my right hand he taken from me: or, as it may be rendered, "my right hand is forgotten" (e); that is, should I forget Jerusalem, it would; for that is as my right hand; so Arama. Some choose to translate the words thus, "may thou (O God) forget my right hand" (f); that is, to be at my right hand; to be a present help to me in time of need; to hold me by it, and to be the shade of it.

(d) Animadv. Philol. p. 181. (e) "oblita est nostra dextra", Castalio. (f) "Oblivisceris (O Domine) dexterae meae", Gejerus; so some in Michaelis.

{d} If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

(d) Even the faithful are touched by their particular griefs, yet the common sorrow of the Church is most grievous to them, and is such as they cannot but remember and lament.

5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem] To have consented would have seemed an act of unfaithfulness to Zion. Some of the exiles did forget the “holy mountain” (Isaiah 65:11). For the imprecation as a solemn asseveration cp. Job 31:21-22.

forget her cunning] So the aposiopesis is admirably completed in the Great Bible of 1540. Less forcibly the LXX and Jer. read the verb as a passive, ‘Let my right hand be forgotten,’ which is the rendering of Coverdale (1535), retained in the first edition of the Great Bible.Verse 5. - If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; literally, let my right hand forget; but the words supplied in the Authorized Version are necessary to bring out the sense, which is, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, so far as to desecrate thy sacred songs by making them an entertainment for the heathen, may I never have power to strike a note again!" 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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