Psalm 137

Psalm 137
Ordinary C45


By the riversA of BabylonB
    there we sat downC and there we weptD
    when we rememberedE Zion.F

Notes on verse 1

A “rivers” = nahar. From nahar (to flow, sparkle, be cheerful). This is a stream, river, or flood. Particularly used for the Nile or Euphrates. Figuratively, this can mean prosperity.
B “Babylon” = babel. Perhaps from balal (to anoint, mix, overflow) OR from Akkadian Bbilim; perhaps from earlier Sumerian name Ca-dimirra (gate of god). This is Babylon or Babel. See
C “sat down” = yashab. This is to sit and so to remain and so to dwell. It is sitting for any reason – as a judge, in order to ambush, or just sitting quietly. Causatively, this can mean settling or marrying. This can also mean continue, endure, or establish.
D “wept” = bakah. This is to weep, complain, or lament.
E “remembered” = zakar. This is to remember, to mark something so that it can be recalled, to be mindful of, to mention.
F “Zion” = tsiyyon. The word is related to tsyiyyun (signpost, monument); from tsavah (to charge someone, to command, order); from the same as tsiyyah (dryness drought); from a root meaning parched as desert, dry land. Zion can refer to a mountain in Jerusalem as well as another name for Jerusalem itself or the people.

On the willowsG thereH
    we hungI up our harps.J

Notes on verse 2

G “willows” = arab. 5x in OT. From the same as oreb (raven); from arab (to grow dark, close, become evening); from ereb (evening) or related to arab (to exchange, give or take on pledge, braid, intermix). This is a polar or willow. It is also the name of a wadi in Moab.
H “there” = tavek. This is among, middle, in the midst, the center. Perhaps, properly, to sever.
I “hung” = talah. This is to hang or suspend. It can also be used for hanging someone on gallows.
J “harps” = kinnor. Root may be to twang. This is a lyre or harp.

For there our captorsK
    askedL us for songs,M
and our tormentorsN asked for mirth,O saying,
    “SingP us one of the songs of Zion!”

Notes on verse 3

K “captors” = shabah. This is to carry away into captivity, bring away, capture, lead away.
L “asked” = shaal. This is to ask, inquire, beg, borrow, desire, request. It can also mean to demand.
M “songs” = dabar + shir. Dabar is from dabar (to speak, declare, discuss). This is speech, a word, a matter, an affair, charge, command, message, promise, purpose, report, request. It is a word, which implies things that are spoken of in a wide sense. Shir is from shir (to sing, singer). This is song, singer, or musical.
N “tormentors” = tolal. 1x in OT. Perhaps from yalal (to howl, wail, yell boisterously). This is one who causes another to howl – an oppressor or tormenter.
O “mirth” = simchah. From samach (to rejoice, be glad; properly, to brighten up; also used figuratively). This is joy, rejoicing, pleasure, or glee.
P “sing” = shir. Related to “songs” in v3. See note M above.

How could we sing the Lord’sQ song
    in a foreignR land?S
If I forgetT you, O Jerusalem,U
    let my right handV wither!W

Notes on verses 4-5

Q “Lord’s” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
R “foreign” = nekar. From the same as neker (misfortune, disaster). This is foreign or strange.
S “land” = adamah. From the same as adam (man, humankind); perhaps from ‘adom (to be red). This is ground, earth, soil as red, or land.
T “forget” = shakach. This is to forget or mislay – it is not knowing because of forgetfulness or inattentiveness.
U “Jerusalem” = yerushalaim. From yarah (to throw, shoot, be stunned; to flow as water so figuratively to instruct or teach) + shalem (to make amends, to be complete or sound). This is Jerusalem, dwelling of peace.
V “right hand” = yamin. May be from yamam (to go or choose the right, use the right hand; to be physically fit or firm). This can mean right hand, right side, or south. Since most people are right-handed, the metaphorical usage of this word presumes that the right hand is stronger and more agile. Thus, it is the instrument of power and action.
W “wither” = shakach. Same as “forget” in v5. See note T above.

Let my tongueX clingY to the roof of my mouth,Z
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not setAA Jerusalem
    above my highestBB joy.CC

Notes on verse 6

X “tongue” = lashon. This is tongue, talker, language, or wedge. It can also be a tongue of flame or a water cove.
Y “cling” = dabaq. This is to follow closely or abide fast, to cling or be joined together. Figuratively, it can mean to catch something by chasing after it, to overtake, or to stick. A man clings to his wife in Genesis 2:24, Shechem was deeply attracted to Dinah in Genesis 34:3, Ruth clung to Naomi in Ruth 1:14, Solomon clung to his foreign wives and concubines in 1 Kings 11:2. It is also used of a tongue sticking to the mouth, pursuing or overtaking as in battle, and also clinging to God.
Z “roof of my mouth” = chek. 18x in OT. Perhaps from chanak (to narrow; to dedicate, initiate, train, or discipline). This is gums, mouth, roof of the mouth, palate, speech, gums, taste.
AA “set” = alah. This is to go up, approach, ascend, be high, be a priority; to arise in a literal or figurative sense.
BB “highest” = rosh. This may come a word that means to shake. It is the head, captain, or chief. It can also be excellent or the forefront. It can be first in position or in statue or in time (i.e. the beginning).
CC “joy” = simchah. Same as “mirth” in v3. See note O above.

Remember, O Lord, against the EdomitesDD
    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down!EE Tear it down!
    Down to its foundations!”FF
O daughterGG Babylon, you devastator!HH

Notes on verses 7-8a

DD “Edomites” = ben + edom. Literally “children of Edom.” Ben is son, age, child. It is son in a literal or figurative sense. Edom is related to “land” in v4. from the same as adom (see note S above). This is Edom, Edomite, or Idumea.
EE “tear…down” = arah. 15x in OT. This is to be naked, to empty, demolish, pour out, uncover, discover, raze, or leave destitute.
FF “foundations” = yesod. From yasad (to establish, appoint, instruct; to set in a literal or figurative sense; also, to sit down together and so to consult or take counsel). This is a foundation in a literal or figurative sense. It can also refer to a thigh or other base.
GG “daughter” = bat. Related to “Edomites” in v7. From ben (see note DD above). This is daughter or other close relationship in a literal or figurative sense.
HH “devastator” = shadad. This is to ruin, assault, devastate, oppress, destroy completely. Properly, it is being burly. Figuratively it is something that is powerful.

    HappyII shall they be who pay you backJJ
    whatKK you have doneLL to us!

Notes on verse 8b

II “happy” = esher. From ashar (to go straight, lead, guide; to be level and so to be right, blessed, honest, happy). This is happy or blessedness.
JJ “pay…back” = shalam. Related to “Jerusalem” in v. See note U above. This is to be complete or sound – to have safety mentally, physically, or extending to one’s estate. So, if these things are safe and complete, the implication is that one would be friendly; and, if being friendly, one would make amends and that friendship would be reciprocated. This is the root verb that “shalom” comes from, the Hebrew word for peace.
KK “what” = gemul. 19x in OT. From gamal (how one deals with someone whether positively or negatively – so to reward, requite; to wean or the work that goes into something ripening). This is benefit, deed, recompense. It is some treatment that is deserved or earned, whether positive or negative. It can be reward or requital.
LL “done” = gamal. Related to “what” in v8. See note KK above.

Happy shall they be who takeMM your little onesNN
    and dashOO them against the rock!PP

Notes on verse 9

MM “take” = achaz. This is to grasp, catch, seize, take and hold in possession. It can also be to be afraid or hold back.
NN “little ones” = olel. Perhaps from uwl (to nurse, suckle; can also be used of a suckling lamb). This is a child or infant.
OO “dash” = naphats. This is to shatter, break, scatter, dash in pieces.
PP “rock” = sela. Root may mean being lofty. This is a rock, cliff, crag, mountain. It could be used figuratively for obstinance or to show God as a refuge. It can also more generally mean fortress or stronghold.

Image credit: “By the Rivers of Babylon” by E.M. Lilien, late 19th or early 20th century.

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