By The Rivers In Babylon

Psalm 137

An EasyEnglish Translation with Notes (about 1200 word vocabulary) on Psalm 137

Gordon Churchyard

Words in boxes are from the Bible. Words in brackets, ( ), are not in the *Hebrew Bible.

The notes explain some of the words with a *star by them. A word list at the end explains the other words that have a *star by them.

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Jesus said, "You have heard that people used to say, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not fight against *evil. If someone hits you on the right side of your face, let him hit you on the other side also" (Matthew 5:38-39). ("*Evil" means something that is very, very bad.)

Psalm 137

v1   There we sat down, by the rivers in Babylon.
  We cried when we remembered Zion.

v2   There we hung up our *harps on the willow trees (special kind of tree).

v3   For there the people that made us *prisoners were very *unkind.
  "Sing us a song" they shouted. "Make us laugh with a song from Zion!"

v4   We just cannot sing the *LORD’s song in a foreign land.

v5   Jerusalem, if I forget you my right hand (will drop off!)

v6   My *tongue will stick to the top of my mouth
  if I do not remember you, Jerusalem.
  I think of you more than the things that I like best.

v7   *LORD, remember the people of Edom.
  This is what they said in the Day of Jerusalem.
  "Knock it down, knock it down to its *foundations!"

v8   Daughter of Babylon, someone will destroy you!
  That person will do to you what you did to us.
  He will be very happy then!

v9   He will catch your children and hit them with a rock.
  He will be very happy then!

The Story of Psalm 137

The *Jews lived in Judah. The country of Babylon was 1000 kilometres to the east. In 586 B.C., the soldiers from Babylon destroyed the capital city of Judah, Jerusalem. B.C. means years Before Christ came to the earth. They took the people that lived there as *prisoners to Babylon. A prisoner is someone in a prison. Or it is someone in a place that they cannot go away from. In 536 B.C. many of the *prisoners and their sons and daughters came back to Jerusalem. In 516 B.C., Persia (now Iran) destroyed Babylon.

This means that we can say when the *psalmist wrote Psalm 137. The *psalmist is the person that wrote the psalm. If you look at verses 1-3 of the psalm, you will see that he (or she) was in Babylon. If you look at verse 8, you will see that Persia has not yet destroyed Babylon. This means that the *psalmist probably wrote the psalm between 536 and 516 B.C. We call the time that the *Jews were *prisoners in Babylon "the *exile". There were two great rivers in Babylon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. There were also small rivers. But the people that lived in Babylon made them. They went between the Tigris River and the Euphrates River. We call them canals. By all these rivers and canals, there were trees. Today we would call them poplar or willow trees. The *Jews in the *exile met by these rivers. They probably talked about Jerusalem and Zion. Zion was one of the hills that they had built the city of Jerusalem on. The *psalmist remembered this when he went home. He also remembered that they could not sing songs about the *LORD in Babylon. Now he was home again. And he hoped that somebody would destroy Babylon as Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem.

What Psalm 137 means

Verses 1 – 3: The *psalmist is probably home again in Jerusalem or one of the towns near it. He remembered how the people of Babylon made them sad. It made them sad when they asked them to sing. They made music on harps. "*Unkind" means the opposite of "kind".

Verses 4 – 6: They could not sing to the *LORD in a foreign land. The right hand played the harp, the *tongue sang the words. *LORD is a special name for God that only his people use. It is the *covenant name. A *covenant is when two people (or groups of people) agree. God agreed to love and send help to his people. They agreed to love and obey God. They were in Babylon because the *Jews had not obeyed God.

Verses 7 - 9: Edom was a country to the south-east of Judah. It was an enemy of Judah. When Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, Edom was very happy! Now the *psalmist says that soon someone will destroy Babylon. He was right! "Foundations" are the hard bit of ground that you build a house on.

An Eye for an Eye

One of the rules in Judah was "an eye for an eye". This meant that if someone dug your eye out, you would dig his out. This was the rule in verse 9 of the psalm. The soldiers from Babylon killed many *Jewish children in 586 B.C. The *psalmist says that the same will happen to the children in Babylon. They did not want the children to fight the people that killed their parents. So they did not want them to grow up. That is why they killed the children. This is what they usually did in war. War is when countries fight each other. They even did this to *Jewish children in the Second World War. They hit them with rocks! (If you like words, you may like to know this: The word "rock" in Psalm 137:9 is the same word as the capital city of Edom!)

Now read the words that Jesus said at the top of the psalm. He said that his people must not do this. If someone hits you, you must not hit them back! You must let them hit you again! This makes following Jesus different from following other people. It is not easy to do it, but Jesus gives us the help to do it. Perhaps we understand the *psalmist when he wrote verse 9. But we do not have to copy him. What he thought was right in 516 B.C. But it is not right now. Jesus gave us new rules.

What the *psalmist said in 516 B.C. was right for another reason. If you asked for bad things to happen to people, it was a curse. A curse was a weapon (a way to fight) in war. It stopped other people attacking you. Christians do not need to curse people. Jesus will give them help, and stop people attacking them. He will do this if this is what he wants. If Jesus lets someone attack then he has a special reason for it.

Something to do

1.  When people do things that are bad, as in Psalm 137:9, then try to understand them. Do not get angry yourself ... it will not be a help!

2.  Remember the words of Jesus: "Love your enemies. And pray for the people that are very *unkind to you" (Matthew 5:44). If you pray for people, you may understand them better.

3.  Old ideas (like "an eye for an eye") may be bad. Tell people about the new ideas of Jesus.

Word List

covenant ~ two people have agreed what each should do (here, God and his people). Look in Psalm 120 about the covenant.

evil ~ very, very bad.

exile ~ away from your own country.

foundations ~ what people build houses on.

harp ~ a *musical instrument.

Jew ~ a person who is born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.

Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.

LORD ~ the *covenant name for God (in a *covenant you agree with someone).

musical instrument ~ something that makes music when you hit it (cymbals, drum), blow in it (flute, trumpet, horn, shofar) or touch it in a quiet way (harp, lyre). Many of these are in Psalm 150 in Book 5 of The Psalms of David.

prisoner ~ person that the enemy has caught and kept.

psalmist ~ the person that wrote a psalm (or psalms).

tongue ~ the part of our mouth that we talk with.

unkind ~ the opposite of kind.


© 1999-2002, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words).

December 2002

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