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By the waters of Babylon

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posted on Dec, 10 2021 @ 05:02 PM
This psalm is not one of the “Songs of Ascent”.
The end of the Songs of Ascent is postponed until next week, because I like to finish a series just before Christmas, on a more upbeat note than this psalm would provide.
This psalm evidently comes straight out of the Exile, the experience being fresh, the emotions being raw.

The first half of the psalm gives a picture of one state of emotion.
The people were in exile by the waters of Babylon. The presence of water sticks in their minds, because they are not used to seeing water in such large quantities. They have passed from a land where the laws deal with unwanted fire passing from one field to another, to a land where the laws deal with excess water passing from one field to another.
They remembered their lost Zion, and therefore they wept.
Their captors rubbed salt into the wounds by demanding to be entertained by their traditional songs of joy. Evidently the temple of Jerusalem was already famous for its musical tradition, besides being famous for having no image as an object of worship (or having a secret and mysterious image, if you believed the rumours).
But the people were not in the mood for singing songs of joy, so they hung up their harps as a sign of refusing to play.
The willow was available because it grows near water. The association between the willow and sadness may have begun with this psalm.

The pop-song adaptation used only these first four verses.

Nevertheless, the modern reader likes to imagine the exiles responding to the command by singing this very psalm to their captors, thus taunting their unconscious audience with the insults in the closing verses.
This would have been dangerous, though. The ancestors of the Babylonians came out of the Arabian desert like the ancestors of the Hebrews, moving north-east instead of north-west. Their language was Aramaic. That’s why Aramaic became the “lingua franca” of the Babylonian empire, and eventually the normal language of the Jews themselves. So it is not at all obvious that the Babylonians would have been incapable of grasping the gist of what the Jews were singing.

Vv5-6 A declaration of loyalty to Jerusalem.
“Let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth” if I do not remember Jerusalem and value her above the highest joy.
Possibly this refers to his playing hand and his singing voice, in which case the point is that he is refusing to engage them in any other service.
Is he in danger of valuing the city for its own sake, rather than as the dwelling-place of God?

V7 Inviting the judgement of the Lord against Edom.
This inserted verse will be a puzzle, if we do not remember, as the Jews were obviously remembering, what the Edomites had only just been doing.
When the Babylonians destroyed the kingdom and the city, the remaining inhabitants of Judah were left vulnerable. The Edomites, more than anybody else, exploited that vulnerability ruthlessly.
As we see in this verse, they encouraged the destruction of Jerusalem; “Rase it down to its foundations”.
The prophet Obadiah describes in detail how they gloated over the destruction, how they invaded the land, looted the goods of the people, captured them and delivered them to the slave-markets. Thus they played their part in the Dispersion of the Jews.
Ezekiel ch35 lays out their motives. The Edomites were ambitious of taking over the entire territory of Judah and Israel, “these two nations and these two countries”, and making it their own. Although they did not succeed, they certainly pushed their boundaries northwards, as can be seen by looking at the maps found in Bibles and comparing the “Edom” of the kingdom period with the Roman province of Idumaea.
That is why Malachi says God hates Esau.
That is why the great judgement time of Isaiah ch63 sees the Lord covered in blood from Bozrah.

Vv7-8 Inviting the world to take revenge upon Babylon, the “devastator”.
Presumably the action of v8 is precisely what the Babylonian soldiers had been doing in Jerusalem, so that the spoken emphasis would be on “your”. Eye for an eye.

We are shocked by the spirit of vengefulness in v8, as an inappropriate model for Christians.
Perhaps it is best to understand that they are not intended as our model. These words are spoken by humans, not by God.

Different parts of the Old Testament have different functions. The laws are there to show the kind of behaviour that God wants his people to adopt, though they are also mixed with human customs and traditions. The histories show how the relationship between God and his people worked in practice, and they demonstrate many human flaws. The psalms are expressing the reactions of God’s people in worship. What we have in v8 is a reaction which is only too human. It is not exactly what God wants them to feel, but it is truthfully what they do feel.

I frequently describe the Bible (and even the history of the church) as a “joint project” between God and man. Whenever genuine flaws are discovered there, it ought to be possible to see that the fault lies with the human contribution.

The commentator Weiser, without giving any reason, takes it for granted that this song was written after the Jews returned from exile. In that case the sense of absence from Jerusalem would be a remembered emotion, and the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus would have taken place already, implying that the demand for vengeance was looking for something more.

edit on 10-12-2021 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 10 2021 @ 07:01 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

I was familiar with the Sublime version, and knew it was a cover, but had never heard the original version. Thanks for sharing.

posted on Dec, 11 2021 @ 03:40 AM

originally posted by: DISRAELI

I frequently describe the Bible (and even the history of the church) as a “joint project” between God and man. Whenever genuine flaws are discovered there, it ought to be possible to see that the fault lies with the human contribution.

The Lord God our Farther doesn't hate and never feels jealous. The fault lies with our hateful jealous creator not us.

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