There are two opposing approaches to interpreting the time and mood of this psalm. Some translators have assumed the psalmist was back in Jerusalem after the exile when he wrote this psalm and he was a shocked witness to the horrific devastation wrought by the pagans in Jerusalem. Thus the last two verses of this psalm reflect his (understandable) anguish and anger at the destroyers. On the other hand, one may also justifiably assume the psalmist was still in Babylon and in dreadful despair when he wrote this. There seems to be little support for the first assumption -- only the use of the word there (rather than here) in vss. 1 and 3. But a stronger hint of support can be found for the second assumption. That support lies with the famous words found in vss. 5 and 6 below. These are probably not words that would be uttered by someone who was already in Jerusalem. Because of this I favor the latter assumption, and so I translate accordingly. Under this assumption can the two verses at the end of this psalm still be justified? I believe so. In defense of the psalmist’s angry and ugly denunciation in the last two verses, I can see it as reasonable for a hopelessly despairing exile who is being constantly mocked and psychologically tormented, even as we in the comfort of our homes may condemn his hating attitude.
עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ גַּם־בָּכִינוּ בְּזָכְרֵנוּ אֶת־צִיּוֹן׃ 137:1
Psal. 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sit, also weep,
as we remember Zion.
עַל־עֲרָבִים בְּתוֹכָהּ תָּלִינוּ כִּנֹּרוֹתֵינוּ׃ 137:2
Psal. 137:2 On the willows in its midst
we have hung up our harps.
כִּי שָׁם שְׁאֵלוּנוּ שׁוֹבֵינוּ דִּבְרֵי־שִׁיר וְתוֹלָלֵינוּ שִׂמְחָה שִׁירוּ לָנוּ מִשִּׁיר צִיּוֹן׃ 137:3
Psal. 137:3 For there our captors ask of us words of song,
and our tormentors, of gladness:
“Sing for us from a song of Zion.”
אֵיךְ נָשִׁיר אֶת־שִׁיר־יְהוָה עַל אַדְמַת נֵכָר׃ 137:4
Psal. 137:4 How could we sing a song of the Lord
for a land of foreign gods?
אִם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי׃ 137:5
Psal. 137:5 Were I to forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither.
תִּדְבַּק־לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי אִם־לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי אִם־לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת־יְרוּשָׁלִַם עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי׃ 137:6
Psal. 137:6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I were not to remember you,
if I were not to exalt Jerusalem over the sum of my joy.
זְכֹר יְהוָה לִבְנֵי אֱדוֹם אֵת יוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם הָאֹמְרִים עָרוּ עָרוּ עַד הַיְסוֹד בָּהּ׃ 137:7
Psal. 137:7 Remember, Lord, regarding the children of Edom, the day of Jerusalem,
who were saying,
“Lay bare, lay bare, even to its foundation!”
בַּת־בָּבֶל הַשְּׁדוּדָה אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם־לָךְ אֶת־גְּמוּלֵךְ שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ׃ 137:8
Psal. 137:8 Daughter of Babylon, the devastator,
happy shall be he who will repay you your dealing
that you deal out to us.
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת־עֹלָלַיִךְ אֶל־הַסָּלַע׃ 137:9
Psal. 137:9 Happy shall be he
who will seize and dash your children against the rock.
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