Theme: Babylon and Jerusalem
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the need to trust God in the midst of great hardship and difficulty, and to wait upon him for help.
Scripture: Psalm 137:1-9
The Bible is filled with contrasts that lend substance and life to its teaching, and one of these is between Babylon, which stands for the world and its culture, and Jerusalem, which stands for God’s kingdom. This contrast is both literal and figurative, literal because there was an actual earthly Babylon matched by a literal earthly Jerusalem—earthly Babylon overthrew the earthly Jerusalem in 586 B.C.—but figurative, too, because the Bible also speaks of Mystery Babylon, on the one hand (in Revelation 18, 19), and on the other, a new heavenly Jerusalem (in Revelation 21, 22). 
It was a recognition of this distinction and the extent to which it is found throughout Scripture that led Saint Augustine to compose that first great Christian philosophy of history, The City of God. The City of God was probably the most influential of all books throughout the Middle Ages. In it Augustine wrote, “Two cities have been formed by two loves; the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.”1 He pursued that contrast carefully from Genesis to Revelation. 
Because of the importance of that theme, Babylon versus Jerusalem, it is hard to understand why there is not more of it in the psalms, particularly those psalms that were composed after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, the resulting exile and the restoration. But so it is. In fact, there are only two psalms in the entire collection that even mention Babylon (though there are many that mention Jerusalem): Psalm 87 and Psalm 137. Psalm 87 is the one John Newton used for the basis of his strong, stirring hymn, beginning, 
Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God. 
The other psalm, Psalm 137, is the one we come to now. 
Psalm 137 is a powerful, plaintive psalm. But it is also a hard psalm to read and handle, as well as an unusual one for this specific place in the Psalter. We remember that in this final section of the Psalter (Psalms 135-150) we are dealing with psalms of praise. But here is a psalm that admits to a time and place when such praise was emotionally impossible. Moreover, along with the touching pathos of the opening stanza, there is a harsh, angry outburst against those who destroyed Jerusalem and its people, and others who merely rejoiced in the city’s fall that comes at the end. 
But it is moving. Derek Kidner wrote, “Every line of it is alive with pain, whose intensity grows with each strophe to the appalling climax.”2 According to verses 1-3, the exile is past, but it is not in the very distant past. Therefore, the date of writing is shortly after the return. 
1Saint Augustine, The City of God, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), pp 282, 283. 
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 459. 
Study Questions: 

What is the literal and figurative contrast of which this psalm speaks? 
How is Psalm 137 different from other psalms near it? 
Describe the setting of the psalm. With what emotions does it deal? 
Contrast Babylon and Jerusalem from Revelation 18-19 and 21-22.

For Further Study: To learn more about Babylon, download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message from Jeremiah, “Fallen! Fallen Is Babylon the Great!” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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