On the River of Babylon, there we lived[i]
And we wept as we remembered Zion.
In the midst of the willow trees we hung our lyre
Because our captors[ii] required us to sing a song
Our tormentors[iii] were happy; they commanded us to sing a song from Zion.
How can we sing a song about the Lord in a foreign land?
If I forget you Jerusalem
Let my right hand be unable to play Zion’s songs[iv]
Let me be unable to sing[v] if I do not remember you
If I do not consider Jerusalem more important than my own happiness[vi].
Lord remember the sons of Edom
They cried out: destroy her! On the day Jerusalem was laid waste.
Oh daughter of Babylon who will be destroyed.
Happy are they who repay you for what you are owed for what you have done to us.
Happy are those who seize your children and smash them on the rocks
[i] Lit. “there we sat.” In the OT, this is a very common idiom for describing the place one lives. In Ge. 4:16 “Cain sat in the land of Nod”, Ge. 11:31 “The came to the land of Haran and they sat there,” Ge. 14:12 “and he sat in Sodom.” In most versions of the bible these verses are translated with words like “dwell,” “live,” etc… but the word is the same as is used in Ps. 137:1.
[ii] This word carries a sense of “captivity” or “captors” i.e. the ones who caused our captivity.
[iii] This is assumed to be oppressors but the meaning is uncertain. This is the only occurrence in the OT.
[iv] This entire phrase is composed of only two words in Hebrew i.e. תשכח ימיני or lit. “my right will forget”; the meaning of this idiom is uncertain and has been translated various ways. “Let my right hand whither,” “May my right hand be crippled,” “May my right hand forget its skill,” “Let my right hand forget how to play the harp.” In context, I believe the Psalmist is trying to express the idea that one cannot play (vs. 5) or sing (vs. 6) the music of Jerusalem.
[v] Lit. ”let my tongue be glued to my cheek.” Figuratively this expresses the inability to sing the “songs of Zion”
[vi] Lit. “if I do not cause Jerusalem to go above the top of my happiness”