This fine song, blended as it is of tears and fire, with its plaintive opening and its vindictive close, is one of the clearest records left in Hebrew literature of the captivity, but whether it dates immediately from it, or looks back with a distant though keen and clear gaze, is difficult to decide. Babylon may only have been on the verge of its doom, or she may already have fallen. (See Note on Psalm 137:8.) It is possible that just as long afterwards another great power was symbolised under the name, so here the ruin of the Persian or Grecian dominion may be covertly invoked under the symbol “daughter of Babylon.” The rhythm characteristic of the “songs of degrees” reappears here.
The LXX. prefix a curious title “To David of Jeremiah;” Vulg., “Psalmus David Jeremias,” which has been explained “a David-like song by Jeremiah.”
They that wasted us.—A peculiar Hebrew word which the LXX. and Vulg. take as synonymous with the verb in the first clause. The modern explanation, “they that make us howl,” is far preferable. Those whose oppression had raised the wild Oriental scream of lamentation, now asked for mirth.
Songs of Zion—or, as in the next verse, songs of Jehovah, were of course the liturgical hymns. Nothing is more characteristic than this of the Hebrew feeling. The captors asked for a national song, as the Philistines asked for sport from Samson, to amuse them. The Hebrew can think only of one kind of song, that to which the genius of the race was dedicated.
Of Jerusalem’s choir in Babylon it might truly be said:
“Like strangers’ voices here they sound,
In lands where not a memory strays.
Nor landmark breathes of other days,
But all is new unhallowed ground.”
TENNYSON: In Mcmoriam.
Rase . . .—Literally, make naked or bare. (Comp. a similar use of another verb, Micah 1:6.) The LXX. and Vulg. have “empty out, empty out.”
Thereof.—Literally, in it.
Who art to be destroyed.—Considerable doubt attaches to the meaning of the Hebrew word here. Our version is that of Theodotion. Aquila and Jerome have “wasted” (comp. Prayer Book version); Symmachus, “robber;” the LXX. and Vulg., “wretched.”
As pointed, the word is a passive participle, and must be rendered as by Aquila, “wasted” or “destroyed,” but with the recollection that a Hebrew would thus speak proleptically of a doom foreseen though not accomplished. Delitzsch quotes an Arab saying: “Pursue the caught one “—i.e., sure to be caught.
The “luxury of revenge” is well expressed in this beatitude, pronounced on him who can carry out to all its bitter end the lex talionis. Commentators have in turn tried to disguise and justify the expression of passion. Happily the Bible allows us to see men as they were without taking their rules of feeling and conduct as ours. “The psalm is beautiful as a poem—the Christian must seek his inspiration elsewhere.”
Stones.—Better, cliff or rock.
For this feature of barbarous cruelty with which ancient war was cursed see 2 Kings 8:12; Isaiah 13:16; Hosea 10:14, &c; and comp. Homer, Iliad, xxii. 63: “My bleeding infants dashed against the floor.”