In 587BC most of the nation of Judah was over-run by the Babylonians and taken to Babylon. Almost a century before this, Israel had been defeated and taken into captivity by Assyria. Prophets warned this would happen if the people of Judah didn’t stop their idolatry & repent. They were urged to repent by several prophets, but didn’t. Acceptance of other gods was their obvious sin. Eventually God used a foreign army to destroy Jerusalem and The Temple, even the ark of the covenant was lost, it looked like the end of Judah forever. (See Jeremiah 29) Prophets encouraged Jewish exiles to accept this experience as discipline from God. Their task was to settle and pray for Babylon and Babylonians, but not to become integrated. To keep their hearts fixed on the promise that God would bring the Jews back to Jerusalem was a huge task. They would need this Psalm to help them through 70 years of captivity, and forever help them remember how serious God is about keeping his word. Christians can use this Psalm for that same reason.
v1-2, Sitting by a river is a good place for refreshment, but when you are enslaved, refreshment is hard. But with God, all things are possible, Matthew 19:25-27.
v3: Could Captors encourage Israelites to become integrated by singing foreign songs? Maybe they are trying to get the Jews to see that God and His promises are consigned to the past; and make him just a memory? This no doubt would bring back memories of the glory of Solomon’s Temple, where those songs would have had their life! But now, they were sung mournfully. It may seem horrible that God would force his children under the hands of captors to sing about Zion as it lay in ruins, but the cold hard truth is that they would survive to have children rebuild it. The very next generation saw God’s glory in the Temple sort of regenerate in Jerusalem. Remember Luke 21:6, the words of Jesus teach Christians that God’s glory in physical Jerusalem would one day be forever destroyed, and only reside in human hearts. But for our future? Where is the glory of His Temple now? Heaven.
v4-6: Having a determination not to forget Jerusalem and what it represents. (Even though it lies in ruins!) is keeping focused on God’s promises for the future. This is how Christians can do more than just survive discipline, if we sing about our future, His power can help us grow through discipline. See Hebrews 12:11.
v7-8; First it was the Edomites, then it was the Babylonians, finally the Romans. What do they have in common? God used each of these nations to discipline his children. Jews are still to this day, objects of God’s testimony to the world; Rebel against me, and the only way I can show you my love is to discipline you, to near extinction, but yet always allowing my mercy to keep you in existence! See Luke 23:27-31. Jesus could see this discipline coming to God’s children as he went to the cross. If we think it is not like God to discipline us, we are in grave error.
v9, If we read this glibly, we can only conclude that God has a morbid interest in revenge, but none of Scripture should be read at a glance. It is stunning that God would allow his name, his children and his city to be drug through the gutter like this, but the underlying fact is; Not even horror can destroy God’s holiness and ability to share his holiness with repentant children, even if our enemies become his children! Remember it was the same evil people that committed the horror of crucifying Christ and stoning Stephen, which repented and became His holy children, See Acts 6:7 & Read Romans 12:20-21.