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20 Have "respect unto the covenant: For the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. *1 O let not the oppressed return ashamed: Let the poor and needy praise thy name. * Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: Remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. * Forget not the voice of thine enemies: The tumult of those that rise up against thee "increaseth continually.
m Gen. 17.7. Lev. 26.44, 45. * Heb. ascendeth. Jonah 1.2.
INTRODUCTION TO PSALM CXXXVII.
When the Hebrew captives had passed the Euphrates, they were distributed through different provinces of the empire, but mostly in the neighbourhood and territory of Babylonia proper. Thrust apart, and prohibited a free intercourse with each other, they were deprived of much of that consolation which arises from mutual sympathy and counsel.
The province of Babylonia and the southern district of Mesopotamia, embrace the low lands about the Euphrates and Tigris. The soil is a rich, bituminous, alluvial bottom, and the climate warm and salubrious; adapting the country to the most varied and prolific vegetable growths. As rain is a rare phenomenon in the hot season, the dews are the more copious; and to supply the deficiencies of moisture, besides the principal rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, and their several small tributaries, which traverse the country in different directions, numerous artificial canals intersect each other, through which water is copiously distributed for irrigating the soil. Tillage, in this country, anciently took more the character of gardening than of common husbandry, which everywhere threw a soft, enchanting beauty over the landscape scenery. This was probably the land of the original “Eden;” and it certainly was the region from which the Oriental imagination derived its ideal image of landscape gardening, to which such frequent allusion is made in Scripture. But to the exiled Hebrew it had no charms, or power to please. Never was the love of country, or the contempt of foreigners, more deeply rooted in the human heart, than in these unhappy children of Abraham. Their hands disdained to toil in the land of their heathen conquerors, and their useless harps hung sad and silent upon the green willows that fringed the banks of those lovely streams. The willows of Babylonia, on the banks of Euphrates, are so plentiful, that Sir R. K. Porter says: “Its banks were hoary with reeds, and the gray osier willows were yet there, on which the captives of Israel hung up their harps and, while Jerusalem was not, refused to be comforted.” “In their captivity and dispersion it was customary for the Jews to hold their religious meetings on the banks of rivers, (Acts xvi, 13;) and sometimes they built their synagogues here when expelled from the cities.”—Bagster. The Hebrew chants were solemn, devout, sublime, earnest, and soul-inspiring. The effeminate Babylonians were admirers of song, but neither their religion, their patriotism, nor their tradition supplied them with themes which could vie with the sublimity of Hebrew poetry. Above all, they lacked the “inspiration of the Almighty,” which alone can elevate man above himself, above nature, above cherubim and seraphim, and hold him in trembling, exultant sympathy with the Infinite mind. They had heard of the Hebrew bards, and of the fame of the Levitical choristers in the temple worship, and they now asked the exiles to sing them one of the songs of their native land. It might have been kindly meant, but to the captives it seemed to mock their grief, and aggravate the sadness of their misfortunes. The Hebrew epic songs were all highly theocratic and national in their character. They applied to their condition when they had a country, a city, a temple, and when Jehovah acknowledged them as his people. The thought of these national odes and devotional Psalms, now recalls to mind the present wasted condition of their country, their ruined city and temple, and their apparently annulled theocracy. The dreadful hour of their final, fruitless struggle with the Chaldean army; the awful night of the capture and conflagration of Jerusalem; the fierce cry of the mercenary soldiers of Edom, who served in Nebuchadnezzar's army when the city was taken, saying, “Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation;” the brutal violence of the soldiery, sparing neither age nor innocence, mother nor infant, all arose to mind. “How could they sing one of the Lord's songs in a strange land?” The demand for a song of Zion only served to open in their hearts fresh fountains of grief; and this their grief, so lively and so sacred, they now utter in song, mingling with their sad lament the strongest sentiments of national faith and affection, and bitterly and solemnly execrating the authors of their calamity. On the sins of Edom and the part they acted in this war against Judah, and God's judgment against her, see Obadiah, and Jeremiah xlix, 7–22; Ezekiel xxv, 12–14; Lamentations iv, 21, 22.
PS ALM CXXXVII.
DURING THE CAPTIVITY, WHEN THE EXILEs werE AsKED TO SING ONE OF THE “SONGS OF ZION.”
The constancy of the Jews in captivity, 1–6; the Psalmist erecrates Edom and Babylon, 7–9.
* By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. * We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
* For there they that carried us away captive required
of us ‘a song; And they that 'wasted us required of us mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing the LoRD's song
In a 'strange land?
i Heb. the words of a song. * Heb. laid us on heaps. * Heb. land of a stranger.
* If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her cunning. 6 If I do not remember thee, Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I prefer not Jerusalem above “my chief joy. 7 Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom In the day of Jerusalem; Who said, “‘Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.” 8 O Daughter of Babylon, "who art to be “destroyed, Happy shall he be, 'that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. ° Happy shall he be, That taketh and dasheth thy little ones against "the
INTRODUCTION TO PSALMS XIV, LXXVII, XLIX, LIII, LXXXIX, CXXIII, XIII, XXXVII, AND XXXVI.
PSALMS OF ASAPH, KORAH, ETHAN, AND OTHERs.
The condition of the Hebrew captives in Babylon varied under different monarchs. Nebuchadnezzar, who was one of the greatest monarchs that ever reigned in the East, had been brought to the knowledge of the true God by a succession of marked and impressive miracles. Daniel had interpreted his prophetic vision of the golden-headed image; and afterward, at the close of his wars, when he set up a golden image in the plains of Dura, with a view to ascribe the honour of his victories to Bel, the patron god of the Babylonians, his idolatry was rebuked, and the superiority of the God of the Hebrews manifested, by the deliverance of the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace. At length, near the close of his life, the interpretation of his vision of the great tree, followed by the seven years of humiliation of the monarch, wrought an entire reformation in his life and character, and caused him openly to renounce idols and profess his faith in Jehovah. These circumstances, combined with the constant influence of Daniel and his companions at court, induced a favourable sentiment toward the Jews, and extended to them the protection of government. Nebuchadnezzar reigned forty-five years, (we follow Dr. Lightfoot's succession of the kings of Babylon,) and was succeeded by Evil-Merodach. This monarch liberated King Zedekiah from prison, and restored him to the rank of a prince amcng his nobility; and, thus far, seems to have evinced a favourable disposition toward the captives. 2 Kings xxv, 27–30; Jeremiah lii, 31–34. Still, as he abandoned himself to debauchery and excess, it is quite probable that, in the neglect of public affairs, the captives suffered much from the local exactions and oppressions of their neighbours; of which a remiss and neglected administration would take no account. Evil-Merodach reigned twenty-three years, and was succeeded by his son Belshazzar, an effeminate and worthless monarch, who abandoned himself to all sorts of debauch and infamy. Nebuchadnezzar had published his own faith in Jehovah, by edict, through all the provinces of his empire, and had commanded his subjects to do homage to the Hebrews’ God. It does not appear that Evil-Merodach took any active measures to counteract this reformation in religion, though he evidently paid no heed to it; but it does appear that the impious Belshazzar took direct measures to restore the credit of idolatry, by committing gross sacrilege toward Jehovah, and “praising the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone.” Profiting nothing by the experience of his illustrious progenitor, Nebuchadnezzar, he brought back again that licentiousness of the court which idolatry alone could tolerate. Daniel, too, had evidently lost that influence at court, and that authority in public affairs, which he had enjoyed during the previous reigns, and seems to have been living in comparative obscurity. Belshazzar had forgotten him, and Daniel was