Psalm 137 New International Version (NIV) Psalm 137 1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
Psalms 137:1 - 4
ESV - 1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
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As indicated by the text cited in the question, the members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who had been exiled to Babylon could not sing the songs that they had sung before their exile because of their overwhelming sorrow at having been forcibly removed from their homeland, which made any memory of their lives prior to their exile -- even (or especially) memories of former good times -- too painful to recall, and rendered them unable to sing happy songs about them (and especially so because the ones who were demanding that they sing were the very people who had been responsible for their removal from Palestine).
Since Jerusalem’s music was connected to the joys of Promised Land life, the Captivity cut out any chance for singing songs of joy. If the Israelites complied with their captors’ request to sing Jerusalem’s songs and dance for them, the Jewish captives grief made this task distasteful and/or impossible to do. The songs celebrated the Lord and spoke of His power and goodness, but the people probably doubted and questioned this now that they were in Captivity. They hung their stringed instruments, their harps, in trees, maybe meaning that their joy died under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). This death of their joy could broaden to mean the death of our joy, too, only resurrected by Christ bearing the curse of our sin on the Tree of Calvary (Galatians 3:13).
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