Summary: No matter what is going on in life, praise the Lord!
If you know much about OT literature/writings, you will know that a lot of times, especially in Psalms, that the stories were written as poetic expressions of personal feelings/emotions, due to the circumstances, good or bad, that was taking place in the writers life. One of the primest examples of this is here in Ps. 137.
In studying the Bible, you discover that God had set a standard of conduct for the Israelite people. He said here’s the law, and you need to abide by it. He gave them the 10 commandments, and other rules concerning their daily life. And he vowed that if they would obey, he would bless them, watch over them, provide for them, and put a hedge of protection around them. But he also said that if they choose to disobey, then he would punish them by pushing back the hedge, and allowing their enemies to pursue and claim victory over them. Well, we know that this became a harsh reality in their lives. God wasn’t playing games, when he said in Is. 1:19-20 "If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land. But if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword". Sure enough, about 687 BC, here came the armies of Babylon to conquer them. Israel felt like Jerusalem was the capital city of God. As a matter of fact, the name Jerusalem even means "city of peace". They were inthrawled at the marvel of the temple, and all the other glorious things that were there. But, God told them he would not pull no punches when it came to the act of disobedience. All of the sudden, the Babylonians began setting buildings on fire, tearing down houses, ripping up the land, killing some of the people, and taking others, in particular the high elect of the nation captive. So now they set there, by the Rivers of Babylon, (a place that literally is interpreted ’place of confusion’) totally distraught at the fact they had just lost everything they had. V.1 "We sat down by the Rivers of Babylon and wept when we remembered Zion. As a matter of fact, we hung our harps on the willow trees, and have not intention of singing the Lord’s song again."
The Israelites were known for their singing/playing. At one point they went all around singing songs of praise to/about the Lord. But since they had reached a point here of thinking God could only move in Jerusalem, they decided they had nothing else to give praise about. The Babylonians asked them to sing a song. But they said we can’t sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. In other words, we can’t sing a song of praise in this place of bondage. If things were going good, and we had perfect peace/tranquility, we would have no problem singing praises. But as it stands right now, we have nothing to praise God about.
Now, I know there ain’t nobody in this place that’s ever felt like that, but let me tell you I can bear witness to what the writer’s saying. I mean, when blessings are just overflowing all around you, you’ve got plenty of money, lots to eat, everybody’s healthy, there’s widespread revival in the church, souls are getting saved/filled, miracles are all around us, etc. we just can’t help but shout the victory for the great goodness of the Lord. But all of the sudden, one day the bottom falls out. Suddenly sickness has attacked you, you went to the checking acct. and there’s nothing there, no food in the cabinets, church has a split/many leave, no one’s getting saved, etc. and we think to ourselves, how can we praise God in the midst of all this? But I will tell you, that in the moments of deepest despair, that’s the time to lift up a praise offering to the king. When the gates of hell have bombarded your life, just begin to lift Jesus up. THERE IS GREAT POWER IN YOUR PRAISE!