Edited from a Prayer Meeting exhortation by bro Sim Yeow Meng on 28 September 2001

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
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.”
(Psalm 137:5–6)

Suppose there is something unspeakably excellent and dear to your heart. And this thing is greatly afflicted and in much ruin, so that you are deeply burdened and weighed down by the thought of it, how would you express such a burden in words?

In our text, the psalmist is expressing just such a kind of burden. But these words are so heavy and painful that anyone reading them will, no doubt, wonder if there is not a hint of exaggeration on the part of the psalmist.

But when we consider the fact that his words are divinely inspired, he being moved by the Spirit of God as he speaks, we have no doubt that he is expressing exactly how he felt.

And this being so, it will surely be profitable for us to seek to understand the cause behind his great burden. If the psalmist is rightfully burdened, should we also not be burdened as well? And if we should be burdened as well, what is the thing that should cause us to be burdened? What is the occasion that should bring about this burden in our heart?

Jerusalem is the Church

Even with a cursory reading of the text, it is not difficult to see that the psalmist is expressing a great affection for Jerusalem. There are two statements in these two verses, and both say the same thing: they speak of the great love and care that the psalmist has for Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem, as you may know, does not refer to the physical city in the Middle East. It refers, rather, to the Church of God, or the people of God, who made up that city. It is just like when we speak about praying for the Church, we do not refer to the physical building where believers congregate, but to the members who make up the church, or the “lively stones, that built up [the] spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:5). Thus, Jerusalem is a term signifying the people of God.

The psalmist says, “if I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” In the preceding words, he tells us that he was in Babylon, and there, the Babylonians required of him and his companions to entertain them with the songs of Zion. He says in verse 1, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” Then in verse 3, we read, “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.”

But how could the servants of the Lord use the songs of Zion for entertainment, much less for the benefit of those who destroyed their beloved Jerusalem and are holding them captive. “How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?” (Ps 137:4), the psalmist exclaims.

With this in mind, we see that by the words, “let my right hand forget her cunning” (v. 5), he means losing his skills of playing musical instrument in accompaniment to the singing of the songs of Zion. And notice that the words “her cunning” are actually in italics in the KJV, which means that they are not found in the Hebrew text. They were added by the translators to give us a more complete sense of the words. Matthew Poole has this to say about the words in the original:

In Hebrew, it is only forget (i.e., let my right hand forget), without expressing what, to intimate the extent and generality of this wish; Let it (i.e., the right hand) forget or be disenabled not only for playing, but for every action in which it was formerly used.

In other words, let it (i.e., my right hand) lose its function and all skills that it possesses. Let my right hand be totally useless.

And not only that, “if I do not remember thee [Jerusalem],” he says, “let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” That is, let me lose my ability to speak. This is not merely a handicap of speech, but a total inability to speak. Let me lose my ability to sing and communicate.

Thus, we see, the great burden that the psalmist has for the Church. Should I not have Jerusalem fill my mind, let these terrible things befall me!

We may ask: Why does the psalmist have such a great love and care for the Church? To answer this question is to find out why believers ought to love the Church.

The answer, I believe, may be clearly seen when we consider several truths taught in the Scripture about the Church.

We must Love the Church

First and foremost, a believer should love the Church because she is the Church, not of man, but of God. She belongs not to any man, nor to any race, people or country, but to God, and solely to Him. Hence, in at least eight places in the Scripture, she is called “the church of God.” You may find these in Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13 and 1 Timothy 3:5.

Now, we are able to love God, because He first loved us (see 1 John 4:19), and has shown us His great unconditional and everlasting love, despite our lowliness and unworthiness. Not only do we have nothing upright in us but, on the contrary, we were evil and hated Him. Hence, knowing His great love for us, our hearts melt in a constraining love for Him. And not only for Him, but for all that belongs to Him.

If a child in poverty is often driven to tears whenever he witnesses his parents’ many great acts of sacrifices and love for him, and is spurred in his heart to love them and be filial towards them, then how much more should a believer be moved by God’s sacrificial love for him?

As we love God, very naturally, we will also love the things of Him, that is, all things that pertains to Him. And the Church is not just an ordinary possession of His. She is His treasured possession. To her, it is said: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” (1 Pet 2:9).

Again, concerning her, the Scripture declares: “he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eyes” (Zec 2:8). You may know that the apple of one’s eye refers to the pupil, and the pupil is the most sensitive and most carefully protected part of a person’s body.

As we love God, very naturally, we will also love His Church. Things that grieve Him will also affect us. Things that please Him will also bring cheer to our hearts. Things that are precious to Him will also be precious to us.

Secondly, a believer should love the Church because Christ loves her as His Bride and gave Himself for her. Thus we read, in the entire book of the Song of Solomon, of the love between Solomon and the Shulamite, which is a type of the love between Christ and His beloved Church.

Notice how in the book of Revelation, the Church is both referred to as Jerusalem and the wife of the Lamb:

… Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God (Rev 21:9–10).

Consider how precious she is to Christ! In Acts 20:28, the Apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Concerning these words, Richard Baxter once quoted an ancient teacher saying:

Oh, if Christ had but committed to my keeping one spoonful of His blood in a fragile glass, how curiously would I preserve it, and how tender would I be of that glass! If then He has committed to me the purchase of His blood, should I not as carefully look to my charge? What sirs, shall we despise the blood of Christ?

Though to us who are not ministers, God has not committed any congregation to our charge, yet shall we think that the object for which the blood of Christ was shed is not worthy of our love?

Moreover, it has been said by Christ, “as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt 25:40) and “as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Mt 25:45). Whatever good we do to the Church of God, we do it unto Christ. Similarly, whatever needful things we neglect to do to her, we neglect to do unto Christ.

When the Apostle Paul was formerly breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the church, the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). You see here again, whatever we do to her, we are doing to Christ. And whatever we neglect to do for her, we neglect to do for Christ; she is the beloved of Christ.

The psalmist says,

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. 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 (Ps 137:5–6).

Finally, a believer should love the Church of God because he is a member of this body of Christ. The Church is the mystical body of Christ. Writing to the congregation at Corinth, the Apostle Paul says: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Cor 12:27).

And as a member of this body of Christ, a believer, together with fellow saints and the household of God, both prospers and falls with the Church. Hence, when Haman the enemy of the people of God secured the king’s approval to destroy the church, Mordecai said to Esther:

Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed… (Est 4:13–14).

When the Church of God, during the time of Moses, plunged into great unbelief through the report of the ten faithless spies, the entire Church was withheld from possessing the promised land until a long 40 years later. Even Caleb and Joshua, men of exceptional and unwavering faith who did not join in the dissimulation of the ten spies, had to suffer the 40 years of wandering with the rest of the Church.

When the Church of God was in apostasy, what troubles and oppressions could confront even the faithful believer! During the times of apostasy in the days of Elijah, even a man of God like Elijah was so downcast that he prayed to God that he might die (1 Kgs 19:4, 14).

Moreover, when the Church of God faces persecution, very often her ministers and teachers are killed or taken away. Stephen was killed (Acts 7:59), so was James (Acts 12:2). Overnight, congregations lost their ministers, and were left with no one to care for them and instruct them. Believers who were previously well-taken care of suddenly became like sheep without a shepherd. Formerly they were fed with sound knowledge and teachings of God, but now, suddenly they were deprived of all these, left to be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness” (Eph 4:14).

A believer should love the Church of God because he is a member of this body, and he prospers and falls with the Church. Like Moses, who “[esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt,… [having] respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb 11:26), a believer’s lot is cast with the Church of God. The believer should feel the same loyalty as Ruth did for Naomi. What Ruth said concerning Noami, the believer says to the Church:

Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1:16–17).

Unless the Church progresses in the spiritual realm, a believer could hardly expect much progress for his soul, and those of his children. We either prosper with the Church of God or fall with her.

Seeing then how dear the Church of God is, should we not constantly bear in mind her good and well-being?

Directions for Remembering the Church

First, pray then for her! How needful it is for us to bring her before the throne of God always. Prayer for her is something that we ought not to neglect, especially when we gather together. Consider the intimate relation she stands to God: she is the Church of God and the Bride of Christ. And consider the intimate relation she stands to us, we prosper and fall with her. If we find it needful to pray for individual believers, what more the Church of God, the body of believers?

When you look at her today, do you not see how needy and distressed she is? She is often afflicted by the world in all the corners of the world. Wherever she is found in purity, she is in the minority, small and despised. In many places, she is hated and persecuted. And where there is no persecution, then she faces deception from grievous wolves of false teachers, and starvation from a lack of under-shepherds.

Can we watch in silence as she bleeds? Can we hold our peace when we see her, who is purchased by the blood of our Lord, being afflicted with every evil in the world?

She is one of the most principal things we ought to pray for. We ought to pray for her safety, for her strengthening, for her prosperity and for her purity.

In praying for her, we are bringing her good help, for then we call upon the Almighty hand of God to act for her, to bless her, and to prosper her. As we supplicate for her, we may wait to expect blessings and assistance from heaven to be poured down unto her, for our supplication is to a God who hears prayers and who has the power to bring all favourable things to come to pass in her, and is pleased to do so for He purchased her.

Then we shall see the Bride of our Lord, of which we are part, prospering. We shall see her growing in strength, in understanding and in faith. We shall see her increasing in consecration, in devotion and in love for her God.

Secondly, pray, pray for her. Pray for the families in her too. For there is no prosperous Church without prosperous Christian homes. When Christian families break down or decay, the Church degenerates accordingly.

Richard Baxter observes:

We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed. The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all.

Pray for a good government of her families and a diligent instructing of them on the Holy Scriptures, “which are able to make [them] wise unto salvation” (2 Tim 3:15).

Thirdly, what shall we say, but pray, pray, and pray for her. Pray for her members too. They are the “lively stones, [that are being] built up into a spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:5). Pray for the perfecting and edification for them. It has rightly been said that the strength of the Christians is the honour of the Church.

As her members are built up in evangelical knowledge, understanding and faith in God, the Church will inevitably be strengthened. Every spiritual muscle of knowledge, understanding and faith that her members attain will add to the health and wealth of the Church. Blessings from God for the Church may then be expected and prosperity near.


“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. 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” (Ps 137:5–6).

Brethren, even as we assemble week after week to pray, may we learn these lessons, and apply these lessons in our prayers. Let us remember to pray for her.

Edited by J.J. Lim