Dashed on the Rocks

The Difficulties of Psalm 137

Matt Long

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

How shall we sing the LORD's song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, "Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!"
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!

Psalm 137

The book of Psalms is a book of poetry; most often each Psalm is a song written for a specific purpose. These songs and poems consist of praises to God, sorrowful lamentations, and joyous celebrations. Psalm 137 falls into the sorrowful lamentation category. It is particularly troublesome because of the last verse, which seems to endorse and look forward to babies being killed by hitting them against rocks.

The Psalmist here is speaking of Israel's captivity in Babylon (vs. 1). The southern tribes of Israel, the land of Judah, were all that remained of Israel after the Assyrians captured the northern tribes (2 Kings 15-17). Later, the southern kingdom was taken captive by Babylon (2 Kings 24-25).

In this Psalm, the psalmist is lamenting that the captors of the Jews, the Babylonians, are asking them to sing songs about Jerusalem, or Zion. Because these were songs of worship and praise to God, they would remind the Jewish people of their sin against God, the very thing which led to their painful captivity. These songs would also remind them of their longing to be back in Jerusalem.

The second stanza of the Psalm is a self-reflection of what the author would wish upon himself if he were to ever forget Jerusalem. The final stanza is what the Psalmist wishes upon his captors. While the picture is disturbing and graphic, it gives a real portrait of how desperate the Jews were and how badly they wished to be freed from captivity.

This Psalm is not advocating that people smash children on rocks. It is a song of lamentation, crying out to God for deliverance. This Psalm shows the truth of human depravity and how sometimes people wish and even pray for, harm upon their enemies. Proverbs 25:21-22 and Romans 12:19-21 remind us instead that we should not take a vengeful approach toward our enemies, but that we should remain holy, even with those who wish us harm.

Image Credit: Eelffica; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | Hardships

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Published 3-6-17