The composer of Psalm 137 acknowledged the sorrow of his situation, recognizing that Judah had brought this chastisement upon themselves. But he didn't stay in the doldrums. He turned from the past to focus on God's unchangeable character, His faithfulness to fulfill promises, His desire to extend mercy with every opportunity. Finally, he turned his eyes to the horizon to anticipate the future.
Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, "Raze it, raze it
To its very foundation.
O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. (137:7–9)
It doesn't take a Bible scholar to discover that these are exceedingly emotional words. The writer feels passionate regarding the enemies of his beloved Zion. He mentions the ancient enemy of Edom in verse 7, then Babylon in verse 8. While brimming with zeal, he pronounces blessings upon those God may use to exact revenge against the enemies for their brutal and unmerciful treatment of the Jews. The critic reads this (especially verse 9) and attacks the Old Testament for its outrageous God of wrath. If you and I were of that vintage, it is doubtful that the lyrics of Psalm 137 would seem barbaric.
You probably recall the Adolf Eichmann trial of the past. One of our national periodicals covered the account in vivid detail. The journalist mentioned a Jewish man who had lost his parents and other close relatives in the horrible Nazi concentration camps. He stood abruptly to his feet in the audience of that courtroom and cursed Eichmann. He was told to sit down and restrain himself, which he refused to do. As he was escorted by force from the room, he screamed words to this effect: "Let me get my hands on that Nazi pig . . . just for sixty seconds . . . let me have him that I may torture him with my own hands!"
No one criticized that man who screamed those violent words. In fact, the magazine reporter expressed sympathy. Why? Because the man had suffered such a terrible loss, his memory was full and running over with rage. He longed for justice.
Note that the psalmist doesn't ask for divine permission to exact vengeance on his own terms, only that God might bring justice upon the heads of all who behaved cruelly toward Judah. According to Isaiah 13:14-16, the Babylonians brutally murdered the little Jewish children before their parents' eyes. With passionate pleas, the writer of this song concludes with a request for justice. By the end of the song, he rests his case with God.
From Living the Psalms by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
In Embraced by the Spirit, we step away from the heat of theological battle that analyzes and criticizes and move quietly and closely to the One who has been sent alongside to help.