Ep.278: Psalm 137: Revenge Fantasy in Babylon.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 137 begins,
  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
      when we remembered Zion.
  There on the poplars
      we hung our harps,
  for there our captors asked us for songs,
      our tormentors demanded songs of joy
      saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
  How can we sing the songs of the Lord
      in a foreign land? (vv. 1-4).

The psalm ends shockingly with the poet’s fantasy about revenge:
  Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
      happy is the one who repays you
      according to what you have done to us.
  Happy is the one who seizes your infants
      and dashes them against the rocks (vv. 8-9).

Psalm 1 started with a beautiful blessing
  Blessed is the one
      who does not walk in the way of the wicked
  or stand in the way of sinners,
      or sit in the company of mockers. . .  (v. 1-2a). 

The poet of Psalm 137 is captive in Babylon, powerless, defeated, refusing to sing after the cruel destruction of Jerusalem, the obliteration of the temple, and the violence of war. Using the same word “bless” that occurs in Psalm 1, he says to Babylon, the evil empire:    
    Blessed is the one who repays you
        according to what you have done.
    Blessed is the one who seizes your infants. . . (vv. 8-9).  

The poet uses the word “bless” to introduce his most vicious curse against Babylon. I make four comments:

First, the psalm is realistic about the brutality of war. Genocide is not a modern invention, mass graves are not new. When Pharaoh feared his Israelite slaves might turn against him, he ordered the death of newborn boys. When Herod feared a new king had been born in Bethlehem, he ordered the death of infants. Babylon may have used a similar strategy to prevent a new generation of warriors in Jerusalem.

My second comment is about retributive justice. We have all wished someone would get a taste of their own medicine. When my brother poured pepper into my mouth, my mother grabbed the pepper shaker and poured pepper into  his mouth. Sweet, eh! Retributive justice at its finest. The poet of Psalm 137, awash in pain and injustice, fantasizes about Babylon getting a taste of its own violence.

Does the poet’s violent suggestion paint a picture of the world as God wants it? No, he paints the world we live in, the real world. Which leads to my third comment: the poet brings his world and his cause to God. He does not plan a regime of violence and revenge, he asks God for justice. And the poet paints a brutal, vengeful picture of the justice he seeks. I think God receives the poet’s pain and his suggestion, without agreeing to implement it.

And finally, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mat 26:52). The Babylonian empire, born and nurtured in violence, was destined for a violent end. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we live among evil empires, singing your songs in our land of exile. Like the poet, we fantasize about revenge and victory. Where is our Luke Skywalker who will unmask and destroy Darth Vader?  

We submit our cause to you, God. In the Book of Revelation, you prophesy the doom of the evil empire,  saying:
  Give back to her as she has given;
       pay her back double for what she has done.
       Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
  Give her as much torment and grief
      as the glory and luxury she gave herself (Rev. 18:6-7).

Lord, somehow, some day, we trust you to set this violent world to rights. Until then we wait patiently for you.  


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

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