Ep.279: Psalm 138: Though I Walk in the Midst of Trouble.

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

In Psalm 137, the poet refused to sing for his captors in Babylon. Psalm 138 places the poet in Jerusalem, singing, praising, and worshipping in the temple.

Psalm 138 follows a trajectory we have come to know and love in the psalms. The poet opens with thanks and praise because God heard and delivered him (vv. 1-3). Then he says that God is worthy of world-wide praise because he looks after the world, not just Israel (vv. 4-5). Finally, the poet gives a personal testimony, saying:
  Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
      you preserve my life.
  You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
      with your right hand you save me (vv. 6-7).

The psalm ends with hope and a request: 
   The Lord will vindicate me;
      your love, Lord, endures for ever–
      hold fast the works of your hands (v. 8). 

The poet’s prayer is that this God of everlasting love will hold him tight, and never let him go. 

Let’s pray. 

We praise you, Lord, with all our hearts,
  before the gods we sing your praise (v. 1). 

We praise you above the gods of consumerism that rule our greedy society. Black Friday sales and Christmas discounts and Boxing Day extravaganzas are nothing compared to the glory of your name. As Jesus said, “Is not life more than food and your body more than clothes?” (Mat 6:25). 

We praise you above the gods of violence that rule the military-industrial complex. Armed drones roam the skies. Satellites spy on the earth. Ballistic missiles are armed and ready. But you are God of the world, king over the presidents of America, China, and Russia. 

  May the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed (v. 4). 

  Though you are exalted, God, you look on the lowly. As the poet says,
    Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
      you preserve my life (vv. 6a, 7). 

Thank you for not running credit checks to determine if we’re worthy. Thank you for not charging interest on our outstanding balance. Thank you are not mercenary, your motives not mixed, nor your advertising false. Thank you that as we walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve us.   

Thank you that your love endures forever,
    That you do not abandon the work of your hands (v. 8). 

We are the work of your hands, you are the breath that we breathe, you are the light in our darkness. Heal us of our sin sickness. Give our churches light and life. Restore our nations to sanity, our leaders to reality, our philosophers to wisdom. Do not forsake the world you made. Then with the poet:
  We will praise you with our whole heart,
      singing your praise before the gods (v. 1).    


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

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”. 

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube