Bless the Baby Killers (Psalm 137)
Human emotions are powerful. One moment all can be well, and we are happy. The next moment we can be in a state of flux.
We need to remember some things about the psalms. They are poetry. Because they are poetry, they contain much emotive language. They often contain hyperbolic language. Therefore, we need to be careful about taking everything literally. They contain human emotions. The psalmists don’t always say, “This is the right way for one to feel.” They simply say, “This is how I feel.”
Sometimes We Feel Like Crying, vv 1-3
The psalmist sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept. The Israelites had been taken into captivity in Babylon. While there God’s people sat down by the river and wept. The river was a common place for those in deep grief. The children of Israel are in deep grief, because they are in a foreign nation.
We are allowed to weep. We don’t always have to feel good. Sometimes we need to hurt. The children of Israel needed to hurt. God had sent them into captivity on account of their sin. God wanted them to hurt and wanted them to repent. Brethren, when we’re in error, we need to hurt.
The children of Israel hung up their harps. The children of Israel put their harps on the willows (or poplars). The Babylonians came and tormented the children of Israel, saying, “Sing us a song of Zion!”
Sometimes We Don’t Feel Like Singing, vv 4-6
After the Babylonians tormented the children of Israel, the Israelites said, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” The “Lord’s song” probably refers to psalms. The question is, “How can we sing a psalm and praise God in a foreign land?” “Foreign land” refers to an unclean or pagan country (Amos 7:17). The Israelites say, “How can we praise God with a bunch of heathen?”
God’s people don’t feel like singing. Sometimes we don’t feel like singing. James said, “Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise” (Js. 5:13). But, sometimes we aren’t cheerful. Sometimes we don’t feel like singing songs of praise. We don’t have to hide our feelings and pretend that all is well.
The psalmist needed to remember Jerusalem. If he didn’t remember Jerusalem, he prayed that his right hand would wither. The right hand was a symbol of strength and of livelihood. The psalmist says, “If I forget Jerusalem, let me loose all my strength and not be able to support my family.” If he didn’t remember Jerusalem, he prayed that his tongue would cleave to the roof of his mouth. He prayed that he might become mute if he didn’t remember Jerusalem. If he didn’t remember Jerusalem, he didn’t deserve to talk!
The psalmist wanted to set Jerusalem above his highest joy. Jerusalem was the place where the temple was (it had been burned-2 Ki. 25:9). Jerusalem was the place YHWH dwelt. The psalmist wanted to remember God’s dwelling place.
Sometimes We Feel Like Hating, vv 7-9
The psalmist wanted YHWH to remember that Edom had done nothing when Babylon. The Edomites encouraged the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. They cried out, “Tear it down I Tear it down! Down to its foundations!” The idea here is to destroy completely. Actually “lay bare” means “exposing nakedness.” The Edomites stood by and watched Judah be taken away (Ob. 11-14).
The psalmist wanted Babylon repaid for what they had done. The psalmist prays God’s blessing on those who would destroy Babylon.
The psalmist prays God’s blessing on those who would take Babylon’s infants and dash them against a rock. When a nation was overtaken, the victors would often take the losers children and hit them against rocks (2 Ki. 8:12). This was done to prevent the other nation from regaining power.
The psalmist is praying to God. He’s asking God’s blessing on those who execute justice. He remembers that vengeance belongs to YHWH (Deut. 3235). We can never take vengeance into our own hands.
The psalmist dealt with his emotions. He didn’t pretend as though they weren’t there. We, too, need to deal with our emotions. Pretending they aren’t there does nothing. Dealing with them allows us to get rid of them.
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Owingsville church of Christ in Owingsville, Kentucky.