March 1, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:9 is one of those verses in Scripture that shocks us. How can such a verse be in God’s Word? How can any part of Scripture seem to celebrate the killing of babies? How in the world are we to make sense of this verse? How can we read it, not to mention pray it, as Christians? Didn’t Jesus call us to love our enemies and forgive them, not smash their babies against the rocks? How are we supposed to answer the opponents of Christianity who throw Psalm 137:9 in our faces?
I can’t begin to answer all these questions in this short devotion. But I do want to suggest some things to keep in mind as we read Psalm 137:9 and verses like it.
First, this verse is the outcry of someone who has been the victim of cruel injustice. It may well be that the anonymous author of Psalm 137 actually watched as his or her own babies were crushed by the Babylonian armies. It’s far too easy for those of us who have never experienced atrocities to dismiss or even judge the righteous, passionate anger of those who have suffered greatly. There are many in our world today who can understand the stirrings of vengeance.
Second, Psalm 137:9 expresses in poetic imagery the righteous judgment of God. The Babylonians, though used for God’s purposes, had done terribly evil things for which they deserved to be judged. Again, it’s easy for those of us who have not witnessed terrible injustice to neglect the need for and rightness of divine justice.
Third, Psalm 137:9 acknowledges something that we know is true—namely, that those who have suffered greatly do often find relief when justice is done. I’m reminded of families of murder victims who feel a sense of completeness when the murderer is put to death. Right or wrong, their feelings are surely understandable.
Fourth, Psalm 137:9 does not invite anyone to go out and hurt babies. Rather, it is a deeply felt cry before God, a naked confession of pain and a desire for justice. God and God alone has the right and authority to dispense his judgment on Babylon. Thus this verse does not condone our acts of vengeance on those who have hurt us. Rather it invites us to bring our desires before God.
Fifth, when we do this, when we lay our yearnings for justice—and, yes, even revenge—before the Lord, he calls us to a different way of being, a way of costly love, a way of humanly impossible forgiveness. Even as Jesus forgave those who crucified him, so we are to forgive. When we protest, “But I can’t do it!” God says, “Yes, I know. But I can do it through you.” In him, all things are possible, even forgiving those who have wronged us deeply. Christian history is filled with stories of martyrs and their families who were able to forgive their persecutors through the power of God.
Something to Think About:
Have you ever felt a strong desire to get revenge on someone? When? What did you do?
What happens when we offer to God our deepest feelings and desires, including our desire for revenge?
Something to Do:
Talk with your small group or a wise Christian friend about Psalm 137. See how others make sense of this unsettling psalm. Pray together for God’s wisdom to understand what he is saying to us through Psalm 137.
Gracious God, you know there is part of me that wishes this verse weren’t in Scripture. It makes me feel so uncomfortable. It seems so contrary to your grace and mercy.
Help me to understand this verse rightly, to read it in its context, both in Psalm 137 and in the whole of Scripture. Keep me from using this verse improperly to defend my own selfish desires for getting even with those who have wronged me. May I always read Psalm 137:9 in light of Jesus.
I pray today for those who have experienced terrible atrocities, who are victims of injustice. I pray for people who have experienced suffering that I can only begin to imagine. I pray for those who can really feel the passion of Psalm 137:9. Meet them in their suffering, Lord. Hear their anger and pain. Heal their hearts as only you can. Give them the power of your Spirit, who will enable them to do that which is impossible in human strength.
All praise be to you, God of justice, God of mercy, God of love. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Ezekiel’s Call to Be a Prophet (Ezekiel 1-17)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
The bible says we are to treat them as heathens and tax collectors if they refuse to hear you just before it says to forgive them 70 X 7. If one refuses to make his trespasses right with you, do we have to forgive them?
Thanks for your comment/question, Ray. One thing is to remember how Jesus treated heathens and tax collectors. He got in a bunch of trouble for hanging out with tax collectors. Second, our forgiveness of others is not based on them. It’s based on God’s forgiveness of us in Christ. God did not forgive us because we made things right with him. Rather, God’s forgiveness is the first step in God’s making things right with us.