In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the need to trust God in the midst of great hardship and difficulty, and to wait upon him for help.
Scripture: Psalm 137:1-9
Christians may have problems with the vindictiveness and violence of this passage of Psalm 137, but it is important to notice other points as well. In yesterday’s study, for instance, we noted that the words are an appeal to God for justice. Today we look at two other things evident in these verses.
2. The judgments are only what God himself decrees in other places. As far as Edom is concerned, we should remember that an entire book of the Bible was written to declare God’s coming judgment on that nation, as well as judgments being pronounced in other places in the prophetic writings. The book that focuses on Edom is Obadiah, and the reason given for the judgment is precisely what is alluded to in this psalm, namely, that when Jerusalem fell the people of Edom did not mourn for their brother nation’s suffering, as they should have done, but rejoiced in the destruction instead. The prophet adds that the Edomites “stood aloof,” rejoiced[d],” “seize[d] their wealth” and even “hand[ed] over the survivors” when they caught them (Obad. 11-14).
Other judgments on Edom may be found in Isaiah 34:5-15, 63:1-4; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Lamentations 4:21, 22; Ezekiel 25:12-14, 35:1-15, 36:5; Joel 3:19; and Amos 1:11, 12.
As far as Babylon is concerned, there are extensive prophecies against that nation, too, in Isaiah 13:1-14:23; 21:1-17; 47:1-15; and Jeremiah 50:1–51:64. But most telling of all is the account of the destruction of Mystery Babylon in Revelation 18 and 19. In those chapters the kings, merchants, sea captains and others mourn for the city. Even an angel joins in, crying, “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again” (Rev. 18:21). The redeemed rejoice in God’s judgment, crying, “Hallelujah!” as they praise God for it.
3. This is precisely what God has done. Romans 2:6 says that God “will give to each person according to what he has done” (citing Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12). And he has done it! Today the fortresses of ancient Edom are a desolate waste, and the site of ancient Babylon is a ruin. God cannot be mocked. “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7), and “the one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction” (v. 8).
Where does that leave us? Does it put us in some privileged position exempt from any concern for the righteous judgments of God? Do we deserve heaven while the Edomites, Babylonians and others like them deserve hell?
Do you remember the question raised by those who had heard of the death of a few apparently innocent people in the time of Jesus Christ? Some Galileans had come to Jerusalem to worship and had been killed by Roman soldiers. About this same time, a tower fell over and killed some people who were standing beside it. The onlookers asked Jesus how it was possible that something like this could happen in a world ruled by a just, yet merciful God. Was it because these people were worse sinners than others? Was it because God was either too weak to avert the tragedies, or didn’t care? Jesus replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:2-5).
Jesus’ point was that our way of asking that question is entirely wrong. The question is not why God judges some, but rather why he has spared us, we being the sinners we are. If we knew how sinful we are, we would understand that we are the ones who should have perished. We should be judged. Knowing that, we should repent of our sin and turn to God for the salvation he makes available in Jesus Christ, before the day of salvation is past.
With what are the poet’s judgments consistent?
How did Jesus answer the question of why some people suffer tragedy?
Prayer: Ask God to help you invert the natural tendency we have to ask why something happened to why something worse didn’t happen.
For Further Study: Throughout church history, the Psalms has been a source of comfort and strength as God’s people have experienced great difficulty and anguish. Perhaps you are going through such a time right now, or maybe someone you know is struggling and could be encouraged through James Boice’s explanation and application of this treasured portion of Scripture. Order your copy of his three-volume set, and receive 25% off the regular price.