Theme: Appealing to God for Justice
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
“Remember” occurs three times in the psalm. In verse 1 the poet says that he and the other captives remembered Zion while in Babylon. In verse 6 he pronounces a judgment against himself if he should forget to remember Jerusalem. Now in verse 7 he calls on God to remember as he remembered and apply an appropriate judgment to those who destroyed the holy city.
There is no problem with the first two of these, of course. The problem is with how the writer asks God to remember Jerusalem’s destruction. It is so he might pour out a corresponding judgment on these enemies, specifically the people of Edom who encouraged the destruction and the Babylonians who actually carried it out. In what is surely one of the fiercest imprecatory portions of the entire Psalter, the writer cries out, “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”1
Christians have been taught to forgive their enemies, of course. And even for those living in our time who are not Christians those words seem unduly vindictive, vicious and violent. But before we get too self-righteous in reading them we should remember that none of us has experienced anything like the cruelties that were inflicted on Jerusalem at the time of its fall or those, in fact, that would have been inflicted on the inhabitants of any ancient city in such warfare. Spurgeon wrote,
Let those find fault with it who have never seen their temple burned, their city ruined, their wives ravished, and their children slain; they might not perhaps be so velvet-mouthed if they had suffered after this fashion. It is one thing to talk of the bitter feeling which moved captive Israelites in Babylon, and quite another thing to be captives ourselves under a strange and remorseless power, which knew not how to show mercy, but delighted in barbarities to the defenseless…. [Psalm 137] is a fruit of the Captivity in Babylon, and often has it furnished expression for sorrows which else had been unutterable.2
The fact that we might feel the same way under the same circumstances does not make our feelings right, of course. But there are a few other very important things to notice.
1. The words are an appeal to God for justice. Here, as in each of the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist is not suggesting that he is about to take revenge on his enemies or even that he would do it if he could. On the contrary, he is appealing to God to do what is right and judge those who have been excessively wicked in their actions. Derek Kidner says that the first thing to notice about verses 7-9 are their “juridical background.” The divine Judge is being presented with evidence against Edom and Babylon.3
1Other examples of such strongly imprecatory psalms are Psalms 7, 35, 69 and 109. They seem to grow in vehemence as we progress through the Psalter.
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3b, Psalms 120-150 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1968), p. 226.
3Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), pp. 459, 460.
What are three occurrences of the word “remember”?
How can the call for judgment against Jerusalem’s enemies coexist with the command to forgive our enemies?
What should we notice about the psalmist’s words?
Prayer: Ask God for strength to forgive those who have offended you.
Key Point: The psalmist is appealing to God to do what is right and judge those who have been excessively wicked in their actions.