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 opponent of Christianity who throws 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 that we keep in mind as we read Psalm 137:9 (and verses like it).
First, this verse is the expression 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 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 to judge the righteous, passionate, sensible 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, 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 and rightness of divine justice.
Third, Psalm 137:9 acknowledges something that 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 prayer to 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 them 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. Thus, Christian history is filled with stories of martyrs and their families who were able to forgive their persecutors through the power of God.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: 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, even those that may not reflect his will?PRAYER: O Lord, 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.
Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!