A Question I Was Asked:

How On Earth Can You Explain or Justify a Scripture Like Psalm 137:9?

How On earth can you explain or justify a Scripture like Psalm 137:9?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Let us look at this:

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalm 137:9).

This perfectly demonstrates the folly of taking any one Scripture, or verse, or small group of verses, but refusing to consider the wider context of the full passage which surrounds it. This is not sound study. This can be applied to any sort of literary study. In similar manner, one can just read a very few words out of any of the great Charles Dickens novels and come out with an entirely erroneous view of such a book, or of the motivation/beliefs of the author. It is careless, it is disrespectful. In short, the writer of this psalm is not saying that it is a good thing to kill little children.

The message of Psalm 137 is well-known. It is a lament for Jerusalem after the Babylonians have invaded and destroyed it. This is one of several psalms which are called imprecatory psalms. In these psalms, the author (sometimes David, but not David in Psalm 137) invokes God to bring down judgment or punishment on his enemies, or on the enemies of Israel. The writer is angry and bitter at what has happened to Judah or Israel whilst accepting that the nation has brought the punishment upon themselves. Now let's read the entire Psalm:

1. By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2. There on the poplars we hung our harps,
3. for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
5. If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
6. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
7. Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. "Tear it down," they cried, "tear it down to its foundations!"
8. Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
9. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137).

Verse 9 is a reference to typical anger and human bitterness after a great national defeat. God allowed such sentiments to be expressed in certain of the Psalms - however, such a national view is certainly not necessarily God's view!

We have to remember three vital things about the Psalms:

1. They are written in poetic style.
2. They were meant to be sung.
3. God allowed the expression of human anger (whether justified or not) to be expressed in them. If He did not, these songs could never have been the national expression of a people continually going through trials, longing for a better future.

Regarding this Scripture (Psalm 137:9), as the great Bible commentator Adam Clarke pointed out, "...To slay all when a city was sacked, both male and female, old and young, was a common practice in ancient times...These excesses were common in all barbarous nations, and are only prophetically declared here. He shall be reputed happy, prosperous, and highly commendable, who shall destroy Babylon." Babylon would eventually receive the barbarous cruelty she had inflicted upon Judah, this is the prophetic meaning here.

However, whilst the Psalms are truly great, a few deeply moving, others even containing definite prophecies, many of them ideal for hymns, they nevertheless remain as part of the Old Testament - not the New! It is the New Testament which fully reveals the terms of the New Covenant. Old Testament Israel longed for a better future, that better future is finally revealed through Christ - the Saviour of all men and women of every nation.

Robin A. Brace. October 22nd, 2015.