Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon’s Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock: A Psalm

By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.
On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,
for there our captors ask us to compose songs;
those who mock us demand that we be happy, saying: “Sing for us a song about Zion!”
How can we sing a song to the LORD in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!
May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
They said, “Tear it down, tear it down, right to its very foundation!”
O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!
How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us!
How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!
(Psalm 137:1-9 – NET)

Another psalm of weeping.  But this psalm (unlike my post on Psalm 88) is not about an individual struggle of abandonment.  This is a psalm of retribution while in captivity.  One can almost hear the rhythms of this melancholy tune, cried without instrumentation in low groans, beckoning for the God of the covenant to pay back those who have rejoiced at and participated in the judgment of Israel.  It a psalm of remembrance (zākar).  Remembrance of all that Zion was and all it was meant to be.  A call for the LORD to remember the unrelenting and unmerciful cry of victory from Esau over his brother Jacob (Obadiah 10-14).  It is a reminder of the Deuteronomic filial lex talionis (Deut.19:19; Prov.24:29).  It is a remembrance and call for the blessing of one who will destroy Babylon in the same manner that Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and kill her babies by smashing “them on a rock”.  In the manner which Babylon has treated the LORD’s people…the cry of remembrance goes up in the very heart of the empire…”Blessed (‘ašrê) will be the one…”.  But alas…who will repay Babylon (and Edom) for the actual slaying and destruction of Jerusalem’s children? (2 Kings 25:7; Lam.5:11-15)  Where will he come from?  Who could this one be who is called “happy” in doing the ‘dirty deed’?

It seems only appropriate to ask how we who are in Christ can ever pray such prayers?  Can we not just skip this psalm as belonging to a bygone era of legalistic retribution?  No…never.  We must pray it more sincerely than ever those exiled in Babylon knew how to pray it.  They prayed for justice and retribution according to the very will of the covenant keeping LORD.  We also pray this, but with the knowledge of the very embodiment of the LORD…that is of Christ Jesus.  We know for a certainty that our LORD will repay (Deut.7:10; 32:35; Isa.65:6; Jer.51:56; Rom.12:19; Heb.10:30).  We pray for the destruction of all who will not ultimately yield to the Lordship of Christ…but we also pray that all who would yield will yield before that great and terrible Day of His Coming again! In that Day everyone will receive their reward…whether to everlasting punishment or everlasting blessedness.

We do not consider only the judgment of the now, but that which is eternal.  Will we be found hidden in Christ in that Day where our deeds are found to be Spirit-empowered and lasting, or our faith is wanting and we ourselves are among those who are not even acknowledged by Him?  The dashing of children against the stones would be but a small thing in the light of that ultimate assize that awaits us all if have not trusted ourselves to the Lordship of Christ Jesus.  It is the judgment he bore for us…it is the righteousness he now bears for and in us.  If indeed we are rewarded with life (and we know this because we have received the Spirit of son-ship), we say “Blessed is the one who repays…not according to what we have done…but according to the great riches of his mercy and grace which are in glory!”   Blessed be His Name forever!

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3 thoughts on “Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon’s Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock: A Psalm

  1. Psalm 137 is one of my favourite Psalms, if only for its deep agony and blunt honesty. I haven't done any real exegesis, but I've always taken the lines more as something like a passionate cry in anger rather than an actual, rational desire. I hadn't noticed the parallelism of the last two lines, implying that perhaps the Babylonians had done the same with Israelite children as they now are wishing on the Babylonians, but that doesn't necessarily change the nature of what they say.I confess I'm uncomfortable with the notion of praying "for the destruction of all who will not ultimately yield to the Lordship of Christ." Who would these nebulous people be and how (and, frankly, why) would we pray for their destruction? Why not, instead, pray for God's mercy and grace to be extended to everyone (or received by everyone) and then let God do with those who may or may not have responded as he sees fit, when the time comes?

  2. I think that's a great (and pertinent) question Marc. I believe we ought to pray for mercy for the world, because we do not know who will be redeemed ultimately, but in doing so we are also praying that all who would oppose the Lord would be overcome at His coming. It cannot be only the one way. We pray for mercy, but we also pray for justice. I find it rather amazing to read a prayer like the one prayed under the altar in heaven in Revelation 6:9-10 where the souls of the martyrs cry out for justice and avenging of those who live on the earth. It is with a sense of the utter love of God (for His absolute Glory) that must compel us to be able both to plead and act for mercy on behalf of the wicked and to plead and act for justice. Somehow we are actually the only ones truly capable of doing that in this sin-crazed world of ours…because we are the only ones who are being conformed to the image of Christ who Himself has done that very thing and will do that in the consummation of the ages.

  3. It makes a difference when you put it in terms of justice, because then the outcome is still in the hands of God. Maybe that's why "praying for destruction" is unsettling to me: it's too specific and decisive, and therefore seems too much in our hands instead of God's.

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