Psalm 137:9 revisited: Voted the forth worst Bible passage

The following is a commentary from a friend of mine that sheds great light on Biblical interpretation that is fitting for not only Psalm 137 but for all of Biblical analysis.  He has an interesting way of diving into the meaning behind the words.  Thanks Russ for your time and efforts in putting this together.

Psalm 137: 8,9
ח  בַּת-בָּבֶל,    הַשְּׁדוּדָה:
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם-לָךְ–    אֶת-גְּמוּלֵךְ, שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ.
8 O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that repayeth thee as thou hast served us.
ט  אַשְׁרֵי, שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת-עֹלָלַיִךְ–    אֶל-הַסָּלַע. 9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock!

1 Cor. 10 : 4 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

The sea is a multi-dimensional realm of glorious mysteries both shallow & deep. A child can build sand-castles and splash around on the ocean shore; or one can swim out farther & snorkel among the little fishies & the underground coral reefs. You can also mess around & push out a little too far into the deep & wind up being eaten by Jaws. The Bible is like an ocean- it is an encyclopedia of 66 books each of which contains multi-dimensional levels of wisdom which, when delved into, will prove to be as  shallow or deep as one wishes to venture. As usual, i wish to venture in over my head.

SPLASHING ON THE SHORELINE

The book of Psalms is one of the five O.T. Biblical books that speaks to the inner spiritual life. Among it’s many lessons we are taught what to do when we are ecstatically happy (give thanks & praise to God) & what to do when we are desperately unhappy (pour out all of our sad feelings & frustrations in unedited emotional prayers to God.). The term ‘taking the Bible literally’ simply means to accept it as literature, and apply all the same formal rules of logic and  hermeneutics as one would to any other written documents which must be interpreted according to language, context, grammar, syntax, subtext, intent of Author etc. From a prosaic, strictly prima facie point of view the author is venting frustration @ the inhumanity of the Edomites (sons of  Esau) and the Babylonians/Chaldeans. He simply wants an eye for an eye. They smashed his baby’s heads on the rocks & that’s what they have coming. This Prophet is pronouncing a curse on both the Chaldeans- for their horrifying religion of bloodshed- & Edom for their reveling in the murderous destruction of Jerusalem. A curse which apparently seems to have worked out quite effectively. I’ve never met a Chaldean or an Edomite, have you?

SNORKELING W/ THE LITTLE FISHIES

Psalm 137 was composed by a member of the captivity of  Judah who had witnessed the sadistic brutality of the Chaldean soldiers in the time of the capture of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Do you have any idea how long ago 587 BC was? Two thousand 6oo years ago.  I don’t remember what I had for lunch last Sunday afternoon. Yes I do. A tuna casserole @ Tin Horn Flats in Burbank. But I think they used too much hot fudge. Don’t get me started/ let’s get back to the subject @hand. Everyone must be judged by the times in which they lived & moved & had their being. George Washington cannot be judged for being a slave-holder by someone living after Martin Luther King. The father of our country should be applauded for his incredible prophetic vision by including in his living trust a provision for setting all his slaves free after his death (his 18th century physicians bled him to death w/ a scarifier because he had the flu!) The entire United States is only 2-hundred &36 years old & if you had been born right here in the USA 80 yrs. ago (& were not related to Joe Kennedy or Al Capone) it would be a good day for you if you could just get something to eat. Forget about taking a bath (no water in LA) or having clothes that weren’t all torn up-just anything to eat! That’s what it was like right here in America during the great depression only 80 years ago. The author of Psalm 137 must also be judged by the times in which he lived & in the context of the behavior of the surrounding nations, not by people living 3000 years later. Any moral assessment of actions or literature must be made based on evaluations of the culture of the time. Quite aside from any theological considerations, from a strictly moral point of view, this  prayer for justice & revenge was morally correct.

Walk with me, if you will, into what it was like to live in the Middle East 2 thousand 587 years ago-In this long ago & far, far away place everyone lived in fear of invading armies. Whoever had the strongest military would ride into your town & do whatever they wanted to do & nobody could stop them. Does that seem wrong to you? It was wrong. But we think in terms of right & wrong from a Judeo-Christian perspective because we live in a society that learned it’s values for the proper aesthetics of civilization from the Old & New Testaments. 0n the Psalmist’s side of the cross (BC) there were completely reprobate societies who feared neither God nor man & needed to be removed from the earth before they murdered absolutely everybody. Entirely evil cultures were broken beyond repair & needed to be sent back to the manufacturer for a full refund.

The author of Psalm 137 did not live in our age of Grace. He lived under the Law of the Old Testament (an eye for an eye) & had watched in horror as heartless reprobate monsters wrenched helpless babies away from their mother’s arms and then smashed out their brains against the corner of the nearest wall, laughing with delight & screaming blasphemy against the God of Israel as they carried on their wanton butchery. This challenge to the sovereignty and honor of the one true God, which they hurled at him as they massacred His people, could not forever go unanswered. As the guardian and enforcer of His own moral law, God could manifest His glory only by visiting a terrible vengeance on those who had so dealt with their nonresistant captives and pored contempt on their God . The captive exile who composed these words, therefore, felt altogether justified in calling on God to enforce the sanctions of His law and mete out appropriate retribution to those malevolent psychopaths who had committed these atrocities. Only in this way could the pagan world be taught that there is a God in Heaven who requires all men to regard the basic standards of right and wrong as truly binding on their consciences. They needed to learn that bloody violence practiced on others was sure to come back on themselves; in effect to have done to them what they had done to others.

History informs us that the time was soon to come when the victorious Medes and Persians would deal with the Babylonian babies just as the Babylonians had dealt with the Hebrew babies at the time the Jews went into captivity. The Babylonian babies would meet up with the same brutality the Babylonians had inflicted on others. “Only in this way could they be convinced of the sovereignty and power of the God of the Hebrews. So the chief motive for this prayer is not a vindictive desire for revenge; but. rather, it is an earnest wish that Yahweh would manifest Himself before the jeering world by catastrophically overthrowing the Chaldean power that had wrought such misery and needless woe back in the days of Jerusalem’s demise. It should, of course be added that in our present age subsequent to Calvary, God has another way in which to show His terrible judgment on  sin. He sacrificed His only beloved Son in order to atone for the guilt of all sinners everywhere. The overthrow of wicked, bloodstained political leaders and their degenerate followers still goes on even down to the present generation, but it is not quite so necessary now as it was before the coming of the Lord Jesus that God vindicate His righteousness and justice by spectacular strokes of retributive justice. Since the sinless Son of God has supremely manifested God’s wrath against sin by offering up His own life on the cross as an atonement for the sins of mankind, it is not so imperative as it was in the OT age for God to manifest his righteousness through penal judgments of a catastrophic kind. It is less appropriate for New Testament believers to offer up the same call for vengeance as this Psalm expresses. Nevertheless we must not ignore the passages found even in the latest new-testament book of all , Revelation, which in 6:10 articulates the appeal of the martyred saints from the time of the Tribulation: ‘How long , 0 Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth’? As the arrogant godlessness of the End Time mounts to a Satan-inspired climax of brutality and bloodshed, it is still appropriate to pray with great earnestness that God will intervene to crush the wicked and visit on a rebellious world the destruction that it so richly deserves.” Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Biblical difficulties.

There are no completely reprobate societies anymore (except San Francisco) because of the influence of Christianity world-wide.  But if my  entire civilization in beautiful downtown Burbank was destroyed by a pagan foreign enemy, ( say, Canada) & the wretched people of North Hollywood. laughed & mocked us, I would want vengeance too. Wouldn’t you? The Psalm writer is expressing his rage in an angry letter to the editor, & it is included in the Psalms because of its incredible emotional impact which everyone has felt or will feel @some point in their lives & also because of its prophetic insight into intervention judgment day theology. Judgment Day or intervention theology are the passages in the Bible which foreshadow the inevitable end result coming ultimately for all those who continue to practice abominable acts of systematic disobedience against God & violence against the innocent. The flood of Noah & the destruction of the Cannanites by Moses & Joshua are examples of God stepping in & very graciously giving the world a fore-shadow of what Judgement Day will be like.

Now a word about the babies: any child reared in an absolutely reprobate society which worshiped child sacrifice, bestiality and bloodshed had no chance at a decent life and would be far better off being sent up to Heaven. If they had lived to grown up, they would be duty-bound to seek vengeance on those who executed their parents -even though the executions were justified -and the whole thing would have started all over again. When a doctor finds a cancerous tumor in a patient, oftentimes the most sensible  solution is to excise & surgically remove the malignancy before the whole body is infected by the ravaging devastation of the growth of the disease. It’s kill or be killed. Is this unfair to the tumor? Yes, but compassion is always selective & subjective. To be compassionate to a serial killer is to be un-compassionate to the victims, their families & the society @ large.

JUMPIN THE SHARK

Please notice that  the Psalmist expands his prophetic curse from the Chaldeans & Edomites to ‘the Daughters of Babylon.’ This is a specific term used metaphorically throughout the Bible, especially in Revelation, as a synonym for the the spirit of the Satanic world system which has always been diametrically opposed to God. It is also noteworthy that the Psalmist doesn’t say that the babies will be smashed on the ‘rocks or stones’, plural, he says that ‘the children of the Daughters of Babylon should be dashed on The Rock. Rom 9:33:  “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 1 Cor.10:4 : For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

There is an old saying: ‘You cannot break the Ten Commandments/ You can, however, break yourself on the Ten Commandments’.  C.S. Lewis said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ & those to whom, in the end, God says, ‘thy will be done.’  Jesus said there are two kinds of people in the world my friend: ‘those who fall on the Rock and are broken to pieces’ & ‘those on whom the Rock falls & are crushed.

Matt. 21:42/   Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:   ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on This Stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed into powder’.

In conclusion, we come to one last grand old saying: ‘In the end, God kicks everybody in the ass.’ We all get smashed against The Rock eventually. Either we fall on It in repentance & brokenness  /or It falls on us in ultimate judgment. Everybody eventually will come face to face with the good God who governs the universe- Happy are we if it happens on this side of the final Judgment Day.

Daniel 2:44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands–a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”

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3 Responses to Psalm 137:9 revisited: Voted the forth worst Bible passage

  1. alan says:

    You’ve used a lot of conjecture in what you’ve written. I don’t have a major problem with the display of empathy except to point out that you are, in effect, writing a historical novel – a fictionalized account to explain something that happened 2500+ years ago. I will point out that, in making your argument, you are effectively saying that the Psalmist was not inspired by God to write exactly those words as a prophecy against the Babylonians but that he was moved by his own experiences as a grief stricken human being. By extension, the same could be said of Paul writing that he wished James and those who were pressing for the practice of circumcision among Gentiles would “go all the way and emasculate themselves.” (Galatians 5)

    So you are saying that not every thought expressed in the Bible was “God-breathed,” but were often filtered through the emotions and life experiences of the humans doing the writing. Am I understanding you correctly? If so, I take this to mean that the Bible is Not the Word of God as a whole but may contain lots of room for human authors’ opinions and misunderstandings. Therefore we don’t have to accept the Creation story as being other than a primitive legend recorded by Moses’ scribes long after the lives of Adam and Eve. Right?.

    • My Dear Alan,

      This is an excellent question which goes to the very heart of the age-old chest-nut paradox: God’s Word – written by man?

      A contradiction is defined as a statement of two events which cannot both be simultaneously true, at the same time, and in the same way. The Bible contains no contradictions*. It does, however, present several paradoxes (a statement or proposition seemingly self – contradictory or absurd, but in reality expressing dual aspects of a truth). One example of a Biblical paradox is its affirmation of the absolute Sovereignty of God, while maintaining mankind’s freedom of choice. For our purposes we shall focus on the evidence of the obvious paradox that the Bible is a Divine -human Book, as Christ is the Divine -human Person. This is one of the keys that unlocks the door to understanding the Holy Scriptures. God could have sent his Son in adult human form without a human birth. Jesus’ body would then have been simply a shell in which encased the Divine Nature. But God in His wisdom did not choose to do it that way. Rather, He caused His Son to be born of a woman. Jesus therefore partook of the personality characteristics of His mother -psychologically as well as physically. He not only bore resemblance to her in His facial features but He was influenced by the intellectual & social atmosphere of the home. Jesus was the son of Mary as well as the Son of God. Likewise the Bible could have been sent down from Heaven by God all inscribed with the complete revelation, bound in black leather, gold edged, silk sewn, red letter edition on India paper, (& dedicated to King James!) without ever having been touched by human hands. Instead God chose to work through the varieties of language, vocabulary, style, interests, and diversity of emphasis, inherent in human personalities, to convey the totality of His Divine revelation.

      A Divine -human Book.

      A perfect example of God’s Omnipotence and man’s free will working together in harmony is in the creation of the very book that presents this paradox to begin with. The Bible is both the Word of God and yet was written by man. How can both be true? Did God overcome the writer’s will and possess their minds, forcing the authors to transcribe automatically exactly what He dictated? He could have – the question before us is not what God is capable of doing, but what He did, in fact, choose to do. God could have written the Gospel in the sky; instead He chose to communicate it to the world through men & women working together with Him in the preaching of His Word. This method of communication is also true of the Bible – The light of Divine revelation broke in on the soul of Moses, St. Paul & many others. The result is a divinely inspired, humanly written Revelation of God’s truth for man.

      There are several verses in the New Testament that describe the inspiration of the Bible. One is in ll Timothy 3:15 – “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The phrase “given by inspiration of God” is all one word in Greek, ‘Theopnuestos’–literally God-breathed. Scripture was breathed out by God and breathed into men’s minds by the Holy Spirit. Another verse which describes the dual method of communicating God’s truth through human agency is ll Peter 1:26– “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Human beings were lifted by the Holy Spirit to a higher level of spiritual understanding, so that they could receive Divine truth and communicate it to mankind.

      Moses & St. Paul

      As a baby Moses had been miraculously preserved from death. Adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, he had been brought up at the royal palace. There he was carefully educated “in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words & in deeds” (Acts 7:22) Egypt was the greatest empire of that day & the leading center of learning. God was preparing his servant for his coming tasks. The training he received as heir to the throne of the Pharaohs when he became the founder of the new nation of Israel? Invaluable. The schooling he had received in the greatest literature of that day in his preparation for becoming the first scribe of Divine Scripture? Inestimable. Lessons learned when he attempted to deliver his persecuted people in his own strength and wisdom by killing the cruel Egyptian, fleeing into the wilderness, spending the next forty years learning every nook and cranny of the Sinai desert and then finding an awareness of God’s Presence first at the burning bush and later face to face? Priceless! Many accounts of the Creation myth exist throughout the world of religious literature (including Darwin’s Origin of man) and have been demonstrated to be bone-headed, half-witted and un-scientific. Only Moses has stood the test of time by getting the events of Creation exactly right & in the correct chronological order, even by 21st century scientific standards. The Epic of Gilgamesh recounts the story of the flood but gets it completely wrong (the capricious gods saved Utnapishnim from the flood waters because they wanted to have sex with him since he was so handsome.) Moses gets his account right in every mathematical and theological detail (The Lord saved Noah because he was good and had faith in God). The Pentateuch was produced and directed by Almighty God: “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘write for me a memorial in a book…” Ex.17:14; but adapted to papyrus through the brilliant pen of His carefully chosen servant Moses: Jesus said, “Did not Moses give you the Law?” John 7:19. In John 5:46, Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how can you believe my words?”

      In St. Paul, God chose a man who was conversant in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek (& possibly pig-Latin). A towering intellect, a literary giant, trained by the learned Gamaeliel, and a Pharisee of Pharisees. But he was a messenger from God commissioned with the task of explaining the Gospel to the gentiles and had a hair-trigger temper when it came to anyone corrupting the purity of his message. When St. Peter was hypocritical, Paul withstood him to his face and when the Judaizers from James insisted on circumcision for salvation, Paul erupted with his famous dictum: “I wish they would just go all the way and cut it off and forget about it!”(Gal. 5:12 paraphrased) God was very pleased; He had chosen just the right spokesperson to convey the abomination of tampering with His Gospel. (Sounds like something God would say – see Malachi 2:3) St. Paul was the greatest Apostle that ever breathed, worked harder than all the others, wrote a great deal of the New Testament and was used by God to save the Gospel from corruption; but In 1 cor. 7:12 & 7:40 when discussing divorce, remarriage and bachelorhood, Paul makes it clear that what he is about to say is not an actual quotation from Jesus’ lips- “but to the rest say I, not the Lord.” In 1 Cor. 3:19, Paul quotes a statement made by Eliphaz in Job 5:13: “As it is written: God catches the wise in their own craftiness.” This is an interesting problem since Job 42:7 quotes Yahweh as saying to Eliphaz, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.” Throughout the New Testament the formula “It is written” is used to cite passages considered in errantly trustworthy and authoritative. In Acts 17 Paul quotes Aratus of Alexandria & Epimenides of Crete as authoritative and reliable even though they were pagan philosophers.

      It should be pointed out that not everything Job said in his state of resentment and frustration was true. In Job 10:3 he complains to God, “Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of Your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked”? In 16:23 he accuses God of heartless cruelty toward him. It should also be observed that an uninspired sinner like Caiaphas was heard to exclaim: “It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” John 11:51 interprets thusly: “But he did not say this on his own, but rather being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation.” John 7:27 recounts the crowd saying that Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah because they know where he comes from & when Messiah appears, no one will know where he’s from (proving they don’t know the Scriptures). Then a few verses later, John 7:42 records the same crowd as yelling that Jesus couldn’t be Messiah because the Scriptures state explicitly exactly where the Messiah would come from- Bethlehem in Jerusalem (Proving they don’t know anything about Jesus). What a contradiction!

      In any book of the Bible, it is necessary to determine with studied discrimination the setting of each statement to see whether the author himself intends it as authoritative & inspired, or whether it simply gives an accurate report of the uninspired utterances of misguided unbelievers or even Satan himself. All these distinctions are involved in the doctrine of Inerrancy. It seems to me there are three degrees of inspiration for different parts of the Bible. First there is eternal truth- that could not otherwise be known by the human intellect – “inspired into”; that is, breathed out of God and into the hearts and minds of the writers. Second, some parts of the Scripture seem actually to have been dictated, as in the case of the Law given to Moses at Sinai. Other parts were administered to them under Divine direction. These could include certain Divine truths, which the authors were led by the Spirit to incorporate in their writings, in their own words.

      If you give a script to three different directors you get three different movies. The basic integrity of the screenplay will remain intact (if they are good) but camera angles and emphasis will vary depending on the personality of the auteurs involved and choices of camera lens. Spielberg directed Schindler (great!) but if Scorsese had directed it (as he was supposed to originally) it’s a different movie. God chose exactly which authors he wanted for the job taking into account personality type, temperament and literary ability in order to accomplish what was needed to convey His eternal truths. But this is just the way I look at it; if it’s helpful you can think about it and refine it and use it, if not, you can smash its head on the rocks. You can believe that God sent the Bible down in complete form (as the Muslims say about Koran) or that he possessed the individual authors and used automatic writing (as Marianne Williamson says happened to her in a course of miracles). That’s all Cool & the Gang, just as long as it doesn’t violate the basic Biblical principles of helping you to live a more Holy life, combined with correct doctrine (1Tim. 4:16), and hopefully doesn’t make those outside of the faith think you’re freakin’ crazy! (1 Cor. 14:23) But… thus say I – not the Lord.

      We are thankful that God has not been silent. He has spoken in such a way that we have in written form, and in our own language, an expression of His heart, His mind, and His will, so that we might know what to believe and how to live. If God had not done this, we would have been at the mercy of our own mad speculations. We would be lost in the abyss of the unrelated, sinking in the murky depths of relativism, guesswork, personal opinion and imaginary nonsense. Thank God He has spoken and has given us a universal standard by which we can distinguish between truth and error; between that which is good and that which is evil. For reasons best known to Himself, He has accomplished this through the Divine paradox of God’s Word -written by man.

      *When I was in College my English Lit. teacher announced one morning that although she would be forced to reference the Bible, she wanted one thing understood: she didn’t believe a word of it. “Everybody knows that the Bible is filled with contradictions” she spit with contempt. I raised my foolish hand. “My church’s Sunday school teacher has a PhD in astronomy from the university of Toronto, I said; “He is a hard scientist, who does differential equations for fun, but believes every word of the Bible. Would you be so kind as to give me just one good, juicy contradiction that I could take in to his class; to both astound him- and make my fellow Sunday school members envious? “Genesis claims that God is all-powerful, and yet on the 7th day he ‘rested’,” was her contemptuous reply. “Was God tired?” For a moment I thought she must be kidding. I just couldn’t believe this was her greatest example of a Biblical contradiction. When I realized she was serious, I responded: “After I leave your class I’m going to piano theory,” says I; “When we get to a ‘rest’ in the written sheet music, we all stop playing. Does that mean we’re all tired”? I continued: “No, it means we cease from our playing. God, who is Omnipotent , Omniscient, Omnipresent and omnivorous didn’t get tired either; He simply ceased from the work of His divine acts of Creation (also known as the first law of thermodynamics).” I should have quit while I was ahead. Unfortunately I went on to say: “You have often described yourself to us as a ‘Jewish-Atheist’; So as far as I can tell, the only contradiction on display in this classroom – is you.” Several of the other students laughed, but she had the last laugh that semester; I was given a very bad grade in English Lit.

  2. ejioforlove says:

    Your explanation on the “babies” was interesting. You definitely pulled a trick out the hat to come up with that excuse. Do you really look at those “babies” as “tumors”? Why would Jehovah even create the kids knowing their fate? I was once a believer and for a verse like this I eventually prayed and there was no answer. As there was no answer for anything else I prayed about either for 24 years. Only answer I would get is just a bunch of apologetic stuff out there that contradicts each other. I call this apologetics stuff OPINION. I call belief opinion. You have the right to opinion but knowing that the church ascribes to morality, do you find the killing of babies moral? Even the babies that died in Noah’s account by Yahweh’s hand? Be honest like your father Abraham was when he contested the killing of the Sodomites in the myth.

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