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.
|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, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 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.”