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Well, folks, here it is.
Psalm 137:7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us–
9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (NIB)
Yuk! Did you read that? And it’s right there in the middle of the Bible.
People deal with seemingly sanctioned biblical violence in different ways. Here are just a few.
- Skim over and ignore.
- This was a very long time ago in a different culture. At that time, the cultural norm was different than today. Things are changed now.
- God is sovereign. He judges whom and how he pleases.
- They were given their chance to repent.
- They earned it.
- The psalmist doesn’t represent the heart of God here.
Can you spot the common thread in all of the above responses? There’s one thing they all have in common. Waiting…waiting…Ok time’s up. All the above responses are defensive. If you are reading this, then most likely you are the sort of person who would try to defend, gloss over, or somehow explain away the presence in Scripture of this offensively violent vengeance. It does offend us. There’s no getting around that response. Believers feel they must explain and defend God for including these words right in the middle of the Bible. How uncomfortable. What a great spot for critics and skeptics to attack Christians, and they do. Because, in fact, these words challenge us in our gut.
So here’s my take on this at this point in my life: We read it because it’s here.
When I was still young in the Lord, but growing, I worshiped with a small congregation. The format of the services included songs, Scripture reading, and communion. Each of these was congregationally led. Some used to call it Spirit led. That is, there was no preplanned program for the day. There were no predetermined songs, readings, or specified time for communion. Someone would lead out and others would join in or listen as appropriate.
I used to enjoy reading from Scripture at these services. Psalms were often read by myself and others. Over time, I noticed that whenever I selected a psalm to read, I tended to select only portions of psalms. Many if not most of the psalms have a sentence or two of judgment and/or punishment concerning the “wicked” in them. Because I felt that our Sunday worship services were meant to be joyful, I only read the happy verses in Psalms. Eventually, the burden became too great. My own censorship piled up to an enormous height, so large that I could no longer bear it. The result was that in my personal devotions, I began reading all of Scripture. I quit censoring. I quit cutting out large segments because I could not deal with them.
My discovery? That God is a God of judgment. And not just in the Old Testament. Not just in the “old days” before Christ came. It’s often quoted that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture. “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” That’s the phrase that kept gnawing at my heart so miserably before I converted to Christ. It dug into me and ate my insides out like a worm. I hated that phrase. As an unbeliever in great need, I used to open my Bible as a desperate, frightened beggar lost in life. I hoped I would find comfort, but instead I repeatedly found, “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” And I would slam my Bible shut.
Eventually, my need for help won out, and I turned to the God of the Old Testament, confessing my need and total ignorance of him. Interesting…he didn’t meet me with condemnation. He met me with love, a strong love that continues to this day.
So what do we as believers in Jesus do with Psalm 137:7-9 and similar statements sprinkled like salt throughout Psalms? We read them and admit that they are there and that God intends those words to be there and that he hasn’t changed his mind, because God never changes.
Several decades ago, I realized that the God of creation is the same God who loves me. What a privilege and blessing that is! Think by name of all the evil dictators in the whole world over all time. God could have been like one of those. But he isn’t. When I think of God, I see his Son hanging on a cross to save the world. “If you have seen me,” Jesus said, “you have seen the Father.” I believe that God is both a God of judgment and a God of love. But what good does that love do you if you don’t know about it and haven’t received?
If you remove heat, you have cold. If you remove light, you have darkness. If you remove love, you have pain. If you remove mercy, you have judgment. So turn towards the heat, turn towards the light, turn towards love, and turn towards mercy. In short, turn towards God. He loves you.