Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! (Psalm 137:9)
Relate: Before I begin to write any post, I will always spend some time in prayer and then reading that portion of the Bible that is part of the Bibile reading plan. It is a devotional for me long before I write it out as a devotion for the world. Sometimes immediately a verse jumps out to me and as soon as I’m done reading I will go right back to it. Other times there will be a theme running through both the Old Testament and New Testament readings and I will work off that theme. [2015 addition: On occasion, like today, I will simply go back to a post from a previous year dealing with that same scripture.] As I was reading today I was thinking, “I’ve got nothing.” I read through the OT and NT with no idea where I was going to go today. I read through the Psalm and then on the last verse… boom. Then, “Oh no, God. Please no.” I thought. But I am a firm believer that Paul was writing truth when he wrote that all scripture, even Psalm 137:9, is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
There are two main approaches scholars have used to try to “fix” this verse. The first approach is to make it a metaphor. Origin, one of the earliest great Bible scholars, said it meant we are to dash our sins against the rocks of reason. Umm… no. The other approach is to say that this isn’t theology but the grieving cry of one Psalmist who has experienced the horror of a losing war, was forced into exile, and is not hearing the derision and mockery of his neighbors all around. The Psalms are meant to be a song of prayer and as far as prayers go, this one is… not so nice. But when read in Hebrew there is a beautiful sorrow that works its way through these nine verses. There is an intonation, a mournful sound, that goes deeper than words.
React: I wish that every thought that popped into my head was good and clean and wholesome. They’re not. I wish that every time I was faced with injustice or abuse I reacted with grace and forgiveness. I haven’t. I can remember sitting back with a smile on my face in high school as I dreamed about taking a baseball bat to a certain person’s face. Was that thought wrong? Yes. Was it justified? Yes. To react with equanimity in the face of sickening evil is just not natural. That is why I need Jesus to change my nature. He has, and He is, but I am not there yet.
God’s demand for holiness does not mean I need to clean myself up before coming to Him. I don’t need to get my emotions in check before getting on my knees. I do not need to clean up my act before addressing the King. He changes my nature, not me. This Psalmist came to God as a mess. He came to prayer from an attitude desiring revenge and retribution. He came to God from a place of deep, deep sorrow that we cannot even begin to understand. One thing I can guarantee you about this Psalmist… because he came to God, he did not stay long in that dark place.
God, I don’t claim to have it all together, but it is easy for me to sit in judgment of others just like me. It is easy to sit back and say, “That Psalmist is wrong. He’s just sick.” He is. So am I. So are all of us in our own way. Only You have the cure. Help me to learn how to forgive. Help me to learn how to heal. Until I do, help me to keep coming to You bringing all of me… even my sick mess.