Smash All The Babies

psalm-1379-smash-all-the-babies

Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! (Psalm 137:9)

Read: 1Kings 20:1-21:29, Acts 12:24-13:15, Psalm 137:1-9, Proverbs 17:16

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.

Respond: 

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.

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58 thoughts on “Smash All The Babies

  1. Such an amazing revelation! Just love the second paragraph of “React”. God changes our nature, when we truly come to Him as we are. How true! Love the song too.

  2. You just gave me a great inspiration, I could read through my bible and get some ideas to write about. Didn´t even think about it until now, not kidding, there has to be a great source of wise, rich and productive ideas I can take out and use it in my writing.

  3. Thank you SO much for not shying away from these kind of upsetting verses! And for not “metaphorizing” or changing His word. I like the way you were able to make sense of it for our lives today.

  4. Why has this been such a difficult lesson to learn?!? Being raised in a church, we are almost conditioned to put on our “church face” for people at church and for God as well. It has been such a freeing experience in my recent history to realize that He loves me the way I am, and that it is His battle, not mine. All He asks of me is to trust in Him and have faith that He will change my heart so that I can be a light to this world. I am SO thankful that He understands my emotions even when they are wrong. He listens to my outcries of “It’s just not fair!” and my feelings of despair and helplessness, and He forgives me when they are wrong, and comforts me in the darkness. True change is worked in our hearts when we let ourselves be honest with our Father and we receive His grace.

    The key is to go to Him and HIm alone with these outcries. It’s when we turn these feeling outwards towards other people and start trying to find support, justification, and comfort in the people around us that sin has a chance to creep in.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. “He came to God from a place of deep, deep sorrow. One thing I can guarantee you about this Psalmist… because he came to God, he didn’t stay in that place.” That really resonated with me, a mom of a son with serious mental illness. Thanks for this thoughtful posting and all your posts! I’m glad I found your site. Thanks.

  6. Thank you for your depth and honesty in your post. It is what more of us need to seriously take a look at in our lives and just cry out to Jesus in bare honesty of the vile creatures that we are and claim His promises and salvation. He is there and waiting with open arms to take each one of us in just as we are; not as we pretend or claim to be.

  7. Hi BJ, thanks for your perspective on this, however, I see it as proof that the Bible was written by Men and sometimes inspired by an angry spiteful god.

    The ONE true God would never demand things like these, ever. But a lower-level materialistic entity disguised, would.

    The Gnostic Christians believe in 2 Gods, one of the spiritual realm, the other of the material world. They also believe that we have been duped into following the wrong one. Verses like these in the Bible, The Torah and The Koran…are evidence to that fact.

    • “The ONE true God would never demand things like these, ever.”

      Absolutely correct. And He doesn’t. He also doesn’t give us what we deserve when we think, even express, such thoughts. Read the Psalm through in its entirety. There is no command imperative from God here. None. There is a command from the Babylonians to sing. There is a command from the Edomites to destroy. If anything, the Psalmist is responding to these commands with satirical irony. If this is the evidence you are relying on for your opinions, perhaps it is time for some new opinions.
      Blessings.

    • No my dear brother the Bible was Written by God using everyday sinners like us. Taking their experiences and showing the True Mercy and Love of God to restore all that man/ satan tries to destroy. God is Good period!

  8. Wow, you know I have read through psalms several times in my Christian walk (37 years) and I do not think I have ever consciencely read that verse. Good post, but, confess I am hung up on that verse, will have to do some more studying on it. Thanks! Appreciate when the Lord uses people to show me something I have missed. DAF

  9. There is perhaps no more severe animosity expressed in all of scripture–perhaps in all the writings of the world–than the conclusion of Psalm 137. It is important, I think, to remember when you read this that it is not the only scripture concerning the enemies of God and the relationship between the people of God and their enemies. Consider as a parallel passage Jeremiah’s instruction to the people of Israel in exile in Babylon: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to Yahweh on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:7)

  10. When my teenage daughter gets very angry she says, “You make me want to hurt a baby!” It’s her way of expressing just how angry she is because it’s such a horrible thought to have much less do. I think that’s what the psalmist was feeling, although probably much more deeply than my daughter, that deep anger and frustration. Thank you for sharing that bit of history. There truly is nothing, no feeling, that we can experience today that hasn’t already been felt by someone else. God will heal us if we but ask.

  11. Blessings, my brother
    What you wrote and explained really touched me
    I was taught that this Psalm was written about the destruction of Zion and the Holy Temple by the Babylonians. Most nations (and I guess historians too) believed that Babylon attacked the Israelites as part of an imperialistic conquest, but if that is so, why did they torture the people so much?! So, the teaching I had was that when the next empire took over, the Psalmist was wishing the Babylonians to feel the same torture and pain that the Israelites felt.

    Anyway, thank you and may God continue to bless you

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  13. The thing I love, I mean really love about our brother David – is his honesty. We get to see him on good hair days, bad hair and indifferent hair days!! But, whatever day, he keeps it real!! I changed my second name to David cos I love the psalmist. He also bewails “I’m a worm and no man!!” in another Psalm but that doesn’t mean he believed that he was a worm! Bet your bottom dollar – he was depressed at the time!! But so often, no matter how low David is at the beginning of his Psalm – he often turns it around and he’s soaring like an eagle by the end!! We could learn a lot from David about the integrity of our prayers. Especially in public gatherings. How much of what we pray is done for the benefit of others rather than to bring joy to our Father’s heart. Remain in the Truth – Reuben

  14. Terrible explanation. Would you say that Abraham was in a dark place while he was following Gods command to sacrifice Issac? Perhaps, but he was exactly with God also. To cringe and put an interpretation in the light of your ‘darkness’ is even a greater darkness that you are trying to justify by sin. Im sorry. God does not have to justify himself to you. .

        • Are u familiar with Kierkegaard? — so u think the guy who wrote that phrase was just kinda accidentally letting out his messed upthinking?

        • I have read everything he has written. I said nothing about “accidentally letting out”. Apparently you read me just as well as you do Søren K. But you are still avoiding the issue. Considering the goodness of God and the inspiration of scripture, how would you interpret this verse?

        • Aside from K: It seems obvious to me that jerulasem was sacked, so revenge is sweet because happy is he who lives God (only) as jerusalem is God’s. To reduce this OT meaning to NT Christian ethics is non sequitur and merely serves to justify christian insecurity.

          K: God does not need to justify himself by our ethical standards.

        • But wait: maybe i read wrong: Areyou saying that we all have ‘dark’ hateful thoughts, and so this humsn being who wrote that psalm was merely expressing such a dark thought?

        • Yes, I think you read me wrong. This Psalm is not a command by God or even a sentiment of his but rather the honest and transparent cry of a Psalmist who is coming to God from a place of bitterness and pain.

        • Ah. Maybe i read too quickly. But. One must admit that the isrealites were at war alot, and God justified such wars. So the taking of wives and killing of children was likely viewed not through out modern tempered ethicalbases, but through Gods victory.

        • Don’t you think there is some room to say the one whom the Psalmist says is blessed for taking revenge on the captors is God? In Deuteronomy God said he would let foreign nations defeat Israel for disobedience, then take vengeance on the foreign nations. The Psalmist isn’t saying he wished he himself could kill their babies…I too don’t think anything needs explained away. If the Psalmist believes God makes good on the promise to Abraham to curse those that curse his people, then maybe the Psalmist has divine retribution in mind.

  15. Did you go to my high school? Because I wanted to smash Johnny V’s face in with a baseball bat as well. Hmmmm……..A better explanation is that there is one in every school. Love the way you approached this, love the way your readers respond to you, and thoroughly enjoyed the exchange with ‘landzek’ above.

  16. Pingback: PSALM 137:9 | Citizen Tom

  17. This verse is always brought up to me by atheists who say the Bible is a horrible book not to be trusted. I came to the same conclusion about the verse you did. Loved reading this!

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  19. It is easier to just imagine and explain away portions of Scripture that we find difficult and say “my God or the one true God would never demand these horrors” than to deal with the reality that the god of the Bible actually DID demand such things.
    You end up like Jefferson and the biblical king Jehoiakim, cutting up the objectionable parts and tossing them away. You end up creating your own ‘kinder gentler’ version of Christianity, fashioned in your own image rather than honestly dealing with what the Bible actually says.

  20. I laughed when I saw the meme. That is exactly how ridiculous our spite filled thoughts are towards others are … my 17 year old daughter used to quote that Christian song verse I want to set theworld on fire until its burning with love for You … except leave of the burning with love part LOL

  21. Great comments on this verse. So important to remember many of the Psalms are reactions – to awe, joy, grief, fear, and love. I’ve heard this verse used as an attack of God and people of faith. Glad to have another resource I can point them to.

  22. I read the last two verses of Psalm 137 a little differently than the views expressed above. The words addressed to the daughter of Babylon describe what the Babylonians had just done to the Jews, and while mourning this they predict that that the Babylonians will eventually receive the same treatment from whomever should conquer them. Consider that in the verse before Edom is called upon to be judged accountable for what they did. Now in these last two verses Babylon is also called upon in the same way.

    The words simply do not contain any general prescription for what people should do in this or other cases, they’re not meant to justify hatred or revenge, and they do not imply that the Jews speaking here were expecting to be the ones to do this. They are simply a warning to the Babylonians that as happy as they were to do those things to the Jews, their own conquerors would be just as happy to do this to them too.

    Although these are definitely not the most pleasant verses in the Bible, there is no need to view Psalm 137 as containing anything controversial.

  23. Reblogged this on ChristianBlessings and commented:
    Some people hold back their sorrows, griefs, hurts, forgetting that God sees all. When we hide we end up bitter, sad, unforgiving and the worst of it all being disqueted. The Word says ” cast your cares upon Him for He care th for you”. 1 Peter 5:7

    • I have been a bit busy. I was in Izmir and actually returned to Istanbul the day of the bombing. Two days later I flew to NY and have been here since. Much of that time was in the mountains and out of range of technology. I’ll be returning home to Turkey on Tuesday.

  24. To me that verse shows the horror of hate and evil. The anti-Christ spirit of death. Because happy were David’s enemies to kill off the Jewish people. Hitler was happy to do so and thought he was doing humanity a favor. Look at the current world situation there are many who would be happy to kill off Jewish and even Christian children and adults too! The truth that we think things we would never do shows us we are His children. I have been walking with a crutch. I overheard someone say “what can you do with a crutch?” I immediately thought of several new things to do with it! Ha….. God bless you!

    • Hi Sam,
      I think as you know that this is what is called an imprecatory psalm. I think as both CS Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have said this represents an outpouring of us seeking God’s wrath on evilness. So as i have worked with students we have sought God’s vengeance (imprecated) on drug dealers, child molesters, etc.
      My challenge personally as you noted is to be able to seek God’s vengeance, not mine and to realize God’s vengeance is generally aimed at getting people to repent.

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