Read: Psalm 137:1-9
Psalm 137: 1: Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.
The beginning of this particular Psalm is one of the most recognizable Psalms in the Bible – you may have heard it put to music as a hymn. However, many of those hymns omit the last verse, “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!”
Hymnwriter John L. Bell offers the following note regarding his omission of the final verse in his Psalm 137 hymn: “The final verse is omitted because its seemingly outrageous curse is better dealt with in preaching or group conversation. It should not be forgotten, especially by those who have never known exile, dispossession or the rape of people and land.”
I can’t completely address this very difficult verse in the space offered here. The purpose of this devotional isn’t to fully untangle the challenging verses in the Bible; however, I do believe that I would be remiss if I just passed over this verse as if I didn’t find it troubling. When we come to challenging verses such as this in the Bible, we need the wisdom offered by the Holy Spirit to understand what God has for us in the reading. We also need some historical context and perspective of what was happening at the time.
We know from our previous readings of Jeremiah and Lamentations that the siege and ultimate destruction of Jerusalem were horrifying. We know that Jerusalem and the temple were burned and disassembled stone by stone. But prior to that, the author of Lamentations details hideous conditions brought about by Babylon’s two and a half year siege of Jerusalem – starvation and cannibalism written about in stark detail. Perhaps most importantly to the Jewish people, through the siege, the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, and the exile, they’re afraid that they have lost their God; “Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had! Or have You utterly rejected us? Are You still angry with us?” Lamentations 5:21 – 22.
I think with that context in mind, we can understand that the author of Psalm 137 is pouring out his heart to the Lord. The psalmist is expressing his despair, frustration, pain, and bitter anger to God. While his desire for revenge is certainly jarring, particularly to our Western sensibilities, he is honestly giving it all over to God. He has a hope and faith that God is listening and hasn’t abandoned His people.
Hopefully no one reading this ever has to go through what we’ve learned the Jewish exiles suffered (although similar tragedies are happening today, for example, what our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria are being subjected to from ISIS). However, we are going to be hurt, disappointed, and become angry at others. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:26, “don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still very angry”. Paul doesn’t say don’t get angry; instead, he writes, don’t sin by letting anger control you.
So how do we keep from letting our anger (which is a part of our baggage) control us? God knows we’re going to get angry. As the creator of everything (including us), He’s big enough to handle any emotion we can come up with. However, if we’re expecting God to help us handle these emotions, we have to acknowledge what we’re feeling, and part of that is talking to God honestly.
As we delve into our baggage with the current sermon series, think about where you are holding anger. Talk with God about it. Honestly share with Him your thoughts, your feelings, and your hurts. God already knows everything that has happened in your life and how you’re feeling, so don’t hold back in sharing honestly with Him. As Chris has discussed in the baggage sermons, there are other steps to unloading your baggage, but it starts with you talking honestly with God.
Father, You know where I hurt and why. You know the emotions I keep bottled up that have become baggage weighing me down and keeping me from fully realizing Your plan in my life. Help me to honestly express those to You, so You can be my Counselor. Lord, please show me in a way that I know is You how much You love me and how You can take the pain, hurt, and anger from me. I trust You, and I ask this in the name of Jesus… Amen.