I love the Psalms because the conversations shared are raw, uncensored, uplifting, and reassuring. They model the brutal honesty we can boldly and safely have in our relationship with a loving God. However, brutal honesty and candor is all well and good, until we get to one of the most problematic passages in Psalm 137. Now we’re faced with reading one of the darkest expressions of rage, revenge and terror at the end of the psalm.
“Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.”
After the initial feelings of intense discomfort and repulsion at such a notion, we seek to find some rationality for this passage being included. Seemingly in such a matter-of-fact manner. And so unlike the “Happy are the peacemakers” Beatitudes that we’ve grown accustomed to. Searching commentary upon commentary to convince ourselves that surely God is not endorsing such an option for our rage and revenge against another group – and especially infants for goodness and God’s sake!
Matthew Poole’s commentary mentions the idea of this representing “just retaliation.” In Barnes’ Notes, Albert Barnes and James Murphy write,
“In regard to this passage, we are not necessarily to suppose that the author of the psalm approved of this, or desired it, or prayed for it. He looked forward to the fulfillment of a prediction; he saw that a just and terrible judgment would certainly come upon Babylon.
Marc Zvi Brettler, Professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University, shares that similar language can be found in Isaiah 13:16, 2 Kings 8:2, Hosea 14:1, and Nahum 3:10. However, he goes on to assert, “Heaven help us all if we ignore the savageness of this text, and instead discuss it only as historical-critical philologists, in a dispassionate manner.”
I would agree with the word “savageness.” I understand its meaning is ascribed to both people and behavior. It is used to remove humanity from those assigned the name savage or merely as three – fifths human. Savageness is also condoned by those who declare inhuman status on anyone. Sometimes collaterally to everyone. This includes infants and babies.
It’s 2024. The hope is that no one is taking their cues from the savageness of this text!
Because we remember the beautiful Indigenous children of God and the devastating legacy of calculated genocide that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful African children of God and the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful Japanese children of God and the terror of the atomic bomb that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful Jewish children of God and the hellishness of the Holocaust that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful African American children of God and the sheer terror of KKK lynching and bombings that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful Cambodian children of God and the horrific Killing Fields that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful South African children of God and the apartheid system that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful Congolese children of God under King Leopold’s brutal reign and the horrors now that dashed their infants against the rocks.
We remember the beautiful Bosnian children of God and the systematic ethnic cleansing that dashed their infants against the rocks.
What all these atrocities have in common is that at some point misinformation and propaganda about the humanity of a certain community of children of God, nurtured rage and hatred. People became comfortable with collateral damage. They felt justified to see collateral damage as a viable and justifiable option.
Today we hear the cries of the beautiful Ukrainian children of God fighting for their existence with war all around that is dashing their infants against the rocks.
This past Christmas, we heard the sermon, When We Justify the Bombing of Children by Palestinian Christian Pastor Munther Isaac. Asking the world to hear the cries of the beautiful Palestinian children of God. Fighting for their existence with war all around. Literally, dashing their infants against the rock as he declared that Christ could be found this year not in a manger, but in the rubble.
Despite the inclusion of such a horrific passage of unyielding brutality, other Psalms like 127, declare “Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?” Psalm 139 reminds us that all humanity is fearfully and wonderfully made. Being made in the image of God, found in Genesis, looks more revolutionary and remarkable when mirrored by the way Jesus taught on a mountainside surrounded by rocks. Instead of “happiness” being linked to the savageness of dashing infants against them, in the Beatitudes, He spoke of happiness being correlated to those who are merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers. Peacemaking is what children of God do. War is not the answer, is what we were supposed to remember. Remember?
There are accusations of being “anti” this group or that one. We hear aggressive demands to demonstrate where you stand in every conflict. Many, who are now canceled for refusing to stand passively among the rubble, find themselves in between a rock and a hard place. Because they dared to desire peace and justice instead of more war. They are compelled to actively live out their peacemaking child of God status. Unhappy to continue witnessing devastating horror and terror that dashes any human being created in the image of God, against the rocks.